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Real-World Protection Test August-November 2011

Date November 2011
Language English
Last Revision December 16th 2011

Release date 2011-12-17
Revision date 2011-12-16
Test Period August - November 2011
Number of Testcases 1898
Online with cloud connectivity checkbox-checked
Update allowed checkbox-checked
False Alarm Test included checkbox-checked
Platform/OS Microsoft Windows
Methodology Click here

Introduction

The threat posed by malicious software is growing day by day. Not only is the number of malware programs increasing, also the very nature of the threats is changing rapidly. The way in which harmful code gets onto computers is changing from simple file-based methods to distribution via the Internet. Malware is increasingly infecting PCs through e.g. users deceived into visiting infected web pages, installing rogue/malicious software or opening emails with malicious attachments.

The scope of protection offered by antivirus programs is extended by the inclusion of e.g. URL-blockers, content filtering, reputation systems and user-friendly behaviour-blockers. If these features are perfectly coordinated with the signature-based and heuristic detection, the protection provided against threats increases.

In this test all features of the product contribute protection, not only one part (like signatures/ heuristic file scanning). So the protection provided should be higher than in testing only parts of the product. We would recommend that all parts of a product should be high in detection, not only single components (e.g. URL blocking protects only while browsing the web, but not against malware introduced by other means or already present on the system).

In spite of these new technologies, it remains very important that the signature-based and heuristic detection abilities of antivirus programs continue to be tested. Even with all the protection features available, the growing frequency of zero-day attacks means that some computers will inevitably become infected. As signatures can be updated, they provide the opportunity to recognize and remove malware which was initially missed by the security software. The newer, “non-conventional” protection technologies often offer no means of checking existing data stores for already-infected files, which can be found on the file servers of many companies. Those new security layers should be understood as an addition to good detection rates, not as a replacement.

The Whole-Product Dynamic Protection test is a joint project of AV-Comparatives and the University of Innsbruck’s Faculty of Computer Science and Quality Engineering. It is partially funded by the Austrian Government.

For this test, we normally use the Internet security suite, as any protection features that prevent the system from being compromised can be used. However, a vendor can choose to enter their basic antivirus product instead, if they prefer. The main versions of the products tested in each monthly test run are shown below:

Tested Products

Test Procedure

Testing dozens of antivirus products with hundreds of URLs each per day is a lot of work which cannot be done manually (as it would be thousands of websites to visit and in parallel), so it is necessary to use some sort of automation.

Preparation for Test Series

Every security program to be tested is installed on its own test computer. All computers are connected to the Internet (details below). The system is frozen, with the operating system and security program installed.

Lab Setup

The entire test is performed on real workstations. We do not use any kind of virtualization. Each work-station has its own internet connection with its own external IP. We have special agreements with sever-al providers (failover clustering and no traffic blocking) to ensure a stable internet connection. The tests are performed using a live internet connection. We took the necessary precautions (with specially config-ured firewalls, etc.) not to harm other computers (i.e. not to cause outbreaks)

Hardware and Software

For this test we used identical workstations, an IBM Bladecenter and network attached storage.

  Vendor Type CPU RAM Hard Dsik
Workstation Fujitsu e3521 E85+ Intel Core 2 Duo 4 GB 80 GB
BladeCenter IBM E Chassis 0
Blades IBM LS20 AMD Dual Opteron 8 GB 76 GB
NAS QNAP TS-859U-RP Atom Dual Core 1 GB 16 TB Raid 6

The tests are performed under Windows XP SP3 with no further updates. Some further installed vulnerable software includes:

Vendor Product Version   Vendor Product Version
Adobe Flash Player ActiveX 16.0 Microsoft Office Home 2013
Adobe Flash Player Plug-In 16.0 Microsoft .NET Framework 4.5.2
Adobe Acrobat Reader 11.0 Mozilla Firefox 35.0.1
Apple QuickTime 7.76 Oracle Java 1.8.0.31
Microsoft Internet Explorer 11.0 VideoLAN VLC Media Player 2.1.5

Settings

We use every security suite with its default (out-of-the-box) settings. If user interactions are required, the default option is considered. Our whole-product dynamic protection test aims to simulate real-world conditions as experienced every day by users. Therefore, if there is no predefined action, we will always use the same action where we consider the warning/message to be very clear and definitive. If the message leaves it up to the user, we will mark it as such, and if the message is very vague, misleading or even suggests trusting e.g. the malicious file/URL/behaviour, we will consider it to be a miss, as the ordinary user would. We consider “protection” to mean that the system is not compromised. This means that the malware is not running (or is removed/terminated) and there are no significant/malicious system changes. An outbound-firewall alert about a running malware process, which asks whether or not to block traffic form the users’ workstation to the internet is too little, too late and not considered by us to be protection.

Preparation for every testing day

Every morning, any available security software updates are downloaded and installed, and a new base image is made for that day. This ensures that even in the case the security product would not finish a bigger update during the day (products are being updated before each test case) or is not reachable, it would at least use the updates of the morning, as it would happen to the user in the real world.

Testing Cycle for each malicious URL

Before browsing to each new malicious URL/test-case we update the programs/signatures. New major product versions (i.e. the first digit of the build number is different) are installed once at the begin of the month, which is why in each monthly report we only give the product main version number. Our test software starts monitoring the PC, so that any changes made by the malware will be recorded. Further-more, the recognition algorithms check whether the antivirus program detects the malware. After each test case the machine is reverted to its clean state.

Protection

Security products should protect the user’s PC. It is not very important at which stage the protection takes place. This can either be while browsing to the website (e.g. protection through URL Blocker), while an exploit tries to run or while the file is being downloaded/created or while the malware is executed (either by the exploit or by the user). After the malware is executed (if not blocked before), we wait several minutes for malicious actions and also to give e.g. behaviour-blockers time to react and remedy actions performed by the malware. If the malware is not detected and the system is indeed infected/compromised, the process goes to “Malware Not Detected”. If a user interaction is required and it is up to the user to decide if something is malicious, and in the case of the worst user decision the sys-tem gets compromised, we rate this as “user-dependent”. Due to that, the yellow bars in the results graph can be interpreted either as protected or not protected (it’s up to the user).

Due to the dynamic nature of the test, i.e. mimicking real-world conditions, and because of the way several different technologies (such as cloud scanners, reputation services, etc.) work, it is a matter of fact that such tests cannot be repeated or replicated in the way that e.g. static detection rate tests can. Anyway, we try to log as much as reasonably possible to prove our findings and results. Vendors are invited to provide useful logs inside their products which can provide the additional data they want in case of disputes. Vendors were given after each testing month the possibility to dispute our conclusion about the compromised cases, so that we could recheck if there were maybe some problems in the automation or with our analysis of the results.

In the case of cloud products, we will only consider the results that the products had at the time of testing; sometimes the cloud services provided by the security vendors are down due to faults or mainte-nance downtime by the vendors, but these cloud-downsides are often not disclosed/communicated to the users by the vendors. This is also a reason why products relying too much on cloud services (and not making use of local heuristics etc.) can be risky, as in such cases the security provided by the products can decrease significantly. Cloud signatures/ reputation should be implemented in the products to complement the other local/offline protection features and not replace them completely, as e.g. offline cloud services would mean the PCs being exposed to higher risks.

Testcases

We are not focusing on zero-day exploits/malware (although it is possible that they are also present in the URL pool), but mainly on current, visible and relevant malicious websites/malware that are currently out there and problematic to the ordinary users. We are trying to include only about 30-50% URLs pointing directly to malware (for example, if the user is tricked by social-engineering into follow links in spam mails or websites, or if the user is tricked into installing some Trojan or other rogue software). The rest/bigger part are exploits/drive-by downloads – these usually seem to be well covered by almost all major security products. According to a study released by Microsoft about propagation methods (Microsoft Security Intelligence Report, Volume 11, page 13: http://www.microsoft.com/security/sir/default.aspx), it seems that nowadays exploits represent only a minority and that social-engineering/user-interaction is by far the most prevalent propagation method. We may eventually adapt the distribution in future tests.

