ESET has been in the business of protecting computers for more than two decades. They have received and very high number of Advanced+ awards from AV Comparatives and continue to be a trusted solution for more than 100 million consumers worldwide. I, however, have never used ESET and hope a fresh perspective will prove helpful to you. In this review I will be looking at ESET Smart Security 5 to see how effective it is and what verdict it deserves, compared with the other products we reviewed in the Security for Everyone series.
ESET Smart Security 5 is one of the slimmer suites we have reviewed, with a setup file of only 54 MB. The install is very simple and does not include any third party applications or toolbars. Part of the install process includes an introduction to the Live Grid Network. The Live Grid Network is simply a system that uses the power of the ESET community to improve the detection of new and emerging threats. You will be opted into the Live Grid Network, however you can opt-out easily enough.
With the installation complete, ESET immediately displays a prompt for you to identify the network you are connected to as Public (Strict protection) or Home (Allow sharing). The next action involves a virus definition update which is followed by the opening of a very minimalistic and non-intimidating main interface.
A quick review of the base Windows 7 security settings and services shows that ESET handles ending the Windows Firewall but allows Windows Defender to run alongside ESET’s spyware protection. There is no real harm in the latter but system performance could be negatively impacted.
ESET only displays one running service. Each attempt to end the service was thwarted quite handily.
The suite was very easy to install and has proven to be quiet and easy on the eyes as well. There have been very few prompts beyond the update notifications, none of which were unnecessary. The good integration with Windows and tight control of services speaks to the maturity of ESET products. In the following section we will discover how user friendly ESET Smart Security 5 is.
Ease of Use and Configuration
The ESET Smart Security 5 main interface is split into the following six areas: Home, Computer Scan, Update, Setup, Tools, Help and Support. The Home section provides a quick glimpse of your protection status as well as a few helpful links to frequently used options. In Computer Scan, you will find links for starting a scan as well as some statistics regarding the last scan and definition update. The Update section allows you to manually run an update or view when an update was last performed. The Setup area is where things begin to get meaty. Here you can manage all the primary functions and find pointers to the more advanced settings. In the Tools section you have access to a number of functions such as the scheduler, activity logging, network connections and many more. Finally, the Help and Support section provides access to several support options ranging from the local help file to creating a customer care support request.
Now that you have a basic understanding of the areas available for review, lets dig a bit deeper into the Computer Scan section. When working in this section, you will find you can easily start a Smart scan or a Custom scan. The Smart scan will scan all local disks and automatically clean threats. If you’d like more granular control, the Custom scan may suit your needs.
While ESET makes the main scanning functions quite accessible, there are advanced setting available. In the advanced settings you can create scan profiles with specific options and set a profile to be the default for all custom scans. You will also find areas for defining exclusions, how strict cleaning should be, drives to scan, startup parameters and more. The advanced settings are well labeled and should be easy for most users that are comfortable traversing the more advanced scan options.
Another area we want to spend some time with, involves the firewall. To access the firewall settings you enter the Setup section and select the Network option. From this interface you can easily enable or disable traffic filtering or choose to block all traffic. You can also change the protection mode (set your zone), define zone settings and switch between automatic (default) or interactive filtering modes.
Automatic filtering will use the rules ESET has defined for known applications and their access to the network. In interactive mode you can set specific rules for various applications. When in interactive mode, if an application attempts network access for which a rule has not been defined, you will be prompted to choose an appropriate action.
The advanced settings allow you to execute a variety of changes. The most helpful of these may be the ability to define custom firewall profiles. When you create a profile, you can set it to automatically apply in certain instances such as when you are connected to a specific network or have chosen a certain zone. If the proper time and care is taken, this ability to define custom profiles can prove quite effective at protecting your system from network based threats. Additional advanced setting involve IDS (Intrusion Detection System) which is enabled by default, defining rules for specific zones and modifying which applications can access the network.
As with the advanced scan setting, the firewall settings can be very technical therefore some caution should be exercised if you are not already comfortable with intricate firewall settings. It should be notes that ESET has done a good job of making the basic functions readily available without requiring one to wander into the more advanced configuration.
The Tools section contains many additional functions you will undoubtedly find useful. These include access to the scheduler, quarantine, network activity and running processes to name a few. Each area keeps with the minimal design, only presenting those options associated with the chosen tool. If real damage occurs, or you are trying to help a friend, there is also a tool for creating a rescue CD.
ESET Smart Security 5 has proven quite easy to use without sacrificing the advanced options that have made ESET a favorite among tech professionals and enthusiasts. The interface is easy to follow and the options are plentiful. Furthermore, the default configuration appears to be well defined so the novice user will not have to be concerned with many of the more advanced features. In the following sections we will put the default firewall and scanning configurations through a few tests to help define their effectiveness.
When it comes to integration with Windows 7 though, I did discover one small glitch: if you launch the Uninstall icon from the Start Menu, the uninstall process fails, stating that you need to be an administrator in order to remove this application. This is due to poor integration with UAC (User Account Control). The uninstall shortcut should have triggered first an UAC prompt and then run the removal process with administrative permissions.
As noted in the previous section, ESET’s firewall appears to be well configured by default. The automatic filtering works well and notifications are few. If you prefer a more verbose firewall, one that prompts you to allow or deny application access, you can switch to interactive mode. ESET has also implemented a zone configuration and prompts for you to identify the network you are connected to as Home or Public. Each zone can be configured if you find the default setting does not serve your use pattern well.
Beyond the solid configuration options you’ll find substantial reporting as well. Reporting options include a view of network activity, connections and log events.
When reviewing a firewall I like to intrusively scan the test machine to see what kind of information might be leaked or prove useful in an attack. The tools used for scanning include Nmap and Nessus.
The results of the scan against ESET Smart Security 5 were quite good. The results found no open ports nor was there any netbios information leaked. The scan results were identical regardless of which zone was active (Home or Public).
Notifications during the scans were few, but those displayed were appropriate and helpful. the events were also recorded in the firewall logs.
I’ve found the ESET Smart Security 5 firewall to be very effective with a default configuration that provides great network security. The interface is easy to navigate and standard tasks like changing the active zone or disabling filtering are simple to adjust. In the final section below, we will look at the effectiveness of the anitvirus and antispyware scanner.
Antivirus and Antispyware Features
In the latest AV Comparatives detection test (August 2011) ESET was awarded the Advanced+ rating along with nine other security solutions. The testing identified ESET as a solution with very few false positives and scanning speed among the fastest of those tested. What’s nice about the AV-Comparatives is that testing is often done with the default settings in place for each solution. This is also how we test solutions here at 7 Tutorials.
Prior to installing ESET Smart Security 5, I placed several malicious files throughout the operating system. Some files were placed deep within the file structure while others were in standard user directories. ESET did a good job of identifying and cleaning each planted threat without having to tweak any scan settings.
While the default setting appear to be well configured, you do have all kinds of opportunities to tweak scanning parameters and behaviors. You can also adjust a variety of heuristic level settings and choose how ESET should manage scan behavior at startup.
Notifications are also handled well. In most cases, a clear notification is displayed while in other cases you may be prompted to choose an action such as delete or quarantine. The prompts are easy to understand and each one was easy to investigate further, when perusing the file activity logs.
When testing any solution I like to visit several malicious sites since this is where most threats are acquired. Unfortunately, this is where things turned sour for me.
ESET Smart Security 5 does not include any browser toolbars like those found in many other suites. This has contributed to the ease with which I was able to access malicious sites and download malicious files. In one particular instance, where the browser even failed to warn about a malicious site, I proceeded to download and execute a threat. Upon execution, ESET Smart Security 5 identified that the application was trying to communicate with the Internet and attempted to block access. The attempt was too little and too late. The test system was successfully infected which also resulted in ESET Smart Security 5 being completely disabled. The system was infected to the point of all executable files being hijacked, rendering the system largely useless. I recovered the system by performing a complete system restore.
ESET has enjoyed a strong history where it has consistently been among the top providers of security solutions. ESET Smart Security 5 is easy to use and also offers many opportunities for customizing the solution to fit your needs. However, my experience where the system was very easily infected and damaged to the point of requiring a restore, keeps the ESET Smart Security 5 scanning solution from being one I can recommend to the novice user.
ESET Smart Security 5 has an interface that any user will find easy to navigate and use. The help documentation and support options are very good and fill any knowledge gap you might discover along the way. The firewall provides excellent security and includes all the options necessary to make adjusting the firewall an easy experience. The scanning solution has plenty of options and has been highly awarded among the various testing organizations. Unfortunately, the ease with which I was able to download a single threat which succeeded in disabling ESET Smart Security 5 and further compromise the system, keeps it from being a solution I can recommend to everybody. I understand this verdict may not be very popular, considering how many fans and customers ESET has enjoyed over the years, but it does reflect my experience as a reviewer of this solution. I can recommend ESET Smart Security 5 to geeks only.