ESET NOD32 Antivirus 6 review

ESET NOD32 Antivirus 6 does a better job blocking malware attack than its previous version, and it now includes phishing protection and a social media scanner. It's good at what it does, but others are great.
Photo of ESET NOD32 Antivirus 6

Most antivirus vendors come out with a new version each year. Some include the year in the product name, some increment the version number. A few, like Kaspersky and Symantec, have chosen to drop versioning altogether in favor of continuous updates. The developers at ESET have a simpler plan—they release a new version when it’s ready, rather being driven by market forces. ESET NOD32 Antivirus 6 ($39.99 direct; $59.99 for three licenses) comes almost a year and a half after its previous version, and it comes with some interesting new features.

The organization of the main window has changed little since version 5, but ESET’s cyborg mascot now graces the home screen. If all is well, a green status indicator reports that you have maximum protection. If there’s a problem, you get a red status indicator and a link to the necessary fix. Simple!

Installation Difficulties
ESET offers a wide variety of support tools and dedicated cleanup utilities to handle persistent malware. Getting it installed on my twelve malware-infested test systems required almost every single one of them.

Malware renders one test system unusable except in Safe Mode, and ESET won’t install in Safe Mode. Fortunately, a scan with the ESET Rogue Application Remover wiped out the problem malware, allowing me to boot normal Windows and install the program.

Four other systems demonstrated a range of problems. On one, ESET installed but couldn’t complete a scan. Another couldn’t finish the install process. ESET installed on a third, but malware actively blocked it from ESET’s update and activation servers. ESET crashed at launch after installation on the fourth system.

Tech support requested logs from the built-in SysInspector tool, which collects a very comprehensive collection of diagnostic data. They directed me to download a number of threat-specific cleanup tools. But, in the end, the only solution was a hands-on remote-access repair session.

Between the four problem systems, I spent nearly five hours on the phone with ESET tech support. On the one hand, they did a very thorough job. On the other hand, wow, that was a long time devoted to nothing more than getting the program installed and running correctly.

Decent Malware Cleanup
Between the antivirus scanner itself, the various threat-specific tools, and hands-on cleanup by tech support, ESET detected 76 percent of the malware samples and scored 5.6 points for malware removal. That’s decent, but Norton AntiVirus (2013) and Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus 2013 scored 6.6 points, better than any other current products.

I like the fact that ESET takes care of definitely dangerous malware as it finds it, rather than waiting for permission. ESET does ask for your confirmation before removing less-risky “potentially unwanted applications,” and for files detected by heuristic analysis rather than by signature, which is fine.

Quite a few recent products have detected every single one of my samples that uses rootkit technology in an attempt to hide from antivirus. With 9.4 points, Kaspersky Anti-Virus (2013) earned the best rootkit removal score. The bootable FixMeStick 2013 came close, with 9.2 points. ESET missed one rootkit-disguised keylogger and took just 7.2 points for rootkit removal.

For an explanation of my malware removal testing methodology, please see How We Test Malware Removal.

ESET NOD32 Antivirus 6 malware removal chart

Decent Malware Blocking
ESET’s protection against malware attack operates on several different levels. When I tried to download my current malware collection again, it blocked just under two thirds of the still-viable links at the URL level. Another quarter got nabbed by real-time protection during the download process, for a total of 88 percent detection. That’s almost as good as SecureIT (2013), which blocked 92 percent.

Continuing my test, I opened a folder containing already-downloaded copies of my samples. ESET took its time checking these out, but, over a period of several minutes, it identified and deleted 71 percent of them. SecureIT and avast! Free Antivirus 7 blocked 89 percent of these samples “on sight.”

I launched each remaining sample and noted ESET’s reaction. Overall, it detected 89 percent of the threats and scored 8.9 points for malware blocking. That is exactly the same detection rate and score as Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2013 and McAfee AntiVirus Plus 2013. Kaspersky detected the same percentage but scored a tad lower, at 8.7 points.

