A run-of-the-mill internet security suite will protect your PC from most web threats, but that simply isn't good enough for discerning users. In our ultimate security group test, PC Advisor and independent lab AV-Test assess nine of the best suites.

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2009 security suites: what's the best security software?

With attacks on your PC increasing in frequency and sophistication, it's more vital than ever that you use effective security software. The best protection, as our tests of the latest all-in-one suites show, can thwart the nastiest viruses, spy- and adware and phishing schemes.

In the early days of computer malware, you could get by without antivirus software simply by surfing carefully. Today's crooks love nothing more than to discover a nasty zero-day security flaw, for which there's no defence, then infiltrate otherwise benign and popular websites with hidden, malicious programming designed to attack that flaw. While relatively uncommon, such tactics can ensnare even the most cautious surfer. Today, you need protection.

PC Advisor got respected independent testing lab AV-Test.org to put nine comprehensive internet-security suites through the ringer. Its researchers poked and prodded, surfed and scanned, until one of the contenders - Norton Internet Security 2009 - came out on top.

Symantec's suite did an excellent job, starting with an overall malware-detection rate just short of 99 percent. It has an attractive and well laid-out interface, and its automatic updates send new malware signatures to your PC every few minutes.

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The designers also incorporated cloud computing, with on-the-spot online checks to supplement local scans. Yet another feature compares new programs on your PC against a database of known apps, a step meant to improve the suite's performance by preventing it from scanning safe programs.

Harnessing the immediacy of the internet is a trend this year. The F-Secure, McAfee and Panda packages all use online checks to detect new malware more quickly, without waiting for a scheduled signature update.

Although Norton deserves its top spot, it isn't for everyone. Norton can't perform backups, for instance, while four other suites here can. And while its detection rate is very good, it isn't the best - Avira wins that accolade. It's also pretty pricey.

NEXT PAGE: how we test >>

  1. 2009 internet security suites
  2. How we test
  3. Security suite reviews

A run-of-the-mill internet security suite will protect your PC from most web threats, but that simply isn't good enough for discerning users. In our ultimate security group test, PC Advisor and independent lab AV-Test assess nine of the best suites.

2009 security suites: how we test

To evaluate the suites, PC Advisor partnered with AV-Test. This independent testing laboratory pits each suite against its ‘zoo'
of 654,914 backdoor apps, bots, worms, Trojan horses and password stealers, as well as 46,246 adware samples. Each suite was allowed to connect to the internet to use online checks, where available. Tests also determined each suite's ability to clean up malware infections.

Each suite had to detect and remove active and inactive rootkits - stealth malware that hides criminal software on your PC. Heuristic and behaviour-detection tests determined how well a suite could spot malware for which it didn't yet have a signature.

The heuristic tests used two- and four-week-old signature files to simulate encounters with new malware, while the behaviour tests examined how well a suite can identify malware based solely on the way it acts. AV-Test also assessed scan speed, both on demand (scans initiated manually or on a schedule) and on access (scans of files as the PC opens or accesses them).

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We then assessed design and interfaces: determining how well each suite handled alerts and phishing blocks, whether default settings were appropriate and how easy it was for advanced users to change them.

For security apps, performance and effectiveness are more important than aesthetics. As a result, our scoring depended largely on each suite's malware-detection and disinfection rates, along with the scan speed. We also considered price, support and features in the final rankings. Unless otherwise stated, prices given are for a one-year, single-user licence.

NEXT PAGE: in-depth reviews >>

  1. 2009 internet security suites
  2. How we test
  3. Security suite reviews

A run-of-the-mill internet security suite will protect your PC from most web threats, but that simply isn't good enough for discerning users. In our ultimate security group test, PC Advisor and independent lab AV-Test assess nine of the best suites.

2009 security suites: in-depth reviews

More internet security product reviews

Security suite test results (download to view)

Security suite test results

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  1. 2009 internet security suites
  2. How we test
  3. Security suite reviews