You need anti-virus and there is a lot of advice online about what to buy. Who can you trust?
Some anti-virus reviewers know what they’re talking about. Others do not. Some are just in it for the money. How can you tell which reviews are worth your time?
How to choose anti-virus for your computer and your family
Most people believe that you should use anti-virus on your computer. Independent security experts, governments, and every computer journalist on the planet promote this advice. And they are not wrong. There’s no doubt that installing anti-virus is one of the most important things you can do to keep your computer and its data safe.
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Not all anti-virus is created equal
But not all antivirus programs are created equal. This is because the bad guys are always changing how they attack. Antivirus companies must keep track and update your software to block them. Some companies are better than others at spotting the trends. As we mentioned last month, even independent security experts stop helping you decide which program to use. So how do you decide?
The simple answer is to check our website. Our home endpoint security reports are all you need.
(‘Endpoint’ is the name the security industry uses for computer antivirus software).
But you can choose to look further. This guide will help you sort the helpful reviews from the misleading ones.
TIP: We don’t expect everyone to read through every antivirus report we produce, but it helps to check the headlines in the most recent one or two.
With a quick glance you can see who the frontrunners are. Then you can decide what to buy based on these details and other important details like price.
What about other reviews?
Given that you may want to look beyond SE Labs for anti-virus advice (), where else should you go? The safest option is to visit websites belonging to well-known, professional antivirus testers. There are only a handful, and most are members of the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization. AMTSO follows tests of members and notable non-members.
Beware of fake reviews
However, not every antivirus test is worth your attention. While we cheer enthusiastic amateurs getting involved in the security world, homemade tests are sometimes unintentionally biased.
It’s like trusting your friends in the bar (or on social media) to give good advice about vaccine technology or investing in the stock market. You may listen to them, but hopefully won’t make life-changing decisions based entirely on their opinions.
Although established professional testers do not always agree with each other, they use scientific methods to make sure that antivirus software is working properly. If they all agree that certain products are strong, you can be confident in choosing them.
But less rigorous reviews on the Internet can be very misleading. How can you figure out which reviews are worth your time and which are so naive or made up that you should ignore them completely?
If you search for “Best Antivirus” on Google and YouTube, you will see many reviews. Who are these people? And how do they decide which antivirus programs are best? Can you trust their opinions much, if at all?
Some reviews are created by enthusiasts or journalists. Others are created by business people who make money by promoting antivirus products. They then earn commission when you buy them. Some review organizations are even run by security companies that sell anti-virus products!
Example: Security detectives
The SafetyDetectives site makes security software recommendations. This website is owned by a company that produces security software. We know this because SafetyDetectives openly admits it.
A link at the top of the webpage called ‘Proprietary’ produces a pop-up indicating that the site is owned by Kape Technologies PLC, which in turn owns ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, ZenMate, Private Internet Access and the Mac antivirus product Intego. And yes, Intego is listed as one of the best antivirus products, along with the usual four we mentioned above. We welcome this unusual level of transparency.
You may be concerned about financial advice from someone who earns commission on the pension plans, energy deals or painkillers they recommend. The same applies here. The reviewer is biased and makes recommendations for their benefit, not necessarily yours.
Can you imagine a situation where a company selling a product would ever recommend a competitor? Keep this in mind when reading an anti-virus review published by an anti-virus reseller.
What is affiliate marketing and can you trust it?
It is possible to earn money online by selling products for other companies. This is called ‘affiliate marketing’ and it is similar to when you share a link to a product on Amazon and get a small amount of money if someone follows that link and buys the item.
According to online shopping site Shopify, affiliate marketing allows you to “earn a commission by promoting a product or service made by another retailer…using an affiliate link.”
If we post special links to McAfee, Norton or Avira on our site, you can click through, buy one of those products and we’ll make a small amount of money. Those companies will know you clicked through from our site and reward us for bringing them new business.
But we don’t, in part because it would undermine the independence of our reports. If we provided affiliate links, you might reasonably suspect that we would be tempted to give top marks to the best paying products.
