Avast leads, Microsoft free antivirus gaining in AV market share report

An analysis of installed endpoint security applications found Avast with a strong lead in the global antivirus market, followed by Avira, AVG, Microsoft and ESET.

Free signature-based antivirus software appears to be among the most widely deployed security technology on consumer and small business PCs, according to a report issued today.

Avast Software held the strongest global market share lead, according to software management toolkit maker OPSWAT, which released an AV market share report based on data it collected using its AppRemover security application detection and removal tool.

Avast led the analysis with a 16.26% global market share, which includes both freely available and paid antimalware software. The vendor, based in the Czech Republic, offers a free version of its antivirus software. The company also sells a pro version with secure Internet browsing features and a full Internet security suite with firewall and antispam capabilities. Avira, AVG, Microsoft and ESET follow in the rankings, each with over 10% of the market.

Data for the report was collected from more than 300,000 Windows systems using the OPSWAT AppRemover tool, which collects information about applications installed on endpoint computers. The free tool is used by people to scan and fully uninstall security applications.

“As in our previous reports, free solutions remain at the top of the market with the highest numbers of installations,” OPSWAT said in its report. “The top three products in North America and worldwide are available free for download.”

San Francisco, Calif.-based OPSWAT said it collected the data between March 23, 2011 and February 15, 2012. Microsoft, which provides Security Essentials to Windows users for free, showed the biggest gains in the past year, increasing its share from 7.27% a year ago to 10.08% today, OPSWAT said. Meanwhile, Symantec holds the fifth position with 9.97% of the worldwide market.

The top 10 antivirus vendors by market share, according to OPSWAT:

  1. AVAST SOFTWARE 16.26%
  2. AVIRA GMBH 11.65%
  3. AVG TECHNOLOGIES 10.96%
  4. MICROSOFT CORP. 10.08%
  5. ESET SOFTWARE 10.06%
  6. SYMANTEC CORP. 9.97%
  7. KASPERSKY LABS 7.75%
  8. MCAFEE, INC 4.74%
  9. PANDA SOFTWARE 3.77%
  10. TREND MICRO, INC. 2.22%

The percentage of the market held by the top 10 vendors was 87.46%, OPSWAT said.

AV is like a commodity, said John Strand, an instructor with the SANS Institute and senior security researcher at his consultancy, Black Hills Information Security. Businesses and consumers should have it running and updated, but people should also learn safe browsing habits to reduce the risk of a successful attack.

“Think toilet paper. You need it, anything will do. You will not be picky about how soft it is or how many fluffy bears were in the commercial,” Strand said. “When it boils down to what works, there are various levels of ‘not working’ they all employ. So I stopped thinking about AV in terms of ‘x product is better than y.’”

In North America, OPSWAT found Symantec leading the antivirus market at the beginning of 2012 with 16.09%. Microsoft ranked second at 14.92%, followed by AVG, Avast and Trend Micro.

In terms of individual antivirus products, Microsoft Security Essentials holds a strong lead in North America, OPSWAT said. Microsoft Security Essentials was released in 2009. The software provides basic antivirus protection and automatically updates via Windows. In 2010, the software giant extended its free malware protection software to small businesses with up to 10 PCs. Avast Free Antivirus came in second in North America with a 9.15% market share.

Freely available antivirus software is not fool-proof, but no security technology is perfect, said Andrew Storms, director of security operations at San Francisco-based vulnerability management vendor nCircle. Storms said consumers and small businesses should take advantage of freely available AV protection. Larger organizations need antimalware technology with more robust management features, he said.

“Larger companies require antivirus that is constantly upgraded and has automated management capabilities to reduce some of the pain for IT,” Storms said. “There’s no disagreement that it isn’t perfect, but there is still some value when it’s part of a well-run multifaceted defense-in-depth security strategy.”

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