False Alarm Test September 2021
Appendix to the Malware Protection Test September 2021
|Test Period||September 2021|
|Online with cloud connectivity|
|False Alarm Test included|
This report is an appendix to the Malware Protection Test September 2021 listing details about the discovered False Alarms.
In AV testing, it is important to measure not only detection capabilities but also reliability. One aspect of reliability is the ability to recognize clean files as such, and not to produce false alarms (false positives). No product is immune from false positives (FPs), but some produce more than others. False Positives Tests measure which programs do best in this respect, i.e. distinguish clean files from malicious files, despite their context. There is no complete collection of all legitimate files that exist, and so no “ultimate” test of FPs can be done. What can be done, and is reasonable, is to create and use a set of clean files which is independently collected. If, when using such a set, one product has e.g. 15 FPs and another only 2, it is likely that the first product is more prone to FPs than the other. It doesn’t mean the product with 2 FPs doesn’t have more than 2 FPs globally, but it is the relative number that is important.
In order to give more information to the user about the false alarms, we try to rate the prevalence of the false alarms. Files which were digitally signed are considered more important. Due to that, a file with the lowest prevalence level (Level 1) and a valid digital signature is upgraded to the next level (e.g. prevalence “Level 2”). Extinct files which according to several telemetry sources had zero prevalence have been provided to the vendors in order to fix them, but have also been removed from the set and were not counted as false alarms.
The prevalence is given in five categories and labeled with the following colors:
|Level||Presumed number of affected users||Comments|
|1||Probably fewer than hundred users||Individual cases, old or rarely used files, very low prevalence|
|2||Probably several hundreds of users||
Initial distribution of such files was probably much higher, but current usage on actual systems is lower (despite its presence), that is why also well-known software may now affect / have only a prevalence of some hundreds or thousands of users.
|3||Probably several thousands of users|
|4||Probably several tens of thousands (or more) of users|
|5||Probably several hundreds of thousands or millions of users||Such cases are likely to be seen much less frequently in a false alarm test done at a specific time, as such files are usually either whitelisted or would be noticed and fixed very fast.|
Most false alarms will probably (hopefully) fall into the first two levels most of the time.
In our opinion, anti-virus products should not have false alarms on any sort of clean files regardless of how many users are currently affected by them. While some AV vendors may play down the risk of false alarms and play up the risk of malware, we are not going to rate products based on what the supposed prevalence of false alarms is. We already allow a certain number of false alarms (currently 10) inside our clean set before we start penalizing scores, and in our opinion products which produce a higher number of false alarms are also more likely to produce false alarms with more prevalent files (or in other sets of clean files). The prevalence data we give for clean files is just for informational purpose. The listed prevalence can differ inside the report, depending on which file/version the false alarm occurred, and/or how many files of the same kind were affected.
All listed false alarms were encountered at the time of testing. False alarms caused by unencrypted data blocks in anti-virus related files were not counted. If a product had several false alarms belonging to the same application, it is counted here as only one false alarm. Cracks, keygens, or other highly questionable tools, including FPs distributed/shared primarily by vendors (which may be in the several thousands) or other non-independent sources are not counted here as false positives.
There may be a variation in the number of false positives produced by two different programs that use the same engine (principal detection component). For example, Vendor A may license its detection engine to Vendor B, but Vendor A’s product may have more or fewer false positives than Vendor B’s product. This can be due to factors such as different internal settings being implemented, differences in other components and services such as additional or differing secondary engines/signatures/whitelist databases/cloud services/quality assurance, and possible time delay between the release of the original signatures and the availability of the signatures for third-party products.
False Positives (FPs) are an important measurement for AV quality. Furthermore, the test is useful and needed to avoid that vendors optimize products to score good in tests by looking at the context – this is why false alarms are being mixed and tested the same way as tests with malware are done. One FP report from a customer can result in large amount of engineering and support work to resolve the issue. Sometimes this can even lead to important data loss or system unavailability. Even “not significant” FPs (or FPs on older applications) deserve mention and attention because FPs are likely to be a result of principled rule detections. It just happened that the FP was on an insignificant file. The FP possibility is probably still in the product and could potentially cause an FP again on a more significant file. Thus, they still deserve mention and still deserve to be penalised. Below you will find some info about the false alarms we observed in our independent set of clean files. Red entries highlight false alarms on files that were digitally signed.
The detection names shown were taken mostly from pre-execution scan logs (where available). If a threat was blocked on/during/after execution (or no clear detection name was seen), we state “Blocked” in the column “Detected as”.
|1.||ESET, Microsoft||1||very few FPs|
|2.||Avast, AVG, Kaspersky||2||few FPs|
|3.||TotalAV, Trend Micro||3|
|4.||Avira, McAfee, Total Defense||4|
|5.||G DATA, Malwarebytes||8|
|8.||K7||56||very many FPs|
|9.||Panda||153||remarkably many FPs|
Details about the discovered false alarms
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