Consumer Reports rates internet security suites

US-Based Consumer Reports tested nine internet security suites, four of which are Quick Picks that protect against viruses, spyware, and spam as effectively as the best stand-alone products. Internet security software was tested both in-house and in an independent research laboratory.

CR tried as much as possible to emulate the conditions programs actually face on the Web by using real malware, including viruses that are slightly modified versions of those found online, and spyware that was actually harvested from the Web. CR took extraordinary measures to ensure that these threats were contained in the labs.

CR's tests found that a security suite from Trend Micro, $50, excelled in every category and even with its $50 yearly renewal cost, it offers fairly inexpensive all-around protection for as many as three computers. It scored "Excellent" in CR's Ratings for its antivirus software, antispyware and antispam capabilities.

Other Consumer Reports Quick Picks include a security suite from Check Point and two from McAfee. Check Point's ($50) antispam protection was first- rate and its annual renewal rate is $15 less than Trend Micro's.

Both products from McAfee, Total Protection 2007 ($80) and Internet Security Suite 2007 ($70) combine high performance and ample features, including a file-back-up utility, and offer an integrated security solution. The lower-priced suite is the better buy for consumers who don't need a Wi-Fi monitor.

The best of the free software available online did not perform quite as well in CR's tests as the best for-pay programs. The best for-pay programs offered the greatest margin of security against any or all online threats in CR tests. However, no-cost programs are worth considering as supplementary protection or even as primary protection if consumers practice safe computing.