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16 Signature Based Security Scanners Unplugged

Gizmo's Top 16 Security Scanners Unplugged


Picks
An analysis of how well 16 popular security products cope with the latest
generation of security threats.
Best Free Utilities
The Problem
Best Free Support Sites

In a previous article "The Home Computer Security Mess" I talked of the home
Best Paid Support Sites
computer security conundrum. On the one hand we have the rapidly increasing
sophistication of malware. On the other hand, computer security products have
Best Shareware and become so numerous, so complex and so overlapping in function that's it's become
Freeware Sites almost impossible for home users to make rational assessments of their
effectiveness.
Best Troubleshooting Sites
Towards a Solution
Best Sites for Tips, Tricks
and Tweaking As a first step towards clarification I decided earlier this year to carry out a series of
tests on home computer security programs. The first of these, reported here, is on
Best Computer Security signature based security products, the most widely deployed of all home computer
Sites security programs.

Best PC Support This class of security product based products includes anti-virus, anti-trojan and
Resources anti-spyware scanners.

Best Sites for Scripts, The tests I conducted were quite unlike the traditional tests of such products that
Drivers and Fonts focus on the adequacy of their signature detection.

Computer Glossaries,
In contrast, I wasn't interested in signature detection but rather how well the
Guides and Tutorials
products were equipped to handle the latest generation of security tests.

Contact info
In particular I was interested in the following questions:

Home
● Can the security product be easily terminated by a hostile malware
program?

● Can the program detect malware within archived and compressed


NEW Reviews: executable files?

Inkjet Printer ● Can it detect process injection?


Cartridges

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16 Signature Based Security Scanners Unplugged

● Does it monitor changes in the Windows startup folder and registry startup
If you are in the market for areas?
compatible inkjet printer
cartridges you should
check out our Editor's two ● Does the product detect the presence of running rootkits?
new series of reviews of
the best and cheapest
inkjet printer cartridge ● How good is it's protection again a modern blended threat?
sites.
● How well does the product protect against drive-by downloads?
If you are looking for the
very best inkjet cartridge
sites in terms of customer These are really important questions yet they are ignored in most product reviews.
support then go straight to A product may have outstanding malware detection but it's worth zip if the security
Inkjet printer cartridge program can be easily terminated by a PE encrypted malware program.
sites reviews. We've
bought inkjet cartridges
from all the sites listed
To answer these questions I used a number of different technical test procedures.
and can attest to the Several of these were based upon the methodology devised by Michel Aparicio at
quality of service offered. his blog site: http://kareldjag.over-blog.com/10-category-69553.html Full details of
the technical tests can be found in the detailed product test results below.
If the price of your inkjet
cartridges is this most
Test Methodology
important issue for you
then check out cheapest
inkjet cartridge sites. Here My short list of products to be tested included most of the most popular free and
we carry out a weekly commercial anti-virus, anti-trojan and anti-spyware scanners.
price check on scores of
inkjet cartridge sites and
list the cheapest ten. The programs tested were the most recent versions available at that time; June
2006. With a few minor exceptions, all programs were tested using their default
configurations. Where exceptions were made, they have been noted in the results.

Two products, Ewido and CounterSpy had betas of new versions available so I
Sick of Spam?
tested the betas as well as the current products. One product, Windows Defender
was only available in Beta form.
Gizmo reviews the best
spam blockers for
average users In total I ended up with 16 products. Each was tested on a virtual PC running on a
Best Spam Blockers VMWare workstation. Most products were tested using an unpatched version of
Windows XP. The beta products were tested with unpatched copy of Windows XP
SP2 as this was a minimum requirement.

