Security software: How we test security software
Security software testing in brief
Our security software testing is based on three important aspects:
- How effectively it responds to viruses and other security threats to keep your computer as safe as possible
- Is it easy to purchase, install and interact with the software on a day-to-day basis so that your security is maximised?
- What extra tools does it offer? And how easy are they to use?
To test this, we run each software through a series of tests involving real security threats.
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How we choose products for testing
We carefully select the programs we test, scouring the market for the latest releases and the most innovative products. We aim to cover as much of the market as possible. While we do test some premium products, we avoid testing those which you would need a second mortgage to afford.
We also make sure we test free options when they are available and programs suitable for Macs as well as PCs. We take the following criteria into account when choosing security software.
• Popularity - we test the biggest selling (or most downloaded) security software for both Mac and PC
• Innovation - we test security software with interesting, new features
• Cost - we test a range of products - from free downloads to more expensive paid-for security suites.
Testing security software
To ensure security programs offer good basic protection against day-to-day threats, we put together a horrible collection of old and new viruses and other malicious downloads, also known as malware.
We expose each security software package to these and analyse how they deal with the attacks.
In our tests, malware is delivered in different ways – through a zipped email file attachment, a USB stick, downloaded from a website or via a networked computer – to see how each program reacts and whether it catches malware early enough.
We also test the programs to ensure they don’t let you pass infected files to other people, even if the files haven’t been opened by yourself.
Programs with spam filters are subjected to more than 100 spam emails, with a few genuine ones thrown in. We even click on links contained in phishing emails – hoax emails sent in the hope that the recipient will enter confidential information – to see whether the software stops us from proceeding to these dangerous websites designed to lift user data or infect machines.
We probe firewalls for weaknesses to see how the software’s first line of defence measures up against hackers after your personal information.
We test parental controls for ability to block adult and other inappropriate websites, while checking to see how much control they offer to parents and whether interaction with the child is suitable.
We also examine identity protection, backup, tune-up and components of the software, for their effectiveness and usefulness.
We're on top of the latest trends - when manufacturers release new tools and features we ensure we put them to the test.
Ease of use
It's all very well for a security software program to pick up every virus and spam email that's out there, but it still needs to be easy to use and unobtrusive.
We look for security software that not only identifies threats, but warns you clearly and talks to you in jargon-free language as you go through the removal process. Points are deducted for confusing or overbearing alerts and any ambiguous action that could compromise security.
Before that, we buy and install each security software package on a ‘fresh’ computer, and rate this process looking out for complications and attempts to sell you more products.
We also carefully rate the initial software set-up process and first scan, looking to see if it's easy for a beginner to set up properly.
All the results are carefully analysed so that the highs and lows of every software package are revealed. If anything does not add up with a product then we will retest it. If there's a fault we'll purchase a new product or contact the manufacturer to see whether it’s a one-off issue, or symptomatic of a larger problem.
The security software score ignores price and is based on:
- Ease of use 55%
- Performance 40%
- Features 5%