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No single anti-virus product catches a comprehensive range of email viruses and malware within a variety of compressed and uncompressed file formats.

That's the conclusion of a study analysing the results of research by five leading anti-virus testing laboratories from security firm GFI which reveals various (we'd say minor) shortcomings in popular AV products.

GFI looked at results on tests on AV tools from Trend Micro, Symantec (Norton), McAfee, Norman, and Softwin by five impartial anti-virus testing laboratories (ICSA Labs, West Coast Labs, Virus Bulletin, AV-Test.org, and Virus TestCenter). In GFI's analysis, particular attention was paid to overall virus detection rates, the ability of AV tools to scan through compressed and embedded files, and their coverage of non-virus malware.

Each product showed strengths in different areas, GFI concluded, so combining the capabilities of two or more products would let organisations make up for deficiencies in any single product.

Of course, this reasoning applies only if the products lack similar shortcomings and fails to take into account that the most pressing problem for most companies is dealing with either newly-created fast-spreading worms (like Nimda) or the steady trickle of old favourites, like SirCam and Klez.

In the case of the former, best practice is moving towards filtering out suspicious emails at the gateway and/or employing heuristic detection/blocking at the ISP level.

For viruses like SirCam, all antivirus software detects such bugs anyway and it becomes a problem of ensuring AV software is up to date. The reason viruses like Klez continue to spread is largely due to a complete absence of protection by consumers (mainly) rather than deficiencies in AV software as such.

That's not to knock GFI's study completely - it does show up shortcomings in the ability of anti-virus tools to look within some uncommon file compression types for malware.

Using a battery of different scanning engines would be preferable but we question whether deploying products with single products with multiple scanning engines, such as GFI MailSecurity for Exchange/SMTP, is as important as the Maltese firm makes out. You can make up your own mind by reading GFI's White Paper here. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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