Ad-Aware Pro Security 10.5 review

Ad-Aware Pro Security 10.5 offers the same powerful antivirus protection as the company's free antivirus, which is now an Editors' Choice. This minimalist suite adds improved antiphishing and Web-based antivirus as well as a basic firewall.
Photo of Ad-Aware Pro Security 10.5

Different vendors include different components in their security suite products, but at PCMag we consider antivirus and firewall protection to be the essentials. Ad-Aware Pro Security 10.5 ($36 per year direct; $48 for three licenses) does include those essentials, and very little more. Its antivirus protection is quite good, but the firewall leaves something to be desired.

If you’ve used Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 10.5, you’ll find Ad-Aware Pro quite familiar. In fact, the main window is exactly the same, except that the five Pro-only components are now enabled. Note, though, that there’s a certain redundancy in these components. The features called “Safe Browsng” and “Shop & Bank Safely Online” both work to keep you away from dangerous URLs. “E-mail Protection” and “External Storage Scan” just extend the existing real-time protection for earlier handling of threats arriving by email or via USB drive. And “Safe Networking” offers Host Intrusion Prevention, which might well be subsumed under the firewall component.

Antivirus Protection
The core antivirus protection in this suite is the same as what you get with Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 10.5. Do read that review for full details. I’ll summarize the results here, and then report on the additional protection found in the suite.

Getting Ad-Aware installed on my twelve malware-infested virtual machines was a breeze. A couple of minor hiccups were easily solved with a little help from tech support. That’s a big step up from Ad-Aware version 10, which rendered one test system completely unusable.

Ad-Aware detected 83 percent of the malware samples on those infested systems, more than any product tested using my current malware collection. Kaspersky PURE 3.0 Total Security didn’t detect as many, just 78 percent, but better cleanup earned it 6.0 points, beating Ad-Aware’s score of 5.8.

Tested with an earlier collection of malware samples, Comodo Internet Security Complete 2013, Norton Internet Security (2013), and Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete 2013 all earned 6.6 points. Those three are PCMag’s current Editors’ Choice picks for security suite. To learn more about my malware removal test, please see How We Test Malware Removal.

Ad-Aware Pro Security 10.5 malware removal chart

Blocks Most Malware
The real-time protection component in most antivirus products checks files for malware any time they get accessed. The minimal access that occurs when Windows Explorer displays file details is enough to trigger most of them, and Ad-Aware is no exception. When I opened the folder containing my samples, Ad-Aware immediately leapt into action, quarantining every file that it recognized as malicious.

In an impressive display of shoot-on-sight protection, Ad-Aware wiped out 94 percent of the samples in just a few minutes. Most products are lucky to get to 80 percent. The two samples that survived the initial massacre sailed past all of Ad-Aware’s other protective layers, so its final score was an impressive 9.4 points.

Tested with the same collection, Kaspersky PURE and avast! Premier 8 both detected 86 percent (but not the same 86 percent) and earned 8.5 points. Looking at products tested with my previous collection, Webroot still reigns, with a near-perfect 9.9 out of 10 points for malware blocking. To get the lowdown on how I run this test, see How We Test Malware Blocking.

Ad-Aware Pro Security 10.5 malware blocking chart

Web-based Antivirus Protection
The Safe Browsing component, present in both the Free and Pro editions, aims to block “known bad URLs and websites.” However, when I went to re-download my malware collection the Free edition didn’t block any URLs at all. It did manage to block 76 percent of the still-available samples during the download process.

The Pro edition demonstrated a much tougher ability to keep users from accidentally downloading malware. It blocked 64 percent of the downloads at the URL level, diverting the browser to a big warning page. The download protection component managed to block another 28 percent, for a total of 92 percent blocked. Kaspersky blocked 74 percent of these samples, and ZoneAlarm Internet Security 2013 only managed 57 percent.

Enhanced Phishing Protection
After this demonstration of URL-blocking, I wasn’t at all surprised to find Ad-Aware Pro much more effective at blocking fraudulent (phishing) websites than the free edition. In fact, although I was initially told that the free edition does include antiphishing, a higher-up at Lavasoft explained that the free edition “scans for URLs where malware is distributed, not phishing attacks.” That probably explains why the free edition’s detection rate came in 87 percentage points lower than Norton’s, and 32 points lower than Internet Explorer 8′s SmartScreen Filter.

The Pro edition actually outperformed IE8 by two percentage points, which is more impressive when you consider that over two-thirds of recent products have scored lower than IE8 alone, some of them much lower. Even so, Ad-Aware’s detection rate was 46 percentage points behind Norton’s. The best products perform real-time analysis of sites rather than relying on a blacklist of known fraudulent URLs. That kind of analysis has kept Norton’s accuracy high, and allowed Kaspersky PURE and McAfee Internet Security 2013 to beat out Norton (by three and four percentage points respectively).

The article How We Test Antiphishing explains how obtain phishing samples and derive these scores.

Ad-Aware Pro Security 10.5 antiphishing chart

Basic Firewall
The built-in Windows Firewall can stealth all of a PC’s ports and fend off port scans and other Web-based attacks, so any third-party firewall that can’t manage those tasks is a loser. Ad-Aware passed this test, as have almost all firewalls I’ve tested.

In addition to blocking any attacks from the outside, I expect a firewall to prevent betrayal from within by controlling which programs can use the Internet. A truly advanced firewall like what you get in Norton or Kaspersky automatically configures permissions for known good programs, eliminates known bad programs, and monitors any unknowns without hassling the user.

Ad-Aware doesn’t include this level of intelligent program control. In fact, its default configuration doesn’t truly offer program control at all. It allows all outbound traffic and blocks all inbound traffic, with a few specific exceptions. You won’t get annoying popups from this firewall, but only because it’s barely doing anything.

For testing purposes, I changed the default behavior for new programs to “Ask,” meaning the firewall must ask me how to handle a program that it’s seeing for the first time. I also turned on its Intrusion Detection System, along with a couple of other settings that are disabled by default.

Leak test programs are designed to defeat simple-minded program control by forcing a trusted program to handle their Internet connections, or by pretending to be a trusted program. Even with the firewall protection cranked up high, Ad-Aware only noticed a couple of the dozen leak tests I threw at it.

The Ad-Aware firewall does have the ability to block exploit attacks, but it’s quite limited. I generated thirty-odd exploits using the Core IMPACT penetration tool to test this feature. Ad-Aware blocked just 13 percent of them. It did identify the blocked exploits by name, but I had to dig into its logs to see that information. Norton is an exploit champ; in a similar test it blocked all of the exploits and identified most by name.

In any case, a malicious program could easily subvert Ad-Aware’s protection by terminating its essential processes or stopping its necessary services. I had no trouble doing so for testing. Overall, this isn’t an exciting firewall.

Bonus Features
Ad-Aware will nag you to enable Identity Monitoring until you either do so or tell it to stop. To activate the basic identity monitoring feature, you enter your name, address, email, and the last four digits of your SSN. Lavasoft partner ID Watchdog watches for suspicious credit activity based on that data. For $9.95/month you can upgrade to much more in-depth monitoring.

With your permission, the Ad-Aware installer replaces your browser homepage and default search with Lavasoft SecureSearch (powered by blekko.com). It doesn’t mark up results on other search sites, but you’ll get a red/green icon identifying dangerous/safe links in its own results. Blekko’s results are curated for relevance, which may explain why I never did manage to see a red icon.

A big banner in the Lavasoft toolbar reflects the status of the current page. Most of the time you’ll see a green notification that “This page is SAFE!” Unfortunately, I found in my antiphishing test that it displayed that notice for every phishing site it missed. I’d rather have it say “Um, I don’t know” than erroneously tout a bad site as safe.

From the toolbar you can invoke a little utility called Toolbar Cleaner that displays all of the add-ons in all of your browsers. With two mouse clicks you can wipe them all out, and there’s no provision for undoing that action. Another tab lists all startup items, including Ad-Aware’s own. Here again, it’s simple to wipe these out but not so simple to restore them. I’d suggest you stay away from this tool. Note that all of these bonus features are also present in Ad-Aware Free.

Stick with Free
Ad-Aware’s antivirus protection is impressive enough that PCMag designated Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 10.5 an Editors’ Choice for free antivirus. You do get more with the Pro edition, but what you get just isn’t worth the price.

Yes, at $36 for one license or $48 for three, Ad-Aware seems inexpensive, but it actually costs a bit more than Comodo Internet Security Complete 2013. And if you can afford $79.99, that will purchase the impressive power of Norton Internet Security (2013) or Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete 2013. PCMag recognizes Comodo, Norton, and Webroot as Editors’ Choice security suites.

Sub-ratings:
Firewall:
Virus removal:
Virus blocking:
Performance:
Antispam: n/a
Privacy:
Parental Control: n/a


Verdict
Ad-Aware Pro Security 10.5 offers the same powerful antivirus protection as the company's free antivirus, which is now an Editors' Choice. This minimalist suite adds improved antiphishing and Web-based antivirus as well as a basic firewall.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc