Panda is a company who’s products were reviewed in our Security for Everyone series since our first episodes. So far it has performed well and received pretty good reviews from us. This year they launched their 2012 versions of products and we were very curious to learn if they remain competitive or not. Finally, we managed to find the time to review Panda Internet Security 2012. Let’s see how well it fared in our tests.
You can download Panda Internet Security 2012 from its product page. In order to download it, you are asked to provide some personal details such as name, e-mail, phone, country and state of residence. Make sure you complete a real e-mail address, as you will receive the download link in your inbox. What I found ironic is that the e-mail from Panda Security was marked as spam by Gmail. If you don’t see their e-mail in your inbox in 2-3 minutes, check the spam folder. You will find it there.
If you want to skip completing personal details, your alternative is to download it from Softpedia.
The first thing I noticed after downloading Panda Internet Security 2012 was that its size was the same as for the 2011 version: 75MB. My first thought was: does this mean not a lot has changed? Let’s continue with the testing and see if this is true or not.
The setup program gives access to the configuration options you would expect. What’s different though, compared to the 2011 version, is that Parental control is now included in the default installation.
After a reboot, you can start using Panda Internet Security 2012. Unfortunately, the product starts your experience by being a nag. First, it aggressively asks you to activate it, prior to doing anything else. Even though you can close the activation screen to get to the product’s main interface, it will regularly come back to annoy you until you activate the product. If you do not activate it, it will also automatically disable its protection modules at some point. Therefore, activation is mandatory for it to function. After a short while you are encouraged to buy the product by a pop-up which shows once per day from what I could tell. Unfortunately, you can disable it only by buying the product.
While it is common for vendors to market their commercial solutions and ask you to purchase them, I found Panda to be aggressive. Once you get rid of all the requests, you can finally enjoy the product. First, you are informed that you need to update Panda Internet Security 2012. Clicking the Solve button will make it get updated. What I did not enjoy though is that this process did not start automatically, as with other solutions. Also, there are no immediate scans being recommended. If you want to evaluate if your computer is infected or not, you need to manually start a scan, once the update process is done.
In our previous review, we mentioned some visual inconsistencies. Even though there are some minor improvements in this year’s version, these inconsistencies still persist. For example, some pop-up configuration windows adapt to the characteristics of your active Windows 7 theme, while the standard configuration windows do not. This is not a big issue by all means, but it doesn’t make Panda look like a polished product.
Compared to the 2011 version, there are some noticeable changes. First, the interface looks a bit better. It has more rounded corners and the background color has been changed for the better. Also, the product recommends quite a few other products which are not installed by default:
- On the desktop you find a shortcut called "Install remote access". Clicking on it starts a setup program which tries to download and install a commercial product which is not developed by Panda. It is called ByAnywhere Personal Edition, costs $34.95/year according to the official website, and its setup fails. I tried to install it three times and it always failed, even though I did have a working Internet connection;
- In the Status section of the main interface, there is a link to a product called USB Vaccine. Clicking on it launches the setup for this free program. USB Vaccine disables the AutoRun feature in Windows and the AutoRun file on USB devices such as memory sticks. The trouble with this solution is that it is not integrated in Panda Internet Security 2012. Since it is a free product, I really do not understand why Panda has not made it part of their commercial products;
- Near USB Vaccine there is a link towards another not integrated but free product - Safe Browser. What’s worse about it is that, unlike other security products where this feature is well integrated, Safe Browser requires other third-party software to be installed in order for it to work - VirtualBox from Oracle.
All these things make Panda Internet Security 2012 feel like a disjointed product which lacks vision in terms of product management strategy. Why wouldn’t they integrate free products in their commercial solutions? Why would they sell you into downloading and installing products from other manufacturers?
All these issues created a bad first impression and a poor user experience. Let’s see if Panda Internet Security 2012 redeems itself later on.
Integration with Windows
This section is new in our reviews even though we tested some integration aspects in past reviews. We felt that, from now on, it should be highlighted as an important evaluation factor on its own, as it is important to a good user experience.
First, I tested if the setup program of Panda Internet Security 2012 disables the Windows Firewall and Windows Defender services. It seems that it partially disables Windows Firewall. On my test computer it disabled Windows Firewall only for home or work network locations. For public network locations it was not disabled. If you connect to a new network and assign it as a public network, you end up with two firewalls being enabled, which can lead to issues.
Also, it does not disable Windows Defender. You have to do it yourself, using the instructions in this tutorial: Windows Defender - How to Turn it On or Off.
There are also good aspects: Panda integrates well with network features such as the Homegroup, not causing issues, unlike other security products. Also, it integrates well with UAC (User Account Control) and uses a reasonable amount of resources (65 to 70 MB of RAM for all its services). Panda Internet Security 2012 doesn’t have a big impact on boot timings, adding only 12 to 15 seconds.
One thing that seems to be often forgotten by software developers, including Panda, is that Windows Vista and Windows 7 allow for smooth scaling of icons of up to 256x256 pixels. Panda Internet Security 2012 still uses the old Windows XP icons which are small and look ugly in modern Windows versions. It’s not a big feature but, when used, it does help in making a product feel well integrated with newer Windows versions.
One last integration aspect I tested was the ability to kill the services used by Panda Internet Security 2012 to protect the system. Unfortunately I had no problem in disabling all its services from the Command Prompt or the Task Manager, thus compromising the security of the system. Good security suites have protection against their services getting terminated via task kill commands. Panda unfortunately lacks in this department.
As you can see from this section, Panda Internet Security 2012 offers mixed experiences when it comes to Windows integration. Let’s see how easy it is to use and configure.
Ease of Use & Configuration
When it comes to ease of use and configuration there are no big novelties. Overall, the suite remains easy to use and looks almost identical to the 2011 version. Except a few visual tweaks, all the configuration options are the same.
All the suite’s modules can be configured from the Status section on the interface. Clicking on a module gives you access to all its configuration options.
The scanning settings include everything you would expect, including the ability to exclude files and folders, setting the default actions to perform in case of an infection being discovered, etc.
A strange default configuration noticed last year is still valid in the 2012 version. The startup scan scheduled job - even though it is defined, it is set as temporarily disabled. This means no scans are being made when starting up your system. This helps in having a faster startup but it does not help with keeping a secure system. I strongly recommend you enable this scheduled startup scan.
The reports are identical to last year’s version and offer a good overview of your system’s activity.
The firewall rules can be controlled both high-level, on a program/activity basis, and also in detail, setting allowed or blocked protocols, ports, zones or directions.
The support options are easily accessible from the Services tab. You can quickly access the support forum, send an e-mail to tech support and even send suspicious files for analysis.
One quirk I noticed is that a portion of the Restrictions tab, in the Preferences window is in Spanish and has not been translated to English. While not a big thing, it is worth mentioning, so that the developers fix this in an upcoming update.
Panda Internet Security 2012 does not bring anything new in terms of configuration options. Even so, it remains an application that is easy to use and configure.
Let’s see if the protection level being offered has changed or not.
One of the features I like about Panda Internet Security is the Network traffic scan report, which shows live information about the programs with network connections. If you are a control freak, this can be quite a useful report.
The firewall correctly sets the zone for your network connections, based on the settings you’ve made in Windows. Also, it alerts when intrusions have been detected and the messages you receive are easy to understand.
In our review of Panda Internet Security 2011, we found the suite performing very well. I’m happy to report that the performance remains great in the 2012 version. I have run several intrusive scans with tools such as nMap and Nessus. The scans did not identify open ports nor did they identify the operating system. The results were identical for both public and trusted network configurations.
Even though no important changes seem to have been made since the last version, Panda Internet Security 2012 continues to offer top-notch firewall protection.
Antivirus and Antispyware Features
Working with the antivirus is generally a non-intimidating experience. You get friendly updates when threats are neutralized. If you want to know more, you simply click on the information links included.
When making a manual scan of the system, you get a nice summary at the end, which gives an overview on the results of the scan.
One thing I thought to be strange is how Panda chooses to handle notifications about scanning USB memory sticks and other media you plug into a computer. When you insert a memory stick, other solutions will either start an automatic scan or give you a prompt recommending a scan. Panda chose to integrate discretely into the AutoPlay menu. While this is elegant it is also not effective. Most times I choose not to scan the memory stick with Panda while, when using other solutions, I chose to scan it simply because they nagged me more visibly. Also, I could not find a setting to make Panda automatically scan all inserted memory sticks, CDs and DVDs.
Regarding USB memory sticks - one of the tests we make is to place lots of infected files on a USB memory stick, run some of them and also make a scan to see how well a solution performs at detecting and removing those files.
One surprising result during a test, when I forgot to disable Windows Defender, was that Panda did not detect some of the malware while Windows Defender did and quickly prompted for action.
Panda Internet Security 2012 supports all major browsers (Internet Explorer 9, Firefox, Chrome, etc), even though it does not install any extensions or toolbars like other security suites do. Your web traffic is being scanned and notifications are given in case of problems. I visited a few malicious websites and in some cases Panda took the appropriate action and blocked access.
In other scenarios though, it did not identify the infected pages. For example, an infected webpage was trying to download an unwanted file on my system. Internet Explorer 9 warned me that the file could harm my computer. Nonetheless, I made all the necessary clicks so that Internet Explorer 9 would allow the operation to be performed.
Unfortunately Panda Internet Security 2012 did not react even after the malicious file was installed, running and killing Windows processes like Windows Explorer. I sent information about the malicious link to Panda but so far I have not received any reply.
Being surprised by my negative experience, I searched to see what other organisations had to say about its effectiveness. I felt even more surprised when I noticed that Panda received quite good ratings for its protection technology. AV-Comparatives gave their top Advanced+ rating in their August 2011 tests. However, they ranked it on the 14th position out of 20 tested suites in their anti-phishing tests. AV Test rated Panda Internet Security 2012 having a protection score of 5.5 out of 6 in their Jul-Aug/2011 tests. Looking at Virus Bulletin, I noticed that they have not included Panda products in any of their recent tests, which I found odd.
Even though independent organisations have ranked well the antivirus & antispyware protection engine from Panda, I had a less than stellar experience. If any of our readers have used this security suite, don’t hesitate to share your experience as well. Was I alone in having such issues?
Panda Internet Security 2012 is a very mixed bag. On one hand it does offer a great firewall and an interface which is easy to use and configure. Also, it is light on resources and impact on boot timings. On the other hand, its antivirus and antispyware protection is not ideal, allowing my system to get infected with ease. This, coupled with the fact that I could kill its services without issues and that it tries to sell the user into installing or buying other products that are not integrated with it, don’t allow me to recommend this solution to the grandma’s and other normal computer users of the world, which lack the security knowledge to protect themselves from malware. Panda Internet Security 2012 is recommended only to geeks who can compensate for its protection, integration & configuration shortcomings.
The product can be purchased from Amazon US (for North American readers) or Amazon UK (for European readers). Thanks a lot to those who purchase the product using these links. This will help us receive a small commission from your purchase.