avast! Premier 2014 review

With avast! Premier 2014 you gset everything in avast!'s entry-level suite plus a top-quality data shredder, an easy-to-use remote-control system, and automation for the software updater. However, if you're looking for a mega-suite there are better choices.
Photo of avast! Premier 2014

Many security vendors offer three tiers of protection: a standalone antivirus, a security suite, and a mega-suite with even more features than the basic security suite. Quite commonly the mega-suite adds a backup system along with a PC tuneup utility. avast! Premier 2014 ($69.99 per year direct; $89.99 for three licenses) bucks this trend a bit. Instead of backup and tuneup, it adds secure deletion, automated updating of sensitive applications, and a remote desktop capability. Are these features worth an extra $20 per year? You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Other than the different title at top, the program’s main window is exactly like that of avast! Internet Security 2014. The antispam, antivirus, firewall, and other security components are exactly the same as in the basic suite. I’ll refer you to that review for full details, and just offer a summary here.

Same antivirus
All the independent labs that I follow include avast! in their testing, and it gets good marks overall. The chart below represents my synthesis of many different tests. For a full explanation of the tests and the way I go from their results to this chart, see How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests.

avast! Premier 2014 lab tests chart

I tested avast!’s ability to fend off malware downloads using about 100 very recent malicious URLs, as reported in a feed from MRG-Effitas. Blocking most at the URL level and quarantining others during download, avast! blocked 79 percent of the downloads. That’s the best score earned by any of the seven products I’ve run through this test.

In my local, hands-on malware blocking test, avast! detected 92 percent of the samples and achieved a middling score of 8.9 points. However, its “evolutionary generic” detection strategy quarantined more valid programs than malicious ones. For details on my malware-blocking test, please read How We Test Malware Blocking.

avast! Premier 2014 malware blocking chart

Given its success at blocking malicious URLs, I expected avast! would also do well in my antiphishing test. However, its detection rate was 32 percentage points below that of Norton 360 (2014), my antiphishing touchstone. Even so, avast! outperformed 60 percent of its competition. To learn just how I perform and score this test, see How We Test Antiphishing.

avast! Premier 2014 antiphishing chart

Firewall and Spam Filter
The suite’s firewall fended off all port scans and Web-based attacks in testing, and it didn’t cave in to any of my direct attacks. It’s tough! With help from the antivirus component, it blocked over three quarters of the exploits I used to attack the test system.

Some firewalls handle program control by not handling it; they require the user to make security decisions about what network permissions to allow for each program. Like the firewalls in Norton and Kaspersky PURE 3.0 Total Security, avast!’s firewall makes its own decisions. By default, it will notify you when it decides to block a program’s access. I approve. The user probably isn’t qualified to make this kind of decision.

In testing, the spam filter component didn’t discard any valid personal mail or valid bulk mail. However, it missed almost 20 percent of undeniable spam. Norton and McAfee Total Protection 2014 also didn’t discard any valid mail, but they both missed less than 4 percent of the spam. To get a detailed explanation of how I run my real-world antispam test, see How We Test Antispam.

avast! Premier 2014 antispam chart

Other Shared Features
This suite shares quite a few other features with avast!’s basic suite. A browser plug-in identifies search results that have a bad reputation and also offers a Do Not Track feature much like what you get with AVG Internet Security 2014 or Avira Ultimate Protection Suite (2014). Among other things, the suite can eliminate iffy browser toolbars, create a bootable rescue CD or USB, and look for unpatched security holes.

Expert users can run possibly-dangerous programs in the avast! sandbox. Doing so prevents the sandboxed program from making any permanent system changes. The hardened SafeZone browser kicks in automatically when you visit known financial or shopping sites. SafeZone insulates your browsing session from all other processes. You can optionally wipe all traces of SafeZone browsing.

On the My Devices page you can view all of the avast! installations associated with your accont. An icon reflects security status, and you can dig in for details and statistics. As with Norton, you can’t make remote configuration changes.

Tiny Performance Hit
I re-ran my performance tests for the premier suite and got exactly the same results as I did with the basic suite. Briefly, it had no measureable effect on boot time, a minimal effect on moving and copying files, and an average impact on zip/unzip operations. The article How We Test Security Suites for Performance explains how I check each suite’s impact on system performance.

avast! Premier 2014 performance chart

Upgraded Software Updater
The entry-level avast! suite includes a module that seeks missing security patches for significant applications. It offers links to download the necessary patches, and can sometimes help with applying a patch. However, if you click “Activate automatic updates” it advises that you must upgrade to Premier.

In the Premier edition, as soon as you turn on automatic updates the system goes to work applying any pending patches. Going forward, as it discovers new updates it just applies them.

I did find that not all updates can be applied automatically. It updated Adobe AIR and Adobe Reader, for example, but I still had to get my hands dirty to Opera. This tool also pointed out that Java 7 doesn’t overwrite Java 6, and strongly recommended uninstalling Java 6. Smart!

Powerful Data Shredder
Because of the way the FAT and NTFS file systems work, data from deleted files remains on disk until it gets re-used to store another file’s data. Even if you skip the Recycle Bin, deleting a file does not actually delete its contents. Simple software can recover recently deleted files. Advanced forensic hardware can dig back through multiple overwrites.

The data shredder component in avast! defaults to a single overwrite with random bits, which will foil most attempts at recovery. Switching to the Department of Defense three-pass algorithm or the extreme 26 passes of the Gutmann algorithm will prevent recovery by even the most advanced forensic recovery system. Of course, this comes at a cost—all those overwrites take time.

Bitdefender Total Security (2014), McAfee, and Kaspersky PURE are among the suites that pair data shredding with encryption. After encrypting a sensitive file, you shred the original—smart. Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Complete (2014) and AVG  let you shred files and folders by right-clicking. The shredder in avast! doesn’t install in the right-click context menu, and there’s no encryption, but even so it’s a more powerful tool than most.

Like Ad-Aware Total  Security 11, avast! can overwrite the free space on any disk, preventing forensic recovery of every deleted file. Both products can wipe an entire drive, and can securely overwrite the unused space at the end of a file’s last storage cluster. Avast! goes even farther, with the option clean up unused directory entries (for FAT-formatted drives) or clean the Master File Table (for NTFS-formatted drives).

This is most definitely a full-featured secure deletion tool. It’d be even better if the suite also offered file encryption.

Get Help by Remote Control
The AccessAnywhere feature lets you remote-control a PC from another PC, as long as both are associated with your avast! account. This feature appears in all three levels of avast!’s protection: free antivirus, entry-level suite, and Premier suite. The catch is, only a Premier installation can be the one that’s remote-controlled.

That makes sense, in a way. The main purpose of this feature is to let someone help you by remote control. As the Premier user, you can receive help. Those with less-exalted avast! installations can only give help.

To enable remote control, you must log in to your avast! account with your username and password. You can optionally require another password that’s specific to the remote-control session. On clicking the “Remote control another computer” button and logging in, your helper gets a list of all the PCs associated with the account. The list greenlights Premier installations and PCs that are online. Naturally you can only remote-control a system that has both indicators green.

The process works better when the computer doing the controlling has a higher screen resolution that the one being controlled, though you can even out any differences by choosing the full-screen view. I found mouse control just a bit sluggish, which is typical for remote-control systems that work across the Internet.

In addition to full keyboard and mouse control of the remote system, you can trigger Ctrl+Alt+Del, or engage the file transfer module. I did find that file transfer worked with a Windows XP system controlling a Windows 7 system, but not the other way around. Tech support explained that turning off the “self-defense” feature on the XP system would solve this problem; it did. The next update will eliminate the need to lower your security in order to use the file transfer feature.

Interesting, But…
avast! Premier 2014 offers everything you get in avast! Internet Security 2014: smart firewall, sandboxing, hardened browser, and more. It also includes less-than-stellar phishing and spam protection, and an aggressive behavior blocker that quarantined more good files than bad. For $20 more, Premier adds a very complete data shredder tool and an easy-to-use remote control system. In addition, the software updater component gains the ability to update apps automatically.

Is it worth it? That’s your call. Me, I’d choose a mega-suite that has earned the PCMag Editors’ Choice designation. We actually have three, each with its own virtues: Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Complete (2014), Norton 360 (2014), and Bitdefender Total Security (2014).

Sub-ratings:
Firewall:
Antivirus:
Performance:
Antispam:
Privacy:
Parental Control: n/a


Verdict
With avast! Premier 2014 you gset everything in avast!'s entry-level suite plus a top-quality data shredder, an easy-to-use remote-control system, and automation for the software updater. However, if you're looking for a mega-suite there are better choices.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc