Some vendors blur the line between a simple antivirus utility and a small security suite. The plus sign in the name of Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security refers to the fact that it includes spam filtering and a firewall booster component, items more commonly seen in full-scale security suites. It earns great scores in all of our hands-on tests, though not all of the independent labs give it top ratings. It's definitely worth your consideration.
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This product costs $39.95 per year for a single computer, a price that seems to be the standard these days. You pay the same for Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016, Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus, and many other competing products.
During installation, you must create or log in to your Trend Micro account online. This account lets you manage your subscriptions and even view security reports remotely. Immediately after installation, it prompts you to enable the Folder Shield ransomware protection component; more about that shortly. It also installs browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.
The main window's lively, quirky appearance hasn't changed since the previous edition. A large, round Scan button dominates the squarish window, and icons across the top represent Device, Privacy, Data, and Family (though clicking Family just gets you an invitation to upgrade to the security suite). The icons bounce as you mouse over them. If that's not lively enough for you, you can change the background of the window's top half to any of eight predefined skins, or use a photo of your own, perhaps that selfie you took at the Insane Clown Posse concert.
Malware coders are in it for the money, and distributing ransomware is a great way to rake in cash. It's an instant payoff, not like using a Trojan to steal credit card numbers and sell them cheaply on the black market. New in the latest Trend Micro antivirus is a strong focus on ransomware protection.
Most PC-based ransomware focuses on encrypting your essential documents and making you pay to get the decryption key. The new Folder Shield component foils such attacks by preventing any unknown application from modifying documents in its protected folder. By default, it protects the Documents folder and all of its subfolders. If you habitually keep important documents in other folders, consider moving those folders into the Documents folder. A similar feature in Panda's suite protects multiple folders, but that feature isn't included in Panda Antivirus Pro 2016.
I tried to test this feature with a real-world ransomware sample, but the antivirus wiped it out. When I turned off antivirus protection, I found that doing so also turned off Folder Shield. I created my own simple-minded file-encryption tool and tried to encrypt files in the Documents folder, but even that was blocked by the antivirus component due to its malware-like behavior. Finally, I wrote a tiny text editor and tried to use it to modify protected files. Folder Shield kicked in to warn that an unknown program was attempting to open protected files. It works!
I also found in my testing that ransomware samples got called out specifically, instead of the generic "Threat Detected" warning. Likewise, ransomware-hosting websites were identified as such.
Trend Micro has also set up a ransomware hotline that even non-customers can call on for help. The information page includes links to ransomware-removal utilities. One type defeats ransomware that simply locks the screen so you can't use the computer. The other type decrypts files encrypted by some (but not all) older file-encrypting ransomware.
Mixed Lab Results
Most of the independent antivirus testing labs that I follow include Trend Micro's technology in their testing, and some of them rate it quite highly. AV-Test Institute scores antivirus products on protection, performance, and usability, with that last category meaning a low rate of false positives. A product can earn up to six points in each category, for a maximum total of 18. Trend Micro took 5.5 for protection, 6.0 for performance, and 6.0 for usability. Its total score of 17.5 makes it a "top product." Only Kaspersky Anti-Virus did better in the latest test, with a perfect 18 points.
I follow five of the many tests performed regularly by the diligent researchers at AV-Comparatives. A product that passes one of these tests earns Standard certification; those that go above and beyond can earn Advanced or Advanced+ certification. Trend Micro participates in three of these five tests. It took an Advanced rating in two malware-detection tests and Standard in a test of performance. (In a more recent priate test commissioned by Trend Micro, that performance score improved.) Bitdefender and Kaspersky managed Advanced+ in all five tests.
The grueling real-world antivirus testing performed by Simon Edwards Labs requires a lot of time and resources, and necessarily includes fewer products. Trend Micro is among those few, and it earned an impressive AA certification. Norton, ESET NOD32 Antivirus 9, and a few others took this lab's top rating, AAA.
Earlier this year I added MRG-Effitas to the list of labs that I follow. I particularly look at a test specific to banking Trojans and another that's meant to cover all kinds of malware. These tests are a bit different, as the majority of products fail the all-kinds test, and fail or receive partial credit for the banking Trojans test. Trend Micro failed both, but due to the pass-fail nature of the test I don't give this lab's results as much weight in my aggregate rating.
Very Good Malware Blocking
Trend Micro performed significantly better in my hands-on tests than it did with some of the labs. When I opened the folder containing my current sample collection, it quickly eliminated 68 percent of them. Rather than display multiple popups reporting its discoveries, it showed the total number of samples found in a single popup, with a link to view details.
Normally I launch the samples that remain after this initial onslaught, selecting three or four at a time for processing and deleting the rest. I was surprised to discover that Trend Micro caught a number of files as I was deleting them. I reverted the virtual machine to an earlier state and copied the surviving files to a new folder, at which point the antivirus wiped out another 26 percent, for a total of 94 percent eliminated before ever being launched. Trend Micro's overall detection rate was 97 percent, and it scored 9.7 of 10 possible points, just as Norton did. Tested with this same collection, Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus earned a perfect 10 points.
