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avast! Internet Security Review


by Coenraad de Beer (Webmaster & Founder of Cyber Top Cops)
Posted on 31-03-2014

Test Machine
avast! Internet Security Version 2014.9.2013 was reviewed on an Intel Pentium 4, 2.8GHz with 2GB of RAM, running Windows 7 Professional.

The installation is fairly quick and easy and the software installed completely in under 10 minutes. A quick scan is launched directly after the installation, but I got no feedback on the result of the scan. It detected my network and gave me the option to describe the network as private or public (with private selected as the default setting, but the slider button on this screen could be a bit confusing to novice users). Private is off course the most recommended choice when it is a home computer, connected to a home network. Finally, the user is presented a quick tutorial, explaining the basic components of the Internet security suite, which is nice. At some stage avast! gave me a notification about an extension added to Chrome by another program, but it did not give any details about this extension. So it was not really helpful in this regard and I had no idea what extension was causing the problem. This is not a big issue to me, but the developers might consider giving a bit more information to make troubleshooting a bit easier.

Once you've installed avast! Internet Security, I recommend disabling Microsoft Security Essentials, because the latter constantly interferes with the resident shields of avast! and makes your computer sluggish and slow.

Automatic Updating
The software updates itself automatically and checks for updates every 240 minutes. The default update interval can be changed in the update settings screen. Avast! Internet Security also monitors other software on your computer for updates via the Software Updater. It scans several programs on your system and tells you which ones are outdated. Some programs can be updated from the avast! user interface. The Software Updater is a handy feature but there is still room for improvement here. Some of the programs, like Firefox, could not be updated from the avast! user interface and I had to update it manually. For other updates it takes you to to download the necessary updates. This basically boils down to personal preference but I don't like the installers and prefer downloading the updates (or updated installers) directly from the publisher's website. In some cases like Opera, it takes you directly to the publisher's website. In the end I prefer to leave Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird to update themselves, because it is seamless and the chance of messing something up is smaller. Although I am not a fan of updating my programs via an external program, I still think it is a handy feature to see which programs are outdated.

Real-time Protection
It seems like avast! streamlined their real time protection a bit. From 8 shields in version 7 back in 2012, to 5 shields in the latest version. Does this mean that the latest version provides less protection. No absolutely not. The IM, P2P, Script and Behaviour shields were dropped and it makes sense, because in the end the File System shield checks for dangerous scripts or malicious behaviour, thus the removal of the Script & Behaviour shields. The IM and P2P shields were also unnecessary, because the Firewall & Web Shield should do the job. So I believe it was more a matter of consolidation than the removal of shields.

So the shields in avast! Internet Security 2014 are:

Resource Usage & Performance
The system remains quite responsive (even during a scan) and I did not experience any real lag or lock-ups with avast! running in the background. The user interface was definitely designed with speed and performance in mind and all the buttons and menus responded well to input from the mouse and keyboard. The program launches very quickly form the system tray icon and right-clicking the icon immediately brings up a pop-up menu.

The security suite's user interface leaves a very small footprint in the memory, with up to 34MB when opened and only 7-9MB when running in the background. So it is clear that avast! is doing proper memory management, allocating resources to itself, only when needed.

Isolation of Threats
The resident shield picks up a threat during its creation or when a malicious modification is made to a file.

However, threats are not properly isolated in all cases. Avast! Internet Security prevents infected files from duplicating and executing, but they can be moved and renamed. This might not be a big issue, but proper isolation of threats is supposed to prevent the latter of the two and I strongly suggest that the developers look into this issue, because this is an area that might be exploited by virus creators.

The user interface is very user friendly and easy to understand. Notifications disappear after a while, but is there long enough so that the user can read properly through all the information. Avast! does not request unnecessary user interaction and handles most tasks automatically.

Avast! Internet Security is mostly out of your face, so you won't be annoyed with all kinds of pop-ups or confusing messages. Important notifications do pop up once in a while, but it never gets to a point where it becomes annoying.

Scanning and Healing
The scanner has all the usual features of an anti-virus scanner, namely a fast scan function, customisable scanning, memory scanning, registry scanning and the scanning of single objects via the context menu is also possible. The Windows System Folder can also be scanned, but there is no specific pre-defined scan for this, so you will have to use a custom scan. It is not clear from the scanner's output or help documentation whether the boot sector of the hard drive is scanned.

Although I mentioned that the overall performance of avast! is fast and responsive, I found the scanner to be a bit slow. I know it all depends on the amount of data to be scanned, but the quick scan function took 40 minutes to scan 18GB of data. That's roughly 460MB per minute, not bad on an old system like mine, but a quick scan in my books should only scan the most critical parts of your system and not so many data. Other scan options include a full systems can, removable media scan, you can select a specific folder to scan or schedule a boot-time scan (useful for getting rid of nasty infections before they load themselves into the system during the Windows Startup). The default action for healing objects, is moving them to the virus chest.

avast! Internet Security detects a vast array of viruses and malicious programs and detected the majority of our malware samples. It also queries the avast! reputation database, allowing the security suite to make more intelligent decisions.

The last time I reviewed avast! Internet Security (version 7 in 2012) I had some serious issues with the firewall component. It does seem as if avast! made some improvements, but the firewall is still far from perfect. Our leak test got past the firewall and although it blocked an inbound port scan, it never notified me via a pop-up message of doing so. The only way I knew it blocked the port scan, was by analysing the firewall logs. Perhaps this is done to make the software more user-friendly, but I would like to know when someone or something is doing a port scan on my PC. To make matters worse, I could not find the automatic IP blocking rule it created and this could pose a serious problem when troubleshooting connectivity from on your own network. (UPDATE 01-04-2014: I accidentally stumbled upon the setting under Advanced settings. I had an idea that avast! used some kind of temporary blocking feature for port scans, but initially I could not find any setting related to this. However under the Advanced settings of the firewall, is the Port Scan Detection setting, where you can specify how long an offending IP address should be blocked. The default setting is 1,800,000 milliseconds, i.e. 5 hours. So if an IP gets blocked by accident, you can disable this setting to remove the block and enable it again once the block has been removed.)

It must be noted that the firewall can be configured to be more strict. After adding some custom application rules, it passed our leak tests. I also changed the default behaviour of the firewall to ask the user for action before taking action automatically. This addressed most of the issues I mentioned above and it creates an annoyance factor only for a short while, because after a week or so the firewall should be properly trained with the different programs you use on your computer and the amount of pop-ups should decrease as time goes by.

Spam Filter
I was impressed by the previous version of the spam filter, but I am even more impressed with this version. It missed very few spam e-mails and made no false positives. It only seem to work with Microsoft e-mail clients like Outlook & Outlook Express, so the only drawback for me is the lack of support for Mozilla Thunderbird. No setup was required and everything worked out of the box.

Other Features

The Uninstaller might be a bit annoying to some people, with an additional confirmation question and some advice on turning off the shields instead of uninstalling the software. I guess it is good security after all, making absolutely certain the user wants to uninstall the product, but in the end I did not have any trouble removing avast! Internet Security from my computer and there were absolutely no side effects after the removal.

I highly recommend avast! Internet Security 2014. It is perfectly suited for home use or at the office. There is some room for improvement, like preventing infected files from being renamed or moved, adding a training mode for the firewall and perhaps adding anti-spam support for Mozilla Thunderbird. In the end it provides good all round protection for your PC and provides good value for money.

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