ESET Smart Security 5 review

Pros

  • Good malware detection
  • Clear control interface
  • Home, business and enterprise versions
  • Smart monitoring

Cons

  • Poor at repairing malware damage
  • Slow initial scan

ESET produces Internet Security software for PC, Mac and mobile platforms, including Android, Symbian and Windows Phone. Headquartered in Slovakia, ESET has been producing IS products since 1992 and Smart Security 5 is a consumer offering, though sibling products are also available for SME and Enterprise markets.

ESET has a flexible sales policy, where you can buy versions for one to four PCs and licences spaning one to three years. Prices vary from £40 to £150, with the three PC, four year licence equating to £12.50 per PC, per year. The software can be bought at retail or as a download with key code and a free trial is also available.

Interface

Smart Security 5 installs simply enough and checks for third-party software, which might conflict. The main control screen is simple and well organised, with a main menu down the left-hand side switching between sets of options set out to their right. The menu is divided into Home, Computer Scan, Update, Setup, Tools and Help and support.

The Home pane just confirms that everything is protected, while the main work of the program is controlled from the Computer Scan and Setup panels, where whole machine and custom scans are initiated and protection regimes can be established. There's a scan scheduler included and a reasonable scheme is implemented by default.

Protection tools within the suite include antispam, email and web access, as well as a personal firewall and parental control. The last of these offers over 20 categories of web site that can be prohibited, such as social networks, lifestyle, religion and law. Specific sites can be added or removed from these categories, to tailor permissions to individual people.

The Tools panel offers a good array of extras, including statistics, activity watch and reputation information from ESET's live grid, which looks at the applications that users are running and reports any problems with particular ones.

There's also SysInspector, which is an extensive reporting tool that can look at running processes, network connections, drivers and critical files, among other categories. It's useful to have this information and you can look down the line of green ticks to make sure there's nothing the program thinks is untoward running on a system, but understanding what's being shown and being able to do anything about it are different matters.

Usability test results

ESET Smart Security 5 is intelligent enough to remember the files it has already checked. Having initially scanned our 30GB test basket in 58 minutes, a second scan of the same file set took under a minute. The original scan time is quite long and even though 276,318 files were checked, the program only produced a scan rate of 58.5 files/s.

The scan threw up 10 'infiltrations', as ESET calls them, which none of the other IS products we've tested detected. This is because Smart Security 5 flags copies of software that might be redundant and in our 30GB bundle there are a number of repeat files in different folders. We'd rather this type of detection was left to a separate scan, as in most cases, while it might waste space, it's not really a security threat.

Our other standard test, to compare copy times for two 1GB files with and without a background scan running, gave one minute 25 seconds (without) and one minute 46 seconds (with), which is a slow-down of just 24 per cent, better than we've seen from any IS product tested this year - a very light touch. Given that the same PC copies the same files in one minute 17 seconds with no IS installed, ESET's background tasks also generate a very small performance hit.

AV-Test results

AV-Test evaluated the anti-malware performance of the suite in April 2012 and scored it just 10/18, not enough to grant it certification. While its score of 4.0/6.0 in the Performance category is reasonable and the 5.5/6.0 under Usability is excellent (reflecting our own findings), the Repair category, which looks at remediation of damaged systems, only scored 0.5/6.0.

Breaking this poor score down, the detection of widespread malware was 93 per cent, when the average across other packages is a fairly stunning 100 per cent. Removal of all active components, including rootkits and stealth components, was 78 per cent, against an average of 93 per cent. Both of these are fairly normal variations in product strengths, but the third test area, removal of malicious components and remediation of critical system modifications, was the problem.

ESET Smart Security 5 showed 34 per cent success, against an average of 73 per cent, indicating that once hit by malware, you can rely quite well on the suite to remove the miscreant code, but not to repair the adverse changes that code may have made to the host PC's operating system. It's obviously an area ESET needs to strengthen, if it's to regain AV-Test certification which, in the IS market, is quite important.

Verdict

The main functions of any Internet Security suite are to detect and eradicate malware and to reverse any adverse changes that have been made. In its current showing, ESET Smart Security 5 only seems to hit home with two out of those three. It needs to be able to repair a system, as well as spot and destroy malware.

Other aspects of the software, particularly its ability to report on the status of many system components via its SysInspector utility, can be very useful, though you probably need to be a system administrator to make best use of it.

Test restults courtesy of AV-Test.org.