ByNeil J. Rubenking
In the antivirus business, some names are better-known than others.
Avira has been around for 30 years, and (according to the company website) the number of Avira installations worldwide is approaching half a billion.
Google “free antivirus” and Avira Antivirus 2016 shows up in the first few hits. More importantly, in my testing, it fared much better than last year’s edition.
As with many products in the free antivirus field, Avira is free for personal use only.
Those wanting to install Avira’s protection in a business environment will have to purchase the Pro edition. Paid users also get immediate support by phone, email, or Web ticket; those using the free edition must rely on fellow users in the support forum.
With the release of the 2016 product line, Avira packs even more protection into the free product, leaving very little to differentiate the Pro edition. My Avira contact promises several significant Pro-specific updates later this year.
At present, I recommend sticking with the free edition unless you’re in a business setting.
Antivirus EntourageGetting started with Avira is a snap.
It takes one click to accept the license agreement and initiate installation. Once the product is installed, it automatically updates its malware definitions.
At the end of that process, you’re ready to go.
During the install process, the installer offers a number of other Avira products: Phantom VPN, Avira System Speedup, Avira SafeSearch Plus, and Online Essentials Dashboard.
System Speedup is a free trial; the rest are free. You can queue any one of them up for installation by clicking a button.
But wait, there’s more! Right-clicking Avira’s icon in the notification area brings up a panel called the Avira Launcher.
Six icons represent Free Antivirus, Browser Safety, System Speedup, Phantom VPN, Scout Browser, and Password Manager.
The icons for installed programs and components are in full color; the rest are grayed out. Pointing to one of the grayed icons gets you a chance to install the corresponding item. You definitely should install Browser Safety.
Do note that the password manager is actually a 30-day trial of RoboForm Everywhere 7.
Excellent Lab ResultsMany of the independent testing labs that I follow include Avira, and those that do so all rate it highly.
In the last ten tests by Virus Bulletin, for example, Avira received VB100 certification every time.
AV-Test Institute rates antivirus tools on protection, performance, and usability, assigning up to six points for each category.
Avira missed receiving the maximum total score of 18 points by just one half-point, and actually did better than Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016 and AVG AntiVirus Free (2016), which both managed 17 points in this test.
I track five of the many tests performed by AV-Comparatives, and Avira participates in four of those.
It received an Advanced+ rating, the best rating, in all four of those. Kaspersky Anti-Virus (2016) did even better, with Advanced+ in all five tests, 18 points from AV-Test. Kaspersky, along with AVG, also received a perfect AAA rating from Dennis Technology Labs; this lab doesn’t include Avira in testing.
See How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests
Decent Malware BlockingI dinged last year’s edition of Avira for a poor showing in my hands-on malware blocking test.
This time around, it did quite a bit better. Note, though, that I’ve just swapped in a new set of samples for testing.
The only products I’ve challenged with this particular sample set are Avira and Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus (2016).
The malware-blocking test begins when I open the folder that contains my set of samples.
For some products, even the minimal file access that occurs when Windows Explorer checks the file’s properties is enough to trigger a scan.
Avira is one such; as soon as I opened the folder it started checking the files.
Avira detected 58 percent of the samples at this stage, in a slightly annoying fashion.
For each detected file (or batch of several files) it popped up a warning message with two buttons, Remove and Details. Whichever one you click, Avira displays a tiny window containing nothing but a progress bar, with the title “System is being scanned.” If you clicked Details, it shows you what it found before proceeding with repairs.
In testing, I found that this mini-scan took well over a minute, and occasionally more than two minutes.
Given that these are static samples, with nothing actively running, most products just wipe them out in a flash.
Along the same lines, a full scan of my standard test system took 70 minutes, and a repeat scan didn’t run any faster.
The average scan time among recent products is 45 minutes.
Because many of them optimize for later scans, the average time for a repeat scan is 17 minutes.
Looking at my table of test results from the previous sample set, I found that many products wiped out around 80 percent of the samples on sight, some even more. Was Avira’s detection rate low, or are my new samples just tougher to detect? To check, I simply repeated the test using my old samples.
Avira detected 57 percent of those on sight, almost exactly the same percentage.
So, yes, it was low.
Of course static detection is just one facet of antivirus protection.
I launched the remaining samples to see how Avira handled them.
It caught most of them at some point, for an overall detection rate of 94 percent. However, it let quite a few of them plant executable files on the test system, which dropped its overall score to 8.5 of 10 possible points.
