Avast! Free Antivirus 2014 – Review

excellent
key review info
application features
  • Over 250 updates delivered on a daily basis
  • (7 more, see all...)

After toils that took all Avast consumer products through three beta revisions and as many release candidates, the stable revision for avast! Free Antivirus 2014 (version 9) has emerged.

By delivering a redesigned interface, the developer showed a clear focus on improving usability; other areas have not been neglected, either, as new tools made their way into the suite to provide extended functionality and protection.

The fresh revision is wrapped into a web installer (regular installer is also available), which needs to download the necessary files and get them on the system.

We noticed that the entire installation process has been shortened by one screen, from eight to seven, compared to the previous version.

In order to benefit from 1 year of protection, you have to register; otherwise, the product works for just 30 days.

The new interface seems like a modern take on the looks of version 7 of the product.

However, navigating from one section to another is much easier than in any other release, especially since everything has been much simplified so that essential functions are readily available.

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Among the new tools available in this release are Rescue Disk and DeepScreen, which is the successor of AutoSandbox component in the previous releases.

With Rescue Disk you can create a bootable media (USB, CD, ISO) for offline scanning and cleaning. The tool is built on Windows PE (pre-installation environment) and, as such, it is recommended to create the media on a clean machine.

Basically, you will be able to boot into a new environment loaded with avast! Antivirus, which can be used to scan and clean the infected machine. It is a very light version of the application that can only scan defined areas.

Another important aspect is to make the bootable device shortly before using it, in order to incorporate the latest definitions.

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DeepScreen has replaced AutoSandbox component to better fulfill the purpose. It is designed to clear all code obfuscating the true intentions of malware. When a file is labeled as suspicious, it is launched and analyzed in the sandbox.

According to the developer, the technology behind DeepScreen is capable to check binary level commands and understand the set of instructions, thus offering a clear identification of the malicious intent.

During our tests we noticed that the component works much faster than before and it managed to accurately determine threats as well as legitimate files that looked highly suspicious.

The continually growing Avast community allowed the developer to leverage crowd-sourced information into the product and create an additional, standalone layer of protection, designed for novice users only: Hardened Mode.

It makes sure that only files with good reputation rating are allowed to run on the computer. Enabling a more aggressive stance is also possible, and in this case only files whitelisted by Avast can run.

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We used more than a dozen of less known applications, as well as more popular ones, to put the reliability of this component to the test. Not surprisingly, the execution of all non-popular programs was prevented and only files with increased prevalence among users could be launched.

If disabled, all files blocked due to low reputation are normally sandboxed and analyzed with DeepScreen.

Apart from all this, the fresh version brings to the table a condensed set of shields. It’s the same protection as before, but they have been combined into just three separate layers of active protection for better management: File System, Mail and Web.

They are charged with monitoring all activity on the system, including file and script execution, file download, network and email activity.

Our threat detection tests relied on the same sample database used for the previous version of avast! Free Antivirus. Overall, the current release recorded a much better score, totaling a detection rate of 96.2%, after launching some of the malware left behind after on-demand scanning.

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The rest of the samples were caught either by the DeepScreen component or directly by the behavior-based engine. Hardened Mode was not enabled during this assessment.

As far as malware elimination is concerned, avast! Free Antivirus 2014 had trouble removing some of the files (7Z archives) and returned the error message “The operation is not supported for this type of archive,” regardless of the action type we set.

The Online Security browser plugin (compatible with Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome) also went through improvements, both visual and functional, and has been awarded greater importance.

It is now responsible for detecting and blocking tracking activity on the sites you visit as well as protection against phishing and detecting and correcting mistyped URLs.

The anti-phishing protection is already quite good with the blacklisting approach in web browsers, but having a failsafe solution is never a bad idea.

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We recorded the best results with Firefox and Chrome as they were generally the first to act, but Avast’s protection also kicked in when the phishing pages would get past the browsers.

In Internet Explorer we noticed several times that the browser would overlay its warning message on top of Avast’s.

However, it also happened to see phishing sites get past the browsers and Avast’s tool. It was only for a brief moment, though, because loading the page a few seconds later was no longer possible.

The web console offers an overview of the current state of the protected systems. Details include status of real-time shields, virus definitions, product version, license and the time of the last check.

A summary of the activity is also available. It presents scan and infection statistics per week, month and year. Unlike other security products, such as Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus, launching remote commands (to scan the protected device, lock/restart/shut it down or initiate a cleanup procedure) is not supported.

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The Good

The interface has been adapted to allow easy management of the components and for better use on touch-friendly devices.

It incorporates more refined sandboxed analysis, a new, stricter protection mode (Hardened Mode based on reputation services) aimed at novices and the possibility to create a bootable media to clean infected machines.

User privacy has been strengthened through the newly introduced Do Not Track function in the browser plugin. Updates are delivered almost every 5 minutes (over 250 of daily packages) in the background.

The Bad

In some cases, it fails to remove detected threats and manual intervention may be necessary. In our case, creating a Rescue Disk took a notable amount of time to complete.

The Truth

Avast! Free Antivirus 2014 combines several components and technologies that work in synergy to deliver efficient anti-malware protection.

In this release, it is less aggressive with promoting paid products and by introducing Hardened Mode strengthens protection to the benefit of the least knowledgeable of the users.
user interface 5
features 5
ease of use 5
pricing / value 5


final rating 5
Editor's review
excellent
 
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