VB's testing team put 24 anti-malware products to the test on the server version of Microsoft's latest iteration of the Windows platform: Windows Server 2008. John Hawes has all the details on which products managed to secure a VB100 award and which need have a little more work to do.
Copyright © 2008 Virus Bulletin
The comparative review moves to an entirely new platform this month: the server version of Microsoft’s latest iteration of Windows. With the official release of the platform having been in February, there should have been plenty of time for developers and QA teams to ensure their products were fully integrated with the new environment.
This month’s testing schedule saw a number of new challenges in addition to the usual time pressures and resource limitations. The breaking in of a new member of the testing team coincided happily with a series of significant adjustments to the standard line-up of testing tasks, more on which shortly. The range of products taking part continued to reflect the steady increase in diversity in the market. As always, the team entered the test lab hoping for smooth and speedy testing, but anticipating the gamut of problems including bizarre design, bewilderingly absent functionality and disappointing instability.
The Server 2008 platform shares a code base with Vista, with many tweaks and improvements in a variety of areas, but sensibly avoiding the rather showy and resource-hungry cosmetic adjustments which most users will identify with the new breed of Windows systems. The installation process follows the usual series of steps. Following the standard VB methodology, things were kept as simple as possible, with simple fileserver functionality added from the list of models available. Some driver software was required to activate networking and to get the most out of the graphical capabilities of the hardware in use, and some archiving tools were also installed to simplify the unpacking of the submissions, which as ever took on a wide range of formats. Unlike in the Vista desktop tests, no adjustments were made to the user set-up, and a user with administrative rights was logged in for all testing purposes, assuming that server administrators would need such rights to install core software to a system. With these tasks carried out, and a few tweaks to the display and desktop made for comfort and efficiency, images were taken of the identical systems and the test sample sets copied to the secondary hard drives ready for testing to begin.
As mentioned, the test sets saw some considerable evolution this month. Starting with the core of the VB100 sets, the WildList set was aligned with the July issue of the WildList, released about a week before the product submission deadline (2 September). The changes in the list from that used in the previous test included the disappearance of large numbers of older items, only to be replaced by an impressive swathe of new arrivals, the vast majority of which were trojans that target online gamers and most of these go by the fairly straightforward title of ‘W32/OnlineGames’. A few of the more interesting items on the list were removed, including several of the W32/Virut variants, but enough of these highly polymorphic viruses remained to provide a frisson of danger for those products which had previously had difficulties providing full coverage of these items.
In the clean test set, a fairly large update was made with a swathe of software added. This included a selection of drivers and system tools acquired as part of the process of enabling the test systems and the new platform to interact, as well as a collection of packages downloaded as freeware or trial installations, this month focusing on web development tools. These enlargements of the test set were designed in part to expand the speed test collections, which are now approaching an acceptable size. The additions to the set were selected from software with reasonably significant manufacturers with reliable reputations, so were not expected to bring up a large number of false positives, but as ever with the growth of the set the chances of a mislabelling grew, and the older part of the set still seems to throw up occasional incidents.
The combination of these changes to the test sets with the new platform seemed to provide a pretty tough challenge for those vendors striving for the glory of a VB100 award, but we also paid attention to the additional information provided for our readers. The zoo collections saw another round of development towards a more flexible and relevant set of challenges, with the dwindling and less difficult test set of simple file-infecting viruses being retired to the legacy set for the time being. Replacing these was a substantial new selection of trojans, replacing entirely the set used in the last review with fresh samples gathered in the last two months. The set of worms and bots saw a small amount of updating, but we hope to implement a similar system of complete overhaul for each review in the near future.
Another upgrade was trialled this month, which is intended to add even fresher samples for each test, along with an element of retrospective testing to measure heuristic and generic detection capabilities. Preparations for this scheme – preliminary results of which we hope to present at the forthcoming VB conference in Ottawa – involved putting together a month’s worth of new arrivals totalling well over 100,000 samples. The logistics of this looked set to be dwarfed by the difficulties involved in persuading a bevy of awkward and intractable products to produce usable results when scanning such a large set of samples in the very limited time available. Without further ado, we shut ourselves in the lab and got down to business.
