Excellent scores in our antiphishing and malicious URL blocking tests. Multi-faceted ransomware protection. New Mute Mode prevents interruptions when you're busy. Includes spam filter, firewall booster.
Mixed results in independent lab tests. Ransomware protection not suited to PCs with multiple users.
- Bottom Line
In addition to effective malware protection, Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security offers layered protection against ransomware, spam filtering, and a firewall booster.
Are you worried about your antivirus utility's country of origin? While most security companies have a global reach, some users are reluctant to rely on a product from a company whose HQ is in China, or Russia. Never fear, Trend Micro is headquartered in Tokyo, and US-Japan relations remain quite cordial. More importantly, Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security is an effective antivirus tool, and the plus sign in its name reflects the fact that it comes with some useful bonus security tools.
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It costs $39.95 per year to protect one PC with Trend Micro. That's the going rate; Bitdefender, Kaspersky, Norton, and Webroot (among others) come in at the same price point. McAfee AntiVirus Plus costs $59.99 per year, but that subscription protects all of your devices, not just one. Note, though, that unlike most competitors, Trend Micro doesn't offer a three- or five-device antivirus license. If you want protection for more computers, you must upgrade to Trend Micro Internet Security, which lists for $79.95 per year for protection for up to three PCs. Note that all of these prices are frequently discounted.
Don't walk away after you start the installation process, as it needs your input several times. The installer runs a computer check at startup, to make sure the system doesn't have any active malware. Only after this check does it ask for your license key. Toward the end of the process, you create or log into your Trend Micro account and choose whether to receive monthly security reports. You also get the option to enable and configure Folder Shield, part of Trend Micro's ransomware defense; more about Folder Shield later.
The main window retains its unusual appearance, with a big round Scan button in the middle, a security status indicator below, and four icons above: Device, Privacy, Data, and Family. The icons change color and animate slightly as you mouse over them, though not quite as vigorously as in the previous edition. Note that clicking Family simply causes the software to invite you to upgrade to Trend Micro Maximum Security.
Varied Lab Results
The independent antivirus testing labs around the world subject dozens of security utilities to extensive tests, doing their best to identify which of them offer the most effective protection. I follow four such labs. Until recently the figure was five, but I found Virus Bulletin's test results less consistently useful, so I dropped that one. Three of the four labs include Trend Micro in their testing, and its results span quite a range.
AV-Test Institute rates antivirus products on three criteria: strong protection against malware, little or no effect on performance, and few or no false positives. The lab assigns each product up to six points in each category. Like Avira and Kaspersky, Trend Micro earned a perfect 18 points in the latest test from this lab.
Researchers at AV-Comparatives test security products in a wide variety of ways; I track four of their tests that focus on antivirus products. Any product that passes a test receives Standard certification. Those that do more than the minimum can earn Advanced or Advanced+ certification. Trend Micro earned one Advanced+, two Advanced, and one Standard certification. Avira, Bitdefender, and Kaspersky took Advanced+ in all four tests.
One test performed by MRG-Effitas focuses on banking Trojans. Antivirus software that doesn't exhibit perfect protection simply fails. Quite a few products that passed in the last round of testing failed in the latest test, Trend Micro among them. It also failed this lab's general malware protection test. Products that completely prevent malware infestation earn Level 1 certification in the latter test; those that remediate the effects of malware attack within a reasonable time receive Level 2 certification. Only Kaspersky Anti-Virus managed Level 1 certification.
Trend Micro took high marks in some tests, but not all of them. Its aggregate lab test score is 8.1 points out of a possible 10. Kaspersky, tested by all four labs, managed a perfect 10 points. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, also participating with all four labs, came in second, with an aggregate lab score of 9.6 points.
Good Malware Protection
In addition to following tests by the independent labs, I run my own hands-on tests on each product I review. My malware protection test starts when I open a folder containing a collection of sample malware. Trend Micro immediately went to work in my test, quarantining many of the samples. It also disinfected a few samples, leaving virus-free files. When it finished, only 29 percent of the samples remained.
Continuing the test, I launched each of the surviving malware samples. The real-time protection module caught many of them, identifying some as generically dangerous but specifically flagging others as ransomware. This product doesn't include components focused on spyware protection in particular, but it did flag a few samples as spyware.
