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Many features, decent price

Trend Micro Internet Security Pro's broad feature set combined with its look and feel make it a serious contender, but questionable efficacy and middling performance mean it's a program we're not recommending for this year.

If you're looking for a robust feature set from your security suite, and you want an affordable price, you could do worse than Trend Micro's 2010 products. Trend Micro Internet Security Pro, Trend Micro Internet Security, and the stripped-down Trend Micro AntiVirus plus AntiSpyware have been refreshed, with the publisher claiming significant performance enhancements to each.

Trend Micro is claiming that boot times are 20 percent faster than with the previous versions, that the programs use 40 percent less RAM, the download itself is 25 percent smaller, and that the quick scan on Windows Vista and Windows XP is 20 percent faster. There are new features, too, including an autorun disabler for USB keys, a gaming and video mode so that scans don't start while you're deep into your entertainment, and system restore features in the System Tuner. The interface has been streamlined slightly, as well, making for easier navigation.

Installation
The Trend Micro installation process is about as smooth and pain-free as you could hope a program that will have such deep hooks into your system could be. It will detect other antivirus programs and then ask for approval to remove those installed on your machine, but it doesn't require a reboot after it's done--something most competitors do.

One thing that Trend Micro fails to do effectively is call out its behavioral engine. There is a box you can check at installation to opt out of the behavioral program, but there's no detailed or clear explanation of what it is or what it does. On the one hand, technology that allows the publisher to leverage supposedly-anonymous data from customers to catch surreptitiously-running threats faster isn't new; it's been around for a few years, although this year is seeing more security suites adopt it. On the other hand, companies like Trend Micro must consider whether users will panic if it is mentioned clearly and then disable their computers from contributing data to the cloud.

As long as the data is truly kept anonymous, a behavioral engine can be an exceptional tool for preventing malware. But in Trend Micro's installation process, it looks like nothing more than another box and line-item to read before installing; it could benefit from a more detailed explanation.

A customized installation process is available for people who wish to configure program location and tweak components. Trend Micro will also run a virus check once it's done installing and automatically update its definition files.

Interface and Features
Trend Micro's 2010 interface has been further refined from the previous year's version, with less dead space and more emphasis on your security status and the ease of access to security tools. The program launches into its Overview tab, which highlights your security status with a large, colored icon: green for Protected and Red for Unprotected. Below that, there are links to your protection status, your license information, and a security report.


Each of these links drills down to essential information, exposing data in an elegant and uncluttered manner on the main page. The Protection Status link opens a window that details the status of your virus definition files, updates, firewall, unauthorized change prevention, spam filter, parental controls, and data-theft prevention. Each of these has a green On or red Off status icon, with a hidden explanation of each that can be exposed by clicking on it. Unfortunately, there's no way to get from the list to the actual deeper controls for each, but it's simple for toggling the status.

Also on the Overview tab are two buttons, one for activating a scan and one for manually updating your definition files. The scan button defaults to a Quick Scan, although it has a drop-down menu on the right side that lets you choose a Full Scan or Custom Scan. Scanning opens the scan window, which details which threats it's looking for, which files it's scanning, live results, and options to run in the background or shut down the computer after the scan is finished. Depending on how you set up the program, it will either automatically fix any threats found or ask for your input. If you choose to autofix, it will still show you a window after the scan is complete, detailing what action was taken, and the threat links to more detailed information on Trend Micro's site.

The Virus & Spyware Controls tab offers four drop-down menus. The first checks for real-time viruses and spyware when you download files, leveraging the aforementioned behavioral heuristics. It can be toggled with an on/off button, and it offers a configuration menu with a secondary, advanced-features window, and a whitelist/blacklist link that also allows for cookie control. Despite what sounds like a confusing series of submenus, in practice it was easy to navigate.

The Prevent Unauthorized Changes drop-down menu offers more granular control of installations. This is from where you would manage programs that Trend Micro doesn't recognize, with the same on/off toggle and links to settings and exceptions. The next tab is for configuring scheduled scans and custom scans. It's frustrating that such a key feature is buried deep in the interface, especially since most people are still wary of holes in real-time protection. This scheduler only controls scan schedules; it doesn't offer update scheduling. There's another scheduler for that, in different part of the program. Below the scheduler is the Quarantine, which helpfully categorizes the quarantined files as viruses, spyware, or trojans.

The Personal Firewall Controls tab continues the interface scheme, with headline-style options that expose key information in a drop-down, and then link to configuration options windows. Through the advanced-settings pane, the personal firewall exposes a wealth of firewall data, including the IP version, protocol used, and a simple description. Editing a protocol exposes even more data, for those who know how to use it.


Also in the Firewall Controls tab is the Network Connection status, which offers a cutoff switch to kill your connection to the Internet. I'm not sure how useful this feature is, or if it's just a hand-holding measure.

The next major tab, Internet & Email Controls, contains the data-theft-prevention lists, parental controls, spam filter, and protection against Web threats. The features here share lists, although not all lists are used by all the features. The Data Theft Prevention feature, for example, will block numbers and names that you specify from being sent through SMTP e-mail, Web-based forms, or instant message clients. You can also toggle which protocols are allowed to send the protected data, and which aren't, and insert your own customized data field for protection. The Web threats protection, which works to stop phishing and pharming, is heavily based on a firewall-style slider combined with whitelists and blacklists. Again, the efficacy of this is up for debate, especially in an age when a site's third-party server or ad server can be hacked without the site itself registering as risky.

