At the end of every year, the guys over at Antivirus-comparatives release their summary report – a complete rundown of everything you need to know about business and consumer antiviruses. The sprawling 96-page AV-comparatives report pits all the leading antivirus software vendors against each other in a battle to secure the coveted top spot.
This year, Kaspersky Lab came out on top, securing the position of AV-Comparatives' 2013 Product of the Year.
But what else did we learn this year?
Perhaps the most important of the tests run by AV-Comparatives were the "Real-World Protection" tests.
These rigorous tests involved the subject programs being bombarded with a confusing slew of malware and legitimate software. The antiviruses had to provide a high level of protection without producing too many false positives – and they had to do it all without requiring the user to make any decisions at all.
Astonishingly, Kasperky Lab came out with a near-perfect score of 99 per cent hit-rate, and few false positives.
AV-Comparatives also gave an honourable mention to Emsisoft, which was awarded the Silver Award in the Real-World Protection Test, with 99.2 per cent.
Avast and ESET both picked up the bronze, with 98.9 per cent of malware prevented from compromising the system.
Detection: The needle in a haystack
When it comes to antivirus, one of the most crucial factors is how reliably a program can find an infected file such as a keylogger or dialler in a large hard drive.
The Product of the Year, Kaspersky, picked up the bronze along with BullGuard in this test, with Bitdefender and Qihoo picking up the silver, and a surprise win from F-Secure scooping up the gold.
F-Secure file detection was second to none, picking out 99.6 per cent of the implanted digital nasties, while hardly spotting any false positives.
Even if you've got a secure system, you still want that system to actually work. That's why the overall performance of the anti-virus has to have a low system impact. AV-Comparatives made sure to put all competing programs on the running track to see how well they did.
Sophos' software actually came out on top in this test, with the best overall speed, while Avast, F-Secure and Kaspersky Lab picked up the second place.
While the AV-Comparatives awards are based on the results of a series of rigorous tests, the team do also take into account the usability of major antivirus products, and how well they stand up to everyday use.
Antiviruses which were particularly praised for their usability were Avira, Bitdefender, Kaspersky Lab, Microsoft and Trend Micro.
All of these companies produced antiviruses in which the user interface was designed to "make it very easy to find all relevant functions and information."
AV-comparatives especially praised the inclusion of a "Fix-All" button, which allowed all crucial antivirus active protection components to be switched on in the event that any are disabled.
The report this year focused an increasing amount of attention on mobile and touchscreen devices, highlighting how this growing landscape of security concern could be the battleground of 2014.
Avast, eScan, ESET, Kaspersky Lab and McAfee all "allow basic functions to be carried out easily on a touchscreen device." This could soon be a must-have feature for antivirus programs.
With malware spreading onto Android and iOS devices faster than you can say "hey, that's not the app I downloaded," this will surely be a strong selling point going into 2014.
Kaspersky Lab came out on top this year, scoring the highest rank of Advanced+ in every test thrown its way, and was justifiably awarded the Product of the Year.
However, Avast, AVIRA, Bitdefender, BullGuard, ESET, Fortinet anf F-Secure were also all awarded the rank of "Top-Rated," meaning they scored over the threshold of 105 points overall.
However, AV-Comparatives offered some good advice to prospective antivirus purchasers:
"The perfect antivirus program or the best one for all needs and for every user does not exist," the analysts write in their round-up. "If you plan to buy an antivirus program, please visit the vendor's website and evaluate their software by downloading a trial version."
The warning goes on to add that "there are many features and important considerations (e.g. compatibility, graphical user interface, ease of use, price, support etc.) that you should evaluate for yourself."
Image: Flickr (Robbert van der Steeg; dustball)
- Here's our list of the best antivirus services on the market