The antivirus detected 89 percent of my samples and scored 8.4 of 10 possible points, precisely the same as ThreatTrack Vipre Advanced Security. That's a pretty good showing among products tested with this set of samples, though Emsisoft managed 100 percent detection and 9.4 points.
Tested with my previous sample set, Webroot, G Data Antivirus, and a few others managed 100 percent detection and a perfect 10 points.
It takes me weeks to prepare a new set of samples for my malware protection test, so I necessarily use the same samples for quite a while. My malicious URL blocking test, on the other hand, always uses the very latest malware-hosting URLs, typically detected within the last 24 hours by MRG-Effitas. I launch each URL and note whether the antivirus prevents the browser from reaching it, eliminates the dangerous download, or does nothing at all. And I continue until I have data for 100 valid malware-hosting URLs.
I give equal credit for blocking URL access and for deleting downloads, but I selfishly prefer the former, because it makes the lengthy test go faster. Trend Micro pushed the browser away from 84 percent of the URLs and wiped out the malware payload for another 13 percent. Its overall score of 97 percent protection is excellent. Among recent products, only Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic has done better.
Impressive Protection Against Phishing
A website that hosts malware or otherwise attempts malicious action is pretty easy to detect. Phishing websites do neither. Rather, they impersonate banking sites, email sites, and even gaming sites, in an attempt to capture the login credentials of unsuspecting victims. And when they're caught and blacklisted, the perpetrators simply set up new fraudulent sites. Yes, sharp-eyed users can avoid almost all phishing attacks, but it's nice to have some help from your antivirus.
Phishing sites are ephemeral, and phishing trends and techniques change over time. Rather than report hard detection numbers, I compare each product's detection rate with that of long-time antiphishing crusader Norton, launching each suspected fraud simultaneously in browsers protected by each. I also check products against the fraud protection built into Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.
Why pay attention to the phishing protection built into browsers? Of recent products, more than half failed to beat at least one of the three browsers, and over 20 percent exhibited a detection rate lower than any of the three.
Trend Micro is at the opposite end of the scale from those, however. Its detection rate came in 3 percentage points better than Norton's. Bitdefender and Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus are the only other recent products to best Norton in this test.
Multifaceted Ransomware Protection
It's just not possible for any antivirus to stop every single attack in its tracks. There's always the chance that a brand-new threat will get past even behavior-based detection systems. But those attacks don't remain brand-new for long. An antivirus update in a day or even an hour can wipe out the malware.
However, when ransomware is involved, an after-the-fact cleanup doesn't help. Sure, it can get rid of the malware itself, but your files remain encrypted and inaccessible. Trend Micro is among the growing number of security utilities that includes components devoted to ransomware protection, and it attacks the problem in several different ways.
To start, the Folder Shield component blocks all access to protected files by any program that isn't on the trusted list. By default, it protects the files in and below your Documents and Pictures folders, as well as the local folders representing online storage services such as Google Drive, OneDrive, and DropBox. That's an improvement over the previous edition, which limited protection to a single folder, Documents by default. Bitdefender and Panda Internet Security also let you protect multiple folders; Panda even denies read access for unauthorized programs. Trend Micro goes further by extending protection to files on USB drives. Of course, it can't protect those files after you unplug the USB device.
By default, Panda protects the Documents folder for each user account on the system. Bitdefender defaults to protecting Documents, Pictures, Videos and Desktop for each account. Folder Shield, on the other hand, can't access folders belonging to other user accounts. Worse, if you log in to a different user account and try to configure Folder Shield, you end up wiping out existing protections. This feature is ill-suited for use on a multi-user PC.
When you edit a file with a trusted program, Folder Shield stays out of the way, but any modification attempt by an unknown program triggers a warning. If you've just started to use, say, a new photo editor, you simply click to trust it. But if you don't recognize the program, either click to block it or wait a short while for Trend Micro to block it automatically. In testing, it successfully detected my attempts to edit files with a thoroughly off-brand text editor; it also resisted my simple, hand-coded file encryptor.
I like to test ransomware protection using real-world ransomware samples, but that proved impossible. Trend Micro's real-time protection component wiped out all of the samples that I use, and there's no way to disable real-time protection without also disabling ransomware protection. In my regular malware testing, I observed that Trend Micro identified one sample as ransomware, and offered to block two others whose behavior suggested ransomware.
