Think all internet security suites are the same? Not even close. Our comprehensive tests show you which of today's suites to trust, and which to skip.

PC security becomes a more difficult task as each year passes. And 2009 was no exception.

Online attackers created more malware last year than in the previous 20 years combined.

Clearly, this means that in the realm of computer security, the rules have changed, and you can no longer rely solely on traditional definition-based antivirus software and firewalls to protect your PC.

Instead, to meet this new breed of threats, you need a new breed of security.

Over the past few years, security suites have been improving, thanks both to the enhancement of traditional detection methods and to the addition of behavioural analysis.

The latter technology detects malware based exclusively on how it acts on your PC - a good way of catching threats so new that security vendors haven't yet made definitions to identify them.

And many suites now have cloud-computing features that compare questionable programs and files against online databases to better identify the latest threats.

With these cloud features working alongside behavioural analyses, suites can better detect malware they've never seen before.

Almost all the security suites we tested this year also include some form of antirootkit technology.

Rootkits - a kind of stealth malware used to hide infections - were once the concern only of big businesses, but they have gradually become more commonplace.

All these changes mean that security suites are detecting and blocking malware faster than ever.

Nonetheless, we found some significant differences in just how well security suites protect your PC.

NEXT PAGE: Which security suite came out top?

  1. We look at just how the different suits vary
  2. Which security suite came out top?
  3. The performance hit


Think all internet security suites are the same? Not even close. Our comprehensive tests show you which of today's suites to trust, and which to skip.

We tested 13 suites in all. Norton Internet Security 2010 took the top ranking, owing to its strong overall malware detection.


Kaspersky Internet Security 2010 was a close second. AVG Internet Security 9.0 placed third for its malware detection and speedy system performance.

Closely following the top picks was a competitive middle tier of suites from Avast, BitDefender, McAfee, Panda, PC Tools, Trend Micro and Webroot.

The suites from Eset, F-Secure and ZoneAlarm lagged, due to acceptable, but not great, malware protection.

For antimalware testing, we contracted the services of AV-Test.org, a respected security testing company.

We looked not only at traditional signature-based detection but also at how well the suites cleaned infections, removed rootkits, and detected malware based on behavioural analysis.

But what if the suite slows your system performance to a crawl?

This year we added a battery of tests to measure such drag: changes in boot times, application launch times, and the time to create or open a batch of documents, among other tests, both with and without the security suites running.

All the suites we reviewed had antivirus, antispyware, and antispam components, plus a firewall.

Some, such as Eset Smart Security 4 and PC Tools Internet Security 2010, had little beyond those core functions.

The rest offered extra capabilities, such as parental controls, online backup and internet browser protection.

Here's our list of the suites, in order of rating. Click on any name to see the full review.

  1. Norton Internet Security 2010
  2. Kaspersky Internet Security 2010
  3. AVG Internet Security 9.0
  4. PC Tools Internet Security 2010
  5. BitDefender Internet Security 2010
  6. Avast 5.0 Internet Security
  7. McAfee Internet Security 2010
  8. Panda Internet Security 2010
  9. Webroot Internet Security Essentials
  10. Trend Micro Internet Security Pro 2010
  11. F-Secure Internet Security 2010
  12. ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite
  13. Eset Smart Security 4

Test performance table (click to expand)

Internet Security Suites table

NEXT PAGE: The performance hit

  1. We look at just how the different suits vary
  2. Which security suite came out top?
  3. The performance hit


Think all internet security suites are the same? Not even close. Our comprehensive tests show you which of today's suites to trust, and which to skip.

The performance hit

For this year's roundup, we included a battery of tests to evaluate how security suites affect your PC's speed.

Our testing, conducted by German security lab AV-Test, measured 11 key aspects of a suite's impact on PC performance: boot time, application launch time, file copy operations, application installation time, and more.

We also looked at how quickly a suite will scan your PC for viruses and other malware.

Alwil's Avast Internet Security had the least impact on system performance, with faster-than-average scores in all tests, and very good scan speeds.

While top-ranking Norton Internet Security didn't have quite as light an impact on system performance as Avast, it put up very good scores overall, though performance dragged a little more than average in a couple of tests.

Norton also had faster-than-average scanning speeds.

Another big name, though - McAfee Internet Security - was one of the weaker performers here.

It had a heavier-than-average impact on PC performance in most tests, and its on-access scan speed (which simulates how well a suite can scan for malware when files are opened or saved to disk) was the slowest of all the suites we tested.

See also: Group test: what's the best security software?

  1. We look at just how the different suits vary
  2. Which security suite came out top?
  3. The performance hit