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Security vendors including CA and Symantec failed to secure Windows systems without fault in recent independent tests.

Twelve of the 35 anti-virus products put through their paces by independent security certification body Virus Bulletin failed to make the grade for one reason or another and therefore failed to achieve the VB100 certification standard.

The main faults were either a failure to detect a threat known to be in circulation (one particularly tricky polymorphic file infector caused the most grief in this area) or creating a false alarm about a file known to be benign.

Virus Bulletin's VB100 tests benchmarks the performance of a vendor submitted anti-virus product against a set of malware from the WildList, a list of viruses known to be circulating. To gain VB100 certification, a security product must correctly detect all of these malware strains without blowing the whistle when scanning a batch of clean files. Vendors only get one run at passing the tests, which are conducted free of charge to security software manufacturers.

Most, but not all, of the main vendors submits products for testing. Trend Micro - which has expressed reservations about Virus Bulletin's testing methodology - is a notable dissident.

The results of the August 2009 VB100 review can be seen here (free registration required).

John Hawes, anti-malware test director at Virus Bulletin, said its biggest problem in running its most recent tests were crashes and system slowdowns.

"Many of the products in this test did prove stable, speedy and well behaved, but many others had issues far too serious to be classed as mere quirks and oddities," he said. "We experienced a large number of freezes, crashes and hangs, not just of the product interfaces or of specific scans but in many cases seeing the whole machine shutting down."

Virus Bulletin recently began assessing the reactive and proactive detection abilities of anti-virus products alongside the long-established VB100 tests. The new tests are a reflection that the malware landscape has changed radically over recent years, with greater malware volumes and targeted attacks.

Microsoft's new Forefront security scanner came out well in these proactive categories, a factor Hawes attributed to the effort Microsoft has thrown into improving the performance of its technology over recent months.

Hawes added that overall performance of security products in proactively detecting malware was "disappointingly low" in several cases (see chart here).

"We saw some particularly poor detection of emerging threats and the products in question have a lot of work to do if they are to provide acceptable protection for their customers," he said. ®

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