As much as we might like to deny it, computer viruses in their various guises have made people paranoid. We’ve even met some not so computer-savvy who’ve thought it’s a real biological virus! In addition to viruses, there are trojans, spam, popups and rootkits that can easily take over a system and wreak havoc without you ever knowing. Numerous PCs are infected and slowed down by viruses. There are many that run unstable and users assume that to be their hardware at fault. Unfortunately, many don’t have the patience and systems are usually infected, because these rules are broken.
It’s not only about viruses today; there are way too many malicious scripts and code in advanced forms that don’t really infect PCs, but make the system unusable. Random reboots, horrible performance, services not running anymore are just some of the visible symptoms. An antivirus isn’t sufficient to protect your system. Although many developers still offer standalone antivirus solutions, they’re also looking at security suites. They are a combined suite of an antivirus and a firewall system that can also handle spam, filter ADs, and other suspicious content. There are too many solutions available, but we’ve selected some of the best that are locally available.
A look at the features
While all of the suites have an antivirus and firewall component, there are suites that come with some additional features and is probably where the major differences between the suites will be visible. Norton 360 and McAfee’s Internet Security Suite, for example, came with data backup features. The features let users move data to a different drive, a network share and in the case of Norton 360, even to their online service. The service provides 2 GB of online backup space that can be expanded. This is a great way to ensure no data is lost if your PC gets infected or even if there’s a system crash.
Norton 360 has a free downloadable parental control add-on that gives control over every user account on your Windows account and over the kind of content allowed. There is a feature that lets you delay the startup of suspicious applications during bootup. Other than the backup and malware components, special emphasis is on system cleanup utilities as well as security online. G DATA too has a free downloadable add-on for parental control and a file shredder to delete files and make them unrecoverable. F-Secure Internet Security 2009 focuses on parental control, and access to the main control panel is denied unless authorized.
McAfee Internet Security’s installer recommends that the installation be downloaded from the internet. The suite even scans the system before the installation to make sure that the system isn’t already infected. Another one of the unique features from McAfee is the ability to securely delete files to prevent recovery – something similar to G DATA’s file shredder.
Another unique feature of G DATA Internet Security is that it constantly monitors the registry. It immediately prompts you whether you want to allow it or block the process that needs to make registry changes. AVG is one the suites with a lot of features. One of the features is the ability to set the firewall into gaming mode which allows access of games to the internet through the firewall without any hassles. For those who don’t have an internet connection, AVG allows updating of downloaded virus definition by importing them from a folder.
eScan Internet Security’s approach towards flash drives can be considered a little over-the-top, but is an effective way to make sure no one infects your PC with a flash drive. It requires the user to enter a password to access the flash drive. This is great if you have many users using a single PC. An easy-to-use parental control system is available as well.
Kaspersky has one of the nicest looking interfaces and one they’ve implemented is an on-screen keyboard that allows users to type in passwords on online banking and shopping sites without worrying about the password logged. Onscreen keyboard is available with Windows, but the suite makes it easily accessible. It even scans your system for vulnerabilities asking you to patch the bugs. All the alerts are displayed in one single window. The updating was a bit of a problem for us. We updated and it kept on asking for even more updates. After a couple of updates and a reboot or two, everything was back to normal.
ESET Smart Security has basic features, but the customizations and controls available for those functions are very detailed. This might be a good thing, but for users looking for a simple solution, this might be a little overwhelming. Panda Internet Security 2009 monitors the wireless network and if a new PC appears, it shows up an alert asking whether it is to be allowed access to the PC or not. As part of the services menu, Panda Internet Security lets you create rescue disks and upload suspicious files to their database for inspection.
In all, we had 289 viruses and trojans packed into separate ZIP files and the antivirus component of the suites had to scan each ZIP file before detecting the virus and then trying to either clean it or quarantine it. All the suites detected almost all the viruses in the folder, with a few minor exceptions. It was odd to find suites that detected more viruses and worms than we put into the folder. AVG Internet Security and Kaspersky Internet Security detected more viruses than were in the test sample. All the suites were able to delete the viruses from the folder, but Kaspersky Internet Security suite was one the top performing ones that could fix the files. K7TotalSecurity 9.0 was able to detect all the viruses accurately.
Most users today use web-based mail services and many of these have built-in spam removal features. Developers advertise their suites’ ability to locally clear spam from mail clients. We used Outlook Express because it was the client that came bundled with every Windows installation. We were shocked to see almost none of the suites being able to filter out spam or even the set of vulnerability test mails. Once again, McAfee stood out and it was able to find and mark vulnerability and spam mails. It did so once the mail had been downloaded to the mail client. ESET’s Smart Security 4 was the other one which was capable to finding the spam mail. It almost detected all the spam accurately, but it couldn’t detect any of the vulnerability test mails.
Some of the other suites such as K7TotalSecurity required the user to train the filter for the spam and over time, it could be more effective. On a clean install, the suite couldn’t catch any of the vulnerability test mails or the spam. F-Secure Internet Security 2009 was able to detect some of the sites with popups and banners.
There were no such issues as far as network security was concerned. All the firewalls blocked the denial of service (DoS) attempts and the port scans completely. Kaspersky Internet Security displayed clear alerts pointing out to the source of the attack and it even blocked the entire IP. eScan Internet Security and solution from Kaspersky were able to block out objectionable content banners and popups effectively. The others weren’t able to stop the ads or popups. For now, it’s still recommended that users use alternatives to Internet Explorer.
