Ask a security expert for a good, free antivirus program, and they'll probably mention Avast. The Prague-based cybersecurity giant has a large user base 435 million active users strong, backing up their claim to be the top vendor in consumer security. Acquired by its rival AVG in 2016, Avast software now combines the strengths of each.
Avast Pro Antivirus is a paid alternative to Avast Free Antivirus. It includes virus protection, URL filtering, password management, browser add-on analyzer, wireless network scans, software updates for missing patches and a secure browser for online banking and shopping.
Avast Pro’s biggest problem ironically comes from the company’s competent, free offering. You have to search high and low to find an advantage for Avast Pro, and while we found some in the Real Site feature, sandboxing, its providing of a secure DNS system for security from DNS hijacks and copycat sites, they are truly few and far between.
The big downside to the paid version is this high price, which is (obviously) pricier than its free sibling but also expensive among its paid competitive peers at $49.99 (£39) for a 1 PC, 1 year subscription. If we compare this to Kaspersky Antivirus, which is better rated at malware, Kaspersky costs only $29.99 (£24) for 3 devices for the initial year, representing a better value ($10/device annually).
Avast Pro has an option for a discount, with the cost decreasing as additional years and devices are added. For instance, the 3 PC, 1 year license is $59.99 (£47). This scales up to a 5 PC, 3 year license for $234.99 (£185), working out to $15.66 (£12) for each device annually While discounts are appreciated, other vendors deduct even more: Kaspersky Antivirus has a five PC, 3 year license for $89.98-- a low $6 per device per year.
|Number of Devices||1 Year||2 Years||3 Years|
|1||$49.99||$89.99 ($45/device)||$129.99 ($43.33/device)|
|3||$59.99 ($20/device)||$109.99 ($18.33/device annually)||$159.99 ($17.78/device annually)|
|5||$84.99 ($17/device)||$159.99 ($16/device annually)||$234.99 ($15.67/device annually)|
|10||$139.99 ($14/device)||$264.99 ($13.25/device annually)||$389.99 ($13/device annually)|
Setup and User Interface
Many antivirus vendors require that you provide your email address to access a free trial. But Avast Pro makes the trial painless. We installed the 30-day trial for Avast Pro without entering our email address or other credentials, which is ideal in our book.
Our setup procedure went smoothly. In addition to Avast Pro, you also get Avast Online Security extensions to secure the Chrome and Firefox web browsers. These extensions are enabled via a prompt the next time the browser launches.
As setup finished, we were met with a disclosure about how Avast Pro gathers and sends anonymous information about its use. The disclosure provides comprehensive information about what data is collected and why and, importantly, how to opt of this if you want.
The other Avast software gets a shout out for finishing installation before setup was done. We were then asked to enter an email address to get a link for download of Avast’s free Android apps and were offered a free license for referring a friend who subscribes. We passed over these offers, and the program started; Avast did not need a reboot.
The Avast program folders are just shy of 1GB, making it larger than most competitors. This is not surprising, given Avast’s many features necessitating support, but this also isn’t mentioned in the software’s resource requirements. In the case of our test PC, Avast Pro had five additional background processes, with a mere two doing something significant, and in total they used under 75MB of RAM.
The Avast Pro suite provides plenty of options for power users to configure the software. It starts with the Customize button, which lets you choose among 16 modules to install. This lets you pick what’s best for you. Maybe you have no use for browser extensions or already have a password manager. Perhaps you’re concerned that a certain module will cause a conflict with existing software. If so, just uncheck the appropriate checkboxes to these modules to prevent them getting installed on your system.
The Avast Pro interface is similar to the free version and other Avast commercial offerings. The security status is indicated on the opening screen, with a Smart Scan button to check on the security status. Controlling other abilities is a left-hand sidebar, which are divided into the categories of Protection, Privacy, and Performance.
Another plus for this software is a high degree of configurability found throughout it. Total control is found everywhere, with every component inviting tweaking, customizing and tuning for your actual needs.
To get things going, we went with the Smart Scan. A comprehensive scrub of the system, it looks for viruses, missing software patches, bad browser plug-ins, network security vulnerabilities, vulnerable passwords, performance degraders and other issues.
In general, this program meets our expectations. The virus scan gets done efficiently, and locates our malware samples without an issue. The network check-up is another plus, able to identify several low-level, yet critical vulnerabilities on our network, like a router that had insecure, open ports to the internet. The software updater found some software that was out of date, and provided updates of CCleaner, Firefox and WinZip.
As expected, we found tools, like a PC cleanup tool (for taking care of ,junk files, leftover registry stuff, programs that degrade the performance of your computer) on the Performance Issues page. The downside is that this is another upsell, with an additional payment and a separate software install of another program- Avast Cleanup Premium (which has a free 60-day trial)--required.
