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updated 10/16/2012 3:21:58 PM ET 2012-10-16T19:21:58

Kaspersky Lab and Norton Symantec rule the roost when it comes to the effectiveness of anti-virus software, new reports from a London-based testing lab say.

Dennis Technology Labs, a spin-off from men's-magazine publisher Dennis Publishing, also found that McAfee's products lagged far behind the competition, beating only Microsoft's free and paid anti-virus software.

However, Dennis' tests, which separately analyzed consumer, small-business and enterprise anti-virus products, were all conducted on PCs running Windows XP Service Pack 3 and Internet Explorer 7. Both software packages are years out of date.

The labs' reports state that this was "due to the high prevalence of Internet threats that rely on this combination."

Microsoft, if not the other anti-virus makers, might take umbrage that its products are being judged on operating systems that are three generations of Windows behind.

[ Do You Really Need to Pay for Anti-Virus Software?]

Scarlet letters

Kaspersky Internet Security 2012 topped Dennis' charts in the home anti-virus protection category, followed closely by Norton Internet Security 2012. Both garnered "AAA" ratings from Dennis.

BitDefender Internet Security 2013 and ESET Smart Security 5 got "AA" ratings, but Trend Micro Internet Security 2012 got only a "B," and AVG Internet Security 2012 came out with a "C."

Still, that would have been an improvement over McAfee Internet Security 2012's score. Neither it, a paid product from America's second-largest anti-virus company (and a division of chip maker Intel), nor Microsoft's free Microsoft Security Essentials scored high enough to warrant a letter grade.

(Microsoft Security Essentials, once an optional download, has been beefed up, renamed "Windows Defender" and preloaded into all copies of the upcoming Windows 8, which itself is many times more secure than any version of Windows XP.)

"McAfee and AVG did relatively poorly in the consumer test because they were compromised quite a few times, and neutralized fewer threats than the better-performing products," Dennis Technology Labs technical director Simon Edwards told the British tech blog The Register.

Kaspersky also did well in the small-business category, where its Kaspersky Small Office Security came in just behind Sophos Anti-Virus Business. Both packages were rated "AAA." (Sophos products were not tested in either of the other categories.)

Trend Micro Worry-Free Business Security Services and Symantec .Cloud put in good showings and received "A" scores, but McAfee again fell far short.  Its McAfee Security-as-a-Service let through so much malware that it ended up with a negative numerical score and no letter grade.

In the enterprise category, Symantec Endpoint Protection led the pack with an "AAA" grade, while Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Windows got an "A." There were no "B"s, but McAfee got its sole letter grade with a "C" for McAfee VirusScan, HIPs and SiteAdvisor.

It was Trend Micro's turn to fall short, with no letter grade for Trend Micro OfficeScan and Intrusion Defense Firewall. It was joined in the hall of shame by Microsoft System Center Endpoint Protection, whose overall numerical score was barely a third of Symantec's.

Edwards told The Register that the top winners varied from category to category probably "because the settings have been changed for different markets  ...  A vendor may tune a business product to generate false positives less often than a consumer product."

True objectivity?

Followers of anti-virus rankings may nevertheless want to take Dennis' test results with a grain of salt.

Dennis says it has been testing anti-virus software for years, but this week's is the first time it has published results that weren't sponsored by a major anti-virus software vendor.

Dennis is hardly alone in this respect. Many "independent" software-testing labs have their tests paid for by one or more of the companies whose products they're testing. It shouldn't be surprising that sponsors' products often place highly in results.

For an alternative, arguably more thorough, approach, visit the website of German anti-virus tester AV-TEST, which ranks nearly two dozen products in multiple categories across all currently supported versions of Windows.

© 2012 TechNewsDaily

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