This week in the Security for Everyone series we review Avira Premium Security Suite 10. Avira has been providing security solutions for more than 20 years and has garnered a loyal user base throughout this time due to the quality of their antivirus engine and their free version of the antivirus product. Avira was last reviewed here at version 9 with less than flattering results. Let's see if the shortcomings identified in the previous version have been corrected with version 10.
There isn't much to downloading the trial version of Avira Premium Security suite. The initial download takes only a few moments and is simply a helper application for downloading the remainder of the 70 Mb suite. The installation process is rather lengthy but could simply be considered thorough. You have the opportunity to perform a custom installation which allows you to pick and choose which modules should be installed. All components are selected for installation by default and run the gamut from Rootkit detectors to firewall on through the traditional virus and malware scanner, among others.
Before moving on to the configuration of Avira Premium Security you are required to register to license either the full product or the trial version. The information collected isn't too personal and results in immediate activation. The only prerequisite to registration is an active internet connection. Once the registration is complete a reboot is required before starting the second half of the installation wizard.
The remainder of the installation kicks off and provides an opportunity to set the level of heuristic scanning, identify threat categories Avira should watch for and enable parental control. There are also questions around network file and printer access and how Avira should start, normal or secure. Normal start mode is the default and simply means Avira will start like any other auto-start application. Choosing Secure start offers better security and will force AntiVir Guard to start as early as possible. Secure start will also extend the time until the computer is available. In each case the defaults seem adequate for providing good protection. Finally, you are given the option of running a quick scan upon completion. The install is a bit lengthy but certainly provides ample opportunity to get an understanding of the software, if you take the time to read the screens while working through the installation.
Avira does detect whether or not Windows Defender is running and while it does not end the service it does display a friendly prompt providing directions so you can end the service. This is certainly better than not ending the service at all. The Windows firewall is ended as Avira assumes this role.
Upon completion you'll find a rather sparse interface. Basic indicators take up the bulk of the screen with insight into whether or not protection is enabled, when the last update or scan occurred and so on. The actions associated with configuring or scanning your system are in the menus to the left. You'll also notice the file menu in the standard position at the top of the window. Without going into what these menus contain just yet I will note their presence alone is a bit confusing and was a criticism cited in the previous review as well. The main left side navigation menus have plenty of room for additional items. If these two navigation methods were consolidated there would be less opportunity for confusion.
All in all, not bad. It took a bit of time to get through the custom install. The main interface is informative enough and all the prerequisite actions (ending system services, running a quick scan etc.) have been met. In the next section we'll dig into using and configuring Avira Premium Security Suite 10.
Ease of Use and Configuration
At face value, the Avira interface is relatively minimalist in design. The body of the main screen allows for only the most essential information. At a glance you can see whether or not the necessary protection is enabled and determine if the system is up to date. Single click activities involve starting a system scan, forcing an update and deactivating the AntiVir Guard (antivirus/antimalware). Specific module options can be found by investigating the accordion style navigation on the left side of the screen.
You will find the standard scan related options and reports in the Local protection menu. These include the ability to choose a specific folder or drive to scan as well as saving a custom scan profile. There is also the ability to create a desktop shortcut to a specific scan profile, a feature I found particularly nice. In a scenario where you might be installing Avira Premium Suite on your grandmother's PC it would be good to have her run a desktop shortcut to execute a scan rather than launching Avira and running a scan within the interface.
This seems a good opportunity to bring up the other action icons prevalent throughout the Avira interface, namely the round action icons you see in the image above. A novice would certainly have a difficult time guessing what action these icons should perform. The only way to know what they do is to hover your mouse over them and review the tool-tip. These icons are a good example of Avira taking the minimalist approach a bit too far.
Avira has made accessing the quarantine a simple task. You will find the quarantine link in the Administration menu of the main interface. Once in the quarantine you'll find several options hidden behind the set of action icons. Thankfully Avira provides the same options via the context menu which removes some guesswork. Simply right click on a quarantined item to view the available option and select an action. Tip: right clicking on an item in most screens unveils the actions behind the icons.
The Administration menu also gives you access to the Avira Scheduler. Here you can schedule a scan, backup or update job with the assistance of an easy to follow wizard. There is a scan job scheduled by default when you install Avira, however it is not activated by default. Creating your own scan job or activating the default one are recommended shortly after installation.
Moving into the Online protection menu you will find the Firewall and other Internet related Avira modules. Here Avira has done a nice job of utilizing the space available to them by presenting the kind of information one might find immediately useful. Available on the main screen is the ability to easily adjust the security level, view a list of running applications that are communicating across the Internet and stats related to your current network connection.
Selecting the configuration link in the upper right corner will deliver you into the Firewall settings. Here you can review the list of trusted vendors and view and edit adapter and application rules.
When you access the Avira Premium Security suite configuration you'll find plenty of options. The configuration options are broken into two views, the default view and an Expert mode. Selecting Expert mode will display more complex options, as you might have guessed. A minor usability issue exists when you click the Expert mode checkbox. If you had expanded a few categories to change options and then select expert mode all categories are collapsed and only the last one you were viewing is left displayed. In short, the screen changes just enough when switching to Expert mode to cause some confusion about what actually changed. The fact that all the menus collapse makes it hard to tell which options are indeed Expert mode options. Avira could address this easily by highlighting the new options somehow. A simple bold font would do nicely and not disrupt the minimalist design.
As noted, Avira's minimalist design, while attractive, does work against it in some instances. The novice user may be left wondering what they are missing looking at some of the screens and action icons. There is also the issue of the file menu at the top of the screen. This menu really serves little purpose other than giving people another place to look for something. The items here could have easily been included in the main navigation menus. You will find a few links in the Extras menu that could serve very useful if your system is in need of repair or deep cleaning. These tools include the Boot Records scan and Download rescue CD.
Usability issues aside, Avira is easy enough to work with. The default configuration seems as though a system would be well protected. We'll dig into the effectiveness of the protection in the next two sections.
The default firewall configuration is effective but does rely on your knowledge of the applications being granted internet access. This is due to the two main modes of application access: filtered and privileged. Filtered mode will allow an application access to the internet but requires it meet any rules defined at the adapter level. Adapter level rules are typically around specific port or protocol access and can be quite involved. Privileged access allows an application network access regardless of any adapter rules. The latter is the default when an application prompt is displayed which brings us back around to you needing to know which applications you should truly allow.
This implementation raises concerns where the novice user is involved. It is unlikely that a novice user will take the time to investigate the differences between privileged and filtered access. In uninformed hands, the default of privileged access could cause problems in terms of an application not working properly. Troubleshooting such an issue could prove quite bothersome.
When testing the firewall I like to perform an intrusive scan of the test system. Avira performed very well in these tests and did not leak any information an attacker might find useful. There were very few ports identified as open and I didn't have to adjust the security settings beyond the default to achieve these satisfactory results.
I'm quite impressed at how well the firewall performed. It displays prompts when necessary but not at a level or frequency that got in the way of everyday use. The list of trusted vendors has grown significantly since the last review which should prove helpful as applications are identified and allowed appropriate access. The default configuration appears adequate and accessing the main firewall configuration should not be required often. The view of the firewall, and available options, as presented in the main interface should be sufficient for most management functions.
Antivirus and antispyware features
Avira has been protecting systems from threats for quite some time and this latest version is no exception. The previous review identified several poor results when it came to testing the antivirus effectiveness of version 9.0. There were issues with keyloggers not being identified and rootkits not being cleaned. The latter turned out to be a known bug in the previous version. I mention these now because it is always important to seek authoritative reviews of any security suite. The fact that a company has been providing a service for more than 20 years does not mean they are without fault.
Thankfully my own testing of version 10 has found the previous issues corrected. I either planted before the installation of Avira or introduced after installing, both keyloggers and rootkits and each were identified quickly and cleaned. I also tested for other threats and found Avira always at the ready. Whether the virus or malware was buried deep in a compressed file or several directories deep in the operating system it was found and dealt with appropriately.
While testing the protection in place when browsing, I like to visit a site identified as malicious within the last several hours or at the latest a full day. I took the protection test online and Avira excelled here as well by doing a fine job of intercepting the connection to several known malicious sites.
When working with the scan setting you will need to venture into Expert mode to get to the setting that will be the most useful, such as defining the default action and choosing files or directories to exclude.
Remember my mention of seeking authoritative reviews of security software? It happens that the folks at av-comparatives.org also gave Avira high marks when awarding the Advanced+ rating. A similar certification award can be found at av-test.org as well.
Avira manages the threats of viruses and malware very well. The default configuration is sufficient and I was also unable to end any services or tasks that might, in so doing, reduce the level of protection. Avira has shown their industry maturity with Premium Security Suite 10.
Avira has produced a fine product in their latest iteration of their Premium Security Suite. The firewall performs well with no changes to the default configuration. The scanning technology appears top-notch as determined by my own testing and that of independent testing organizations. Sure, there may be a few usability issues but none that should lessen the very good protection provided by the default configuration. Plus, more applications and websites are designed today that require the user or visitor to seek information rather than necessarily spelling it out for them. You might say users are being trained to embrace the minimal navigation design where content and data win, right or wrong. Lastly, it is good to see the security issues identified in the previous review resolved. Well done Avira!