I first came across a computer virus, the SCA virus I recall on the Amiga about 25 years ago. It did little more than infect the floppy disk boot sector and announce your computer is alive. It seemed quite novel at the time, but things have changed considerably since then. The argument that anti-corporate, anti-big brother hackers burning the midnight oil coding programs designed to turn people against the omnipresent Microsoft menace has long since been abandoned and, nowadays, its pretty obvious that there’s something much more sinister going on.
Another thing about that ancient virus I recall was that the authors released an anti virus program, which would delete the virus from your infected floppies, for free. Things have indeed changed.
It seems that there’s more choice of antivirus programs that office suites; all of which offering the ultimate in computer protection, with all sorts of features to entice you into choosing their product over the competitors’, and each having its own band of supporters and detractors.
Look at any free download site and, almost invariably, antivirus programs will occupy several of the top ten download slots; so, which one do you choose? Over the years I’ve tried most of them; some with better results than others and I’m going to take a look at one of the most popular, current offerings, Avast 6.
I should point out that I don’t actually use an anti-virus program on a day to day basis, and I haven’t for quite a while; the last virus I actually contracted being some years ago, and that despite having an antivirus program installed at the time. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t protect yourself with antivirus software, but bear in mind that a little common sense is always the best protection.
AVAST 6 is about 54mb, and took a couple of minutes to download. The Avast website download link, initially, offers an upgrade to the obligatory “pro” version, which, for most people’s purposes, probably isn’t necessary. Once downloaded, installation is simple; however, the custom installation options aren’t actually customisable, but the full package installs swiftly, followed by an automatic update of the latest virus definitions accompanied by a voice and a popup informing you of such. Protection is automatically on by default and no reset is required.
I use my home computer for general use like word processing, spreadsheets, the Internet, email, chat etc and the occasional game, so I’m looking for an unobtrusive, fast email and document scanner, something which monitors websites (though I don’t frequent many) and something which doesn’t hog too many resources, particularly if I put a game on.
The Avast User Interface is where you interact with the program should you wish to; the Summary Screen shows the programs current status, which displays a reassuringly large, green checkmark, virus database revision, program version etc, and affords quick access to programs statistic, which includes (should you install Flash Player), a statistical graph of recent scans and virus detections, if any, and an ad for a discounted upgrade to the “Pro” version.
From here you also have access to the program’s file scanning facilities,where you can perform full system scans, scan removable media or specific files and directories and there is also an option to scan at boot time. Scanning a location displays a progress bar and, depending on the contents of the directory being scanned, completes in reasonable time.
The Real-Time Shields options allows you to monitor the program as it continuously scans various aspects of your computer such as email, IM, network etc.
The Additional Protection features include an interesting “sandbox”, wherein suspicious programs can, apparently, be test run within a protected environment, ensuring your system will not be affected should the program turn out to be infected. Here, you can also access the “WebRep browser plugins, which maintain a database of the reputation of a particular website, informing you of such for the sites you visit. The plugins can also be uninstalled from here.
The Maintenance features allow manual updates of the program and virus definitions, should you prefer to do this manually rather than automatically.
Generally, most of the settings you would access most frequently are quickly and easily available on the main user interface, which is clear and concise, though more detailed settings are available via the Settings button at the top, should you wish to change the program’s default behaviour.
You have the options to change tray icons, popup duration, automatic update parameters, how much disk space to allow for storage of infected files, password protect the program, language, sounds etc. There is also an option to use “Silent/Gaming Mode” (also available on the tray icon context menu), which stops the program from playing sounds and displaying popups should you be playing a game or using a full screen application. Also on the context menu is the facility to disable the program from monitoring activity for a specified period of time, until rest or permanently; invocation of which shows a dialogue confirmation box. Such allows you to stop the program whilst, perhaps, running a particularly resource hungry game or similar.
Scanning emails is what most people will be concerned about and theres’ nothing more frustrating than an antivirus program which takes an age to scan your outgoing emails or causes a timeout whilst doing so. I tested the program with a 5mb attachment (using Outlook Express), which didn’t seem to be unduly delayed by the program. Unfortunately, the program reports that it can’t scan emails with Windows Live due to the type of security employed, though in OE (which I use for Yahoo mail and Gmail), you can change the security settings to allow Avast to scan emails. Should you wish not to use Avast to scan your emails, however, you can disable this facility within the program’s advanced settings.
In conclusion, the program is well designed and very polished; it’s features readily accessible and customisable. It scans when asked to and monitors what I want. It doesn’t seem to be particularly intrusive once the non-critical popups and sounds are disabled, nor does it appear to be any more resource hungry than other, similar programs. It updates frequently and efficiently and, as far as the “Home” version is concerned, is totally free.
The most important question is, however, does it actually work?
It didn’t pick up any viruses whilst scanning, but do I have one to find? Well, as I pointed out before, by a combination of care and some common sense, I haven’t been infected in some time, though I’ve always been concerned that I might be. I’m more than happy that nothing untoward was reported by the program, and I think I’ll keep it installed; it’s a bit more peace of mind after all.