Free or paid, not even the best antivirus software is created equal, and this is doubly true in the case of ransomware. Even though ransomware is a fairly new and pernicious threat, AV evaluations don’t always give it as much attention as it might merit.
In a recent test, SE Labs put ransomware front and center, and found four of the best antivirus software programs that can quash it regularly.
SE Labs, a London-based security firm, released three reports evaluating AV software, including one entitled, succinctly enough, “Consumer Report.” (The other two deal with Enterprise and Small Business software.)
In its tests, SE Labs evaluated nine programs: Kaspersky Internet Security, ESET Smart Security 9, Norton Security, Avast Free Antivirus, Bitdefender Internet Security 2016, Trend Micro Internet Security 10, Microsoft Security Essentials, AVG AntiVirus Free Edition and McAfee Internet Security. (Most of these companies also make some of the best Mac antivirus software and best Android antivirus apps.)
Seven of the programs performed admirably when it came to catching malware, particularly ransomware: Kaspersky, ESET, Norton, Avast, Bitdefender, Trend Micro, and, interestingly, Microsoft (which has a reputation of being somewhat ineffective at catching other kinds of malware). AVG caught only about half of the malware that came its way, while McAfee found only about one-third.
For a more complete evaluation, SE Labs took into account how well each program blocked threats, neutralized existing malware and recognized legitimate software, then added all three scores together. The company then marked each program with a rating: AAA, AA, A or C, in descending order of effectiveness.
Four programs scored the coveted AAA award: Kaspersky, ESET, Norton and Avast, with protection ratings ranging from 100 to 96 percent. Bitdefender, TrendMicro and Microsoft ranged from 94 to 90 percent, earning them AA certifications. AVG came in at 88 percent for an A, and McAfee at 79 percent for the lowest C rating.
As a result of its test, SE Labs recommends Avast for free users and either Kaspersky or ESET for those who don’t mind coughing up a few bucks. In general, though, any kind of AV software puts you at a significant advantage over users who don’t use it at all.
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Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.