Some antivirus vendors release a new product each year, using the year as the version number. Others eschew version numbering altogether. But there are still a few that simply release new versions as they're ready, numbering each in simple, sequential order. Emsisoft follows the numeric path, with its latest release Anti-Malware 11.0, which proved quite effective in testing, too, with minor exceptions.
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You can protect one PC with Emsisoft for $39.95 per year, but there are endless options for volume discounts. If you choose two licenses, you pay 30 percent less for each; for three it's 50 percent less. I couldn't find an upper limit, but the discounts top out at 65 percent off when you buy 100 licenses. Buying more than one year at a time also saves you 13 percent if you buy two years, or 20 percent if you buy three. Just choose the combination that suits you best.
Installation and Configuration
During installation, you can choose a 30-day free trial, buy a license key (with a money-back guarantee), or enter an existing key. You can also choose whether or not to let Emsisoft collect non-personal statistics from your antivirus. And the installer updates antivirus signatures, to be sure you've got the latest data.
Most antivirus programs detect programs that are troublesome but not truly, deeply malicious. Emsisoft calls these Potentially Unwanted Programs, or PUPs, and requires you to enable or disable PUP detection. For testing purposes, I enabled it.
The program's large main window features four big panels titled Protection, Scan, Quarantine, and Logs. The Protection panel is green when everything's in order. Initially the status panel reports that you only have partial protection. That changes once you've run a scan.
A menu across the top duplicates those four panel titles and adds Overview and Settings. When you click a panel or the corresponding menu item, you get a submenu on the line below. If you page through all of the choices, you'll see that you have a lot of control over the program's behavior. Among other things, you can set it to silently quarantine detected malware, send an email if it detects malware, scan files only when they execute, and password-protect your settings.
As expected, Emsisoft lets you choose a full scan for malware, a custom scan using your own choice of settings, or a quick scan that just looks for active threats. You can set to quarantine found malware on scan completion, and optionally shut down the computer afterward. Out of the box, it reports its findings and awaits your permission to perform cleanup.
Emsisoft offers more scheduling options than most. You can set it to run every day, on specific days of the week, or on a specific day each month. There's also an option to run a scan at an interval you specify, between specific hours of the day. And you can choose to scan every time the computer boots up, or every time the antivirus receives new signatures.
Very Good Lab Results
Independent antivirus testing labs around the world put products through exhaustive testing, much more than I can do in my own hands-on tests. I track certifications from two labs and scored test results from five more. Emsisoft doesn't submit the antivirus for certification, but three of the five labs include it in testing.
In the past, I've tracked Virus Bulletin's VB100 test. A product must detect 100 percent of malware samples and exhibit zero false positives to pass this test. Going forward, I'm using this lab's RAP (Reactive And Proactive) score instead. Emsisoft scored 91.47 percent in this test, which is decent. The top RAP score among products I follow, 95.95 percent, goes to TrustPort Antivirus 2015.
AV-Test Institute rates antivirus utilities in three categories, protection, performance, and usability (meaning low false positives). Emsisoft managed 6 points, the best score, in protection and usability, but just 4.5 points for performance. Its total score of 16.5 isn't bad, but Kaspersky Anti-Virus (2016) and Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security 2016 both took a perfect 18 points in the latest round of testing.
Out of the many tests performed by AV-Comparatives, I follow five important ones. Any product that passes such a test receives a rating of Standard. Those that go above and beyond can earn a rating of Advanced or Advanced+. In these five tests, Emsisoft received one Standard rating, one Advanced, and three Advanced+. Once again, that's good, but Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016 and Kaspersky swept the field, with Advanced+ in all five. Included in four of the five tests, Avira Antivirus Pro 2016 received four Advanced+ ratings.
Based on my system for aggregating lab test results, Emsisoft rates 9.1 of 10 based on three labs. Kaspersky is on top here, with 9.7 points based on all five labs. ESET NOD32 Antivirus 9also participated with all five labs and managed a respectable 9.4 points.
See How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests
Very Good Malware Blocking
Emsisoft is only the third product I've tested with my current collection of malware samples. Like its previous version, it did quite well in my hands-on test.
This test starts when I open the folder containing my sample collection. For some products, the tiny file access that happens when Windows Explorer displays the file's properties is enough to trigger an on-access scan. For others, a click triggers the scan. In Emsisoft's case, the on-access scan didn't kick in until I copied the files to another folder. You can configure it to scan even on read access, for thoroughness, or set it to hold off scanning until the program is just about to execute, for speed.