With this month’s review running on a server platform, we expected most of the products to be dedicated to a server environment, but since many products designed for the desktop run quite happily in the same setting we accepted any such products which vendors saw fit to submit. First up on the roster alphabetically, Agnitum provided the same product as that entered successfully in several recent comparatives. Combining the company’s own highly regarded firewall technology with a range of security extras including anti-malware detection provided by the VirusBuster engine, the product once again put in a solid performance, with a slick and well-designed interface and smooth, stable running.
Detection rates were reasonable, with somewhat below par coverage of the set of recent trojans but no problems in the WildList set. In the clean sets scanning times were fairly good, and an absence of false positives grants Agnitum its second VB100 in a row.
AhnLab’s V3Net product had some difficulties in the last comparative (see VB, August 2008, p.13), with the introduction of some engine upgrades causing some crashes during on-access scanning. The product provided for this test seemed pretty similar on the surface, with a simple and fairly attractive interface which kept some of its most useful controls hidden far away from where they might be expected to be found.
Some initial scanning results were safely obtained once the layout of the interface had been deciphered, but during on-access scanning of the trojan set blue screens were encountered, and repeated attempts to prevent this by the judicious removal of what were presumed to be offending samples proved fruitless. To get usable detection figures the set was eventually excluded from scanning entirely. By a chance mistake it was discovered that the list of executable file types did not include the .cmd extension used by some worms, which led to some worries until we found that the default setting was to scan all files regardless of type. The WildList was covered in full in both modes without further incident, and with speeds across the clean sets really quite good and false positives notably absent, V3Net makes the grade for a VB100 despite the wobbles.
Bucking the trend seen so far, Alwil provided a server-specific product for this test. The interface showed little difference from that seen in recent desktop tests, other than by the fact that the rather funky pared-down interface provided by default in the desktop version was absent. However, this made little difference to testing, which generally requires the advanced options provided by the grown-up interface.
Detection rates across the sets were highly impressive as ever, and speeds were pretty good on demand, and reasonable on access. No problems were encountered covering the WildList, and without any false positives Alwil wins another VB100 award.
Arcabit returns once more to the VB100 test bench, having made its first appearance for several years in the last comparative review (VB, August 2008, p.13). The product was unchanged from last time, with the interface impressing with its simplicity and clarity of design. The developer’s home market is hinted at by the fact that the option to switch into Polish is available from the system tray menu at all times.
Stability was similarly unimpeachable, even under the heavy strain of scanning large sets of new samples, and detection rates were fairly reasonable across the sets. However, a selection of samples recently added to the WildList were not detected, and in the clean set a small number of items were mislabelled as malware. Hence Arcabit does not qualify for a VB100 award this month, but continues to look likely to be a strong contender in the near future.
AVG also provided the same product for this test as for the recent Windows XP comparative: the most recent iteration of the company’s suite as reviewed here a few months ago (see VB, March 2008, p.18). The new layout is something of an improvement on earlier versions, but remains a little awkward in parts, and getting everything running proved somewhat more fiddly than seemed strictly necessary.
Stability proved no problem throughout the main body of the tests, and although a few issues were observed when scanning the larger sets of infected items, it seems unlikely that such a situation would be very common in the real world. Detection rates were as splendid as ever, and speeds were on the good side of medium. With no false positives and no problems covering the latest WildList, AVG earns another VB100 award.
Avira’s server edition proved very different from the desktop version, with a console approach using the Microsoft Management Console as a base. This offered less straightforward access to such things as on-demand scans, as it is intended for sysadmins to set up regular scans of file shares to protect their networks rather than for the simpler needs of the desktop user. However, configuration options were plentiful and reasonably accessible even for the demanding needs of a VB100 test run.
Detection rates were extremely high – approaching flawless, with the WildList detected effortlessly, and speeds likewise excellent across the board. Unfortunately, a single item in the clean set, which has gone many months without raising any suspicions, was labelled a trojan, and Avira thus does not qualify for a VB100 award this month.
CA’s eTrust product has barely changed in the last few years, with minor version changes little reflected in the product’s layout or performance. Again intended more for sysadmins to set up and leave alone, the interface is not ideal for heavy interaction, but provides adequate tuning options for the VB100 test requirements. Implementation of archive scanning seemed not to function properly on access, despite an option to enable it, and logging as usual proved rather ungainly, with access to scan results from the interface itself all but impossible to use. The sluggishness of the interface was amplified by some difficulties scanning larger sets of infected items, which dragged to a halt on several occasions.
