Prague-based Avast is a cybersecurity giant that is best known for their free antivirus program. It claims 435 million active users and and to be the number one vendor in consumer security. In 2016, it acquired rival AVG, with Avast products now providing a combination of the best of both programs.
Avast Pro Antivirus takes a very powerful approach to antivirus, and comes completely filled to the brim with additional features for security. This includes protection from viruses, URL filtering, a password manager, browser add-on checker, scanning of wireless networks, software update management for missing patches, and a secure browser to cover your online banking and shopping needs.
The issue here is that while this is certainly a robust offering, it competes with the company’s free offering, Avast Free, that incorporates many of these same features. An important benefit to Avast Pro is Real Site, which is a secure DNS system for protection from DNS hijacks and to stop you from being hijacked from copycat sites. Also included is a sandbox for securely testing out questionable programs, which is handy for those users forever trying out the latest in freeware offerings.
Another important aspect is the higher price, a lofty $49.99 (£39) for a one-computer, one-year license. Comparatively, Kaspersky Antivirus offers better rated malware protection yet costs only $29.99 (£24) for a year of initial coverage, and covers up to 3 devices.
Prices do fall by adding additional years and computers. A three-PC, one-year license has a cost of $59.99 (£47), for example. Also, a five-PC, three-year license can be yours for only $234.99 (£185), or $15.66 (£12) per device year. At least that’s better, although some other vendors discount a step further, like Kapersky Antivirus where a five-PC, two-year license costs $79.99 (£63), or $7.99 (£6) per device year.
While too many antivirus vendors request, make that demand, your email address (and sometimes even more) prior to using their software, Avast is less difficult. We downloaded and installed a 30-day trial build of Avast Pro Antivirus, and did not provide any detailed information at all.
We appreciate that this package offers a number of options for experienced users to fine tune the program. The Customize button is for the user to make a choice on which of 16 modules they want to install. If you don’t require the browser extensions, prefer another password manager, or perhaps you’re aware of specific modules that will conflict with another program on your PC, just clear the relevant checkboxes so they can be ignored.
Setup is overall speedy and straightforward. In addition to installing Avast Pro Antivirus, the setup program includes the Avast Online Security extensions for our Chrome and Firefox browsers, and we were prompted to enable the extensions the next time the browser launched.
At the end of the process, there's a ‘not the usual’ privacy related issue. Like some other products, Avast Pro Antivirus does collect non-personal information regarding its use, but the company doesn't simply rope you in to this scheme, and hope you are none the wiser. A message details how this is collected and why, and how this feature can be disabled.
A few other Avast products get pushed by the installation process prior to closing. A request is made for entering your email address so you can get a download link to Avast’s free Android apps, for example. Another request is made to recommend Avast to your acquaintances, with the potential to earn a free license. After passing on both of these, then the program opens- finally- and there's nothing left to do. Avast does not prompt you a reboot, and rather you can just proceed as usual.
Looking into the Avast program folders shows a file size of almost a Gigabyte, which is more than most competitors. It is not exactly a shocker considering Avast's many features to support, and at least it is not reflected in the package's general resource requirements. On our test PC, Avast Pro Antivirus added five background processes, only two of which were doing anything significant, and together, all five used less than 75 MB’s of RAM.
Avast Pro Antivirus has almost an identical interface to the free version, and also other commercial products. On the opening screen is displayed your security status, with a Smart Scan button for checking on your system, along with a left-hand sidebar to organize the program's other functions into intuitive categories: Protection, Privacy, and Performance.
Initiate a Smart Scan for the program to go to work. This is quite thorough, scanning for viruses, missing software updates, bad browser add-ons, issues with network security, weak passwords, performance problems and also more.
Overall, some of this works really well. The virus scan gets done quickly and identified our malware samples without any problem. The network check-up does a good job as well, and found some low-level, yet important issues with our network, including a router with open ports to the internet. The software updater also noticed our versions of CCleaner, Firefox and WinZip were not the latest, and provided a pathway to update them for us.
Unfortunately, other features simply are not as useful. Avast’s suggestion surprised us that we remove the Private Internet Access add-on due to its 'bad reputation.' PIA is a legitimate VPN provider, and at the time of this writing, this extension garners a 4.1 rating on its Firefox Add-ons page. For an antivirus product to suggest removing a browser extension, we would prefer to see some better supporting evidence for that decision, or quite frankly, any evidence at all.
Even more annoying is the Performance Issues page. Here, you’ll find all the usual items you've come to expect from a PC cleanup tool – junk files, leftover registry items, programs slowing down your computer – but to do anything with them, it requires paying, and an additional install for the separate software, Avast Cleanup Premium, which at least offers a free 60-day trial.
There's also more upselling as Smart Scan concludes, with the package offering to check out your internet privacy, and then inevitably recommends a sign up for Avast's SecureLine VPN.
Thankfully, in the Settings dialog there are options for customizing the Smart Scan to check things to your liking. We chose to disable the Performance Issues and Browser Add-ons check, the pointless alerts were quashed, with the scan completing in less than half the time.
You are also not stuck only with the Smart Scan, and on the Scans panel, there are options for running a quick or full system scan, checking specific files or folders, or scheduling a boot-time scan. Files, folders and drives can also be assessed directly via the File Explorer right-click menu.
Another highlight is the option for the creation of your own custom scans. By way of example, if you want to run an in-depth scan on only Office documents in specific folders, this can be built and saved in just a few seconds. Then it can be run on demand, or scheduled to run automatically, even unmonitored.
There is also a separate Rescue Disk feature that sets up a bootable environment for dealing with a seriously infected system. Avast also gives the option to load this on to a USB key, or save it as an ISO image for burning on optical media.
Some Network-related tools include the Wi-Fi Inspector, which scans your current network, lists all connected devices and then recommends solutions for any identified issues, ie: close open ports, update a weak password with a more secure one, etc. It's a rare gem of an antivirus extra which, despite it being bundled into the software, we'd encourage you to download anyway.
Yet another network bonus in Real Site (previously called Secure DNS), which sets your system to use Avast's secure encrypted DNS system. This tool will prevent attackers from getting into your DNS traffic, and letting you become the victim of a phishing attack via a fake website made to appear as the original.
Avast also has Sandbox, for running files that are questionable in a secure virtual space, safely away so they can't damage your PC. In general, most users are better off not running these types of files in the first place, but this is useful for experts that need to deal with such files.
In addition, a basic password manager uses Chrome and Firefox add-ons that automatically collects new passwords as they get entered, then syncs them on your multiple devices, and can then later fill in login forms. It hardly matches the functionality of top software in this category like Dashlane, but that's hardly a surprise, and it is a ‘good enough’ as a nice extra.
Yet more of these “Features” are really Avast attempting another upsell. A SecureLine VPN icon looks promising on first glance, but then we came to the realization that it was a premium feature. We do appreciate the 60-day trial, quite generous for a VPN, but beyond that there is an additional monthly cost.
However, it is not all upsells, though, and we found some redeeming features. A recent addition is the Avast's Do Not Disturb mode, which can add any applications to the Do Not Disturb list, and when these apps are running full-screen, Avast hides all those pesky notifications from itself, Windows as well as other apps. We consider it a major improvement to the Game Mode offered by some other security apps, and an overall plus to the package.
A final major Avast highlight is the extreme configurability it brings to the table. True granular control awaits, with every last aspect of the program able to be tweaked, customized and tuned for your specific needs. For a variety of needs, from troubleshooting problems, minimizing conflicts or just improving operations, there's something for all users here.
AV-Comparatives' Real-World Protection Test looks at how 18 top antivirus engines perform, when put against the latest in malware. The August 2018 report finds that Avast delivers a high 99.5% protection rate, although many packages hit a full 100%, leaving Avast in 12th place, a disappointing showing.
In order to verify these results, we also turned to the February-June 2018 report, which is a summary of five separate tests. On this testing, Avast made it into 9th place, again with a high protection rate of 99.4%, bunched up with several other big names (Symantec was 7th with 99.5%, McAfee 6th with 99.6%, and Avira 5th with 99.7%).
AV-Test's July-August 2018 Windows Business test gave Avast marginally better results, with a perfect 100% protection rate in August, and 99.55% in July. AV-Test indicates that the industry average is 100%, but that's close enough for Avast to score a high 6/6 for protection, and was designated for a Top Product award on that test.
With no way to match the depth of these independent lab tests during a single review, however we desired to examine Avast Pro Antivirus further with our own small test.
We turn to a very basic ransomware simulator of our own creation, designed to go through a folder tree, looking for and encrypting multiple common file types. This threat is not publicly released, so Avast can't have any experience with it. Using this ransomware facilitates identifying whether Avast can identify the malware via behavior alone, and also how fast the threat can be neutralized, as the slower the program is to respond, the more files that are vulnerable to being lost.
We shut down our internet connection to ensure we were dealing with only the local package, launched the ransomware simulator, and waited for some kind of detection alert. Unfortunately, we report that our hopes were dashed, as the simulated ransomware proceeded, completely unchecked, and encrypted thousands of files in the target test folder tree.
Other antivirus software has performed significantly better. Bitdefender and Kaspersky antivirus were both able to detect and kill the ransomware within seconds, and also recovered the few encrypted files, so there was no loss of data.
Still, our results on the simulated ransomware test should be kept in perspective. We applaud products that pass neutralize our simulator, and give them credit. However, failing to alert may not necessarily be indicative of a major problem. At the end of the day, our simulated threat is not real malware, but we are at a loss as to why it wasn't detected.
Our conclusion, from the independent testing labs we looked at is that Avast finds and neutralizes most real-world threats. This includes even ones that are undiscovered, including from their behavior alone, and those are the most important results.
Avast Pro Antivirus is filled to the brim with additional features that certainly can be useful. On the other hand, all of the best parts of it are already available in Avast Free. Unless you truly require the sandbox or secure DNS elements, we recommend to go with the free edition instead.
- Here's our list of the best antivirus services on the market