Webroot blew the doors off this test. Over the course of a few minutes, it eliminated every single one of the samples, but correctly left behind the legitimate files that I mixed in with them in the samples folder. With 100% detection and 10 of 10 points, Webroot is clearly the top scorer.
Tested with my previous sample set, Bitdefender and Avast Pro Antivirus 2016 both managed 9.3 points.
See How We Test Malware Blocking
Knockout Browser Safety I mentioned that you should be sure to install the Browser Safety component. My malicious URL blocking test revealed just what a great idea that is.
In this test, I attempt to visit recently discovered malware-hosting URLs from a feed supplied by MRG-Effitas.
For each URL that doesn’t throw an error message, I record whether the antivirus blocked access to the URL, wiped out the executable download, or sat around doing nothing.
And I continue until I have 100 data points.
Avira blocked a phenomenal 99 percent of the URLs, all of them by diverting the browser from the dangerous page.
That’s the best score ever.
The previous top score was 91 percent, shared by McAfee AntiVirus Plus (2016) and Symantec Norton Security Premium. Note that there’s no new or old sample set involved with this test—I always use the very latest URLs, typically no more than a day old.
The Browser Safety component also marks up search results with color-coded safety icons.
A tiny pull-down bar at the top of the page in the browser reports on the safety of the current site and also shows the number of ads and other trackers that Avira found and blocked. You can click the number to see details and (as if you’d want to) unblock some or all of the trackers.
AVG AntiVirus Free (2016) offers a similar feature, as does Avast Free Antivirus 2016.
Now for the bad news.
Browser Safety, along with Avira SafeSearch Plus, only works in Chrome and Firefox.
If you’re a die-hard Internet Explorer fan, you’re out of luck. You won’t get malicious URL blocking, site rating, tracker blocking, or phishing protection. Yes, Internet Explorer is steadily losing market share, but it still has a ton of users. This is a big omission.
As for Microsoft Edge, the darling of Windows 10, fuhgeddaboudit! At present, Edge doesn’t support add-ins, however; not from Avira, and not from anyone else, either.
Disappointing Phishing ProtectionWith that knockout performance in my malicious URL blocking test, I figured Avira was a shoo-in to ace the antiphishing test as well.
Boy, was I wrong!
For this test I scrape websites that collect and analyze phishing sites—fraudulent sites that attempt to steal your passwords for banks and other sensitive sites.
I grab the URLs that have been reported but not yet analyzed, and I use them in testing when they’re no more than a few hours old.
That’s important, because phishing sites are ephemeral. Once they’ve stolen a goodly batch of user credentials, they vanish.
I run this test simultaneously on five browsers. One is protected by the antivirus in testing, of course.
Another users Norton, a long-time winner in the phight against phishing.
The other three use the protection built into Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.
In a sample set of over 100 verified phishing sites, Avira’s detection rate lagged 59 percentage points behind Norton’s, which is pretty poor.
It also lagged significantly behind the protection built into Chrome and Internet Explorer (Firefox was having a bad day).
So, leave your browser’s phishing protection turned on! Note that Bitdefender and Webroot are the only recent products that have actually done better than Norton.
See How We Test Antiphishing
Bits and Pieces The presence of a link named FireWall on this product’s main window might suggest that it includes a firewall component as a bonus. Nope.
Clicking that link just gets you a report on the status of the built-in Windows firewall.
It does let you configure the Windows firewall without leaving the program, but most people don’t really need to do that.
Another link lets you download and install Avira Free Android Security. You can manage your devices and engage antitheft features from the online dashboard.
But that’s about it.
Avira sticks with the main task of malware protection and doesn’t add lots of bonus features the way Panda Free Antivirus (2016), Avast, and some others do.
ConclusionAvira Antivirus 2016 gets excellent results from the independent labs that include it, and it earned the best score ever in my malicious URL blocking test. However, it didn’t excel in my hands-on malware-blocking test, and fared poorly in my antiphishing test.
In addition, the Browser Safety feature that serves to block phishing sites and malicious URLs is not available for Internet Explorer.
Make no mistake, this is quite a good product, and those who disdain Internet Explorer may find it works well for them.
But before settling on this antivirus, give our three Editors’ Choice free antivirus utilities a whirl: Avast Free Antivirus, AVG AntiVirus Free, and Panda Free Antivirus. Hey, they’re all free, so it costs nothing to experiment!