A-Squared Protection

excellent
key review info
application features
  • Comprehensive PC protection against trojans, viruses, spyware, adware, worms, bots, keyloggers, rootkits and dialers.
  • (2 more, see all...)

The development of malicious software is very unlikely to end as new forms of malware spring out every day. Security developers have to keep up with all the novelties released by the cyber-crime perpetrators and antivirus vendors have diversified their activity and products in order to adapt protection to the current environment. Thus, what used to be a simple antivirus product has become nowadays a suite of instruments ready to keep your system out of harm's way.

a-squared Anti-Malware is not a new product on the security market, but it does not enjoy the popularity of the consecrated AV solutions, like Symantec, BitDefender, Panda, ESET or Kaspersky. The price of the app is $39.95, a bargain if you think of the protection layers it provides. And with the promotional price for Softpedia users you'll be able to purchase 1 year subscription of the application with only $10, that is 75% off the original price. All you have to do is type in the discount code “Softpedia” when purchasing the product. The same code will bring you discount prices for the 2 and 3 year license as well as the 3-Pack and 5-Pack products.

Besides detecting the malware already installed on the computer it also keeps you safe of the dangers floating online. The 30-day trial is sufficient for proper testing, especially when there is absolutely no limitation to run afoul of your evaluation.

Compared to the last version reviewed the interface has not changed much – the same ease of use governs, just like anterior editions of the application. After installation you'll be invited to pre-configure the software in order to serve you in the best way it possibly can straight from the beginning. A wizard will guide you through all the steps and the only input on your part will be enabling or disabling certain functions by ticking/unticking checkboxes.

First thing up is the updater, which, among other things, permits you to submit the names of the detected malware and join the Anti-Malware network. In the left hand part of the wizard you'll benefit from guidelines that help you choose the best configuration settings that suit you.

Alert settings are also part of the update module. If you want to be informed of all the operations the app has been engaged in, you can enable message updates (displays pop-up after successful update), restart alerts (shown when computer restarts are in order) or application restart alerts. The display time for the messages can be customized (in seconds).

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Actual updating of the signatures and scanning your computer are the next steps in the wizard. These are straightforward and pretty much automatic, so there is no heavy lifting involved. But when it comes to customizing infection prevention, you should focus a bit because these are the very modules that work to keep your system malware-free. From this window you can enable Background Guard, the core component in a-squared, to launch at system startup, activate OnExecution scans (includes heuristics) and web-surf protection. Additional settings available include creating a scan schedule or a rule set (Malware-IDS) with apps that should be monitored for certain types of behavior, blocked or allowed to function without restriction.

For increased efficiency of the alert display, especially when messages pop up because of behavior-based detection, a-squared also leans on its user community. If the majority rules an application to be safe, then you can configure the program to allow that application, and vice-versa. Of course, you have the final word and can enable or disable this functionality, as well as decide upon the percentage of users that have to agree, in order to label a program as trustworthy or not.

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The pre-configuration panel is an important part of a-squared as it allows you to fully set up the application according to your standards. Although you can't escape it, the wizard appears only after the initial installation of the application and allows you to make the majority of the settings right from the start. As you add more data on the computer you can fine tune protection straight from a-squared, which gives full control over the way other apps are blocked, allowed or monitored.

a-squared interface is easy to handle and provides fast access to all its options and features. The first section in the menu is Security Status, which provides information on the Background Guard modules currently active, details on the last malware scan and the amount of detections as well as the date and time of the last update, a-squared version and expiration date of the license. From this window alone you can configure the various security layers a-squared provides or enable/disable them.

Moving on to scanning, you'll find four computer cleaning options. Quick Scan is the fastest and less thorough of them as it examines all active programs and looks for spyware traces and tracking cookies. More is achieved with a Smart Scan because it adds programs and Windows files to the screening process. Searching all data on the hard drives, Deep Scan is the slowest and most thorough of all the options presented. Letting you choose which areas should be ruffled is also a choice. You're given free hand as to the objects to be scanned and the files that should be skipped/included.

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As far as scan times go, they depend entirely on the amount of data that needs to be perused. During our testing a Quick Scan took a little over 7 minutes. On the downside, the resources used may be a tad too much for the lower-specced systems. On a Core 2 Duo with 2GB of RAM CPU usage passed well over 60% while RAM consumption passed 144MB. Pausing or stopping are the options available for interrupting either temporarily or permanently the scan process. These operations are carried out swiftly and no lag is recorded.

Accessing quarantined files can be done from the Quarantine menu. The options available let you submit the data to a-squared labs for further testing, manually quarantine data, restore it or remove it completely from the list.

Background Guard is where the real action is as all the fine tuning of the protection can be done from here. You get to set permissions and blocking for any application installed on the system, enable the activities a-squared should pay attention to, modify the way the security product alerts you, activate surf protection and create rules for the various webhosts you bump into.

Creating the rules for handling the various applications installed on the computer is an easy task for both advanced and beginner users. It is just a matter of selecting the file and deciding whether it should be scanned upon execution, and what a-squared should do once the file is launched: block, allow or monitor for specific activities you select from quite an expansive list. All sorts of malicious activities are comprised in this list, like backdoor, spyware, hijacking, worm, dialer, trojan launcher, keylogging, code-injecting, rootkit, invisible install or autorun modification specific activities to host file changing, direct disk sector access or suspicious layout actions.

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Behavioral analysis provides a whole set of activities a-squared can stay on alert for. You can find them all under Malware-IDS tab of Background Guard and enable whichever you want. This list is the same as in application activity monitoring, only this time it applies to all processes.

Under Surf Protection you'll find the most common online threats and decide upon the action a-squared should undergo upon detecting them. Thus you can get alerts on tracking cookies, ad-tracking hosts, malware hosts, host exploiting, fraudulent hosts, hijacking hosts, phishing attempts or warez hosts. Additional options present include blocking and notification, silent blocking (no message is displayed) or not blocking the detected website.

Although this offers great protection against online threats and ensures that your browsing is not recorded and transmitted to a remote server, having them blocked automatically is not the best idea because in many cases a-squared can misjudge a host and block the access. Of course, this is not the case with tracking cookies, which are detected immediately. But, for other types of threats it is best to be notified of the detection and decide on the action yourself.

On the bright side, under Host Rules you are given the chance to add as many webhosts as you want and create rules for each and every one of them. The possibilities present allow you to set the application to monitor a web host for tracking cookies, allow or block them, as well as allow/deny access to the respective host.

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a-squared's Configuration panel is governed by the same flexibility and ease of use as Background Guard. It permits enabling protection of the application from unauthorized persons or malicious processes by activating the captcha protection upon turning off Background Guard (you have to type in an automatically generated string of numbers to make sure that it is you taking the decision and not some malevolent program or process). Also, in order to enforce the best protection and reduce the amount of false positives, a-squared can silently scan all quarantined objects after each online update.

In case there are multiple accounts active on an a-squared protected computer, you can prevent individual users from changing the configuration of the application or restrict access to some of the program's vital functions: editing Background Guard settings, application rules or quarantine objects.

As far as malware detection and elimination goes, a-squared proved to be a reliable instrument capable of rooting out over 98% of the malicious objects we faced it against in the first round. After more updates were downloaded and the signature base extended, more malware was detected. The flexibility and ease of use of the software is truly amazing, as well as its detection capabilities.

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The Good

Although it brings to the table a plethora of options and fine tuning settings, a-squared is easy to manage by any average user. Its detection rate was over 98% and the flexibility in letting you decide upon online threats is to be fully appreciated.

The initial wizard can help you set up the entire application while the main screen gives way to fine tuning options in order to customize the way it protects your system. For each app on the computer you can create rules to restrict their performance or receive alerts when suspicious behavior is detected.

The various layers of protection can be enabled/disabled at will and all a-squared activity is logged for later reference. Scheduling system is very well thought, offering the chance to plan scans at specific times, dates and with a certain frequency, as well as define a start and end interval.

In order to reduce the amount of alerts, community knowledge can kick in and decide for you, according to your pre-configuration.

The Bad

Surf Protection alerts can be quite annoying, especially if you're in the habit of roaming the less-known paths of the web. If tracking cookies are okay to block, with hosts things are different and many users may feel the urge to disable surf protection.

The Truth

a-squared managed to score high in our tests and prove that it can be a great ally against the cyber threats. It is easy to handle and the help file thoroughly explains every option in the program.

Background Guard can easily help you monitor any application for suspicious activity, as well as deflect malware-like activities on your computer.

Each program launched on the system can be scanned upon execution in order to make sure that its activity is benign. Alert system is flexible enough to let you automatically create a rule for the notifications you receive and thus reduce the amount of pop-up messages displayed.
user interface 5
features 5
ease of use 5
pricing / value 5


final rating 5
Editor's review
excellent
 

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