In this kind of testing, it is very important to use enough test cases. If an insufficient number of sam-ples are used in comparative tests, differences in results may not indicate actual differences among the tested products. In fact, we consider even in our tests (with thousands of test-cases) products in the same protection cluster to be more or less equally good; as long as they do not wrongly block clean files/sites more than the industry average.

Ranking System

Ranking system
Protection score
Cluster 4
Protection score
Cluster 3
Protection score
Cluster 2
Protection score
Cluster 1
< ∅ FPs
Tested
Standard
Advanced
Advanced+
> ∅ FPs
Tested
Tested
Standard
Advanced

Test Results

Below you can see an overview of the individual testing months:

August 2011 – 191 test cases

September 2011 – 608 test cases

October 2011 – 503 test cases

November 2011 – 596 test cases

We purposely do not give exact numbers for the individual months in this report, to avoid the minor differences of a few cases being misused to state that one product is better than the other in a given month and with a given test-set size. We provide the total numbers in the overall reports, where the size of the test-set is bigger, and differences that are more significant may be observed.

False Positive (False Alarm) Test Result

The false alarm test in the Whole-Product Dynamic test consists of two parts: wrongly blocked domains (while browsing) and wrongly blocked files (while downloading/installing). It is necessary to test both scenarios because testing only one of the two above cases could penalize products which focus mainly on one type of protection method, either e.g. URL/reputation-filtering or e.g. on-access / behaviour / reputation-based file protection.

Wrongly blocked domains (while browsing)

We used around two thousand randomly chosen popular domains. Blocked non-malicious domains/URLs were counted as false positives (FPs). The wrongly blocked domains have been reported to the respective vendors for review and should now no longer be blocked.

By blocking whole domains, the security products are not only risking causing distrust in their warnings, but also eventually causing potential financial damage (beside the damage on website reputation) to the domain owners, including loss of e.g. advertisement revenue. Due to this, we strongly recommend vendors to block whole domains only in the case where the domain’s sole purpose is to carry/deliver mali-cious code, and to otherwise block just the malicious pages (as long as they are indeed malicious). Products which tend to block URLs based e.g. on reputation may be more prone to this and score also higher in protection tests, as they may block many unpopular/new websites.

Wrongly blocked files (while downloading/installing)

We used about one hundred different applications listed either as top downloads or as new/recommended downloads from about a dozen different popular download portals. The applications were downloaded from the websites (if original developer site was given, we used that source instead of the download portal host), saved to disk and installed to see if they get blocked at any stage of this procedure. Additionally, we included a few files whose status as malware had been disputed over the past months of the Dynamic Test.

The duty of security products is to protect against malicious sites/files, not to censor or limit the access only to well-known popular applications and websites. If the user deliberately chooses a high security setting, which warns that it may block some legitimate sites or files, then this may be considered acceptable. However, we do not regard it to be acceptable as a default setting, where the user has not been warned. None of the products blocked extremely popular applications. As the test is done at points in time and FPs on very popular software/websites are usually noticed and fixed within a few hours, it would be surprising to encounter FPs on very popular applications. Due to this, FP tests which are done e.g. only on very popular applications, or which use only the top 50 files from whitelisted/monitored download portals would be a waste of time and resources. Users do not care whether they are infected by malware which affects only them, just as they do not care if the FP count affects only them. While it is preferable that FPs do not affect many users, it should be the goal to avoid having any FPs and to protect against any malicious files, no matter how many users are affected or targeted. Prevalence of FPs based on user-base data is of interest for internal testing of AV vendors, but for the ordinary user it is important to know how accurately its product distinguishes between clean and malicious files.