When affiliate marketing works
Affiliate marketing can work responsibly. British financial expert Martin Lewis runs the MoneySavingExpert website, which makes money by providing affiliate links. But the business team looks for these links after the advice is written. There is an editorial code published on the website. It is up to individuals whether they choose to believe that MoneySavingExpert lives up to its claims and code or not, but at least it makes some clear claims.
The antivirus-affiliated marketing schemes we see online are usually much less transparent.
Many of the reviews we’ve seen from different sources agree very closely with each other. They consistently recommend products from the same four or five antivirus companies. Could it be that each of these reviewers managed to independently reach the same conclusions based on testing?
It’s possible, but since the reviewers don’t give details about how they test, we can only guess. Another possibility is that they have all identified the antivirus companies that run high paying affiliate marketing schemes. It is possible that they recommend the products that will bring them the most money.
Are all reviews rubbish?
Making money isn’t illegal and maybe these four frequently recommended products are really good. So, can these reviews still be useful? Yes, if the reviewers were clear about how they decided which antivirus products to recommend. If they explain how they tested that would help. If they claim to follow sensible guidelines, they can avoid accusations of bias. We will know that they are not only recommending certain products to earn the best commissions.
TIP: How to spot a helpful review
- It explains how the reviewer tested the product
- It claims to follow certain security industry guidelines
- It complies with the AMTSO standard
- It makes money by selling its recommended products
- It puts opinion and intuition before facts
If a review states that it recommends products because of the commissions, customers can at least understand what is going on and decide whether to trust it or not.
Ideally, reviewers would follow the one accepted standard for testing anti-virus. Then we could have confidence in their results. Or enough understanding to judge the merits of the review process.
For example, if they chose the best products by rolling a die, they should say so and we, the customer, can decide if this is an acceptable way to decide. If they don’t tell us how they come to their decisions, we can’t know how seriously to take them.
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Feel the quality
The ‘best antivirus’ reviews we’ve read and looked at tend to focus on ‘feelings’ of security rather than facts. Sometimes reviewers run very basic tests that don’t highlight the products or give them a chance to show the strength of their features.
For this blog post, we selected the first YouTube antivirus review that appeared on Google with the search term, “best antivirus”. It was published by cybernews. The reviewer, “felt so safe with [product name]… With all these features, I really felt like the viruses never came close.”
Feelings drive the reviewer’s opinion. This opinion is based on the existence of features. The reviewer largely assumes these features work, although he did run a very small anti-malware test. He says he, “planted 10 malicious files on my computer.”
How did they test?
We don’t know how he did it. What does “planted” mean? Did he copy the files from a USB drive, giving the antivirus programs a chance to detect them as they arrive? Or download it from a malicious website? Or send them by email? All of these are realistic ways to bring malware to a system.
Or did he disable the anti-virus, copy the files to the system and then run a basic scan in a very limited and unrealistic test. We don’t know because he doesn’t say.
Its performance testing is also extremely vague. The product “may slow down an older device.” Well, it may, or it may not. Did he test it with a number of computers to find out? How are those computers set up? Did it contain a lot of files or a regular Windows installation? We don’t know because he doesn’t say.
Cybernews’ website claims its reviewers, “link and evaluate products and services because of their quality and not because of the compensation we receive.” You deserve to know how reviews like this rate quality.
How to choose anti-virus
The best way to choose an antivirus product is to check the reviews of well-known scientific testing organizations. Then consider the products that have performed best over a period of time, and that have features that you personally care about. Price should also be a big consideration.
Avoid hyped reviews that talk about how ‘awesome’ an antivirus program is, without providing any detail about what ‘awesome’ means.
Use affiliate sites if they can offer you savings on antivirus products, but we respectfully suggest you don’t trust their lists of ‘best’ products without double-checking with reports like the ones we provide for free on our website.
The post Beware of Fake Anti-Virus Reviews appeared first on SE Labs Blog.
*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from SE Labs Blog written by Simon PG Edwards. Read the original post at: https://blog.selabs.uk/2022/09/beware-fake-anti-virus-reviews/