As with many of Trend Micro's competitors, the parental control section can be configured for Adult, Teen, or Child, although here you also have the option for "Mature Teen" as well as to create a customized setting. The Adult user or system administrator can set access times based on user log-in, and customize the protected data field. Each of these options under Internet & Controls sports a green On or red Off toggle for quick verification.

The Other Settings tab offers more information on your Trend Micro subscription, Automatic Updates, and a definition file scheduler, toggling the Trend Micro Smart Protection Network, which controls the behavioral information your computer submits, security warning pop-up controls, password protection to keep Trend Micro from being used by others, and logs access. The interface scheme, with a simple-sentence drop-down explaining what a feature does as well as links to dig down for more settings, sort of backfires here. Most of the options in this tab contain only one settings link, meaning that what should take one click actually takes two.

Frustratingly, the update scheduler can't be set to check for updates more often than once an hour.

Features included only in the pro version include protection for mobile phones, the Trend Micro toolbar--which installs on Internet Explorer and Firefox--a system tuner for recovering disk space and defragmenting your drives, and a password-protected vault that seals if your computer is stolen and accessed. The mobile protection is available only for Symbian and Windows Mobile phones, and because of the variation of models requires configuring a download for your specific model. Mobile threats are growing, so being able to prevent browser-based attacks on your mobile for the same cost of protecting your PC might appeal to some people.

There are 2GB of online storage included for free, which is nice, but is such a small amount that it's not really a big deal. You also get automatic public Wi-Fi hotspot verification included. Trend Micro will automatically check the digital certification against the official registered certification. This sounds useful, but again, we're not sure how important it will be.


Performance
Although there were no problems navigating within Trend Micro and there were no noticeable slowdowns to the naked eye, certain Trend Micro performance hang-ups did appear. For one, the suite had a difficult time respecting the default browser setting on a Windows 7 laptop. Sometimes it would open internal program links into Firefox--the programmed default--but more often it would open them into Internet Explorer. These links--opening into either browser--took much too long to load. It wasn't clear whether this lag was because of the main suite or the Trend Micro toolbar scanning them before launching.

CNET Labs' benchmarks reveal that all three of Trend Micro's 2010 products had an uneven impact on computer performance. Trend Micro Internet Security Pro and Trend Micro AntiVirus plus Antispyware slowed boot time by 4 seconds, while Trend Micro Internet Security only affected boot time by 1.5 seconds. The Pro version also dramatically slowed down shutdown performance by nearly 8 seconds, while the basic AntiVirus dragged the shutdown cycle down by less than a second, and Internet Security added 1.65 seconds.

The benchmark of Trend Micro's full scan was quite slow, with the Internet Security Pro and AntiVirus plus Antispyware products taking 19 minutes, and the standard Internet Security taking 20 minutes. The nonbenchmarked, quick scan compared favorably with industry standards, coming in at 53 seconds. The full scan took an average amount of time, at 1 hour and 28 minutes. Besides potential hardware conflicts, keep in mind that these differences can often be attributed to the generally clean state of the benchmarking computer's hard drive, versus the number of programs and files that reside on a real-world machine.

Trend Micro's results were also uneven on processor-intensive tests. On Microsoft Office tests, the Pro suite was again the slowest, followed by the stripped-down AntiVirus. The basic suite, Trend Micro Internet Security, was the fastest of the three, running the program an average of 18 seconds slower than an unprotected computer did. This pattern repeated with our Cinebench tests. In iTunes decoding tests, however, all three notched nearly identical scores. And in the multimedia test the basic AntiVirus was faster than its two siblings by 20 seconds.

Cinebench
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Trend Micro Internet Security Pro 2010
4,156 

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Trend Micro Internet Security Pro 2010
876 

iTunes decoding (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Trend Micro Internet Security Pro 2010
196 

Microsoft Office performance (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Trend Micro Internet Security Pro 2010
559 

Performance speed times (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Scan time  
Shutdown time  
Boot time  
Trend Micro Internet Security 2010
1200 
32.4 
41.35 
Trend Micro Internet Security Pro 2010
1140 
38.34 
44.37 
Standard machine
N/A
30.75 
40.03 

Unfortunately, Trend Micro's efficacy is up for debate. The company no longer participates in the trials run by AV-Comparatives.org, and the most recent data from AV-Test.org is for the 2008 version. Keeping in mind that the data is for a test from September 2008 (though the 2008 release is actually from fall 2007 because of the security industry's naming conventions), Trend Micro had lukewarm results. It was able to detect between 90 and 95 percent of malware on demand, between 85 and 90 percent of adware and spyware on demand, and only notched one to two false positives.

Support
Trend Micro offers free customer support, although if you're looking for help through the program, it will merely shove you via hot-linked FAQs toward the Trend Micro Web site. The Product Help link will keep you on your computer, but the rest jump you online. Once there, Trend Micro offers prerecorded video help, manuals, online-chat service, and phone service. The phone number is listed on the Web site behind several links, and is not particularly easy to find.

Conclusion
Trend Micro looks and feels like a professional security suite, but it's worrisome that the company doesn't participate in the major tests that its competitors are subject to. At the same time, it does include behavioral detection, which is becoming more important for catching complex threats. The mobile support is worthwhile for peace of mind, and for reminding you that just because you're on a cell phone doesn't mean you're risk-free. However, that's only available in the most expensive of Trend Micro's three packages. Overall, Trend Micro gives you a lot for your money, but lacks verification from independent testers.

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