ESET NOD32 Antivirus 7 review

ESET releases new security products when they're ready, not constrained by a yearly schedule. ESET NOD32 Antivirus 7 turned in a decent performance in my tests, and the independent testing labs give it top ratings.
Photo of ESET NOD32 Antivirus 7

Many antivirus vendors release yearly updates in the fall, with the coming year as the version number. Others have eliminated version numbers entirely. ESET simply numbers each new version in sequence, and they’re not tied to a particular time of year; the previous edition came out just this past January. ESET NOD32 Antivirus 7 ($39.99 direct; $59.99 for three licenses) promises enhanced antivirus and phishing protection, but I didn’t see an improvement in phishing protection.

ESET also hasn’t bought into the makeover mania that has so many antivirus products looking completely different from their predecessors. The only visible difference in the main window is that it now displays links to your four most-used features, where previously it displayed three.

Good News from the Labs
ESET participates in testing with all of the independent labs that I follow, and its test results are almost universally excellent. ICSA Labs and West Coast Labs certify it for virus detection, and it has a perfect record with Virus Bulletin, earning VB100 certification in all twelve of the last twelve tests.

AV-Comparatives runs two different malware detection tests, one regular test and one that simulates zero-day detection by forcing the antivirus to use old definitions. ESET earned ADVANCED+, the best rating, in the zero-day test and ADVANCED in the other.

Of course, it’s important to thoroughly clean all found malware. West Coast and ICSA also certify ESET for cleaning. In a test that specifically measures how well an antivirus cleans up traces of found malware, AV-Comparatives gave ESET an ADVANCED rating.

Even better than cleaning up an infestation is protection that prevents the problem from ever getting a foothold. Dennis Technology Labs tests antivirus products against the very newest Web-based malware, using a self-contained HTML replay system that ensures each product encounters exactly the same attack. ESET earned AAA-level certification, the best Dennis Labs offers. It also rated ADVANCED+ in a real-world dynamic test by AV-Comparatives. And AV-Test gave it 5.0 of 6.0 possible points for protection.

ESET lost no points for false positives in any of the tests by AV-Comparatives, and earned a very good false positive score from Dennis Labs as well. A perfect 6.0 points in the Usability test by AV-Test also reflects a lack of false positives.

The only category that gave ESET trouble was performance. AV-Comparatives thought it was fine, giving it ADVANCED+ for performance. But it only earned 2.0 of 6.0 possible points for performance from AV-Test. In my own testing, I certainly didn’t notice any drag on system performance. For a full explanation of how I go from the many, many lab tests to the summary chart linked below, please see How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests.

ESET NOD32 Antivirus 7 lab tests chart

So-so Blocking of Malware Downloads
I’ve recently introduced a new malware blocking test that checks how well an antivirus handles URLs that point to malware. I start with a feed of the very latest malware URLs from MRG-Effitas, specifically collecting those that point directly to an executable file. These links are no more than a day old, so detecting their malicious content can be a challenge.

With that list in hand, I simply launch one URL after another, recording how the antivirus handles it. Does it block the browser from ever reaching the URL? Does it interrupt the download, or immediately quarantine the downloaded file? Or does it just sit and twiddle its thumbs?

Of the handful of products I’ve tested this way, avast! Free Antivirus 2014 turned in the best performance. It blocked 79 percent of downloads,  in most cases preventing any access to the dangerous URL. At the other end of the spectrum, BullGuard Antivirus (2014) only blocked 30 percent.

ESET’s performance falls in between those two, tending toward the low side. It blocked 41 percent of the downloads, preventing access to the URL for about half of those and getting rid of the downloaded file in the other half. Interestingly, it identified a few of the URLs as having “potentially unwanted content,” rather than calling them totally malicious. I counted those as successes.

Good Malware Blocking
I also subjected ESET to my standard hands-on malware blocking test. The moment I opened my folder of samples it got to work deleting them. When ESET detects and eliminates a threat, it displays a small popup to let you know what it did. Multiple notifications share the same window; you can either step through them or close them all at once.

ESET didn’t take long to eliminate 83 percent of the samples. I tried it with another folder containing the exact same samples, hand-modified to change the filename, filesize, and some non-executable bytes. My tweaking didn’t fool ESET; it eliminated the same 83 percent.

When I launched the surviving samples, ESET detected half of them. Its overall detection rate of 94 percent puts it in the upper tier, though BullGuard, Avira Antivirus Suite (2014), and Ashampoo Anti-Virus 2014 all detected 97 percent.

