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Microsoft improves AV protection but still trails the pack

Michael Passingham
5 Aug 2015
Security Essentials has a simple interface, but it does look slightly dated
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Kaspersky and Norton lead the way as Microsoft makes gains

Microsoft's Security Essentials software, worked on by the same team that secures Windows 10, has made significant improvements in the last three months according to the latest security testing results from Dennis Technology Labs. DTL, which provides the data for Expert Reviews' anti-virus reviews and is owned by the same company, awarded Security Essentials an AA rating (the second highest ranking) for the first time.

For more detailed reviews, read our Best Antivirus 2015 article

Security Essentials still trails the pack in the Home AV rankings, but in a hotly competitive round of testing for the second quarter of 2015, it got closer to its rivals than ever before, managing a Total Accuracy score of 90%, 1% behind G-Data Internet Security and 4% behind the Intel-owned McAfee Internet Security.

Kaspersky Internet Security 2015 and Symantec's Norton Security were the only two software providers to score perfect 100% Total Accuracy scores while Avast! was once again the top-ranking free software with a 96% rating.

ESET Smart Security 8 scored well in third place, the only other piece of software that was able to protect against 100% of attacks. Its slightly lower overall score of 97% was caused by allowing 13  attacks to run before neutralising them, something both Kaspersky and Norton kept to a minimum.

AVG Anti-Virus Free scored one of its best results to date, managing an overall score of 95% while Trend Micro maintained its consistent AAA rating with a score of 97%.

The tests subject Windows 7 PCs to the most prevalent sources of malware. Simon Edwards, the technical director for Dennis Technology Labs, told Expert Reviews that the high standard of this quarter's results was partially down to a shift in the types of malware attacks consumers are facing in 2015.

"In this period we saw a very large percentage of ransomware-based threats," he explained. He said Microsoft's strong result would be down to improved definitions for CryptoLocker-style ransomware attacks, which is the current most prevalent attack. "If a vendor like Microsoft has really good coverage of that type of threat, you'd expect it to do very well in this test.

"Microsoft's result is a realistic representation of what's happening in the real world where customers are facing massive amounts of ransomware and maybe some of the other campaigns, such as those that use fake AV, appear to be quieter at the moment."

Security Essentials is only available for Windows Vista and Windows 7 PCs and is typically touted as providing a base-level of defence. Indeed, Microsoft's improved result, while comforting to those running no other anti-virus software, should not be used as justification for not installing additional malware protection. After all, it was completely compromised by 12 attacks during testing, something that would have a serious impact on any home or small business user.

Intrusive software

In addition to malware protection, services are tested in how they react to legitimate, harmless software. Blocking software that is known to be harmless impacts a provider's score.

The most onerous software this time around was G-Data, which blocked or attempted to block one in ten of all legitimate software installations. McAfee scored 96% in this test while Avast scored 99%. All the over software on test scored the maximum 100%.

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