When Smart Scan concludes, the upselling goes on with the package continuing with an internet privacy check, that then when completed, recommends a sign up for Avast's SecureLine VPN.
The Settings dialog can customize the Smart Scan to monitor stuff as specified. We went with options to disable the Performance Issues and Browser Add-ons, with an advantage of no more constant, pointless alerts, and a faster scan time by around half.
Going beyond the Smart Scan, additional features are on the Scans panel a quick or full system scan for checking specific files or folders, or to schedule a boot-time scan. Files, folders and drives can be opened directly on the File Explorer menu via a right-click.
Still another option is to set up a custom scan. For example, when you want to run a thorough scan on just the Office documents located in a specific folder, this is simple to configure and can be saved for next time in a few clicks of the mouse. Then next time, it can be run on demand, or scheduled as required.
Antivirus Testing and Performance
To test Avast Pro, we used a simple ransomware simulator that searches through a folder tree and seeks out and encrypts multiple file types. This is not publicly available malware, so no antivirus program has any experience with it. By using a homebrew ransomware, we can see if Avast Pro can identify the malware through behavior, as well as the speed at which it can thwart the threat. The latter is important because a slower response results in the encryption of a greater number of files.
To avoid network interference, we disabled our Internet connection before starting the ransomware simulator. After starting the simulator, we waited for Avast Pro’s notification that something was wrong. The alert never came, with the simulated ransomware encrypting thousands of targeted files in the test folder tree while Avast Pro sat by complacently.
Some other antivirus solutions had better performances on this same test. Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2019 and managed to neutralize the ransomware in just a few seconds after starting. They also decrypted the handful of corrupted files, preventing any loss of data.
Let’s put this simulated ransomware test into focus. But not only did the software fail to neutralize the threat, it didn’t even alert us of any issue. Simulated homebrew ransomware is not actual malware, but we still wish we had a better explanation to why our ransomware was neither identified, nor neutralized.
Other leading independent labs outside of our own, AV-Comparatives and AV-Test, have found that Avast can identify and counteract real malware threats, both precisely and accurately. This also includes dealing with new threats via behavior alone, and such results should also be taken into consideration.
Other Security Features
Some of Avast Pro’s features aren’t very useful. Avast recommending a removal of Private Internet Access’ (PIA) add-on secondary due to a poor reputation is questionable to us. PIA is a reputable VPN provider with a high 4.1 rating on its Firefox Add-ons page. In order to follow Avast’s recommendation, we would want to see more supporting documentation--or any real information at all.
Avast Pro also has the solution for a badly infected system in a separate Rescue Disk, which is a distinct bootable environment.You can load this onto a USB drive or save it as an ISO image to burn onto a DVD or CD.
Avast Pro includes network-related tools, such as the Wi-Fi Inspector, to scan the current network and identify all connected devices. It also offers solutions as problems get identified, such as down open ports or helping strengthen a weak password. These are nice extras that users will find useful.
Formerly known as Secure DNS, the next networking related function is Real Site, which has your computer utilize Avast Pro's secure encrypted DNS system. This feature stops attackers from breaking into your DNS traffic to help you avoid getting victimized by a phishing attack.
Sandbox can run suspicious files in its secure virtual space. Realistically, most users don’t need this. However, for the expert users that do in fact have a legitimate reason to run malware, this is a useful utility.
A basic password manager is included as an add-on for Chrome and Firefox. It records password credentials in an automated fashion, then syncs them among the user’s devices. However, it’s not as robust as popular password management solutions, such as Dashlane.
A miss is that the several “Features” are really Avast attempting another upsell. This includes its SecureLine VPN. Sure, we’ll give credit to its generous 60-day trial--more than most VPNs--but afterwards you're still stuck with a typical monthly fee.
All these premium upsells easily become an annoyance, but remember, there are also a few useful included features, such as Avast's Do Not Disturb mode, curating a Do Not Disturb list. With apps running fullscreen, Avast Pro stops the pesky notifications from itself, Windows and all other software. In use, we consider this a step up from the Game Mode that most other security suites use.
Avast Pro Antivirus has tons of features to appeal to a wide user base. The real problem is that most of these best features can be had--and at the lowest price possible--with Avast Free. Power users with use for sandboxing or secure DNS elements can pony up for the paid version, but the vast majority of users will be more than adequately protected with the free edition.
For other options, consider Norton AntiVirus or Webroot, which also come with bonus features but run light. But professionals and expert users will find use in certain Avast Pro features and its high degree of configurability.
Image Credits: Avast Pro
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