CA Internet Security Suite Plus 2008 falls short on fundamental tasks

A cursory look at CA Internet Security 2008 might lead you to consider it a worthwhile security suite. It has a good-looking interface and helpful features such as a first-use tutorial and help for setting program options.

It also covers the bases on expected security suite features, with parental controls, defenses against spam, and (purportedly) antiphishing browsing protection.

But beneath the surface, CA proved abysmal at the fundamental task of identifying and blocking malicious software. German research company performed the malware testing portion of our “All-in-One Security Suites: Tried and Tested” story. When it pitted CA’s suite against its 674,589-strong collection of dormant malware samples, found that the suite caught only 63 percent, meaning that almost four out of every ten pieces of malware slipped right by its defenses. This result isn’t even in the same league the other suites we tested. The next worst product, McAfee Internet Security Suite, caught 86 percent of the samples in this test. In addition, CA failed to detect almost half of all spyware and adware; its catch rate of 56 percent was the worst recorded for any of the eight suites in our roundup. And in tests of the suite’s ability to use one-month old signature files to detect newer malware, it again hit rock bottom. The suite spotted a scant 3.5 percent of new threats.

CA did prove quite effective in dealing with rootkits, however, detecting and cleaning all six samples that threw at it. Only Symantec Norton Internet Security 2008 matched the strong performance of CA’s suite on this test. Further, the CA suite issued just one false positive warning in connection with a harmless file; and it was relatively speedy, scanning 9.9MB of data per second during user-started scans–the third-best result we got among the suites we tested. CA wasn’t nearly as quick at responding to malware outbreaks, however. delivering signatures for new threats in an average of 12 to 14 hours (the slowest delivery time of the bunch).

The CA suite’s firewall proved solid, successfully blocking attempts to scan a protected PC from the outside. The firewall will warn you if an unknown program attempts to connect your PC to the Internet, and it has a good list of known programs that it checks first to avoid needlessly alarming you.

The suite’s antiphishing protection didn’t fare as well. CA adds a toolbar to Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, Avant, and the AOL internal browser; and the company says that it uses 54 different checks to determine whether a site is safe. Nevertheless, the toolbar gave the green light to the first phishing site we visited, seemingly because the site was hosted at a known domain. But there’s no way that a page on a domain registered to the Korea National Tourism Organization should ask for a visitor’s Chase bank user ID and password.

CA’s antispam feature adds a spam folder to Outlook, Outlook Express, and Windows Mail. It scans existing e-mail in those programs to build an initial list of approved senders. Any subsequent mail whose sender isn’t on that list will go into the spam folder, until the user okays that new sender, so you’ll have to check your spam folder continually for legitimate e-mail messages.

We found using CA’s suite relatively simple, but the options for the antivirus, antispyware, and firewall programs seemed skimpy. And if you want to check past events, such as which malware the program actually blocked, you have to dig through unformatted text files.

In pleasant contrast, CA’s parental control software shines. You can set filters for all users at once or for each user individually, based on categories such as hate, gambling, or adult; and the blocked-site message in the browser clearly defines why a site was blocked.

Though CA might provide some nice hand-holding for a beginning user, its terrible performance at keeping a PC safe makes it suitable for no one. Avoid this suite.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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