It took several minutes to chew through the samples. Some products incorporate multiple detections into a single popup notification; with Emsisoft, the popups come in sequence. By the time it finished, more than 80 percent of the samples were gone.
To continue the test, I launched each sample that survived the initial purge. Emsisoft detected almost all of them at some point during the install process, identifying some as PUPs, others as actual threats. I did find that some of the malware managed to plant executable files on the test system despite Emsisoft's blocking. Overall it detected 97 percent of the samples and scored 9.4 of 10 possible points. The very best score in this test goes to Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus (2016), which earned a perfect 10 and 100 percent detection.
Most antivirus products include a component that prevents access to malware-hosting URLs. For my malicious URL blocking test, I use a feed of the latest discoveries supplied by MRG-Effitas. I'm accustomed to seeing the browser display a warning page in place of the dangerous URL, but Emsisoft takes a different tack. It displays the warning as a transient popup notification, leaving the browser to display an error message.
Out of 100 verified malware-hosting URLs, Emsisoft blocked 67 percent at the URL level and wiped out another 20 percent during download. That total score of 87 percent is pretty good, but Avira recently scored 99 percent protection. Before Avira's blitz, the top score was 91 percent, shared by McAfee AntiVirus Plus (2016) and Symantec Norton Security Premium.
See How We Test Malware Blocking
Emsisoft displays an alert when it detects a program committing suspicious behaviors. You can choose whether to allow the behavior once or always, to block the behavior and terminate the program, or quarantine the program as dangerous. Quarantine is the recommended choice. The large warning popup looks quite similar to the PUP notification, so users may be tempted to just choose quarantine.
It turns out that's not such a good idea. I did not see any actual malware detected by this feature. However, when I tried to install 20 legitimate PCMag utilities, it popped up a behavior alert for seven of them. One, a password manager, was accused of tampering with browser settings. Emsisoft reported that another utility, a desktop organizer, was trying to "manipulate other processes." The rest committed the sin of adding themselves as programs to launch at startup.
I'm just not a fan of this simplistic behavior detection style. As you can see, plenty of normal programs get caught. Real, proper behavior-based detection aggregates a program's behaviors and looks for a pattern that truly suggests something malicious.
Failed to Block Frauds
Phishing is a popular pastime for cyber crooks. They devise a website that looks exactly like PayPal, or a bank site, or even an online gaming site, and lure unsuspecting victims. Anybody who logs in to the fake site has just handed over their security credentials to the bad guys. Ouch!
Emsisoft fends off these frauds in the same way it handles malware-hosting URLs. The only real difference is that the transient popup has a yellow band rather than a red one, and it's titled Phishing Host rather than Malicious Host.
Phishing sites tend to be short-lived; as soon as the crooks have fleeced a few victims they shut down and open another one somewhere else. By the time the site gets added to a blacklist, it's already gone. For testing purposes, I use sites that have been reported as fraudulent but not necessarily verified and blacklisted. I compute the product's detection rate and compare it with Norton's detection rate on the same set of URLs. I also try the URLs in Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer, relying in the phishing protection built into the browser.
Alas, Emsisoft's antiphishing ability is nowhere near as good as its protection against malicious URLs. It scored a full 76 percentage points behind Norton; only a handful of recent products have done worse. Internet Explorer and Chrome also did much better than Emsisoft. The lesson is clear—don't turn off your brower's phishing protection!
See How We Test Antiphishing
A Good Choice
Emsisoft Anti-Malware 11.0 gets good ratings from the independent labs that test it, and it did quite well in our hands-on malware blocking and malicious URL tests. It's highly configurable, so you can make it work just the way you want. However, its antiphishing abilities could use tuning, and in our testing its behavior alert system flagged only valid programs, no malware. It's a good choice, but not an Editors' Choice.
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus and Kaspersky Anti-Virus get great scores from the independent labs. Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus aced my own hands-on malware-blocking test. Webroot and Bitdefender scored best in my antiphishing test. And McAfee AntiVirus Plus (2016) protects an unlimited number of Windows, Mac, and mobile devices. Each of these four has its own special strengths, and each is an Editors' Choice for commercial antivirus.