In addition to blocking unauthorized access to sensitive files and detecting ransomware based on its behavior, Trend Micro keeps a secure backup of all files in the protected folders. If ransomware does manage to encrypt some of these before the antivirus kills it, the Damage Recovery Engine does its best to restore files from backup.
Years ago, some security products began adding a do-not-disturb mode to keep users happy. Often called Gamer Mode, or Full-Screen Mode, this feature suppresses nonurgent messages when you're using a full-screen program. No more getting fragged because the antivirus feels like running a scheduled scan, or announcing that it installing an update.
New in this edition, Trend Micro's Mute Mode is both more and less than the typical protection for your full-screen sessions. On the one hand, it's not automatic; you must invoke it before you get "busy doing important work or gaming." By default, its suppression of non-critical notifications and scheduled scans turns off after two hours. On the other hand, you can set it to suppress Windows Update while active, or to terminate specific programs when it starts.
Folder Shield's expanded coverage and the addition of Mute Mode are the new features for this edition. Other changes are under the hood, not visible to the user.
Web Page Markup
As noted above, Trend Micro proved very effective at steering the browser away from malicious and fraudulent websites. The Trend Micro Toolbar browser extension, for Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Edge, helps you avoid even clicking on dangerous links. By default, it checks all links that appear on social media sites, webmail sites, and popular search portals. A green icon means the link is fine; if it's yellow or red, stay away!
You can choose to expand this protection by enabling the option to rate links on mouseover. With this setting turned on, Trend Micro checks any link that you point to with the mouse, on any site at all. Just give it a second to display its rating, then click through only if the link is safe.
Most security suites include a personal firewall. Some standalone antivirus tools include firewall protection, among them adaware antivirus pro and Panda. Trend Micro swings the other way, relying on Windows Firewall to do its job, and supplementing that protection with a Firewall Booster.
The Firewall Booster's main aim is to detect and prevent botnet-type attacks. None of my malware samples triggered it, so I couldn't see it in action. My Trend Micro contact supplied an innocuous test file designed to look like the Nimda worm. When I transferred that file to the test system over my network, the Firewall Booster did indeed detect it.
In addition to this botnet-specific boost, Trend Micro can optionally display a warning when you connect to an insecure wireless network.
How long has it been since you got an email from a Nigerian prince, or a potential Russian bride? Most of us get spam filtered out by our webmail provider. At work, the email server has its own spam filter built in. For those who still need local antispam, Trend Micro can help.
The spam filter works very specifically with Microsoft Outlook; it no longer supports Windows Mail or Windows Live Mail. It functions entirely through a toolbar that integrates with Outlook, so you simply can't use it with another email client. On the positive side, this integration means it can handle both POP3 and Exchange email accounts.
While a variety of configuration settings are available, most are the kind you should just leave alone. The big spam sensitivity slider defaults to Medium. Leave it there. At first use, the spam filter offers to import your Contacts into the whitelist, so you'll never find their messages thrown away with the spam. It also automatically whitelists recipients of your email messages. You can manage the whitelist and blacklist manually, if you wish. That's about all you need to think about.
More Than Just Antivirus
Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security earns excellent scores in my malicious URL blocking and antiphishing tests, though its lab test scores aren't universally high. Its ransomware protection prevents unauthorized changes to your sensitive files, detects ransomware behavior, and (if necessary) restores any files that got encrypted before the ransomware was detected. If you need spam filtering for your Outlook email, it can be a very good choice.
In the crowded field of antivirus protection, though, there are some even better choices. The labs award top marks to Kaspersky Anti-Virus and Bitdefender Antivirus Plus. Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic is a long-time favorite, with impressive protection against exploits. A subscription to McAfee AntiVirus Plus protects all of your devices, be they Windows, macOS, Android, or iOS. And Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus, which also offers strong ransomware protection, is the smallest and lightest antivirus I've seen. These are our top choices.
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Neil Rubenking served as vice president and president of the San Francisco PC User Group for three years when the IBM PC was brand new. He was present at the formation of the Association of Shareware Professionals, and served on its board of directors. In 1986, PC Magazine brought Neil on board to handle the torrent of Turbo Pascal tips submitted by readers. By 1990, he had become PC Magazine's technical editor, and a coast-to-coast telecommuter. His "User to User" column supplied readers with tips… More »
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