The below table shows the numbers of wrongly blocked domains/files:

  Wrongly blocked clean domains/files
(blocked / user-dependent[1])
Wrongly blocked score
[lower is better]
AVG – / – (-)
Kaspersky – / 1 (1) 0.5
ESET, Panda 1 / – (1) 1
G DATA 3 / – (3) 3
Symantec 2 / 2 (4) 3
Bitdefender, McAfee, Qihoo, Sophos 4 / – (4) 4
Avast 1 / 7 (8) 4.5
F-Secure 5 / 4 (9) 7
  average (12) average (12)
K7 15 / – (15) 15
AVIRA 17 / – (17) 17
PC Tools 18 / – (18) 18
Trend Micro 26 / – (26) 26
Webroot 81 / – (81) 81

[1] Although user dependent cases are extremely annoying (esp. on clean files) for the user, they were counted only as half for the “wrongly blocked rate” (like for the protection rate).

To determine which products have to be downgraded in our award scheme due to the rate of wrongly blocked sites/files, we backed up our decision by using a clustering method and by looking at the aver-age scores. The following products with above average FPs have been downgraded: AVIRA, K7, PC Tools, Trend Micro and Webroot.

Summary Result

Test period: August – November 2011 (1898 Test cases)

The graph below shows the overall protection rate (all samples), including the minimum and maximum protection rates for the individual months.

BlockedUser dependentCompromisedProtection Rate
[Blocked % + (User dependent % / 2)]
Cluster
Symantec18866699.5%1
Bitdefender 1886- 1299.4% 1
Kaspersky 1877 8 1399.1% 1
Qihoo 1872 11 1598.9% 1
Trend Micro 1876- 2298.8% 1
F-Secure 1872 5 2198.8% 1
G DATA 1874- 2498.7% 1
AVIRA 1864- 3498.2% 1
Panda 1849- 4997.4% 2
ESET 1844 7 4797.3% 2
AVG 1843 1 5497.1% 2
McAfee 1835- 6396.7% 2
K7 1811 40 4796.5% 2
Sophos 1810 2 8695.4% 3
PC Tools 1743 130 2595.3% 3
Avast 1780 49 6995.1% 3
Webroot 1775 2 12193.6% 4

Award levels reached in this Real-World Protection Test

The awards are decided and given by the testers based on the observed test results (after consulting statistical models). The following awards are for the results reached in the Whole-Product Dynamic Protection Test:

* these products got lower awards due to false alarms

Notes

Most operating systems already include their own firewalls, automatic updates, and may even ask the user before downloading or executing files if they really want to do that, warning that downloading/executing files can be dangerous. Mail clients and web mails include spam filters too. Furthermore, most browsers include Pop-Up blockers, Phishing/URL-Filters and the ability to remove cookies. Those are just some of the build-in protection features, but despite all of them, systems can get infected anyway. The reason for this in most cases is the ordinary user, who may get tricked by social engineering into visiting malicious websites or installing malicious software. Users expect a security product not to ask them if they really want to execute a file etc. but expect that the security product will protect the system in any case without them having to think about it, and despite what they do (e.g. executing unknown files). We try to deliver good and easy-to-read test reports for end-users. We are continuously working on improving further our automated systems to deliver a better overview of product capabilities.

Copyright and Disclaimer

This publication is Copyright © 2011 by AV-Comparatives ®. Any use of the results, etc. in whole or in part, is ONLY permitted after the explicit written agreement of the management board of AV-Comparatives prior to any publication. AV-Comparatives and its testers cannot be held liable for any damage or loss, which might occur as result of, or in connection with, the use of the information provided in this paper. We take every possible care to ensure the correctness of the basic data, but a liability for the correctness of the test results cannot be taken by any representative of AV-Comparatives. We do not give any guarantee of the correctness, completeness, or suitability for a specific purpose of any of the information/content provided at any given time. No one else involved in creating, producing or delivering test results shall be liable for any indirect, special or consequential damage, or loss of profits, arising out of, or related to, the use or inability to use, the services provided by the website, test documents or any related data.

For more information about AV-Comparatives and the testing methodologies, please visit our website.

AV-Comparatives
(December 2011)