These things aside, scanning speeds were as remarkable as ever, and detection rates pretty decent in the more standard sets, if a little disappointing in the new trojans set. False positives were absent, but in the WildList a single sample of one of the W32/Virut variants was not detected, and thus eTrust does not make the required grade for a VB100 award this month.
ESET’s highly regarded flagship product was subjected to a major overhaul not long ago, and the stylish new look remains impressive both visually and in usability terms. Tweaking the controls to fit our needs was as usual a delight, and testing zoomed along at its usual rapid pace. Scanning of the extremely large new sets proved a little more sluggish, presumably as the product’s strong heuristics kicked in, and on-access behaviour in the new trojan set was also a little odd, with many items not blocked on simple access but treated more severely when copying to the system or even browsing folders in Explorer.
Analysis of results showed the product’s usual excellent detection rates and yet more splendid scanning speeds over the clean sets, and with nothing missed in the WildList set ESET adds yet another VB100 to its record tally.
Fortinet’s product had a rather slow and lengthy installation process, and brought up one of the few query popups seen in this test, when Windows questioned the installation of a driver whose source it could not verify. Once up and running though, the interface presented few issues, being simple and straightforward and providing ample access to a wealth of configuration, as befits the more demanding requirements of a business environment.
Testing thus proceeded apace, with decent speeds and excellent stability even when scanning very large sets. Detection rates were as splendid as ever, but once again bizarrely let down by the trojan set, where detection was almost completely absent, leading to suspicions that some parts of the product were not fully functional. Nevertheless, with no false positives and full coverage of the WildList set, Fortinet gains another VB100 award.
The Frisk product is simple in the extreme, with a very sparse and plain interface presented after the straightforward setup and obligatory reboot. Minimal configuration options kept work to a minimum, helped by zippy scanning speeds and low overheads, and detection was as usual excellent. A few crashes were observed while scanning large infected sets, including several during on-access scanning, but despite messages claiming the product had ceased to function it continued to block access to malware samples as if nothing had happened.
Detection rates were as solid as ever, and with the WildList fully covered and no false positives detected in the clean set, Frisk survives a few stability issues to claim another VB100 award.
F-Secure joined the ranks of those providing a special server edition for this test, but after the customary fast and easy installation process nothing seemed very different from the standard desktop product seen in recent tests. The layout of the small window is pleasantly accessible, and allowed all the required tuning to get tests tripping nicely along. Thorough scanning is an available option, and in some cases the default and, with a multiple-engine approach, the speed tests took quite a while to get through. The manufacturer advises that archive scanning on access is best left switched off.
Logging once again left much to be desired, with the HTML log files that were produced regularly appearing curtailed to the point of uselessness, mainly when a large number of infections was found by a single scan. Some careful scan management eventually produced some excellent detection figures, with no problems in the WildList. Unfortunately, however, one of the new additions to the clean test set, a harmless Perl editing tool, was mislabelled as a member of the Hupigon trojan family, thus denying F-Secure a VB100 this month and boding ill for the several other products that share core components.
Kaspersky’s server version installs its basics as a bare protection system with no controls made available to the general user, but instead a special administration interface is provided for admins to manage system protection remotely. Again based on the MMC, this proved reasonably easy to navigate and access to the core controls was soon established.
Stability and logging presented no problems, and detection rates were highly impressive as expected, with a concomitant sluggishness in scanning times and overheads as files were subjected to close scrutiny. Unsurprisingly, the Perl tool which tripped up F-Secure also produced a false positive here, and thus Kaspersky is denied a VB100 award this time despite full coverage of the WildList samples.
Kingsoft, proud holder of a brace of VB100 awards, has had some problems with stability in recent tests, with detection rates fluctuating wildly from one install to another. No such issues were in evidence this time around however, with a pleasantly designed interface providing ample controls in an easy fashion and scanning holding strong under a heavy onslaught of infected samples.
Detection rates were markedly improved in the set of worms and bots, but still lagging somewhat elsewhere, while the WildList was handled without difficulties. In the clean sets scanning speeds were remarkably slow in both on-demand and on-access measurements, but no false positives were raised and Kingsoft thus earns itself a third VB100 award.
McAfee’s product remains a stolid old trooper, unlovely perhaps, but efficient and businesslike with its sensible, unflashy design. Accessing the required controls proved no problem after much exposure to the same interface, and the tests were completed in excellent time, helped along by reasonable scanning speeds and an absence of any wobbliness or other unexpected behaviour.