While wiping out malware files from your PC is good, keeping them from ever landing on the PC is even better. To test the product's ability to keep users from accidentally downloading malware, I challenged it with a collection of very recent malware-hosting URLs supplied by MRG-Effitas. For each URL, I noted whether Trend Micro blocked access to the URL, eliminated the downloaded malware, or did nothing. I kept at it until I had recorded data for 100 malicious URLs.
Trend Micro blocked 89 percent of the malware downloads, the vast majority by replacing the dangerous page in the browser with a big warning. In a couple of cases, it specifically identified the site as hosting ransomware. This score is quite a bit better than the current average of 69 percent. Avira Antivirus 2016 holds the top score in this test, with 99 percent protection, and Norton managed 98 percent.
As a false-positives sanity check, I install 20-odd PCMag utilities and note any reaction from the antivirus. Folder Shield did quite reasonably warn about one utility that creates a database in the Documents folder. Otherwise, Trend Micro kept mum…except in one case. Its heuristic analysis actively identified one of the utilities as malware, and deleted it. Looking back at the independent lab tests, I noted that Trend Micro lost points for false positives in one test by AV-Comparatives, too.
Phishing URLs are actually more insidious than URLs that host malware. These frauds masquerade as PayPal, eBay, bank sites, even online gaming sites, and try to trick you into entering your login credentials. If you do, you're hosed. The fraudsters can clean out your bank account, or steal your level 110 Paladin. And as soon as they've scammed a few people, they take down the site and pop up another.
To test phishing protection, I gather hundreds of reported phishing URLs, ones too new to have been analyzed and blacklisted. I launch each one simultaneously in five browsers, one protected by the product under evaluation, one by antiphishing leader Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic, and one each by the built-in protection in Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.
Because the URLs are necessarily different for every test, I report results not as the raw detection rate but as the difference between the product's detection rate and that of Norton and the browsers. Trend Micro lagged just two percentage points behind Norton and handily beat all three browsers. It's right up there in the winner's circle.
See How We Test Security Software
Web and Social Markup
Many people these days get their news via Facebook or other social media. Friends post links, Facebook suggests links, and you click, click, click. But what if the link is bogus? What if your friend's social media account were taken over by a hacker? What if a clueless friend unknowingly shared a malicious site?
Trend Micro has you covered. By default, it automatically highlights links in social media: green for safe, yellow for iffy, red for dangerous, and gray for untested. If the link isn't green, don't click it! Each link also displays a small icon. Pointing to the icon gets a popup that explains the rating, but there's no link to a detailed report online such as you get from Norton.
The browser extension also rates links in popular search engines. You can optionally enable it to rate links on any webpage when you hover the mouse over a link.
Trend Micro doesn't include a firewall component as such in its security suite products, but the suites and antivirus all offer a component called Firewall Booster. This component specifically aims to detect botnets.
In the past, I've found no way to see the booster in action. This time I got a little help from my Trend Micro contacts. They supplied a file that the booster detects as the Nimda worm, though it's actually innocuous. I used network tools to send the file to the test system, and, sure enough, I got a Network Threats Blocked popup.
I also ran my exploits test, figuring those might also trigger a response from the Firewall Booster (even though my Trend Micro contacts said they would not). Indeed, I got no reaction from the booster component, but the regular Web-protection system blocked access to over half of the exploits. Norton's Intrusion Prevention System blocked nearly two-thirds of these at the network level, identifying many by name.
These days, most consumers get their spam filtered by the email provider. It's gotten to the point where some vendors are considering dropping the antispam component from their security suites. Bucking that trend, Trend Micro includes antispam in the standalone antivirus product.
The spam filter integrates with Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail, and Microsoft Outlook (2003-2016). Since all of this component's configuration takes place in the toolbar it installs, you simply can't use it with a different email client. It filters POP3 and Exchange email, but not IMAP.
The first time you launch your email client after enabling the spam filter, it offers to import your contacts into its whitelist, so their messages will never be blocked. By default, it whitelists any address to which you send mail. You can also manually import contacts into the whitelist at a later time.
The main page of this component's settings dialog features a big slider for spam filter sensitivity. Most users should leave it set to the default Medium setting. If you wish, you can enable the Link Filter feature, which discards messages containing dangerous links. On the Blocked Languages tab, you can set the filter to discard messages written in any language you don't speak.
A Definite Plus
While Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security didn't earn top scores with all of the independent labs, it scored very well in all of my hands-on tests. Its ransomware protection doesn't go as far as Webroot's, which claims the ability to reverse encrypting ransomware after the fact, but it should be effective. If ransomware has you in a panic, and especially if you also need spam filtered from your email, this is an excellent choice for antivirus software.
Even so, I'd suggest you consider our Editors' Choice products in this area. As noted, Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus also handles ransomware, and it's the tiniest antivirus around. Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic, back after a two-hear hiatus, is a dependable favorite. McAfee AntiVirus Plus costs a little more, but protects all of your devices, not just one. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus and Kaspersky Anti-Virus and both score top marks with the independent labs across the board.