|Avast Internet Security|
1. Built-in remote assistance. Good malware cleanup.
2. Simple, accurate spam filter.
3. Firewall auto-decide quashes popups.
4. Sandbox feature isolates unknown programs.
5. SafeZone browser protects sensitive browsing sessions.
1. Poor phishing protection.
2. Firewall service not protected.
3. No parental control.
4. Slightly more than average impact on performance.
avast! Internet Security has some unusual features, including remote assistance and sandbox virtualization. However, unless you're a sandbox junkie, you'll be better off choosing one of our Editors' Choice suites.
Avast Internet Security Review
Avast's free antivirus proved to be the most-installed antivirus product worldwide in a recent study of OPSWAT's user base. The company's security suite, avast! Internet Security ($69.99 direct for three licenses), isn't quite as widespread. It offers the same malware protection as the standalone antivirus and adds firewall, spam filtering, and a sandbox virtualization feature that will appeal to tech-savvy users.
Like the standalone antivirus, this edition adds cloud-based streaming updates and reputation lookup. There's a new summary page showing status and statistics for the eight real-time protection "shields." Built-in remote assistance makes it very easy for any other Avast user to help out if you run into trouble. And the new Avast Market page offers other Avast products for sale.
Installation is quick, if you choose Express Install. After a required reboot and initial update, the product is ready to go. The suite's malware protection is exactly the same as what's found in avast! Free Antivirus 7 (free, 4 stars).
Good Malware Protection
Avast includes the ability to clean up malware upon reboot, before Windows has fully loaded. It requested a boot-time scan either before or after the full scan on each of my malware-infested test systems. Avast scored 6.8 points overall in my malware removal test, just behind Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete ($79.95 direct for three licenses, 4.5 stars), which earned 6.9 points. Norton 360 Version 6.0 ($79.99 direct for three licenses, 4.5 stars) earned the top score in this test, 7.4 points.
Avast detected all rootkit and scareware samples; scored 7.6 for rootkit removal and 9.5 for scareware removal. Norton 360 and Norton Internet Security ($69.99 direct for three licenses, 4.5 stars) shared the top rootkit removal score, 8.9 points while Comodo Internet Security Pro ($4.99/year direct, 4 stars) ran close behind with 8.6.
Avast did a decent job keeping malware out of my clean test system, but the majority of its competition did better. Avast's web shield component did prove particularly effective when I tried to re-download my sample set. However, in my standard malware blocking test Avast detected 89 percent of the threats and scored 8.1 points. Comodo and Webroot detected 100 percent; Webroot aced this test with a perfect 10 of 10 points.
The Web reputation browser plug-in, also present in the free antivirus, rates the current site based on users' votes. Its icon reflects an overall good or bad rating, as well an indication of how many votes went into that rating. You can also tag a site with any of five good and five bad attributes.
All of the independent antivirus labs that I follow include Avast in their tests, which is a good sign. It generally earns good scores, typically better in static tests than dynamic ones. In a dynamic real-time test by AV-Comparatives.org it rated STANDARD, the lowest passing grade. And in AV-Test.org's latest whole-product certification tests it averaged 13 points, with 11 of 18 necessary to pass. The chart below summarizes recent independent lab tests.
When reviewing the standalone antivirus I ran a single round of my antiphishing test. I verified 25 actual fraudulent sites; Avast didn't detect any of them. I put the full suite through a full antiphishing test, continuing until I accumulated 100 very fresh and very fraudulent URLs. I did get to see Avast's phishing protection in action, but barely. Its detection rate was 74 percent lower than that of Norton, my touchstone for antiphishing, and 13 percent lower than Internet Explorer 8 alone. Don't rely on Avast to identify newly-minted phishing sites.
Simple, Accurate Spam Filter
Avast's spam filter marks spam and phishing messages by inserting a tag in the message subject. It integrates with Outlook to automatically move spam messages into the junk folder; those using other email clients will need to define a message rule. The spam filter can optionally whitelist any address to which you send mail and, for Outlook users, whitelist entries from the address book.
In testing, Avast blocked just 0.2 percent of valid personal mail and 0.0 percent of valid bulk mail. Just 4.9 percent of undeniable spam got past the filter, and it didn't appreciably slow the process of downloading mail. That's a big improvement over the previous edition, which slowed mail downloading significantly yet still let over 30 percent of spam into the Inbox.
Both Norton suites blocked less valid mail but missed a bit more of the spam. The top standalone spam filter, Cloudmark DesktopOne Basic 1.2 (free, 5 stars), blocked no valid mail of any kind and allowed just 2.6 percent of spam into the Inbox.
Like many personal firewalls, Avast asks what zone to use for each network you join. In the default Work zone it stealths all ports and automatically creates rules assigning network permissions to applications. The Public zone blocks all incoming access and denies network access to any application that doesn't already have a rule. If you crank protection down to the Home zone, you're still protected against outside attack but there's no restriction on communication within the local network.
Like Norton and Kaspersky Internet Security ($79.95 direct for three licenses, 3.5 stars), Avast allows network access for known good programs, quarantines known bad programs, and makes its own decision for unknowns.
Avast fended off all of my port scan attacks and other Web-based tests. It didn't block leak tests, but then neither does Norton. Given that a leak test is a non-malicious tool demonstrating a malware technique, it's not unreasonable for a firewall to let it connect.
The firewall explicitly blocked 14 of 30 exploits generated by the Core IMPACT penetration-testing tool, identifying them by name. Other shield components blocked another 10. Norton blocked and identified all 30, but very few other suites have come close.
Unfortunately, a weakness that I reported in the previous edition is still present. I couldn't kill the firewall's processes using Task Manager or disable it by setting it to "off" in the Registry. However, I had no trouble stopping and disabling the essential firewall service. The antivirus service is protected against meddling; why not the firewall?
Avast's sandbox allows applications to run but virtualizes their access to certain sensitive system areas. It's similar in many ways to the ForceField feature of ZoneAlarm Extreme Security ($79.95 direct for three licenses, 4 stars).
In theory a sandboxed program shouldn't be able to do any permanent damage to the system. Avast will automatically sandbox any program that seems suspicious. You can also manually run a program in the sandbox, or set it to always run in the sandbox. In testing, the only programs that Avast automatically sandboxed were an analysis utility that I wrote myself and a few leak tests.
The current version adds more flexibility to sandbox settings. You can set it to automatically run sandboxed apps with limited user rights even when you're logged in as an Administrator. By throttling memory and CPU usage you can prevent a sandboxed program from bogging down the system. Avast can prevent screen-capture of sandboxed apps. And you can now view and modify the system areas that sandboxed apps can't access.
A completely virtualized program couldn't make any changes to the PC's file system or Registry. In the real world, there are some changes you'd probably want to allow. Avast automatically saves user-initiated downloads outside of sandbox protection, for example, and also retains bookmarks, history, and cookies. An expert user could have a ball tweaking sandbox settings.
Most users should leave those settings alone. If you want sandboxed protection for sensitive browsing sessions, just switch into the SafeZone. SafeZone is a completely separate desktop, isolated from other running processes. The only application on the SafeZone desktop is the SafeZone browser, an Avast-modified edition of Chrome that suppresses add-ins for greater security.
Moderate Performance Impact
A test system with Avast installed booted up just as fast as that same system with no suite present, according to my boot time test. For this test, a script reboots the computer over and over and calculates the time between the start of the boot process (as reported by Windows) and the time the system is ready (defined as ten seconds in a row with ten percent CPU usage or less). The average among current products is a 9 percent increase in boot time.
On the other hand, a script designed to fully load 100 websites, one after the other, took 39 percent longer with Avast's Web protection active, a good bit more than the average of 25 percent. The zip/unzip test, which times a script that moves many large files into and out of ZIP archives, took 26 percent longer under Avast, once again more than the average of 17.
A test that moves and copies those same files between drives took just 5 percent longer with Avast running than with no suite at all, well below the average of 13 percent. Naturally I ran all of these tests multiple times and averaged the results.
The days of bloated security suites that bogged down system performance really are gone. Avast did seem to slow some common tasks, but not by a lot.
Conclusion: For Sandbox Lovers
The unusual built-in remote assistance feature and high-powered sandbox set avast! Internet Security apart from much of the competition. However, for the same three-PC price you can get Editors' Choice Norton Internet Security ($69.99 direct for three licenses, 4.5 stars).