Here's the list of products tested. You can click on the product to get the detailed
test results.
The Best Windows
Backup Software Note: Although I tested the most recent versions available at the time of testing in
June, almost all products will have been updated to some degree since then. At
Our editor reviews 18 of
the time of writing, August 2006, Ewido V4 has moved out of beta, SpySweeper
the best selling backup V5 has been released, Spyware Doctor is up to V4 and CounterSpy V2 is now at a
software products but can much more advanced beta version. My test results may have reduced applicability
only recommend five. But to these later versions.
only one, get his "Editor's
Choice"
● Ad-Aware V1.6 Pro

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16 Signature Based Security Scanners Unplugged

● Avast! Home V4.7

● AVG Anti-Virus Free V7.1

● BitDefender Pro V9.095

● Counter Spy V1.5

● CounterSpy V2.0.122 beta

● Ewido V3.5

● Ewido V4 beta

● Kaspersky AV V6.0.0

● NOD32 V2.51

● Norton Antivirus 2006

● SpyBot Search and Destroy V1.4

● Spyware Doctor V3.6

● Trojan Hunter v4.5

● WebRoot SpySweeper V4.5

● Windows Defender V1.1.1051

Can the security product be easily terminated by a hostile malware program?

In this test I tried terminating the product's monitor or core processes using several
different termination tools.

Application Termination Agent

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16 Signature Based Security Scanners Unplugged

Diamond
Windows Advanced IceSword/
Task Manager Program DarkSpy
Termination
Ad-Aware Pro V1.6 Fail Fail Fail
Avast! Home V4.7 Fail Fail Fail
AVG Anti-Virus Free V7.1 Fail Fail Fail
BitDefender Pro V9.095 Fail Fail Fail
CounterSpy V1.5 Fail Fail Fail
CounterSpy V2.0.122 beta Fail Fail Fail
Ewido v3.5 Resistant Resistant Fail
Ewido V4 beta Resistant Resistant Fail
Kaspersky AV V6.0.0 Resistant Resistant Fail
NOD32 V2.51 Resistant Resistant Resistant
Norton Antivirus 2006 Resistant Resistant Fail
SpyBot S&D V1.4 Fail Fail Fail
Spyware Doctor V3.6 Fail Fail Fail
Trojan Hunter V4.5 Fail Fail Fail
WebRoot SpySweeper V4.5 Fail Fail Fail
Windows Defender V1.1.1051 Fail Fail Fail

As you can see most products were easily terminated using Windows Task
Manager, a result that can only be described as feeble.

Ewido, Kaspersky and Norton put up decent fights. If I terminated their processes
the products would restart them again. However with the heavyweight tools I was
able to delete the source files so they could not be restarted..

Only NOD32 was resistant to all three methods of termination. Even so. I was still
able to terminate NOD32 by forcing a reboot and deleting some of its key files
during the boot process.

Can the program detect malware within archived and compressed executable
files?

1. Archive Detection

I tested detection within archives using by embedding a malware product that I


knew the product could detect within each of 11 different archive types: .7z, .bh, .
cab, .bz2, .gz, .jar, .lha, .rar, .tar, .yz1 and .zip.

I used installation default settings in all cases but note that some products such as
SpySweeper and Ad-Aware will only scan archives if you change the default
settings. This possibility was not tested.

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16 Signature Based Security Scanners Unplugged

7z bh cab bz2 gz jar lha rar tar yz1 zip


Ad-Aware Pro V1.6
Avast! Home V4.7 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
AVG Anti-Virus Free V7.1 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
BitDefender Pro V9.095 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
CounterSpy V1.5
CounterSpy V2.0.122 beta
Ewido v3.5 Y Y Y Y
Ewido V4 beta Y Y Y Y
Kaspersky AV V6.0.0 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
NOD32 V2.51 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Norton Antivirus 2006 Y Y Y Y
SpyBot S&D V1.4
Spyware Doctor V3.6
Trojan Hunter V4.5 Y Y
WebRoot SpySweeper V4.5
Windows Defender V1.1.1051 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y

Three aspects of the results are notable. First, no product scanned within all the
archives. Second no product scanned the .bh and .yz1 archive types. Finally
several products didn't scan even the most common archives such as .zip, .rar
and .cab.

If a program doesn't scan with a particular type of archive file it can never detect
any malware that is within such a archive. It should however be capable of
detecting the product once it is extracted from the archive.

However many folks routinely scan downloaded files before installing as a


precaution. If that file happens to be archived then there are good chances that a
scan will not reveal anything. If you use Ad-Aware, CounterSpy, SpyBot, Spyware
Doctor or SpySweeper with their default settings, you are wasting your time. None
of these products scan within any archive.

Compressed Executable Detection

To test detection within compressed executables I packed a malware program that


I knew the product could detect using 11 different packers: WinZip SEA, WinRar
SEA, Morphine, NSPack, Yoda, UPX, Thermida, Petite, TELock, Mew and FSG.

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16 Signature Based Security Scanners Unplugged

Some of these packers can produce polymorphically encrypted files executable


files. That is, each file produces is different. Detecting these files is a challenge for
most security products yet they are widely used by hackers.

zip rar mor nsp yod upx ther pet te mew fsg
Ad-Aware Pro V1.6
Avast! Home V4.7 Y Y
AVG Anti-Virus Free V7.1 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
BitDefender Pro V9.095 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
CounterSpy V1.5
CounterSpy V2.0.122 beta
Ewido v3.5 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Ewido V4 beta Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Kaspersky AV V6.0.0 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
NOD32 V2.51 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Norton Antivirus 2006 Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
SpyBot S&D V1.4
Spyware Doctor V3.6
Trojan Hunter V4.5 Y
WebRoot SpySweeper V4.5
Windows Defender V1.1.1051 Y Y

As with archived malware no security product detected within all the compressed
executables. Some, notably Ad-Aware, SpyBot, Spyware Doctor, Trojan Hunter
and SpySweeper were very poor in the scope. No product was able to detect
malware that was hidden by the commercial packer Thermida.

The inability of a security product to scan within compressed executables is more


serious than not being able to scan within archives. Yes, the real time monitors in
some products may catch the malware when it is executed but if the malware first
terminates the security software then an infection is inevitable.

Again note that a precautionary scan of a downloaded file is useless if the security
scanner doesn't scan within the packer used to produce the downloaded
executable file. In particular note that If you use Ad-Aware, CounterSpy, SpyBot,
Spyware Doctor or SpySweeper with their default settings, you are wasting your
time. None of these products scan within any packed file.

Can the Security Product Detect Process Injection?

I used the ZapAss test program that injects an implant into a running process and
then downloads a file using that process.

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16 Signature Based Security Scanners Unplugged

None of the security products tested warned of the process injection. Simple as
that. Better get out your IDS program ;>)

Does it monitor changes in the Windows startup folder and registry startup
areas?

To pass this test the program had to warn if changes were made in any of several
different startup area.

No product passed the test. Definitely get out your IDS program ;>)

Does the product detect the presence of running rootkits?

In this test I loaded the Hacker Defender and FuTo rootkits while the security
program and its monitor were deactivated. I then enabled the monitor and did a
system scan. To pass the test both rootkits had to be detected.

Hacker
FuTo
Defender

Ad-Aware Pro V1.6


Avast! Home V4.7
AVG Anti-Virus Free V7.1 Yes
BitDefender Pro V9.095
CounterSpy V1.5
CounterSpy V2.0.122 beta
Ewido v3.5
Ewido V4 beta
Kaspersky AV V6.0.0 Yes
NOD32 V2.51 Yes
Norton Antivirus 2006 Yes
SpyBot S&D V1.4
Spyware Doctor V3.6 Yes Yes
Trojan Hunter V4.5
WebRoot SpySweeper V4.5 Yes, if enabled Yes, if enabled
Windows Defender V1.1.1051

Only Spyware Doctor and SpySweeper detected both rootkits though in the later
case, the rootkit detection option needed to be enabled.

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16 Signature Based Security Scanners Unplugged

How good is it's protection again a modern blended threat?

This test involved running the DFK Threat Simulator, a sophisticated blended
threat simulation that disables your defenses, bypasses your firewall, installs a
cleverly disguised trojan, a virus and a keylogger all masked with a rootkit.

