Internet Security » Avast!
Most security vendors offer a standalone antivirus tool as well as a security suite that rounds out protection with such features as a firewall, a spam filter, and parental control. These days quite a few vendors offer a higher-level suite with additional features such as backup, performance tune-up, or password management. avast! Premier 8 ($89.99 direct for three licenses) does add several features not found in avast!’s basic suite, but the additions really don’t merit a $20 bump in price.
The program’s main window looks exactly like that of avast! Internet Security 8, except for the window title. It has the same Windows 8-inspired touch-friendly buttons, and the same big panel that reflects overall security status. You’ll have to dig a little to find those premier-only features.
Same Antivirus Protection
Antivirus protection in this suite is exactly the same as in the basic suite, and in avast!’s free antivirus. Please read my review of avast! Free Antivirus 8 for details beyond the brief summary that follows.
Getting avast! installed on a couple of my twelve malware-infested test systems required hours of remote-control diagnosis and repair by tech support. On my new scale defining ease of installation, that rates two stars. A product that installed and ran with no hassle would earn five stars; one that utterly failed to install on one or more test systems would get just one.
Tested with a brand-new malware collection, avast! detected 75 percent of the samples and scored 5.5 points. Both detection rate and score are very close to the average of products tested using my previous collection of malware. With 6.6 points each, Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete 2013 and Norton 360 (2013) scored much better. For details on how I perform this test, see How We Test Malware Removal.
avast! Premier 8 malware removal chart
Avast! did a good job of blocking access to malware-hosting websites, but its overall score in my malware blocking test was 8.5 points, a little below the average of products tested with the previous malware set. Webroot owns the top score in that test, 9.9 of 10 possible points. To learn more about my malware blocking test, please read How We Test Malware Blocking.
avast! Premier 8 malware blocking chart
All of the independent labs I follow include avast! in their tests. It gets high scores in some tests, but not all of them. Top products like Bitdefender Total Security 2013 earn high scores across the board. For more about the independent labs and their testing methods,
see How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests
avast! Premier 8 lab tests chart
Other Free Features
All of avast!’s security products include a Web Reputation toolbar that reports on the current website’s reputation, as defined by millions of avast! users. It also marks up search results at popular search sites, so you can steer clear of dangerous sites. You can cast your own vote for any site’s reputation, and also flag it with any of five positive and five negative tags.
Separate from the Web Reputation feature, avast! attempts to steer users away from fraudulent (phishing) websites. In testing, its detection rate was 55 percentage points below that of antiphishing champ Norton and 27 points below Internet Explorer 8 alone. Very few antiphishing solutions do as well as Norton, and only a third do better than IE alone, so avast! has plenty of company. For details on my antiphishing test, see How We Test Antiphishing.
avast! Premier 8 antiphishing chart
Avast!’s Browser Cleanup tool will check Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer and list all installed toolbars, flagging any that have a bad reputation. If toolbars are hogging your browser, you can use this tool to permanently remove any or all of them.
The Software Updater feature checks sensitive software components to make sure that all essential security patches have been installed. The popup notification that warns you about out-of-date software includes a button to fix the problem. You can also manually launch a scan and review the list of software needing update.
Now, here’s the first premier-only feature—the premier edition includes an option to automatically apply any found patches, when possible. Given that the free antivirus and basic suite already notify you of any problems, I don’t see a huge added value in automating the process.
Features Shared with the Basic Suite
If you’re not sure that a particular program is safe, you can launch it in avast!’s sandbox. A sandboxed program can’t make permanent changes to the system, and can’t access certain sensitive areas at all. Both the basic suite and the free antivirus will automatically sandbox a suspicious program; the suite lets you control the process manually.
For even greater protection, especially when you’re performing sensitive online transactions, you can shift into the SafeZone. SafeZone is a fully virtualized desktop with a hardened browser built in. There’s no interaction between the regular desktop and programs in the SafeZone. You can switch back and forth at will, or roll back the SafeZone to its out-of-box state at any time.
The firewall component stealths your PCs ports against hack attack and takes control of which programs are allowed access to the Internet and network. Like the fireall components in Norton 360 and Kaspersky PURE 2.0 Total Security, it makes all program control decisions without relying on the user. In testing, avast!’s firewall was unusually effective at detecting, blocking, and reporting exploit attacks.
In the past, avast!’s easy-to-use spam filter has earned good scores in my testing. This time around, though, it discarded fully two percent of valid personal mail and let almost 18 percent of undeniable spam into the Inbox. Norton missed 5.3 percent of spam and Bitdefender 6.8; neither discarded any valid mail as spam. For an explanation of my antispam accuracy analysis, read How We Test Antispam.
avast! Premier 8 antispam chart
Protecting important information from harm is one facet of security; ensuring sensitive data doesn’t get stolen is another. If you encrypt a document and delete the original, an expert may still be able to recover the deleted file’s data. That’s where the Data Shredder comes in.
Instead of deleting that sensitive file, you feed it through the shredder. By default it overwrites the file’s data 26 times using the Gutmann algorithm before deleting it. You can set it to use the Department of Defense standard, with three overwrites, or overwrite the file a user-specified number of times. The main point is, after this process even the fanciest forensic recovery hardware and software can’t get the file back.
McAfee Total Protection 2013 includes a similar feature, with a convenient right-click menu option to shred any file or folder. I’d like to see that right-click menu feature in avast!; at present, it makes you browse for the file or folder to be deleted. On the other hand, avast! can shred the entire contents of any partition other than a system or boot partition.
Even if you start scrupulously using secure deletion, it’s conceivable that sensitive data might remain on your disk in previously-deleted sectors that are marked as free space. Avast!’s shredder includes the unusual ability to overwrite not only sectors marked as free but also the unused portion of partially-used data clusters.
All of the avast! products have remote-control tech support built in. In the event of a serious problem, you can launch Remote Assistance and let a support agent directly diagnose the situation and apply necessary fixes.
The AccessAnywhere feature, found only in the premier suite, operates in a similar fashion to give you full access to your PC from another PC that also has avast! installed. You start by enabling remote control and optionally defining a password. Even though remote access is limited to other computers associated with your avast! account, I’d still recommend creating that secondary password.
When you request remote access, avast! lists all computers associated with your account. The list identifies which are currently active, and which are configured to accept remote control requests.
Once you make your choice you’ll see the remote computer’s desktop inside a window. You now have full keyboard and mouse control, so you can use the computer as if you were right in front of it. There’s a File Transfer option, for those times when you’ve headed to a meeting without copying the presentation to your laptop. And, if it becomes necessary, you can remotely reboot the controlled system.
Minor Performance Hit
I did performance-test avast! Premier 8 separately from avast! Internet Security 8. Not surprisingly, the results were no more than a percentage point different. My boot-time, browsing, and file move/copy tests took respectively 8, 9, and 8 percent longer with avast! installed than with no suite present. Those three figures are all well below the average impact of current suites.
The zip/unzip test took 20 percent longer under avast!’s watchful eye, a bit more of a hit than the current average of 16 percent. However, most users don’t spend a lot of time zipping and unzipping files. Overall, you’re not likely to notice a performance slowdown due to avast!’s security activities.
For full details on my security suite performance tests, see How We Test Security Suites for Performance.
avast! Premier 8 performance chart
Alternatives to the Premier Features
Avast!’s premier suite costs $20 more than the basic suite, but the added features you get really aren’t worth the price. PCMag Editors’ Choice TeamViewer 5 gives you remote access and control more powerful than avast!’s for free. There are plenty of free secure deletion utilities; some, like Recuva, also serve to restore files that have been deleted in the ordinary way.
As for automating the Software Updater, that seems a very minor benefit. In any case, the free Secunia Personal Software Inspector 3.0 identifies and automatically updates a wider range of applications and components than avast! does.
In addition, these premier-only features are all aimed at the most technically-inclined user. For the average Joe, avast!’s basic suite would be a better choice.
If you’re looking for a mega-suite, a security suite with all the extras, you can do better than avast!. Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete 2013, and Norton 360 (2013) both add backup and password management on top of antivirus protection that beats avast!’s. Trend Micro Titanium Maximum Security 2013 has backup, password management, and social network tracking. I just don’t see a point in purchasing avast! Premier 8, given the alternatives.
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