The second entry in our Security for Everyone series is AVG Internet Security 8.5. AVG has a strong focus on its home security features and does not offer all the fancy extras like backup facilities that some other suites offer. However, AVG Internet Security tries to offer some interesting approaches to home security, with features such as LinkScanner, which analyzes visited websites to detect potential threats, or ID Protection which monitors processes, keeping an eye on identity theft threats. In this review, I will talk about what AVG Internet Security 8.5 really offers, let you know from where to buy it and where to download a free trial version.
The installation is straightforward: AVG Internet Security 8.5 offers a small online installer that downloads the files during the installation and a larger offline installer, in case you want to install it on a computer without being connected to the Internet during the installation. I opted for the online installer, which offered a simple, no-surprise install procedure.
Unfortunately, the good impression was spoiled by AVG offering to install an Internet Explorer toolbar; the option is enabled by default, and I installed it just to see what was inside. Besides placing a Yahoo search widget (and a handful of other buttons that allow you to configure the toolbar), it does not seem to do anything advanced enough to justify its existence. It does claim to offer some protection; however, AVG functions equally well without this toolbar.
Immediately after the installation, an initial configuration wizard pops up. This wizard allows the user to schedule scanning and updating, allow the program to send information about detected threats to AVG or not, make an initial malware signature update and... set the default search engine to Yahoo. Needless to say, I was already growing weary. Setting the default search engine is the third configuration step, apparently even more urgent than updating virus signatures.
After finishing the anti-malware configuration wizard, the Firewall configuration wizard pops up. The first screen allows the user to select how the computer will connect to the Internet, which dictates the firewall profile that is used; in order to ensure proper functionality, you need to select all the connection types that you are going to use. The wizard will then scan for Internet applications and ask which profile from those selected in the first step to be used after the wizard ends, also offering to detect this automatically, based on the network configuration it can infer. This is hardly intuitive, especially since there is simply no hint about how the user's choice is going to affect AVG Internet Security's behavior later. The documentation is not helpful either, making almost no mention about the meaning of the various settings which you can tweak at this point.
Ease of use and configuration
Immediately after restarting, AVG Internet Security 8.5 detects some network traffic and asks to select a firewall profile for the network adapter. In my case, I selected the 'Small home office or network', which is what I have (a small home network behind a router). However, there is no information about how one profile differs from the other, and it's certainly not helpful if the other options are 'Block all' and 'Allow all'. The following screen allowed me to mark this connection and asked for a name to identify it, contributing to the impression that AVG Internet Security is extremely verbose in its initial configuration procedure.
Being so verbose in the beginning is helpful because configuring anything after that will be a nightmare. The main screen looks like the classic Control Panel view, and you would expect to be able to configure everything from that main view. However, only some of the features can be configured through the main view. Firewall options are hidden behind the 'Firewall settings' item in the Tools menu, and everything else is under 'Advanced options'.
It all adds up to a usability disaster. For instance, the Web Shield component offers some options through the main screen, but offers them again in the 'Advanced settings' view, along with some extra settings. On the other hand, the Anti-Virus component offers no options on the main screen, but has them scattered through almost half a dozen sections in the 'Advanced settings' view. Even if you knew exactly what you want to tweak, you would still have a hard time finding the relevant option. For a beginner who is trying to see what he can do to make his security software easier to live with, configuring AVG Internet Security 8.5 is a nuisance.
The firewall proved to be another usability-problematic feature. AVG Internet Security 8.5 asked about the firewall profile to use for the network adapter, then asked how the computer is connected to the Internet and allowed to mark the network adapter as safe. At this point, you would think that, with the network adapter marked as safe, when an application asks to send data over the Internet, it would be OK to choose 'Allow for safe', since you would probably not want to have them send data from an unsafe network.
However, if you connect to the Internet through a network, 'Allow for safe' will simply block all traffic towards the Internet while allowing traffic towards the local network. It took me some time to figure this one out. The Internet is still considered unsafe, and the 'safe' tag only applies to the local network, or at least this is what the default settings seemed to say since the documentation failed to enlighten me.
Adding a firewall exception proved to be straightforward enough (thank God!), but you still have to define them for every profile you use. This is why AVG offers the option of not selecting any profile at all, which is what I would have selected in the first place, if information about what a profile is and what it does would have been included at least in the documentation, if not concisely detailed in the profile selection screen.
The firewall proved to be robust enough for basic home use. It silently dealt with your average script kiddie attacks without being too intrusive, but do not expect anything too advanced from it. It can easily be bypassed by malicious programs if they are not detected and blocked in time, and will easily leak information to anyone gathering information for a potential attack. Nevertheless, it is enough for most home security needs, as long as it is safely supported by the anti-malware component. The alerts it displays are minimalistic enough and it will not interrupt you with useless messages.
Antivirus and antispyware features
AVG was once renowned for its anti-virus engine. In terms in exhaustiveness, it should still be: it only overlooked two of the test files we used. We have to give AVG Internet Security credit for its features in this area. The proactive detection features have been improved, and there is a new 'ID Protection' which claims to focus on identity theft protection. ID Protection works by analyzing processes behaviorally: it does not look at the signatures, but keeps an eye out for suspicious behavior such as interactions with network servers, spanning suspicious sub-processes and so on. While not perfect (the virus signature is not complete enough to detect all the present threats), it is still above average.
Working with the anti-malware features is straightforward. In fact, this is the only straightforward thing in AVG Internet Security 8.5. The option to scan the computer is immediately accessible from the main screen and you can tweak the settings with an easy, two-step wizard. By default, the signatures are updated every four hours and a daily scan is scheduled. If everything else would have been so easily accessible and powerful, AVG would have been the star of our series.
Unfortunately, AVG Internet Security 8.5 also suffers from acute bulkiness. While the resource consumption is tolerable compared to our BullGuard Internet Security 8.7, it is still higher than average and the daily scans seem to take only minutes short of forever. However, since this is an 8.5 release that integrates new technology, chances are this is something temporary and our hopes for the next version are high.
AVG Internet Security 8.5 is good enough to talk about it, but unpolished. It is not technologically top-notch, but it does have a solid foundation. Unfortunately, it requires major usability improvements. It is difficult and unintuitive to configure and the documentation is unhelpful.
The interface does not adhere even to the most basic usability rules, allowing the same setting to be modified from different places, scattering settings related to the same functions and not separating advanced and basic configuration options. This makes it very difficult to use for people who do not know exactly what they are looking for in a security suite.
However, knowing AVG's history and keeping in mind that this is a mid-way release, we are looking forward to reviewing the next version. Until then, you shouldn't buy this for your grandmother, unless she is a geek with a lot of free time.
The trial version can be found here.