Ad-Aware Pro V1.6 Fail

Avast! Home V4.7 Pass

AVG Anti-Virus Free V7.1 Fail

BitDefender Pro V9.095 Conditional Pass

CounterSpy V1.5 Fail

CounterSpy V2.0.122 beta Fail

Ewido v3.5 Conditional Pass

Ewido V4 beta Conditional Pass

Kaspersky AV V6.0.0 Conditional Pass

NOD32 V2.51 Conditional Pass

Norton Antivirus 2006 Conditional Pass

SpyBot S&D V1.4 Fail

Spyware Doctor V3.6 Fail

Trojan Hunter V4.5 Fail

WebRoot SpySweeper V4.5 Fail

Windows Defender V1.1.1051 Fail

The only products that passed this deadly but revealing test were those that
detected the test program by signature. I've rated this as a conditional pass. I
suspect that had the programs not detected the test by signature then all would
have failed as they were all included in the security program "kill list" embedded in
the test program.

How well does the product protect against drive-by downloads?

Here I browsed with Internet Explorer to three known drive-by download sites.
These sites use flaws in Windows and Internet Explorer to download malware
without any user action or knowledge. Typical exploits include the well known
iFrame and WMF exploits though the sites will repeatedly try a sequence of
exploits if not initially successful. If finally successful, the sites will download
multiple malware products, often running into tens of megabytes.

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16 Signature Based Security Scanners Unplugged

After browsing I ran HijackThis and WhatChanged reports to see if there was an
active infection. Because if the possibility of rootkit infection stealthing malware I
also scanned with BlackLight and RootkitRevealer.

Ad-Aware Pro V1.6 Fail Fail Pass

Avast! Home V4.7 Pass Pass Pass

AVG Anti-Virus Free V7.1 Pass Pass Pass

BitDefender Pro V9.095 Pass Fail Fail

CounterSpy V1.5 Fail Fail Fail

CounterSpy V2.0.122 beta Pass Fail Fail

Ewido v3.5 Fail Fail Pass

Ewido V4 beta Fail Fail Fail

Kaspersky AV V6.0.0 Pass Pass Pass

NOD32 V2.51 Pass Pass Pass

Norton Antivirus 2006 Pass Pass Pass

SpyBot S&D V1.4 Pass Pass Fail

Spyware Doctor V3.6 Fail Fail Fail

Trojan Hunter V4.5 Fail Fail Fail

WebRoot SpySweeper V4.5 Cond'l Pass Cond'l Pass Cond'l Pass

Windows Defender V1.1.1051 Fail Fail Fail

SpySweeper has been given a conditional pass rating as access to the bad sites
was blocked by SpySweeper.

Conclusions

Having looked at the results you have probably already concluded that most of the
products failed most of the tests and alas, this is not far from the truth.

I'm resisting making more specific conclusions as this test is only the first of
several I'll be conducting in the second half of 2006. In the coming months I'll be
looking at virtualization products, IDS/IPS utilities and some other categories as
well.

By the time this series is completed, I'll have some specific recommendations for
you on the best way to protect your computer against the latest generation of
threats. These recommendations will be based on facts rather than vendor hype or
commercial affiliation.

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16 Signature Based Security Scanners Unplugged

Even now, two things are already clear to me.

First, it's almost impossible to defend your PC from a modern malware program
that is allowed to run on your PC with full admin privileges. The problem here is not
with the security programs. The problem is with Windows.

Second, it seems to me that virtualization techniques such as those used by


VMWare, Sandboxie and several other products may offer the best option for
preventing infection. Certainly the layering of defenses using multiple products is
another option but I suspect the cost in terms of complexity, user confusion and
processing overhead may make this a less attractive option that protecting the host
PC through virtualization.

But this is speculation. When this series is completed we will (perhaps) know the
real answer.

I'll be presenting the results of my next series of tests in Support Alert Newsletter. If
you want to receive these results as they are published, you may wish to
subscribe. It's free.

If you feel this article is of value, please post it to one or more of the following: Digg
it! Del.icio.us Furl

Gizmo

Ian "Gizmo" Richards


Editor
Support Alert Newsletter
http://www.techsupportalert.com

August 2006

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16 Signature Based Security Scanners Unplugged

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