Microsoft's free security software has passed a preliminary antivirus exam with flying colours.
Independent testing firm AV-Test GmbH ran Microsoft Security Essentials on Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7, putting it up against nearly 3,200 common viruses, bot Trojans and worms, said Andreas Marx, one of the firm's two managers. The malware was culled from the most recent WildList, a list of threats actually actively attacking computers.
"All files were properly detected and treated by the product," said Marx. "That's good, as several other [antivirus] scanners are still not able to detect and kill all of these critters yet."
AV-Test also measured Microsoft Security Essentials against a set of in-house false positives to see whether the software mistakenly fingers legitimate files, a nightmare for users, who can be left with a crippled computer, and a disaster to the reputation of a security company.
"None of the clean files were flagged as being malicious," noted Marx. "Very good."
AV-Test also examined Security Essentials's anti-rootkit skills and its ability to scrub a system of malware it finds with a limited number of samples and "found no reasons to complain". Marx said. "[Security Essentials] is able to remove found malware very well, but further tests against larger sets of samples are required before we can come to a final conclusion."
Marx put to rest the once-rampant rumour that Security Essentials would operate "in-the-cloud" by scanning PCs from Microsoft's servers. "The scanner works with the locally-installed anti-virus and anti-spyware databases - it doesn't appear to use 'in-the-cloud scanning' methods," he said.
AV-Test's results will disappoint some rivals in the security market, who yesterday knocked Microsoft's effort. "It just doesn't give you the protection that you need," argued J.R. Smith, the CEO of AVG Technologies, a company best-known for its free antivirus software. "People aren't worried about antivirus anymore. Most of it is just noise. [Security Essentials] will help, especially in emerging markets. But it's centred around viruses, which the bad guys aren't really pushing anymore."
Instead, cyber criminals increasingly rely on compromised websites to hit incoming PCs with exploits against unpatched vulnerabilities, said Smith. AVG packages LinkScanner, software that scans a URL for signs of infection, with its paid products. A free version of LinkScanner can also be downloaded from the AVG site.
Another noted antivirus testing lab, AV-Comparabives.org, said it would formally test Security Essentials in August, and release its results the next month.
Microsoft has not revealed a release date for the software, but the program's end-user licensing agreement (EULA) notes that it expires September 30 or when the program is released, whichever comes first.
It's likely that Microsoft will deliver Security Essentials before it ships Windows 7, which is scheduled to debut on October 22.