ESET’s overall score came in at 9.2 points, the same as Ashampoo, Trend Micro Titanium Antivirus+ 2014, and McAfee AntiVirus Plus 2014. That’s good, but AVG, Avira, and F-Secure Anti-Virus 2014 tied for first place with 9.4 points. To learn how I run this test and assign that final score, see How We Test Malware Blocking.

ESET NOD32 Antivirus 7 malware blocking chart

Antiphishing Decline
The “What’s New” document for version 7 mentions that the antiphishing component includes “improved blocking of scam websites with questionable reputations or that include potentially unwanted content.” In my own antiphishing test, though, it scored worse than the previous edition.

To test phishing protection I gather URLs that have been reported as fraudulent but not yet verified—potentially the very freshest phish. I launch each one and make sure it’s truly a phishing URL, meaning that it’s both imitating another site and attempting to steal login credentials. And of course, I record whether or not the product detected and blocked the URL.

ESET’s detection rate was a full 58 percentage points behind that of Norton, which does a consistently good job detecting the latest frauds. Version six came in just 48 points behind Norton. Either way, ESET isn’t the product I’d choose for protection against the newest phishing sites. To learn more about how I conduct and score this test, please see How We Test Antiphishing.

ESET NOD32 Antivirus 7 antiphishing chart

Speedy Malware Cleanup
A full scan of my standard clean test system took ESET about 18 minutes, seriously undercutting the current average of 28 minutes. Because ESET doesn’t spend time re-scanning files that it has already found to be safe, a repeat scan took less than a minute.

ESET’s website contains a large collection of standalone malware-removal tools, each dedicated to wiping out a specific malware family that might give the regular malware scan trouble. New in this edition, you can launch a “Specialized cleaner” from the Help and Support tab. If you click past the scary warning “may cause stability issues” it will automatically run the cleaners for Conficker and Sireref; ESET plans to add more one-off cleaners to this tool going forward.

If ransomware denies you access to your desktop or malware keeps Windows from functioning, you can create a bootable rescue CD or USB drive. You’ll have to do it from another ESET installation on a clean system, though, and you’ll also have to download and install the Windows Automated Installation Kit first; that’s not a common requirement.

When malware actively prevents antivirus installation or derails the scan process, that rescue CD might help. ESET’s online scanner or no-install scanner might also help. Still stuck? There’s an impressive built-in diagnostic tool that can give tech support a very clear look at what’s going on in your system. And if necessary a tech support agent can remote into the sick PC for hands-on diagnosis and repair.

Tools and Training
You can run that diagnostic tool I mentioned, called SysInspector, any time you want. You’ll find, though, that its reports are so brim-full of information that finding anything useful may be tough. One handy control filters out items based on risk level. Slide it over to the maximum risk level and you’ll only see items of extreme concern. You can also compare one log with another to see just what has changed.

New in version 7 is a list of running processes. This is more than you get from Task Manager. It identifies how prevalent each process is, reports when ESET first detected the process, and marks the process with an icon reflecting its risk level. It also displays the full application name, not just the filename. The one thing you can’t do is terminate a process Task Manager style.

From the Tools page you can launch ESET’s Social Media Scanner, also available as an independent, free service. It takes just a minute to check your Facebook and Twitter accounts for dangerous links. You can optionally let it post a warning to the contact who inadvertently supplied that bad link. In addition, it rates your privacy settings and offers links to lift a low rating.

Not everybody has a clear understanding of computer security issues, so ESET gives all customers access to a full-scale automatic security training system. Security experts will give it short shrift, but ordinary users may enjoy learning about security through animated stories about the residents of the imaginary town of Bloomfield.

Lifted by the Labs
ESET did well in my standard malware blocking test, but not so great in my test of blocking the very latest threats from online. Its antiphishing performance also failed to impress. On the other hand, the independent labs seem to universally love ESET. Based just on those results, it’s definitely a good choice.

Even so, I’d still recommend one of our Editors’ Choice antivirus products, Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus (2014), Norton AntiVirus (2014), or Bitdefender Antivirus Plus (2014). Each has its own virtues, and any of them will keep your PC protected.

ESET releases new security products when they're ready, not constrained by a yearly schedule. ESET NOD32 Antivirus 7 turned in a decent performance in my tests, and the independent testing labs give it top ratings.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc