Avast claims to have more users of its Internet security (IS) software (198 million and counting) than any other supplier. While the vast majority (Avast majority?) of these will be using the free AV and anti-malware product, the full package, called Avast Premier, builds on the free product with significant extras.
Starting up the new package shows the most obvious of several updates from the previous version. The new slate-grey interface is matter-of-fact and well laid out, with a series of menu options down the left-hand side leading to corresponding control and status panels to their right. The Status screen shows a comforting "Everything is good" message if there are no outstanding problems.
Antivirus, antimalware and antispam engines are all in place and there’s a two-way firewall in the product. If you need to dispose of sensitive files securely, there’s a military grade file shredder, and a sandbox for testing new software, too.
A sandbox is like a virtual machine which enables you to run and explore new applications, without risking your own system. This is very useful if you are suspicious of an application and want to try it out before giving it free rein on your PC.
Browser protection provides search validation, so you’re warned of any suspect sites in search results before you take the risk of browsing to one. If you type in a URL directly, you’re warned before proceeding if Avast’s CommunityIQ has flagged it up as a threat.
Avast’s very large customer base puts it in a strong position with checks like this, as new threats are likely to be spotted very early on simply due to the huge number of customers using Avast’s IS software. This is a very good reason for offering a basic, free version of your software, apart from the obvious marketing potential. People feel good about free software.
If you bank online, you can call up SafeZone before you start, and you’ll then be protected by a separate, isolated desktop, which is immune from keylogging and other interference including, as we found, taking screenshots (see below). It imports your default browser, and Windows Calculator and Notepad, but keeps other stuff out.
SecureLine takes things further still by creating a VPN – an anonymised connection to the Internet – so there’s no trace of your online activity. In an unusual move for an IS suite, Avast Premier includes a software updater which checks the versions of the software on your system. However, it only appears to include common browsers and Adobe plugins.
There’s no attempt to look at system drivers, which is a shame, as keeping all elements of the software on your PC up-to-date is a good way of resisting malware. Popular applications are the most obvious targets for hackers taking advantage of security loopholes.
Premier represents the top level of protection offered by Avast, so you’d expect all the elements of a modern IS suite to be included. However, there are several things missing.
If you don’t have children, you may not need parental control, and you may prefer to use a specialist application to handle PC tune-up and ensure that your PC’s running smoothly. However, it’s quite unusual these days not to have some form of online backup included in a full security suite. Avast does produce a backup product, offering 75GB of online storage for £30 per year and double that for £60, but there’s not even a taster provided here.
We scanned our standard 30GB basket of files and Avast Premier took 11 minutes and 48 seconds to examine 10,736 files, exactly the same number as last year’s product, but it took almost three times as long to complete the process. Rerunning the scan reduced the time to 3 minutes and 15 seconds, which was similar to last year, so the software obviously fingerprints files to avoid unnecessary scan repetition.
Copying 2GB of files with the suite running in the background took 1 minute and 34 seconds, and only 1 minute and 38 seconds when we also had a full system scan running too. This is a 4 per cent slowdown, making Avast one of the least imposing suites we’ve tested.
Under Protection, the anti-malware category, it scored 5.5/6.0, which is a very good result, dropping only 2 per cent in the whole of the two-month test period. Its detection of widespread malware gave a full 100 per cent result, and it was only on the zero-day attacks that it dropped very slightly.
Premier did even better than this under Usability, where it produced a full 6.0/6.0. This covers false warnings and detections of legitimate software as malware. It gave just one false positive, compared to a group average of seven during the test.
Avast is good at what it does, but in today’s flourishing IS market, there are a few things missing from this Premier package. There’s no online backup, no PC tune-up and no parental control in the package. Also, multi-PC licences are just that – they’re for multiple PCs. There’s little provision for the same levels of protection for customers with a mix of PC, Mac, iOS and Android devices (though there are basic and free Android and Mac offerings).
Manufacturer and product
Avast Premier 2014
Yes, including SafeZone
PC, Mac, Android
Software updater, remote access, data shredder
Number of devices covered