Detection rates were excellent and reliable, and with no false positives or WildList misses McAfee also adds another notch to its VB100 bedpost.
Forefront, corporate big brother of Microsoft’s OneCare, has a slick and very Windows-y appearance, with an unsurprising but rather disappointing lack of serious configuration options. On demand at least the defaults were very thorough, with all files and all archive types scanned to an impressive depth, but nevertheless speeds were decent and tests completed in good time with no false positives to upset things.
Scanning the infected sets was similarly free from excessive difficulty, although in larger sets the product’s insistence on using the event log as its only usable means of reporting caused some headaches, when large numbers of detections of a single variant tried to squeeze into a single event entry, overflowing it and losing some data. Nevertheless, results were eventually obtained, showing pretty good detection rates and complete coverage of the WildList, thus earning Microsoft another VB100 award.
MWTI’s eScan is another product based on Kaspersky Lab’s AVP engine, and as such seemed at risk from the same minor misdemeanour which has brought a couple of products low this month. The installation was smooth, fast and simple, with an automatic scan of system areas and a reboot afterwards, and once running, the interface proved amenable, although accessing the browse function of the on-demand scanner often took rather a long time. As expected, scanning speeds were less than stellar, but great thoroughness was evident in both the depth and breadth of file types scanned and in the excellent detection rates across the sets.
No problems were encountered in the WildList but, as feared, that pesky Perl utility once again popped up while scanning the clean sets, and this single false positive is enough to spoil MWTI’s chances of a VB100 this time.
After the appearance of a rather unusual new product from Norman in the last comparative, it came as something of a relief to see the more familiar version back once more for this test.
The product itself is not without its quirks, with on-demand scans necessitating the use of multiple windows to access configuration, scan design and actual running, but once we had refamiliarized ourselves with this things moved along nicely. Scanning extremely large infected sets proved a rather slow job, presumably as the ‘sandbox’ system delved deeply into malicious behaviours, but over the clean test sets speeds were splendid in some areas and at least decent in others. Detection rates were similarly reasonable, with no problems in either the WildList or the clean set, and Norman thus qualifies for a VB100 award.
Quick Heal’s product presents a chirpy, friendly face to the world, and continues to justify its name with rapidity in most areas. Installation was a breeze, with a complimentary pre-scan of system areas and no reboot required, and navigating the interface presented no shocks or pitfalls.
Scanning speeds were, well, quick, and overheads barely noticeable, while detection rates were only reasonable, with the trojan set particularly poorly covered. The WildList presented far fewer difficulties however, and a VB100 seemed assured, until a single item in the clean set, a component of the popular ‘IrfanView’ utility long lurking somewhere in the depths of the set, was mislabelled as a password-stealing trojan. As a result, no VB100 award is granted to Quick Heal this month.
Redprotect is another implementation of the Kaspersky scanning engine, aimed here at the managed service arena, and thus with little interaction from end-users intended. A rough engineer’s interface is kindly provided to grant some access to the controls without having to resort to registry adjustments, but this was barely needed as sensible defaults were in place across the board. In an improvement on previous performances, the defaults seemed to function as expected throughout. At one point a scan was kicked off with apparently no effect; while the number of files processed rocketed quickly upward, the number actually scanned and, more significantly, the number of detections, remained at zero. Restarting the job rectified things, and the issue was not repeated, but nevertheless it proved a little disquieting. Logging was also a little fiddly, with each handful of detections recorded in a separate XML file, which soon built up to an impressive number, requiring considerable processing power to draw out the required data, but with a little patience this was soon achieved.
As expected, detection results were generally excellent, and speeds more on the medium side, with again that single item in the clean set false alarmed on. Also here, a single sample in the WildList, an autorun type worm, was rather surprisingly not picked up on access, pushing a VB100 award still further from Redstone’s reach this month.
Rising, flushed with success after achieving its first VB100 award in the last comparative review, returns to the test bench with what seems to be an identical product. The slick and smooth installer led to a similarly clear and usable interface, accompanied by a cavorting lion cartoon on the desktop, which greatly entertained the new member of the testing team with its antics.
Speeds were a little below par, and detection rates slightly on the patchy side in the polymorphic and trojan test sets, but stability was rock solid throughout the test. No problems were encountered in the WildList, and with no false positives generated either, Rising takes home a second VB100 in a row.
