Virus scanning technology is very effective at recognising known threats using virus signature files containing data on the characteristics of known viruses. However, there will often be a time lag between the release of a new virus and the release of a new signature file, simply because it is impossible to produce a virus signature if there is no virus to work from. Therefore, the more updates and the quicker they come the better.
Any anti virus package worth is box will also have a good heuristic scanning mechanism, allowing it to pick up unknown viruses based on behaviour anomalies as a virus tries to enter and attack the PC.
The levels of centralised verses localised management of an anti virus product can vary wildly between products, even those clearly labelled as being for a business environment. While we don't expect consumer products to have such features, many do, while those intended for the corporate world can vary wildly from basic tools to extremely good tools for managing deployment and updates from a single source within the IT department.
All of the four products we are testing in this group test have proven track records in the anti-virus market, have extensive technical support facilities and are more than capable of operating in larger networks.
While some of the products tested are available for multiple operating system platforms, we focused on Windows, with all four products tested running on our test Windows XP client.
For this group test we have focused on anti virus solutions for a workplace of 25 people - all our tested products are rated and priced based on their initial 25-user licence pricing. All come with one year of updates for the price.
We installed each application on an identical clean Windows XP machine with service pack 2 installed, performed a full system scan, and then introduced numerous clean and infected files to the machine via USB sticks, CD and email. The email client used in all cases was Microsoft's Outlook 2003.
As expected, none of the systems on test failed to detect our test viruses. However, this is one occasion when the virus-catching abilities of the products are not actually our biggest concern. We expected and were proved correct that all four would be excellent virus hunters, but which is best suited to a business environment. This is the key question.
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