If you’re a security software provider, there’s something to be said for providing a free, basic anti-virus product for personal customers. It gets your name known, gets you impressive usage figures and can be the basis for more extensive, subscription products. Avast now claims 170+ million users, more than any other AV company and its Internet Security 2013 product has a good spec and a reasonable price.
Avast is based in Prague in the Czech Republic and produces three home products: Free AntiVirus, Pro AntiVirus and Internet Security, reviewed here. There is also a range of business products, designed for SOHO through to Enterprise companies. Versions of the software are available for PC, Mac and Android, so you can have mobile device protection, too.
Avast Internet Security 7 builds on Avast’s AV and anti-spyware engine with a firewall, anti-spam, secure shopping and banking, and a sandbox. Things that might be expected, but aren’t there include parental control, PC tune-up and online storage.
The licence fee of £44.99 is for three PCs (only Avast Free AntiVirus is available for Macs) and the Android version of the AV program is downloadable for free.
The main control screens for the product are tidy and well laid out, with the conventional layout spiced up by attractively drawn icons. The main categories are found in tabs down the left-hand side of the screen and several of these open up into multiple subcategories when clicked on.
The key tabs are a summary of your security status, scan controls for quick, full and custom scans, details of the various real-time 'Shields', firewall controls, additional protection – such as anti-spam and the sandbox – and maintenance, which covers the program’s update tool.
Avast provides reputation services from the cloud to indicate the safety of websites and is full of useful graphs of scans and infections, so you can check how effective it's been. There are eight different real-time Shields, such as a file system shield, a web shield and a mail shield, and each maintains individual logs of its activity.
There are three firewall settings, for home, work and public use, and under Additional Protection you can set how sensitive the spam filter is and how the program applies its sandbox. The sandbox automatically engages when you run any suspicious program, so that anything the suspect application tries to do is captured – it's a bit like running a virtual machine. A variant of this is SafeZone, which is used when you're performing online transactions, such as shopping or banking, to prevent spyware monitoring or key logging.
When we ran a scan of our 30GB of test files, Avast Internet Security 7 completed the task in 3 minutes 1 second and examined 10,307 files. This is the fastest scan performed by any of the IS suites we've tested, by a considerable margin, though it also looked at the smallest number of files. For comparison, Kaspersky Internet Security 2013 looked at 560,566 and BullGuard Internet Security 2013 checked a whopping 893,677.
This needn't be a bad thing, as long as Avast has good algorithms to detect which files are vulnerable to attack. When we repeated the test to check if the program fingerprinted files it had already examined, the file count actually increased slightly to 10,737 implying that it doesn't do any fingerprinting.
Copying 2GB of files between drives with and without a full scan running gave a resource hit of 21 per cent, which sits in the middle of the figures we’ve recorded with other suites.
The test site AV-Test has recently returned results for Avast Free AntiVirus 7, which uses the same AV engine as Internet Security 7, and it scored a good 14.0/18.0. This breaks down under the three headings of Protection, Repair and Usability.
The Protection score was 5.0/6.0 and the software succeeded in scoring a full 100 per cent in detecting widespread malware and an average of 98 per cent against zero-day attacks. It scored the same in finding two to three-month old threats, though the industry average is higher in this category, so it’s not as good in comparison.
The program’s Usability was also scored at 5.0/6.0 and it only showed a couple of false positives during the two months of testing. The average slowdown of the test machines was slightly above average, which aligns with what we found.
Repair of damaged files after an attack was where the program dropped a couple of points, scoring only 4.0/6.0. It was only average at removal of active components of malware and in detection of rootkits and stealth threats, though the average is pretty high in this AV-Test group.
Avast Internet Security 7 covers all the core functions of Internet security (IS), with good antivirus and anti-spyware components and a system of shields and sandboxes, all of which will protect a PC from most threats. It’s easy to use and reporting and logging are thorough. However, more and more IS products also include some form of tune-up to get rid of file clutter and redundant web and registry links, but this, as well as elementary backup, are missing from the suite.
If you already rely on Avast’s free AV program, the move to Avast IS 7 will be a very natural move and the extra features, particularly the system shields and the sandbox, will create a very secure system. If you haven’t already made an IS choice, though, there is better overall value to be had for similar outlay elsewhere.
Test restults courtesy of AV-Test.org.