avast! Free Antivirus 6

excellent
key review info
application features
  • High performance antivirus engine
  • (4 more, see all...)

It’s been a long wait, but version 6 of avast! has finally been released. This antivirus program is best known for the hefty set of security features it makes available to the user absolutely free of charge. This edition makes no exception and pushes protection a step further, adding technologies mainly available in paid products.

Installing the application does not take too long and the screens you have to go through are typical for this sort of program. You’ll have to choose your configuration (and witness the large list of protection layers) between typical and minimal, or you can customize it to your needs. We noticed that between the first two setups there was absolutely no difference and the same modules were offered. Even their sizes were reported the same in the configuration screen.

The next step offers to install Google Chrome on the system, if the web browser has not been detected. Otherwise it’ll skip to the next stage of the installation procedure and create a restore point before putting all the files on the computer.

All respectable antivirus products nowadays perform a quick scan as soon as possible after the installation process, and avast! makes no exception. In our case we saw no time estimation for completing the job or a proper bar recording the progress. However, this action is carried out pretty fast.

An automatic update of the signature database ensues and you are almost good to go. The final step is registering the application in order to benefit from its services for a period longer than 30 days.

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At the top of the list of changes in avast! 6 is the AutoSandbox feature. Its purpose is to execute suspicious files in an environment isolated from your system and based on their behavior to decide whether they represent a threat or not.

Website reputation system (WebRep) is also a new thing in this edition. It is a community-based gauge that informs you of what other avast! users think of the website you’re visiting. You can cast your vote to the community by rating the site on a five-level scale and by defining the type of content provided. The categories cover all fields of activity and range from shopping, social/gaming, news/blog IT/download or corporate to weapons/violence, gambling, alcohol/drugs and warez/illegal.

For the time being this community radar does not show the amount of votes that shape the rating, but hopefully some values will be added as more users adopt the system. The web browsers supporting the plugin are Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, with promises from developers that Google Chrome will join the bunch.

As most of the modifications address the security layers, the interface has not changed too much compared to the previous version. But you will find a new menu stacking up the AutoSandBox feature, WebRep and site blocking, which allows you to restrict navigation to specific URLs.

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The real-time shields have grown in number and now count script shield, designed to intercept all script execution on the system, in addition to layers protecting the data on the hard disk(s), preventing threats from infiltrating through email and instant messaging communication, as well as against malware coming through P2P programs (strangely enough, the only P2P client not selected in the list was uTorrent) or the local network.

Scan types available in avast! Free include the three regular ones (Quick, Full and on demand) as well as the possibility to check removable drives. Although these are presets, there is a fair amount of customization you can make. Thus, you won’t be able to define the areas to be verified, but the program allows you to set the heuristics sensitivity level, enable code emulation (AutoSandbox) or configure it to be on the lookout for potentially unwanted programs (PUPs).

The packers that should be extracted is also your choice, and the list is pretty extensive, covering the most popular ones (self-extracting DOS and Win32 executables as well as 7Zip, ARJ, BZIP, ISO, LHA, TAR, RAR or ZIP) as well as those less known to the average user (OLE, ZOO, CPIO or SIS).

Customization goes further and includes the default action to be taken when infected archives are discovered. Additionally, in order to keep the system under normal running parameters, you can set the priority of the scanning process from low to normal to high.

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Enabling the “persistent cache” feature speeds up the scan process as it stores information about data that has already been checked, so it will not be subject to a new verification.

Whitelisting data so that it is excluded from scanning is also available. Scheduling is present as well, allowing you to program full system scans, quick ones or verification of removable drives.

If these options do not fit your needs then avast! provides the possibility to create a customized scan which lets you select the areas to be checked (includes memory and startup programs) along with all settings present for the preset scan types.

In order to make sure you’ll boot into a clean system, avast! features boot-time scan, which checks the PC for threats prior to Windows loading up. Boot-time scan bypasses the OS file system and accesses the hard drives directly, which allows it to easily detect and remove rootkits.

For each component of the real-time protection you get a buncof expert settings, which are not to be taken lightly. Through this configuration you can define how and when data should be scanned as well as set parameters such as the type of mail to be checked, or the P2P and IM clients you’re using.

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Although our tests were not conducted using a large pool of samples, avast! 6 maintained its reputation of fierce malware fighter. Out of the 38 items we hand-picked for the on-demand scan the antivirus managed to miss only three, one of which could not be detected by plenty of other renowned names in the industry, such as Kaspersky, NOD32 or Panda.

As far as the web shield is concerned, some threats also got through (11 out of 33), but many of them were nailed by the behavior shield, skipping only 4 menaces.

Testing the application showed that there are still loose ends to be tied, as we did not witness the activity of AutoSandbox as we expected. It should have asked us to load some of the items, but in our case it was silent almost at all times. Luckily, our own custom GIMP automation tool, which hooks some system APIs, triggered the AutoSandbox dialog and indeed, running the app in the isolated environment created by avast! prevented it from manipulating the system.

More trouble showed up when we tried to clean the system of the threats avast! uncovered during a scan and one of them was a false positive for us, detected as a potentially unwanted program. Upon applying the actions the application crashed. Further attempts with different threats did not cause the same behavior, though.

During our tests avast! 6 took a little over four minutes to quick scan the system drive with ~14GB of data on it. When it came to a full system scan, the application went through 318GB in 38’.

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The Good

avast! 6 comes with the same easy-to-use interface which provides quick statistics for each protection component the software encompasses.

The set of protection layers has been increased to 8 and now also keeps you safe against script execution on the system. The application provides tight security against malware attempting to reach the system through P2P downloads, instant messaging file sharing, emails or the network.

AutoSandbox proved to be an asset on the system as it lets you run potentially unwanted programs in an isolated environment, without affecting your data. Site blocking is also a nice addition to the bunch of features.

The Bad

The application crashed the moment we tried to deal with some threats. WebRep is at the beginning right now, so it won’t be of much help until a large amount of users start contributing with ratings.

The Truth

avast! 6 continues to be one of the best free antivirus solutions on the market. It is designed with the average Joe in mind but it also features options for more advanced users. During our limited testing it managed to detect and block the majority of threats we put it up against.

Resource usage is fit for an average computer sporting the recommended requirements for running Windows 7 as it does not put too much strain on the system.
user interface 5
features 5
ease of use 5
pricing / value 5


final rating 5
Editor's review
excellent
 

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