How to interpret anti-malware tests

Luis Corrons 17 Apr 2023

Understanding how to interpret anti-malware test results is crucial when choosing the best anti-malware software for your needs.

It can be overwhelming navigating the world of anti-malware software. With so many different products and test results out there, it can be difficult to know which one to choose in order to keep your computer and information safe. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how to interpret anti-malware test results in a way that's easy to understand, so that you can find the best product for your needs. 

First, it's important to understand what anti-malware software is and what it does. Anti-malware software is designed to protect your computer from malicious software, or malware. Malware can include viruses, Trojans, worms, and other types of malicious attacks such as phishing that can either damage your computer, steal your personal information, or spy on your online activity. Anti-malware software is designed to detect and remove these threats before they can do harm to your system, or remove them if they are already in. 

The way anti-malware software performs its job depends on a number of different layers of protection based in different technologies. To make it more interesting (or maybe more confusing), different vendors have different technologies that might get the same result doing things differently.  

What is independent anti-malware testing? 

When it comes to choosing anti-malware software, you'll want to look at test results from independent testing organizations. These organizations test anti-malware software to determine how effective it is at detecting and removing malware. The most well-known testing organizations are AV-Comparatives, AV-TEST, and SE Labs. These organizations perform a variety of tests on anti-malware software, including real-world protection tests, performance tests, and false positive tests. 

Some types of anti-malware tests include: 

  • Real-world protection tests, which are designed to simulate real-world conditions, so that the test results are as close to real-world performance as possible. These tests measure how well the anti-malware software is able to detect, block and remove malware in a variety of scenarios, including web browsing, downloading files, and opening email attachments. 

  • Performance tests measure how much of an impact the anti-malware software has on your computer's performance. This is important because some anti-malware software can slow down your computer significantly, while others have little to no impact on performance. 

  • False positive tests measure how often the anti-malware software incorrectly identifies legitimate software as malware. This is important because if the anti-malware software is too aggressive in its detection, it may block legitimate software from running on your computer.

When looking at test results, you'll want to pay attention to the overall score, as well as the scores for each individual test. A high overall score indicates that the anti-malware software is effective at detecting and removing malware, while also having little impact on your computer's performance and a low rate of false positives. 

It's also important to note that different anti-malware products may perform better in different types of tests. For example, one product may excel in real-world protection tests but perform poorly in performance tests. Another product may have a high rate of false positives but be very effective at removing malware. You'll need to consider your own needs and preferences when choosing the best anti-malware software for you. 

Other considerations when choosing anti-malware software 

In addition to the factors mentioned in the previous section, there are several other aspects that you should consider when selecting anti-malware software. 

1. Ease of use 

Ease of use is an important factor to consider, especially if you're not particularly tech-savvy. Some anti-malware software can be quite complex and difficult to navigate, which can make it challenging to configure properly. Look for software that has a user-friendly interface and offers clear instructions for configuring and using the software. 

2. Configuration  

Configuration options are also important to consider. Some anti-malware software may require a lot of user input in order to function properly, while others are more automated. Consider your own level of technical expertise and how much time and effort you're willing to invest in configuring and maintaining your anti-malware software. 

3. Additional features 

Another factor to consider is whether the anti-malware software includes any additional features or extras that can help enhance your security and privacy. Some software may include password managers, VPNs, secure browsers, and game modes that can help protect your computer and personal information in different ways. While these features are not essential for all users, they can be helpful for those who are looking for a more comprehensive security solution. 

4. Reputation 

Additionally, it's important to consider the overall reputation of the anti-malware software you're considering. Look for software that has a good track record of detecting and removing malware, and that is regularly updated with the latest threat definitions. You can also read reviews from other users to get a sense of their experiences with the software. 

5. Cost 

Lastly, consider the cost of the anti-malware software. While some products may be free, others may require a subscription or a one-time purchase, and others may offer multi-device protection. Look for software that offers a good balance of affordability and effectiveness, and that fits within your budget. 

Standardized anti-malware testing with the AMTSO 

Nowadays it is impossible to talk about anti-malware tests without mentioning the Anti-Malware Testing Standard Organization (AMTSO), an international non-profit association that focuses on addressing the global need for improvement in the objectivity, quality, and relevance of anti-malware testing methodologies. Created in 2008, AMTSO has more than 50 members including major independent testing organizations and anti-malware software vendors.  

One of the first achievements of the organization was the creation of The Fundamental Principals of Testing, following the belief that we must behave ethically, test properly, and communicate in a fair and accurate way. This was the foundation of what years later became one of the main milestones achieved by AMTSO: the creation and publication of the AMTSO Testing Protocol Standard. 

The AMTSO Testing Protocol Standard is a set of guidelines that outline the best practices for conducting tests of anti-malware software. These guidelines were developed by a group of industry experts, including anti-malware vendors, testing organizations, and researchers, in order to promote transparency, fairness, and accuracy in anti-malware testing. 

When an anti-malware test follows the AMTSO Testing Protocol Standard, it means that the test was conducted using a standardized methodology that adheres to these guidelines. The guidelines cover various aspects of testing, including sample selection, test design, and reporting of results. By following these guidelines, testing organizations can help ensure that their tests are fair, unbiased, and accurately reflect the performance of the anti-malware software being tested. 

In addition, vendors that participate in AMTSO can use the results of these tests to improve their products and enhance their detection capabilities. By following the AMTSO Testing Protocol Standard, anti-malware testing organizations can help create a more transparent and collaborative ecosystem for anti-malware software, benefiting both vendors and end-users alike. 

A very interesting service AMTSO offers to everyone is a section where they track anti-malware tests that are published, giving you access to hundreds of them. Even better, they let you filter those tests by a number of variables, such as the platform (Windows, Mac, Android, etc.), vendors or, even better, those that follow the AMTSO Testing Protocol Standard. 

Understanding how to interpret anti-malware test results is crucial when choosing the best anti-malware software for your needs. Look for test results from independent testing organizations, pay attention to the overall score as well as the scores for individual tests, and consider your own needs and preferences when deciding. By following these guidelines, you can be sure to choose an anti-malware product that will keep your computer and personal information safe from malware. 

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