Sophos’s core product continues a long run with no visible changes, despite much activity in the company’s portfolio, and remains a pleasant midpoint between corporate sterility and cartoonish glossiness. As remarked previously, the installer offers the exciting prospect of removing competitors’ products from the system before getting underway, and soon has things up and running without the need for a reboot. The initial, fairly lax settings can easily be upped to cover a more thorough range of file and archive types, with some even more in-depth configuration tucked away in a super-advanced section. Scanning moved along at a pleasant pace with no upsets or shocks.
Detection rates were mostly pretty good, and speeds decidedly so. With no problems in either the WildList or the clean set, beyond a fair number of samples flagged as using unusual packing techniques, Sophos is awarded a VB100.
Symantec’s product, once dignified and humourless, has veered to the other extreme, with a curvy, gaudy design clearly aimed at the less business-like business user. With the change has come an inevitable reduction in the wealth of options available, but the product remains generally stable and solid.
Opening large logs from within the interface brought the system to a near halt on several occasions, with several long periods of unresponsive, transparent windows to be endured before the required data could be accessed. However, once acquired and parsed, with a great deal of extraneous material discarded, results were much as expected. Speeds were reasonable on demand and very good on access, detection rates pretty high with complete coverage of the WildList, and with no false positives evident Symantec earns a VB100 award.
Trustport’s multi-engine approach has fluctuated greatly of late, both in the range of engines available and its success in VB testing. Now the company seems to have settled on just two engines: those of AVG (here still labelled Grisoft, in defiance of the firm’s recent name change) and Norman. The AVG engine appears to be enabled at all times, with the Norman engine an extra which is on by default but can be deactivated.
Aside from some strange use of English in the installation process, and some issues with the logging of outsize test sets, no major difficulties were encountered. Speeds were not the best, thanks to the doubling up of engines, but detection rates were highly praiseworthy. In the clean sets, a couple of items were highlighted as using suspicious packing techniques, in wording which came dangerously close to being adjudged false positives, but these were not in the end deemed to be full false alerts.
With no other problems Trustport scrapes through to a VB100 award after some rocky results in recent months.
VirusBuster brings up the rear of the test as usual, with much the same product as seen in numerous previous tests and few explicit nods to the server environment. The layout is somewhat esoteric and fiddly, and was not popular with the new member of the team, who was tasked with tackling its strange design to set up a series of scheduled scans over a long weekend, but once the right technique was hit upon testing was completed tolerably easily, with no serious problems.
Scanning speeds were pretty impressive, quite startlingly so in scanning miscellaneous file types on demand, but on access the option to enable archive scanning seemed not to function as promised. Detection rates were mostly reasonable, though not so hot in the trojan set, but with no false positives or WildList misses VirusBuster completes this comparative on a high, winning a VB100 award.
Another month, another comparative review, this one rendered rather special by the new additional help available in the testing lab, which enabled the review to squeeze in under the wire just before the team heads off to Ottawa for this year’s VB conference. It was a pretty close call however, with many products taking far longer to get through the test than expected, mainly due to instability under heavy pressure and unexpected, even downright contrary behaviour.
The instability and bad behaviour was most in evidence in the additional testing running parallel with this month’s test, trialling a new set-up we hope to have fully operational soon. The trial has shown some serious difficulties with persuading some products to behave themselves properly when called on to do their very utmost, meaning that some minor tweaks to the test design may be required prior to the official introduction of these tests, in order to ensure useful data can be obtained and presented in a reasonable time frame.
In the main body of the test, things were much as usual. A few products had some issues with the WildList, with the very pesky W32/Virut#10 once again raising its ugly head after many months on the list. The main reason for products being denied certification, however, was the generation of false positives, with only a handful of files tripping up a sizeable number of products. This was mostly thanks to several products including the same single engine, which in turn mislabelled a single file. This is an indicator of the toughness and the unforgiving nature of the VB100 system, and what makes it such a sought-after and widely respected scheme. Those products that managed to pass should hold their heads up high, while those who didn’t quite make it this time, all highly regarded and reliable products, will likely find themselves back up on the podium soon.
Test environment. All products were tested on identical systems with AMD Athlon64 X2 Dual Core 5200+ processors, 2 GB RAM, dual 80 GB and 400 GB hard drives, running Microsoft Windows Server 2008 (32-bit).
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