Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 11 review

The folks at Lavasoft gave Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 11 a total user-interface makeover and a new antivirus engine partner. The user interface is truly pleasing, a nice change. However, the product lost a little ground in malware blocking.
Photo of Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 11

Some antivirus vendors keep the same look and feel for their products year after year (and wind up looking a bit dated). Not Lavasoft! Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 11 doesn’t look at all like its predecessor. The company also switched antivirus licensing partners—with results that aren’t 100 percent positive.

Where Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 10.5 put virtually every significant control on the main window, version 11 spreads them out over separate feature-specific tabs. Version 11 also uses a consistent color palette throughout. The result is much more serene, much less busy.

As with the previous edition, every control for every feature found in the biggest Ad-Aware suite is present in the free antivirus. Click on the control for a feature that’s not available and you’ll get an explanation, including exactly which of the Ad-Aware products implements the feature in question.

Limited Help from the Labs
I’ve recentely expanded my coverage of independent lab tests. I’ve added Dennis Technology Labs to the mix, for starters. Based in London, Dennis Labs performs extremely realistic tests by capturing entire malware-hosting sites and running them within an Internet simulator, thereby challenging every antivirus with the exact same real-world attack.

I can’t learn much about Ad-Aware from the labs, unfortunately. The company submits Ad-Aware to Virus Bulletin for testing, but not frequently, and they don’t participate with any of the other labs I track. All I have to go on is the fact that Ad-Aware participated in Virus Bulletin’s testing three times in the last twelve months and received VB100 certification twice. That doesn’t compare too well with, for example, BullGuard Antivirus (2014), which took VB100 in all ten of the tests entered.

Click the link below for a chart of recent lab tests. For a full explanation of my new interpretation system, see How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests.

Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 11 lab tests chart

Malware Blocking Decline
When I tested version 10.5 of this product, it earned an excellent score in my malware blocking test, it tied for top score with several others, AVG AntiVirus FREE 2014 and Avira Free AntiVirus (2014) among them. Those two detected 97 percent of the samples; Ad-Aware achieved the same final score with a slightly lower detection rate of 94 percent.

This time around, tested against the same set of samples, Ad-Aware didn’t do as well. It detected 83 percent of the samples and scored 8.3 points, which puts it near the bottom among products tested with the same set of samples. The difference here is that Lavasoft switched their antivirus-engine partner, from VIPRE to Bitdefender.

Interestingly, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus (2014) did quite a bit better, with 92 percent detection and 9.0 points. When I opened a folder full of malware samples, Ad-Aware wiped out most of them on sight, the same group as Bitdefender. The difference came in the way the products behaved when I launched the samples that weren’t wiped out immediately. For a full explanation of how I test malware blocking, see How We Test Malware Blocking.

Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 11 malware blocking chart

My new Web protection test starts with a feed of extremely recent confirmed malicious URLs kindly supplied by MRG-Effitas. I filter out all except those that actually point to an executable file, and then just start trying to download those files.

In the majority of cases, the URL is already defunct, returning just an error. When the file does exist, I note whether the antivirus blocked access to the URL, quarantined the file, or just missed it. I keep going until I’ve got a hundred or so valid test URLs.

Ad-Aware caught 45 percent of the URLs, blocking just a bit over half of those at the URL level. This is only the third product I’ve tested in this way, but so far this is a middling score. BullGuard caught just 30 percent, but avast! Free Antivirus 2014 managed 79 percent. As I continue, I’ll test each product with its own set of extremely recent malware URLs. It won’t be the same URLs each time, but they’ll be equally fresh.

Handling Tough Malware
The evolution of the malware ecosystem has triggered a change in the way I evaluate malware removal. Briefly, I found that the modern trend of malware downloading more and different malware made it impossible to control exactly what malicious processes were running on my test systems. I discovered that a truly noxious botnet called Gameover ZeuS had actually been running on one system during a recent test.

I can’t in good conscience conduct tests that have potential to cause harm outside my test arena, so I’ll be relying more on the independent labs for evaluation of a product’s malware removal ability. Fortunately, the trend these days is toward real-world hands-on tests, the kind I’ve always performed.

In almost every review, one or more of my infested systems would interfere with installation or with completing a scan. Going through the tech support process allowed me to inventory the various ancillary tools the vendor could bring to bear. I’ll be tracking those options closely going forward, even for products that didn’t run into trouble with my particular samples.

Lavasoft’s arsenal includes a no-install command-line scanner that can help when malware actively interferes with antivirus installation. For tougher situations, like a system taken over by ransomware, they offer a bootable rescue CD. If necessary, tech support can direct users to a diagnostic tool that will gather problem-solving information.

When all else fails, a remote-control diagnostic and repair session by tech support experts is available, even for users of the free edition. Lavasoft would be thrilled if the customer contracted for a yearly support plan, but “fixing the user’s infected computer is always available for free for all users, free and paid.”

I was also pleased to find that Ad-Aware quarantines malicious processes as it finds them, rather than waiting for the end of a scan and asking the user what to do. Sometimes malware finds a way to interrupt the scan, so a product that waits until the end may not get a chance to take action.

Still a Good Choice
Past reviews haven’t shown malware removal to be Ad-Aware’s strong point—its protection against new threats was what impressed me most. This latest edition displayed a decline in my own malware blocking test, and the independent labs weren’t any help in this particular case.

I’m still convinced Ad-Aware is a very good free solution, and I really like the new user interface, but I just can’t name it Editors’ Choice this time. AVG AntiVirus FREE 2014 remains Editors’ Choice for free antivirus.

The folks at Lavasoft gave Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 11 a total user-interface makeover and a new antivirus engine partner. The user interface is truly pleasing, a nice change. However, the product lost a little ground in malware blocking.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc