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avast! Antivirus Pro

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Avast Pro AntivirusPROS: Boot-time scan runs before malware can launch. Good independent lab results, very good score in PCMag's malware removal test. Automatic sandboxing keeps suspicious programs from doing harm. Web reputation rates sites. Built in remote assistance.

CONS: Boot-time scan may not finish without user interaction. Average scores in PCMag's malware blocking test. Web reputation can be gamed by a determined group.

BOTTOM LINE: If avast!'s very good malware cleanup doesn't recognize a suspicious file, its built-in automatic sandboxing can keep that file from doing harm. It's one of several good choices for free antivirus protection, with unusual bonus features like Web reputation reporting and built-in remote assistance.

Introduction

Keeping your computer safe is a top priority, and with Avast Pro Antivirus your bases will be covered for the most part. While this may not be our top-ranked antivirus software, you will see that this application has a lot to offer. It comes with reputation-based link scanning, a virtual desktop and automatic sandbox browsing. We would have liked to see more when it comes to antiphising, but overall this product is reliable and will get the job done.

The first thing to look for is the scope of the protection offered. It comes with built-in spyware protection as well as protection against Trojans and rootkits. It also scans incoming emails to ensure any messages you open are bug free. Some of the other tools include help locating and removing the threats. We would have liked to have an antiphishing option with all of these.

There are two features in particular that are outstanding, the auto sandbox and the code emulator. The sandbox is where you can run your browser in a controlled environment so the application can check up on a few files to see how they are acting. This is also where you test out applications that come from unreliable sources. The code emulator is another way to test out risky files before risking your computer.

Install and Upsell

You definitely won't have to dig into the avast! market to obtain avast!'s commercial products. During the installation and configuration process there are several opportunities to try or buy the Pro antivirus or suite. One window offers "base protection" versus "full protection," with the latter selected by default. Another offers the Pro antivirus at half-price. The welcome window includes an upgrade button, and after registration you'll get an offer for a 20-day free trial of the full suite.

On top of all this, the program's main window includes a time-limited discount offer to purchase the full suite at a discount. Well, you can't blame them for trying. Giving away protection earns a company loyalty and good feeling, but somebody has to pay the bills.

By default, the avast! installer also installs Google Chrome and makes it your default browser. Bundling fees from Google also help fund avast!'s protection giveaway.

Full Scan and Boot-Time Scan

I had no trouble installing avast! on my twelve malware-infested test systems. The setup routine reported a crash on one system, but it recovered and managed to complete the installation without further incident.

The product offers several different scan types; for testing I chose the full system scan. I also turned on the option to scan for PUPs (potentially unwanted programs), which was disabled by default.

In every case, avast! asked to run a boot-time scan, either before or after the full scan. When the boot scan came first, I ran a full scan afterward just to be sure. On my standard clean test system the full scan alone took 21 minutes, well below the current average of 30 minutes. However, running a boot scan added over 20 minutes more.

If you set up a boot scan and walk away, it can take a lot longer than 20 minutes. As soon as the scanner finds a threat it halts, awaiting your choice of action. You can delete, quarantine, repair, or ignore either the threat or all found threats. If you don't choose an option that applies to all threats the scanner will stop and wait for your response for every threat it finds. I choose "move all to chest" (quarantine) in every case. Even after that, if the scan finds a threat locate in the Windows folder you'll have respond to another confirmation prompt.

Boot-time scanning is smart, as it lets the antivirus do its work with no possibility of a rootkit or other devious threat interfering.You'll probably want to configure the boot scan settings to automatically move all found threats to the chest, thereby avoiding any possible hangup.

Less Effective Malware Blocking

In my malware blocking test avast! scored 8.1 points, which is precisely average for the current crop of products. Webroot aced this test with a perfect 10; Comodo Antivirus came in second with 9.1 points.

Looking specifically at blocking rootkit threats, avast! scored 8.1 points. It detected all the rootkits, but one of them managed to plant executable files on the system and another actually launched its rootkit technology. On the plus side, a full scan did remove the offending rootkit. Webroot, Comodo, and Norton blocked rootkits perfectly, thereby achieving the maximum score of 10 points for rootkit blocking. As for blocking installation of scareware, avast! scored a perfect 10 points, as did almost half of all current products.

Eight "shield" modules provide avast!'s real-time protection against malware; a new page in the user interface offers an overview of shield activity. The web shield was particularly effective at preventing access to known malware-hosting sites. When I tried to re-download my malware collection it blocked most of the still-extant URLs and killed off one threat immediately upon download. With 89 percent of downloads blocked avast! beat all recent standalone antivirus products.

In theory, the web shield should also block access to phishing sites, but I didn't see that at all. I ran my usual antiphishing test long enough to accumulate 25 verified and very new fraudulent sites. Norton blocked 88 percent; avast! didn't block a single one. Given that my antiphishing test is quite time-intensive, I didn't continue.

Good Lab Results

Avast!'s free antivirus gets good marks from the independent testing labs. West Coast Labs and ICSA Labs certify its virus detection in static tests, and it received VB100 certification from Virus Bulletin in nine of the last ten tests. In on-demand testing by AV-Comparatives.org avast! scored ADVANCED+, the highest rating. It scored ADVANCED in the retrospective test, which attempts to simulate zero-day protection by scanning with old signature files.

AV-Comparatives also runs a whole-product dynamic test; avast!'s rating in this test was STANDARD, the lowest passing grade (but still good). AV-Test.org's antivirus certification tests award products up to 6 points for protection, repair, and usability, with a total of 11 points required in order to pass. Avast! took 14 points in the latest test under Windows XP and 12 in the Windows 7 test.

Web Reputation

Many free antivirus products install a browser toolbar for access to security-related features. AVG Anti-Virus Free, current Editors' Choice for free antivirus, goes even farther, with non-security buttons for such things as current weather, Facebook login, and Windows calculator. Avast! takes a more restrained approach, adding just a single button that reflects the current site's Web reputation.

Reputation scores are derived by tallying user votes; click the button to vote on the current site. In addition to rating the site on a five-step scale from bad to good, you can tag it with any of five good and five bad content types. The Web reputation button displays a red or green icon for sites with an overall bad or good reputation; it also reflects a low, medium, or high number of votes. Web reputation icons also appear alongside search result links, so you can steer away from bad sites.

Relying on user votes to define reputation can have its pitfalls, as a determined group can force a specific reputation rating. For example, the FBI's homepage has a bad rating, based on many votes, yet it almost certainly isn't a security threat.

Bonus Features

Comparing the current product with version 6, several new features stand out. I've already mentioned the avast! market page and enhanced configuration options for the autosandbox. The new reputation services feature lets avast! query the company's online file reputation database to make intelligent decisions, and streaming updates speed the process of keeping definitions up to date.

Remote assistance is built right in, so you can get help from other avast! users. On clicking the button to allow remote control you get an eight-character code that you hand off to the helper. On entering that code, the helper immediately gains remote access to diagnose and fix whatever problem you're having. Of course tech support can make use of this feature when needed.

Conclusion

After being invaded by malicious coders, the Internet has taught many users about securing their PCs with anti-virus programs. As long as you use the Internet on your PC, an anti-virus software is an indispensable line of defense against harmful programs that can erase your files and bring other destructive results to your computer. Avast is an award-winning program that you can get free online to help secure your system from virus threats.

What makes it special? Here are the features that you add to your computer when you get a free download of Avast AntiVirus Software.

First of all, Avast has anti-spyware technology that's certified by WestCoast Labs, one of the world's leading independent facilities for research, testing, certification and real-time performance validation for information security products and services. Ideal anti-virus programs should provide updated protection against spyware. When malicious programs enter your PC, your antivirus engine will block them. In case any of them gets through, your protection program will warn you about it to give you the option of eliminating that threat.

Avast also features speedy scanning. Being able to do a fast and thorough scan of your PC is important, so you can be sure that your system isn't infected with anything harmful and, at the same time, be able to use your PC without delay. Avast does Stream Scan without slowing down your Internet connection. It also reduces file size for updates and scans only those files that haven't been scanned, so it saves you time.

Avast comes with Real-Time Shields, which monitor your Internet connection and scan your files. All files, whether opened or closed, will be scanned to avoid any virus attacks on your PC. In particular, its P2P Shield scans P2P files from file share programs, while its Network Shield acts as an Intrusion Detection System that helps prevent attacks of network worms. Aside from these, files transferred through instant messaging (IM) applications, messages and attachments in E-mail/Microsoft Outlook/Exchange, and malicious scripts from web pages are all scanned. Additionally, it also comes with Behavior Shield that analyzes the behavior of programs to be able to detect any suspicious behavior.

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