Microsoft’s Anti-Malware Passes Test that Symantec Fails

For a long time now, anti-malware vendors have pondered the possibility that Microsoft eventually would release a free Windows-based security suite that would prove effective enough to kill off or seriously enfeeble the paid-for products of security stalwarts.

Until now, vendors of anti-malware consumer products have debunked the idea. Symantec, in particular, suggested that Microsoft would never get it right or would leave enough gaps for competing revenue-generating anti-malware products to remain commercially viable.

It might be time for Symantec to revisit those assumptions.

Virus Bulletin has published its latest evaluation of anti-malware offerings. The results are good news for some, including Microsoft, and bad news for others, including Symantec.

First, a little about the Virus Bulletin methodology, as channeled by Ars Technica:

Virus Bulletin (VB) conducted its latest test in July, posting the results this month. The security research company evaluated 35 anti-malware products for the 32-bit version of Windows Vista SP2 Business. The basic requirements for a product passing the test is detecting, both on demand and on access, in its default settings, all malware known to be “In the Wild” at the time of the review, and not detecting any false positives when scanning a set of clean files. The products were pitted against about 3,000 unique samples of malware that fall into four categories: WildList viruses, Worms and bots, Polymorphic viruses, and Trojans.

You can see the list of products that passed and failed at Ars Technica, which also links to Virus Bulletin, where subscribers can peruse the actual report. I just want to note that most of the major security vendors passed the test, including McAfee, Sophos, F-Secure, Kaspersky, and the like.

Microsoft’s Forefront Client Security was also among those accorded a passing grade. That rates as a significant development.

Also significant is that Symantec’s Endpoint Protection failed. As Ars Technica reported:

Symantec’s failure is particularly unacceptable as the security giant is often talked up as the top dog in the market. Microsoft’s success with its Forefront product is promising not only for business users, but for consumers as well, given that the upcoming Microsoft Security Essentials product is closely tied to it.

Well said, but let’s consider the commercial implications. Microsoft security-product marketers will be all over this news, while Symantec marketers will be running in the opposite direction.

It’s one thing to sell anti-malware when you can make a case that freeware doesn’t perform as well as your for-pay products. But what happens when that’s no longer true? What happens when Microsoft Security Essentials, which will cost consumers nothing, can do as good a job at securing Windows-based PCs as can a decidedly more expensive offering from Symantec?

At the point, what happens is a sea change in the marketplace.

At least Symantec still has its enterprise and SMB markets to provide comfort and joy. Unfortunately, it’s losing ground in those markets, too.

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