New Free Ad-Aware Surfaces

very good
key review info
application features
  • Comprehensive malware protection
  • (10 more, see all...)

Lavasoft has released today an updated line of products which align the company to the latest trend of offering free comprehensive protection against all sorts of malware, not only spyware and adware. The list of changes is quite short this time around, but undoubtedly confirms that users demand new standards for protecting the computer, even in free products.

Antivirus programs are no longer what the regular user wants, since Internet Security suites, heftier software sporting multiple layers of security, have taken their place. Comodo released the first Internet Security suite , then came Agnitum’s turn with their Outpost Security Suite and now Lavasoft issues Ad-Aware Free Internet Security program.

Our experience with installing the product included a computer restart at the end of the procedure for all the new files to sink into the system and everything to work okay. But free as it is, this version of Ad-Aware generates revenue for further development by prompting the user to install Google Chrome if it is not already present on the system.

Another step during the installation is to opt for two layers of security included in the application: real-time protection provided by Ad-Watch Live! and the Download Guard component designed to protect your downloads via Microsoft’s web browser. This one is designed to scan the file before downloading it and alert you of any threats; and it works with Internet Explorer 9.

After you install this version of the product, you’ll notice that it packs an irresistible offer for plenty of users: upgrade to Ad-Aware Pro for only $9.95. This translates into a huge price cut of $20 (a 67% discount). Pro is a superior edition that brings additional layers of protection, like an extended Ad-Watch that monitors processes, the registry, network and files, or a larger toolbox, which includes a process manager, startup manager and a hosts file editor.

The interface of the latest free version of Ad-Aware is not much different from the previous edition. Actually, only an eye keen on changes would notice the modifications. As for the set of new features baked in, these are extended to a single layer of protection (antivirus) and the scan scheduler that allows you to program automatic system verifications.

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Just like in the previous version, you will be able to switch between a simple mode and an advanced one, depending on the level of control you wish to have over the application. “Main” screen of the program offers clues about the current status of the suite: update, scan and real-time protection, with details on the date of the occurrence of the latest event.

Statistics section displays all the findings of the scans run on the computer. Each verification process is listed by the time and date it took place, while its results are shown complete with details about the family and the category the uncovered threat pertained to, as well as its risk level, number of occurrences and action taken.

Scan menu presents three different methods for system verification against malware: a Smart Scan which searches only the most critical areas, a Full Scan designed for a thorough checkup and a Profile Scan which lets you select the areas you want to have scanned. Making your selections is possible only from the Settings menu and you won’t be able to create multiple profiles.

Any of the aforementioned scans can be run according to a schedule of your own. The options include setting up the frequency, the start time and deciding on how encountered threats should be handled: automatically with the recommended action, or just display them and let you decide their fate.

A very handy option when multiple pieces of malware are detected is that you can choose the same action for all of them. However, in our case, this did not work exactly as we expected, since it made an exception for some malware items.

As far as the cleaning options are concerned, Ad-Aware Free Internet Security puts at your disposal possibilities such as quarantining the items from the system, removing them, attempting to repair the infections, all them to do their bidding or simply send them to the ignore list, so that they will not trigger an alert at the next scan.

Some of the files we fed the application were legitimate apps that fulfilled their purpose in a manner similar to Trojans or keyloggers and Ad-Aware reported them as threats based on their behavior. These were the ones sent to the exception list. On the downside, the user is not presented with a clear view of the detected item.

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We had difficulties learning the full path of the reported item, as the application window cannot be enlarged. The only possibility to find the location of a detected file was to copy its path to the clipboard (option present in the context menu) and paste the result into text processing software. This is highly uncomfortable.

Detection rate of Ad-Aware is not among the best we’ve come across, but during our tests, it managed to score above 90%. Out of the 358 samples we used for a rough guidance on its efficiency, it reported 91.9% of them as being malware. That is 329 items, leaving 29 of them undetected (8.1%).

Real-time protection in this free version of Ad-Aware is limited to only watching running processes. The security layers helping detect malware do not include behavioral analysis, which would have been great, and only the antivirus engine is engaged.

The tool-chest present in the program is quite scanty in options and provides only a trace sweeper that affects the most popular web browsers, Internet Explorer (we used version 9 beta), Mozilla Firefox (we used 3.6.12.), Google Chrome (we used version 8.0.552.215) and Opera (we used version 11 beta). The targeted content is cache, the cookies, history, last typed URLs and tabs.

Opera remained unaffected by the efforts of Ad-Aware’s TrackSweep tool, as neither the cache, nor the cookies or history was eliminated. With Google Chrome, on the other hand, things went different and the app succeeded in wiping the browser clean of all the targeted elements.

Firefox was partially scrubbed, as the left-overs included a bunch of cookies, history and tabs. But cache data was properly eliminated. Internet Explorer also benefited from a partial sweep, traces such as address bar history being left untouched; everything else (cookies, cache, tabs and history), though, was erased.

Ad-Aware Free Internet Security does not really come off as a true suite, due to the lack of elements like a firewall, which is essential for putting such a label on a security product. However, this edition brings an increased number of protection layers with the inclusion of antivirus engine.

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The Good

Despite the fact that it is free, all updates take little to complete. SmartScan is triggered each time a potential threat is detected by Ad-Watch Live! component, thus minimizing the risk of other malware roaming free on the system.

You can select the areas and file types you want to be verified through Profile Scan option.

The Bad

There is no support for multiple profiles. Behavior-based detection cannot be enabled for real-time protection. Viewing the path of detected items is an uncomfortable endeavor.

After installation, you are required to restart the computer for all the changes to take effect, a procedure that has been eliminated from all major security products on the market.

Also, restarts are required in order to ensure that tougher malware is properly eliminated, again, a practice not shared by other protection suites.

TrackSweep does not do a great job for all supported browsers.

The Truth

Although it has “Internet Security” as a suffix to its original name, Ad-Aware Free is still a long way from becoming a security suite by the current standards. It lacks plenty of components to deserve this title.

On the upside, its detection rate is not too shabby for a product that only recently has converted to a complete malware fighter. On the same note, system resources were spared while scanning.

Bottom line is that for a free anti-malware product this Ad-Aware is pretty good, but still a little behind competition because more components have to be added.

user interface 4
features 3
ease of use 4
pricing / value 4

final rating 4
Editor's review
very good