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Windows 8's rising security tide raises all antivirus boats

Even without a security suite, Windows 8 is safer than Windows 7. Adding just about any third-party security suite makes it even safer, a new study finds.


In one of the first independent tests of third-party security suites on Windows 8, nearly all antivirus and anti-malware software tested well. What may surprise you is that even without a third-party suite, Windows 8 is relatively resistant to modern threats like zero-day attacks, according to the report.

Independent German security suite evaluators AV-Test.org publish bimonthly tests that rate the effectiveness of the biggest Windows security suites out there and rated all 26 of the suites they tested on Windows 8 in January and February as "certified," including Windows 8 itself. This is because Windows 8 comes with the antivirus and anti-malware measures of Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) built in and turned on. Basically, there's no such thing as an "unprotected" Windows 8.

"Windows 8 comes with Windows Defender," AV-Test CEO Andreas Marx said in an e-mail requesting clarification on the scores. "[It's] under a different name and quite nicely integrated in Windows 8, but the 'Protection' results are not much better when you compare Windows Defender (on Win 8) with MSE (on Win XP, Vista or 7)," he said.

Marx added that because it catches "a bit more than 80 percent of the 'zero day' attacks," Windows 8 with Defender is better than no protection at all.

Several suites tested notably well. Bitdefender Internet Security 2013 (review) topped the paid suites, with a score of 17 out of 18. BullGuard Internet Security 13.0 and Kaspersky Internet Security 2013 (review) scored 16.5 and 16.0, respectively. Both of their weaknesses came during January's testing of zero-day threats but had corrected those misses in February.

On the free suite side, the best-performing software were AVG AntiVirus Free 2013 (review) with 15.5, and Avast Free Antivirus 7 (review) at 15.0. Avast's major-point upgrade to version 8 wasn't released until late February.

Two suites actually did worse than the baseline Windows 8 with Windows Defender, which scored 11.5. Comodo Internet Security Premium 6.0 and AhnLab V3 Internet Security 8.0 both scored 10.0. Two suites barely performed better than Windows 8's baseline: Microworld's eScan Internet Security Suite 14.0 and Norman Security Suite Pro 10.0 both hit 12.0.

Marx said, "The expectation is that if a product offers less 'value' than the baseline, a installation and usage should be carefully considered," which is a very polite way of saying that it's a good idea to avoid using these suites. Interestingly, Microsoft Security Essentials failed its last test on Windows 7.

Marx also pointed out that during its tests, AV-Test disabled no Windows 8 security features. If a feature was deactivated, it was turned off by the third-party security suite. AV-Test also changed its testing methodology in January, replacing the Repair tests with Performance tests, although it hasn't yet clarified what the new Performance standard entails.

"Repair will be covered in dedicated reviews from now on. These special tests will be performed over a longer period of time and also focus on stand-alone cleaning utilities and rescue media," he said.

The true test for Windows 8 will be to see how it and third-party suites handle zero-day and persistent threats over time. If Microsoft continues to update Windows Defender, even if its "baseline" scores aren't amazing, that could put a serious dent in consumer interest in third-party security suites.