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All four of them include Avast in their testing, and three of four include AVG. All other test results came in unsurprisingly identical. Either way, those are good scores, better than many commercial products. However, Kaspersky Internet Security and Bitdefender routinely earn perfect or near-perfect scores from all the labs, with aggregate scores rarely below 9. Even when the labs provide plenty of data, I put each antivirus through my own hands-on testing.

Like Avast, AVG earned 8. When tested with my previous malware collection, Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Plus rang the bell with a perfect 10 points. Given that the samples were different, it’s not a direct comparison, but everyone likes a perfect score.

My malicious URL test checks the antivirus product’s effectiveness against prevalent malware. AVG like Avast scored 91 percent protection, which is good. Phishing websites are another danger, one not involving malware. They try to steal your login credentials by imitating banks and other secure websites. In my hands-on phishing protection test, AVG did a great job, detecting 98 percent of the verified frauds and diverting the browse to safety. Kaspersky and McAfee own this test, with percent protection.

AVG’s computer scan does a quick check for active malware but it also checks for insecure browser add-ons, files with exposed sensitive data, and performance issues. The suite shares a few other features with the free AVG antivirus. The SafePrice browser extension watches your online shopping and seeks better deals. You can put the product in Do Not Disturb mode when using specified programs, so an antivirus notification doesn’t get you fragged.

On the right-click menu for files and folders, you’ll find an option to Shred with AVG meaning it securely deletes the item, foiling forensic recovery. See How We Test Security Software Upsell Issues Avast’s feature set is littered with upsell items, features that tell you there’s a problem and offer to solve it…for an additional subscription fee. A little while after installation, a banner appeared across the bottom of the main window noting that AVG discovered four privacy issues.

Clicking to resolve these revealed four issues that are present on any system that’s not running a VPN. Firewall Protection As expected, upgrading from the free antivirus to the suite adds a personal firewall. It’s a robust, two-way firewall that did well in testing, but didn’t go beyond the expected. For firewall testing, I use a physical PC that’s configured to connect through the router’s DMZ port, which effectively connects it directly to the Internet.

When I challenged the test system with port scans and other web-based tests, it correctly put all the ports in stealth mode, so external attackers can’t even see them. This is no great feat, given that Windows Firewall alone can do it. It’s only relevant if a product fails to do what the built-in firewall can. I called this a two-way firewall above; here’s why.

In addition to blocking attacks from the internet, the firewall makes sure programs running on your system don’t betray your trust by misusing the internet connection. The firewall components in Symantec Norton Security Premium and Kaspersky configure permissions for known programs and keep an eye on unknowns, making their own security decisions. That’s a lot smarter than relying on the user to make important security decisions.

Other firewalls handle unknowns less cleverly. For example, by default adaware just allows all traffic, unless you tell it otherwise. Panda allows all outbound connections but blocks unsolicited inbound connections. For program control, AVG defaults to a mode called Auto-decide, meaning that like Norton it makes its own decision about each new program.

Just to see what would happen, I tried switching to Ask mode. Doing so didn’t result in a spate of popups about internal Windows components, because when AVG makes an automatic decision, it records that decision as a rule. When I tried to get online using a browser I coded myself, AVG first ran a quick analysis on the never-before-seen program. After vetting the program as safe, it asked whether to allow or deny its access to the internet.

AVG, like Avast but unlike most competitors, defines five levels of network access. Only a true firewall maven should consider switching away from the default level the firewall suggests.

We all make mistakes, and clicking the wrong response to a firewall popup can surely happen. From the settings, you can open the full list of applications and correct your mistake, or simply marvel at all the application rules that AVG’s Auto-decide mode created on its own. A deeper dive into the firewall’s settings reveals extremely complex rules that even I wouldn’t consider editing.

Leave these alone! Attacks that try to exploit vulnerabilities in the OS or in popular programs come in through your internet connection, so protection against these is often associated with a firewall component. However, exploit protection is not an essential firewall feature, and it’s not something AVG attempts, so I didn’t run my arduous hands-on exploit attack test. If malicious code can simply turn off firewall protection, that’s a serious problem.

I always check several different possible entry points for such an attack; AVG didn’t give in. It protected its Registry settings against modification, and when I tried to terminate its processes, I got the message “Access Denied. And when I clicked to just stop the services, AVG popped up a user confirmation dialog, to foil automated termination. This sturdy firewall protects against attack from outside and betrayal from within.

If you wisely leave its program control system in Auto-decide mode, you can avoid the blizzard of popups that made early firewalls so annoying. In both cases, this component prevents all unauthorized programs from making any changes to protected files. You can add or remove folders from the protected list. You can also add to the list of protected file types, for example to add TXT files which, strangely, aren’t protected by default. When a program tries to modify any protected file, Ransomware Protection checks it against cloud database of known clean programs.

Any unlisted program triggers a notification that lets you block or allow access attempts. This lets you easily authorize a brand-new program you launched deliberately, but block any unexpected access. Bitdefender and Trend Micro offer similar protection against unauthorized file changes. Panda Internet Security is even stricter, blocking unknown programs from even reading data in protected areas.

For a quick look at how this feature works, I used a hand-coded text editor to modify a protected file. Or rather, I tried to; AVG immediately warned of the unauthorized edit. It also blocked a very simple ransomware simulator, another hand-coded gem. Next, I turned off all protective shields except Ransomware Shield, isolated the virtual machine from the network, and experimented with a half-dozen real-world ransomware samples. AVG didn’t detect them as malware, because I turned off that protection.

But it detected and prevented their attempts to meddle with my files. Some of them displayed their ransom notes, claiming they encrypted my files, but those notes lied; the files weren’t encrypted. Simple Antispam Popular webmail services filter out spam for most people’s personal accounts, and server-side spam filters clean up most business accounts.

Not many people need a local spam filter, which is why AVG doesn’t install its antispam component by default. If you do choose to enable it, the spam filter checks messages received via POP3 or IMAP and marks the subject line of spam and phishing messages.

AVG’s antispam integrates with Microsoft Outlook to automatically send those marked messages into a separate folder. It can automatically whitelist addresses from the Outlook address book, and it lets you correct any mistakes it makes such as missed spam messages or valid messages tossed into the spam folder. If you’re not an outlook user, you must define a message rule in your email client to handle marked spam. Configuration of this component is simple enough. At the top of the settings page you set spam detection sensitivity to Low, Medium, or High.

Most users should leave this set to Medium, the default. There’s an option to whitelist addresses or domains so AVG won’t ever block them, or to blacklist unwanted ones. You should definitely turn on the option to whitelist recipients of any messages you send, so you won’t miss replies.

AVG can automatically whitelist addresses to which you send mail—I advise turning this feature on. You can also manually add addresses or domains to the whitelist meaning they’ll never be blocked or to the blacklist meaning they’ll always be blocked. That’s about it for settings. Since most users aren’t likely to mess with the settings, keeping them simple makes sense. AVG makes this handy feature available to all suite users.

You may think that your webcam is only active when you’re taking a meeting, or letting your kids video-call faraway relatives.

You may think that any time it’s active, the little light reveals the fact. But it’s not so. Webcam spyware can peer into your bedroom, office, or wherever the cam might reside, and it do so without that telltale light.

Fortunately AVG is among the security companies that offers protection from webcam spyware. In Smart mode, the default, Webcam protection lets known and trusted programs use the webcam, but asks your permission when an unknown program attempts access. At the Strict level, even trusted apps need your permission on each use. And if you slide all the way over to No Mercy, nobody gets to use the webcam. Unusual Performance Hit Modern security suites don’t tend to put a major drag on system performance.

Their creators know that if security gets in the way, users will turn it off. Still, adding security can have some effect on performance; there’s a range. When one or more layers of protection are ogling everything that happens in the file system, there’s a possibility they could slow common file activities.

To check on that possibility, I time many runs of a script that moves and copies a large collection of files between two drives, averaging the results. I install the suite and repeat the test.

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