Consumer Reports rates security suites

New computers almost always come loaded with the trial version of a software suite designed to thwart spam, viruses, and spyware. But Consumer Reports’ latest tests of 11 security suites show that not all of them deliver enough protection to justify paying $50 or more for the continued protection after the trial period.

Consumer Reports’ tests of security software were conducted both in-house and in an independent research laboratory. The tests tracked how rapidly the programs addressed actual threats newly discovered by security researchers. In addition, Consumer Reports looked at programs with modified badware (spyware and adware) and also evaluated whether programs wrongly identified benign files as threats, which might prompt users to delete an important e-mail or a system file that the machine needs to operate.

For optimal protection, users should consider BitDefender, $50. Consumer Reports tests revealed it was consistently very good in performance and fairly rich in features, including the best array of antivirus tools of the high-rated suites. McAfee’s Internet Security Suite with SiteAdvisor, $50, is a fine choice for a newer computer. It performed comparably to BitDefender and is among the most effective against spam and phishing.

Users who practice careful computing and want to protect their computers without paying fees should consider free software. Consumer Reports testers combined three free online security programs – Avira AntiVir Personal Edition Classic 7, Microsoft Windows Defender, and SPAMfighter Standard – and assembled them into a makeshift suite that actually performed better than some lo-rated suites. The freeware suite lacks the optimal protection and rich features of the best suites, but it provides decent protection, is easy enough to use, and won’t hog much of a computer’s memory.

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