Is it just me, or do too many antivirus product names start with the letters A and V? If any company can stake a claim to those two letters, it’s Avira, founded in way back in 1986. With hundreds of millions of users worldwide, the free Avira Antivirus is immensely popular.
It gets excellent lab scores, and it brings along a team of related Avira products.
Given that it’s free, I can overlook the fact that both its on-demand scan and real-time protection proved sluggish in testing.
The app’s main window is largely white, with a white-on-slate menu at left and couple of panels that offer status information and access to features.
From PC Protection, you can launch a scan or an update, toggle real-time protection, or drill down for detailed configuration settings.
The Internet Protection panel is a bit weak, by comparison. Web Protection, Mail Protection, and Game Mode are grayed out and disabled, because they’re not available in the free edition.
And the firewall item just helps you configure Windows firewall.
An Antivirus With a PosseMany security products flip through a series of informational slides during installation, extolling the virtues of the product itself or advertising companion products.
Avira takes the concept a step further.
Each of its informational images both describes a companion product and offers to install that product.
I’ll report on the posse of companion products after covering the core antivirus features.
Many Scan ChoicesClicking the Scan System button in the PC Protection panel launches a full system scan.
The scan window itself retains the oddball window caption “Luke Filewalker” that I remarked on in previous editions.
I guess George Lucas doesn’t mind.
A full scan of my standard clean test system took two and a quarter hours, the longest time for any current product, about three times the current average scan time.
Some products speed subsequent scans by skipping files that have already been validated.
For example, a repeat scan with AVG AntiVirus Free finished in just one minute. Not Avira; a second scan took just as long.
Don’t be fooled by the progress bar, as it runs to 100 percent multiple times during a scan.
Most antivirus products offer a full system scan and a quick scan that focuses on active malware and commonly infected locations. Many add a custom scan that lets you choose where and how the scanner should operate.
Clicking System Scanner in Avira’s left-hand menu brings up a dizzying array of scanning choices. Quick scan and full scan are present in the list, naturally. Other choices include scanning all local drives, examining just local hard disks, checking for active malware, and scanning the Documents folder.
Clearly these are meant for the unusually tech-savvy consumer. Most folks will do fine with the basic quick or full scan.
Very Good Lab ResultsIn most cases, antivirus companies must pay to be included in testing by the independent labs.
A few of the labs actively help them achieve certification—if the product fails, the vendor gets a punch list of things that need fixing.
ICSA Labs and West Coast Labs offer this type of certification, but Avira doesn’t participate with either.
More interesting to me are the tests that put a group of products through the exact same evaluation and report how well they did. With those labs, Avira did quite well.
Its score of 85.07 percent in Virus Bulletin’s RAP (Reactive and Proactive) test is about halfway between the current average and the current maximum.
When the experts at AV-Comparatives determine that a product does everything it should, they certify it at the Standard level.
A product that goes beyond the minimum can earn Advanced certification, or even Advanced+.
Avira participates in four of the five tests that I follow from this lab, and it took Advanced+ in all four.
By contrast, Quick Heal AntiVirus Pro 17 took two Advanced+ certifications and one Advanced and one Standard in those same four tests.
To cover all facets of antivirus functionality, AV-Test Institute rates products on how well they protect against malware, how little they interfere with performance, and how carefully they avoid flagging valid programs or websites as malware, with 6 possible points in each area.
Avira got 5.5 points in the first two categories and 6 points in the third, for a total of 17 points. Note, though, that Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017, Kaspersky Anti-Virus, and Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security all earned a perfect 18 points in the same test.
Earlier this year I added a pair of tests from London-based MRG-Effitas to the mix. One focuses on financial malware, while the other attempts to cover the whole range of malware types.
Avira failed the financial test, but then, 70 percent of the products tested failed that one. Nearly as many failed the whole-range test, but Avira managed to pass at Level 2, like Avast, Norton, and Trend Micro. Only Kaspersky Anti-Virus earned Level 1 certification.
Given that there’s no reported difference between an epic fail and missed-it-by-that-much, I give less weight to this test in calculating my aggregate score.
Avira’s aggregate score, 9.3 of 10 points, puts it in a tie with Bitdefender. Only Norton (9.7 points) and Kaspersky (10 points) have done better.
All five of the labs I follow include Avast Free Antivirus 2016 and AVG in their testing, but their aggregate scores aren’t as good as Avira’s.
AVG came in with 8.7 points and Avast with 8.3.
Improved Malware BlockingAnalyzing a new set of samples for my hands-on malware blocking test is a grueling ordeal that takes me several weeks.
That being the case, I refresh the sample set just once a year, in late winter when there typically aren’t many new antivirus releases.
That works fine when product releases come roughly a year apart. However, Avira’s previous edition was the very first product tested using my current set of samples. Naturally the current version, which I tested in the middle of the cycle, did a little better.
When I opened the folder containing my malware samples, Avira started picking them off, but slowly.
Every so often it popped up a notification saying that it quarantined six files, or eight, or one.
It also popped up several small floating windows captioned Luke Filewalker, with nothing in them except a progress bar, followed by a similar window with the caption “System is being scanned.” Overall, it seemed like a lot of fuss, considering these samples were just static files, never launched.
When all the progress bars reached 100 percent and the floating windows vanished, more than 10 minutes had passed, and 68 percent of the samples were gone.
At that point, Avira wanted to reboot the system and run a full scan. However, the point of this test is malware blocking, not scanning. Most antivirus programs I’ve tested wipe out the samples they recognize in less than a minute, and they certainly don’t require a reboot.
Next I started launching those samples that survived.
Avira detected almost all of them at this point.
For each detection, it launched one of those miniature Luke Filewalker windows, with the apparent aim of eliminating malware traces related to what it discovered.
At one point during this test I found the system to be extremely sluggish.
Checking with Task Manager, I discovered that the avscan.exe process was using 99 percent of CPU resources.
In a few cases, the antivirus popped up a window informing me that for full remediation I should run a scan using the Avira Rescue Disk.
I dutifully downloaded the ISO file and booted the system from it, thereby launching Avira’s Ubuntu-based scanner.
But wow! A full scan with the Rescue Disk took more than 90 minutes!
To check how successfully the antivirus blocked malware installation, I run a tool that checks for the file and Registry traces associated with each sample, as well as for active malware processes.
Each time the app asked for a Rescue Disk scan, I checked for traces both before and after the scan, but found next to no difference.
Avira failed to prevent installation of one or more executable files for most of the samples that it detected after launch.
Like Norton, Trend Micro, Emsisoft Anti-Malware 11.0, and K7 Antivirus Plus 15, Avira detected 97 percent of the samples, either on sight or after launch. Norton and Trend Micro completely blocked every detected sample, earning 9.7 of 10 possible points overall.
Avira could have had 9.7 points too, but its incomplete malware blocking dragged its score down to 8.9 points.
Avast detected 100 percent of my previous malware set and earned 9.3 points.
I also test each app with a sampling of the latest malware.
For this test, I use a feed of the very latest malware-hosting URLs supplied by MRG-Effitas.
The purpose-built program I use for this test normally launches the URLs in Internet Explorer, but I had to modify it for Avira, as the Browser Safety feature in this program still only supports Chrome and Firefox.
For each valid URL, I record whether the antivirus kept the browser from connecting, wiped out the payload during or just after download, or just heedlessly allowed the download.
The exact URLs differ every time, naturally, but I keep going until I have a decent sample of at least 100 data points. Last time I tested Avira, it blocked 99 percent of the samples, all of them by preventing all access by the browser.
This time around, it blocked a total of 95 percent, 93 percent at the browser level and 2 percent by killing off the download.
That’s still an extremely good protection rate, but Norton’s 98 percent protection is now the top score among current products.
Improved Phishing Detection, But…That same Browser Safety extension that fends off malicious URLs also serves to keep users from being fooled by phishing sites, fraud sites that try to steal login credentials by posing as, say, PayPal, or a bank website.
These URLs don’t last long, because they quickly get blacklisted.
As soon as the fraudsters have conned a few saps, they close up shop and re-open with a different URL.
For testing purposes, I scrape phish-watching sites to get URLs that have been reported as fraudulent but haven’t been around long enough to get blacklisted.
I launch each simultaneously in five browsers, one protected by the product under test, one by Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic (a long-time antiphishing winner) and one apiece by the protection built into Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.
Because the URLs themselves are different every time, I report the results as the difference in detection rate between the product and the other four.
Last time I tested Avira’s antiphishing ability it lagged 50 percentage points behind Norton’s, which is bad.
This time it was only 28 points behind, which is better, but still not great.
In addition, its detection rate edged out both Chrome and Internet Explorer, and totally slammed Firefox.
Even so, I wouldn’t advise turning off your browser’s built-in protection.
Very few products outscore Norton in this test, and no free products do. However, Avast came in just one percentage point behind Norton. Qihoo 360 Total Security 8.6 and Sophos Home also came close.
Avira Antivirus Pro technically should do better than the free edition, because in addition to the Browser Safety plugin, it has a Web Protection component. Just to see the difference, I tested the Pro edition using the same sample set as with the free edition.
The result? Web Protection caught exactly one fraud that Browser Safety didn’t.
The most important thing about Web Protection is that it works in all browsers, not just Chrome and Firefox.
The Rest of the GangAs I mentioned, when you install Avira Antivirus you can choose to also install a large collection of ancillary tools.
I’d strongly suggest installing all those that are truly free, starting with Avira Connect.
It manages all your other Avira products and serves as a launch pad to start any of them.
Avira Connect also lets you review all the devices that you’ve associated with your Avira account online.
Clicking the Manage Device button opens the Avira dashboard online. Here you can see each device, with icons showing all the installed Avira tools. You can also dig in to view system details, or details for each installed product.
And you can even trigger an email with instructions on how to install missing products.
Phantom VPN is a full-featured virtual private network with servers in 20 countries around the world.
The list of countries is seriously weighted toward North America and Europe, though it does include China and Singapore. Using it is a snap; just select the country you want and click the big green Secure my connection button.
This is a free installation of Phantom VPN, which means you can use it on just one device, with a data limit of 1GB per month. Upgrading to Pro gives you unlimited devices and unlimited bandwidth, and enables a feature that automatically activates the VPN any time you’re connected to an unsecured wireless network.
Avira Scout is a Chrome-based secure browser with some interesting additions. Privacy Badger blocks advertisers from tracking your Web surfing, and HTTPS Everywhere ensures the browser uses a secure HTTPS connection whenever possible—these two are projects of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Avira’s own Browser Safety is installed, naturally, and it also aims to block trackers.
If you go shopping online, Avira can look for better deals on whatever item you’ve selected.
That’s a feature I haven’t seen in other security products.
Note that Browser Safety adds some of these features to Chrome and Firefox (but not Internet Explorer).
It includes Avira Price Comparison, it automatically sends the Do Not Track header, and it actively blocks trackers.
A tiny tab at the top of the page pulls down to show the current site’s rating and the number of trackers; you can click to see a full list of trackers. You can also enable Avira SafeSearch Plus, which becomes the default new tab page in the two supported browsers.
Exploit attacks take advantage of unpatched security vulnerabilities.
Avira Software Updater scans your system and lists any software with missing security patches.
Clicking Download All gets all the updates; you can also download updates one by one, or remove products from being monitored. On my test system, the only thing it found was an update for Firefox.
I did notice that it downloaded a full installer for the latest version, which took a good bit longer than just updating within Firefox itself.
At present this tool doesn’t do a lot. On my test system, it reported Java and Firefox as monitored, but Chrome and a ton of other apps were listed as unmonitored.
All the items I’ve mentioned so far are free, though the free Phantom VPN is limited.
They can be downloaded for use independent of Avira Antivirus.
Avira System Speedup is a bit different. You get a free trial that’s good for exactly one use.
Its basic scan seeks junk files, Registry problems, and system traces of your private activity.
Additional features include boot time optimization, power management, file encryption, secure deletion, backup, and more.
After your one-time optimization, you can explore these features and even use some of them, but Avira hopes you’ll shell out $31.99 for a full license.
Accurate but SluggishAvira Antivirus gets better ratings from the independent labs than most free products.
It also did well in my hands-on malware blocking and malicious URL blocking tests, though both the on-demand scan and real-time protection proved sluggish.
The fact that its Browser Safety component works only in Chrome and Firefox is no problem if one of those is your default browser.
The fact that it can keep you safe, for free, means it’s worth a try.
But also take a look at our Editors’ Choice products in the free antivirus realm, Avast Free Antivirus, AVG AntiVirus Free, and Panda Free Antivirus.
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