Does free antivirus offer a false feeling of security?

Antivirus software is not the solution, antivirus software is part of the solution.

Consider the results from the latest Anti-Virus comparative review for May 2009 against new malware, indicating that Microsoft’s OneCare achieved an Advanced+ rating (60% detection), putting it on the second position, with Symantec achieving a mere 35% detection rate — ironically a huge percentage of AV-Comparative’s visitors are running free antivirus software according to their voting poll.

Moreover, similar results can be seen in Virus Bulletin’s comparative review for April, 2009 (subscribers only), where OneCare once again outperforms Symantec.

Does this mean that free antivirus is in fact outperforming commercial applications? Given the dynamic nature of today’s threats, what’s true for a particular moment in time can become totally irrelevant at a future date. For instance, some real-time time statistics on antivirus rankings have the potential to offer an entirely different comparative view — free antivirus scanners again rank pretty well — which shouldn’t be considered as the primary benchmark when attempting to answer whether or not free antivirus offers a false feeling of security.

Both, commercial and free stand-alone antivirus scanners suffer from a similar weakness - they’re over-positioned in the mind of the average Internet user. This over-positioning results in higher expectations which on the other hand results in lack of security awareness on what an antivirus scanner can, and cannot protect against.

Cybercriminals have been tricking signature based scanning engines for years, and their quality assurance practices are becoming even more professional and automated through the user of underground versions of popular community services such as VirusTotal, or by using multiple offline virus scanning engines before a campaign is launched. Similar services attempting to verify whether or not their malware sample will bypass popular personal firewalls are also known to be available on demand.

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1 comment:

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