Most security suites run many background services each of which consume a lot of memory. Kaspersky had few services running in the background in comparison to the other suites. On idle, the consumption was a tiny 30 MB of system memory. However, while scanning this consumption went right up to 150 MB. This version of Kaspersky Internet Security suite is a big improvement over earlier Kaspersky products.
eScan Internet Security allows users to turn down the process priority of the scan so system performance isn’t affected a lot. Even without the CPU utilization level altered, eScan takes considerably longer to scan and clean viruses. In our test, 10 MB of files with some 289 viruses took around 5 minutes to complete. Disinfecting speed usually isn’t a priority for most users.
ESET Smart Security and Norton 360 were also very light suites to run at all times. ESET Smart Security was particularly impressive as it only consumed some 55 MB of system memory while scanning the drive, which is a lot lower than the rest which used over 100 MB of memory. K7 Total Security too consumed under 30 MB of memory while idle, but went to as high as 124 MB during scans. EScan Internet Security and McAfee Internet Security were some of the suites with the most features and the memory consumption also showed. If you have systems with over 1 GB memory, you should have no problem running these suites. With 512 MB, you might notice some slowdown. G DATA Internet Security 2010’s memory consumption was constantly around the 100 MB mark. It would occasionally shoot up to 200 MB or more and come right down. When it isn’t scanning, it’s a very sane and stable security solution to use. There are two virus scanning engines in G DATA, both of which can be used for better performance or better detection. It’s a unique feature missing in other suites. AVG was a consistent 82 MB on idle and also with some scanning operations on. CPU utilization kept spiking randomly as well while constantly trying to validate certain files.
Panda Internet Security had considerably high resource consumption at all times. There was an option in the preferences window that let CPU load be dropped to allow other tasks to run simultaneously without any major performance hit.
Ease of use
Security suites are some of the most complicated piece of software you can find. There are too many controls which have all been stuffed into a tiny interface. They have to be practical while not being overly complicated for the end user. Of all the suites, we found that Norton 360 had the simplest approach. Like the antivirus program that we’ve all seen over the year, Norton 360 is now a very easy to understand application with four separate sections – PC security, Identity protection, Backup and PC Tuneup. The controls are now hidden away behind the very user friendly interface. All the settings are clearly explained so even if a new user decides to explore, it’s a reasonably easy environment.
McAfee on the other hand is a little more feature-rich but isn’t as light as Norton 360 or Kaspersky’s suite. There are plenty of options to play and they aren’t tucked away behind any fancy interface. When you first use Kaspersky, it looks as simple like Norton 360. We really like the presentation of Kaspersky Internet Security 2009 program. The use of great colors, icons, graphs and clearly distinguished sections of the suite like Norton 360 makes it a nice solution to use.
eScan Internet Security Suite probably is the dullest of the lot. The colors and design are a little too simple even though it performs rather well in the tests. As a client for home use, it might not be the simplest to configure but for a SoHo environment with a system administrator, it’s should work just fine. It’s a similar case with K7TotalSecurity. The interface is very plain but there aren’t too many advanced menus and options to get into.
K7TotalSecurity was simple to use but the interface wasn’t the nicest design. The custom options aren’t a lot but they are put into separate menus and tabs which can be confusing. A lot of the spam and AD blocking filters are left for you to setup for yourself. This can be a tedious job. The filters present are very basic and might not be enough to block a lot of ads.
ESET Smart Security 4 is simple as well. The main emphasis is on the local disk scans and also on the statistics. There is a real-time display of the amount of activity on the network and the disk. There’s also a list of programs and connections being made to and from it. Although the primary interface is really simple to understand and use, it’s the options that might scare some. There are plenty of menus and checkboxes for almost every setting. ESET are the same company that made NOD32 which is known as a great antivirus and it too had a lot of controls that users could tweak.
G DATA Internet Security comes with a very simple interface and almost all of the controls are visible right in the first menu. The advanced scanning functions can be accessed through this menu itself by clicking on a dropdown. It’s similar for almost all of the features. The settings window for each component of the suite can also be accessed from the main window.
F-Secure Internet Security has a wizard at the end of the installation. This wizard helps setup everything for the suite including the parental control. Information such as categories to block and time limits during which internet access is allowed can be entered. Updating is also done right before the installation process.
At the end of the test, there were a few shocking revelations. It was weird to have AD banners and spam passed through almost all security suites without any errors or alerts. The next was plugging in a flash drive with almost 300 viruses. Some of the times, even copying files to the local drive didn’t sound any alarms. On manually scanning, viruses and worms in comparison were handled a lot better by all the suites.
Of all the suites, we found McAfee Internet Security 2009 to be a good overall solution but the only downside being its high memory consumption. Like we mentioned earlier, if you have a sufficiently powerful system, this shouldn’t worry you. Right after McAfee Internet Security 2009 in the rankings is Kaspersky’s Internet Security 2009. It’s a very good overall solution but without the same memory requirements. ESET Smart Security 4 is also suitable for your needs although not as flashy as the other two winners.
Norton 360 is recommended if you want something that’s extremely simple to use with zero hassles. G DATA Internet Security 2010 is one of the new comers to the market and it’s a very promising solution. Right from its interface to its two virus engines and a light-weight system, it’s something that is worth considering. We were impressed by it.
Some of the other suites such as K7InternetSecurity and eScan Internet Security were pretty good as well but their interface and aesthetics let them down. The performance and detection rates even with our tiny sample are at par with some of the well known suites.