A supermajority of current products identified all of the rootkit-based samples, and quite a few earned a perfect 10 points for rootkit blocking. ESET detected 80 percent and earned 7.8 points against rootkits. Note, though, that this version scored way better than its predecessor (which, admittedly, had to block a different set of samples). ESET NOD32 version 5 scored 5.3 points for rootkit blocking and 6.9 points for malware blocking overall.

The article How We Test Malware Blocking explains how I test malware blocking and come up with these scores.

ESET NOD32 Antivirus 6 malware blocking chart

Decent Lab Results
ESET is a well-known brand, especially in Europe, and all of the independent antivirus labs that I follow include it in their testing. ESET’s technology received VB100 recognition in all of the last ten tests by Virus Bulletin. ICSA Labs and West Coast Labs both certify it for virus detection and for virus removal.

In the latest on-demand malware detection test by AV-Comparatives ESET rated ADVANCED, the second-highest rating. AV-Comparatives also runs what they call a retrospective test, simulating a product’s ability to detect zero-day threats by forcing it to scan for new threats using old definitions. Impressively, ESET earned a rating of ADVANCED+, the highest rating, in this test.

AV-Test scores antivirus products for protection against attack, cleanup of existing threats, and overall usability. With six points possible in each area, a product must earn 11 points to achieve certification. In the two most recent tests ESET earned an OK score for repair, a better score for protection, and a very good score for usability. Bitdefender is the consistent winner in this test, with top scores in all three areas.

The chart below summarizes recent labs tests. For more about the labs and their various tests, see How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests.

ESET NOD32 Antivirus 6 lab tests chart

New Phishing Protection
ESET’s current version adds protection against fraudulent websites. When it detects you’re about to visit a phishing site, it diverts the browser to a warning page that explains the danger. You can still go ahead and visit the page, or even report that it’s not a fraud, but in testing I didn’t see it erroneously block any valid pages.

I also didn’t see it block as many verified phishing sites as it might have. Its detection rate was 48 percentage point behind antiphishing champ Norton, and 8 percentage points behind Internet Explorer 8′s built-in SmartScreen Filter. Note that almost two thirds of recent products couldn’t beat Internet Explorer in this test. ESET’s scores put it in the middle of the pack.

The article How We Test Antiphishing explains exactly how I find the freshest phishing sites and derive these scores.

ESET NOD32 Antivirus 6 antiphishing chart

Social Media and Training
Also new in this edition, ESET offers a Facebook app that checks for dangerous links in your profile. By default, it automatically posts a warning below any threats it finds. There’s also an option to let it post a weekly summary to your account detailing how many scans it made and how many problems it found.

The app is free for anyone to use, not just ESET customers. A non-ESET user who discovers an infected link using the app can check to see if the problem has spread by launching ESET’s free Online Scanner. The app also includes an interactive worldwide malware map powered by ESET’s Live Grid technology.

Installing ESET definitely enhances your cybersecurity. What more can you do? Well, the product includes a link to ESET’s interactive online cybersecurity training. Working through the lessons is sure to teach you something you didn’t know.

Quite Good
ESET’s ability to block fresh malware attacks is good, as are its malware cleanup and phishing protection. That’s the problem. ESET is good, while others are great. Norton AntiVirus (2013) and Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus 2013 beat the pack in my malware cleanup test, and Webroot earned a near-perfect score in my blocking test. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2013 is the darling of the labs, with excellent results across the board. I’d suggest choosing one of these three Editors’ Choice products.

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Specifications
Tech Support Free US-based customer care and ESET Knowledgebase for comprehensive tips and how-to solutions.
OS Compatibility Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 7
Type Personal

Verdict
ESET NOD32 Antivirus 6 does a better job blocking malware attack than its previous version, and it now includes phishing protection and a social media scanner. It's good at what it does, but others are great.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc