AVG Internet Security 2014 review

Getting AVG Internet Security 2014 installed on malware-infested systems was a challenge, but it did a good job in the end. A smart firewall, accurate spam filtering, and useful encryption system make up for less-than-stellar protection against phishing frauds.
Photo of AVG Internet Security 2014

Different security suites include different collections of security features, but they all must have antivirus and firewall protection. Most include spam filtering and parental control, though not all users need these components. AVG Internet Security 2014 ($54.99 direct; $69.99 for three licenses) includes all of the usual components except parental control, and adds tools to protect your sensitive data.

The product’s colorful main window looks almost identical to that of AVG’s free standalone antivirus product. All of the same buttons are present: Computer, Web Browsing, Identity, Emails, and Firewall. The difference is, they’re all fully functional in the suite. As in the free antivirus, a second row of buttons links to other products from AVG, most of which require a separate purchase.

AVG includes built-in links to a variety of support options. You can get simple questions answered by Julia the chat-bot, or go to the AVG Community forums for help from other users. If that’s not enough you can contact support via phone, email, or live chat. And if you’re willing to pay a little extra, you can help for any tech problem from AVG’s Tech Buddy experts.

Antivirus Protection
The antivirus component in AVG’s suite is exactly the same as what’s found in AVG AntiVirus FREE 2014, so I’ll just summarize my findings here. You can read the antivirus review for full details.

Getting AVG installed on my twelve malware-infested test systems was quite a chore. All but two ran into some degree of difficulty, and a few needed days of back-and-forth with tech support before I managed to install the product and run a full scan.

Once I got past installation hurdles, the product proved to be an effective malware remover. Its 6.4 point score beats Norton Internet Security (2014) by a tenth of a point. Only Bitdefender Internet Security (2014), with 6.4 points, scored higher among products tested with the same samples. For a full explanation of my hands-on malware removal test, see How We Test Malware Removal.

AVG Internet Security 2014 malware removal chart

AVG was particularly effective at keeping malware from getting a foothold on a clean system. With 9.4 points for malware blocking, it tied with Ad-Aware Pro Security 10.5 for top score among recent products. Tested with my previous malware collection, Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Plus 2013 earned a near-perfect 9.9 of 10 possible points. The article How We Test Malware Blocking explains in detail how I conduct and score this test.

AVG Internet Security 2014 malware blocking chart

AVG doesn’t participate in testing by ICSA Labs or West Coast Labs. In the last ten tests by Virus Bulletin, it missed receiving VB100 certification just twice. In both cases it didn’t miss any malware from the test set, but it identified one valid program as malicious. In tests by AV-Test and AV-Comparatives, AVG earns scores that are good but not outstanding. To learn more about the independent labs whose reports I follow, see How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests.

AVG Internet Security 2014 lab tests chart

Both the suite and the antivirus install AVG’s toolbar for browser protection. The toolbar offers safe search, flags dangerous websites, and can optionally block ad networks from tracking your online activity.

Data Protection
You don’t expect a cat burglar in your bedroom, but you still lock up your diamonds in the safe. By the same token, you should lock up your sensitive files, just in case you run afoul of a hacker or data-stealing Trojan.

With AVG you can create any number of “Data Safes” to hold sensitive files. After naming a new data safe, you define a strong password, specify the desired size, and choose a drive letter. When the safe is open, it looks like any other drive in Windows Explorer. You can freely copy files into and out of the safe, or drag and drop, and you can edit files in place. When the safe is locked, though, its contents become completely inaccessible.

You may be aware that deleting a file doesn’t completely remove its data, even if you bypass the Recycle Bin. The same is true when you move a file to another drive—it’s like copying it and then deleting the original. For maximum security, you’ll want to copy sensitive files into the safe and then use AVG’s file shredder on the originals.

Using the shredder is simple; just right-click the file and choose “Permanently shred with AVG.” This will overwrite the file’s data before deletion, to foil forensic recovery tools. Note that the free antivirus includes the shredder but not the data safe feature.

Highly-Configurable Spam Filter
AVG’s spam filter marks up spam messages by putting SPAM in the subject line. It integrates with Microsoft Outlook; if you use a different email client, you’ll have to define a message rule to slam the spam. Whether or not you use Outlook, as long as you’ve enabled scanning of outgoing messages it can whitelist any address to which you’ve sent mail. You can also manually add to the whitelist or blacklist.

By default, the spam filter only blocks messages that reach a 90 percent spam threshold. If you tweak this option lower you might catch more spam, but it’s also possible valid mail might get junked. Another slider lets you choose how much computing power will be devoted to antispam.

Expert-level settings include the ability to block messages based on the country code or character set, to block or allow specific IP addresses, and to block messages that spoof your own email as the sender. Those familiar with the concept of Realtime Blackhole Lists as a spam-fighting tool can configure AVG’s use of RBLs in great detail.

My advice about all of these settings is… don’t touch them! I tested AVG using the default configuration and it did an excellent job. It didn’t discard any newsletters or other valid bulk mail, and it misfiled just 0.2 percent of valid personal mail as spam. In a real-world setting, whitelisting would solve that false-positive problem.

AVG let just 3.2 percent of the undeniable spam into my test system’s Inbox. Bitdefender and Kaspersky Internet Security (2014) missed 2.5 and 2.6 percent of spam respectively. Norton failed to catch 3.9 percent of spam, but unlike the rest it did not misfile a single valid message. If you need spam filtering as part of your security suite, any of these four will do a dandy job. Only dedicated, stand-alone antispam products do better in my testing.

For a full explanation of how I go about testing a product’s ability to detect spam, please see How We Test Antispam.

AVG Internet Security 2014 antispam chart

Disappointing Phishing Protection
AVG’s Web-based protection should also help users avoid being duped by phishing sites, fraudulent websites that masquerade as bank site or other sensitive sites to steal passwords. However, it performed quite poorly in testing. My AVG contact explained that “phishing false positives are a significant problem and therefore we made the decision to use just only verified and trusted resources.” I test with the very newest phishing sites—too new, it seems, to get through AVG’s verification process.

Where most antiphishing products divert the browser to a safe warning page, AVG uses a popup notification much as it does for real-time malware detection. The antivirus component actually reported “Virus found JS/Phish” in one case, and online protection blocked some sites as malicious. I counted all of these as successful detections.

Even so, AVG’s detection rate lagged a massive 77 percentage points behind that of Norton, which consistently does a great job detecting the latest frauds. In the past I also compared each product with Internet Explorer 8′s SmartScreen Filter; I dropped that metric recently due to uneven performance by IE8. Still, it’s worth noting that IE8 detected vastly more phishing sites than AVG. To learn more about how I find the newest fraudulent sites and score this test, see How We Test Antiphishing.

AVG Internet Security 2014 antiphishing chart

No-Hassle Firewall
Left in its default Automatic mode, AVG’s firewall won’t ask you to decide what sort of network access it should allow for each program. Rather, it allows or blocks programs “depending on their behavior and whether they are included in the database of trusted applications.”

If you just can’t get enough firewall popup queries, you can switch it to Interactive mode. In this mode, it will check with you the first time any program attempts a network connection and, by default, remember whether you chose to allow or block it.

Of course, if the firewall doesn’t notice a program making a network connection, it can’t take control of that connection automatically or otherwise. Leak test utilities demonstrate sneaky malware techniques that establish a connection by manipulating or masquerading as trusted programs. When I switched AVG to Interactive mode and launched a dozen such programs, it blocked exactly one.

The firewall did better when challenged with port scans and other Web-based attacks. It put all ports in stealth mode and didn’t cave to any attacks. When I attacked the test system using exploits generated by the Core IMPACT penetration tool, the firewall didn’t stop any of them at the network level. However, other components kicked to block many exploits at the file level. None of the exploits actually breached security, and AVG actively blocked over 60 percent of them. That’s actually better than many, but doesn’t come close to Norton’s firewall, which blocked every single exploit at the network level.

The firewall also stood up to direct attack. I couldn’t make changes to its Registry entries, and it resisted all attempts to shut down its essential services. Using Task Manager I killed off the program’s user interface but the other nine processes resisted termination. I wonder, though, why they don’t protect the UI as well.

AVG offers good firewall protection, though not quite at the level of Norton or Kaspersky. At least it won’t drive you mad with a flood of confusing popup queries.

One-Shot Tune-Up
AVG includes a component called PC Analyzer that checks your system for Registry errors, junk files, broken shortcuts, and disk fragmentation. That’s all it does, though. It doesn’t fix what it found. To actually tune up the system you need to download AVG’s PC TuneUp product.

At launch, PC TuneUp repeats the process of analyzing your PC for useless and erroneous junk that might impact system performance. This time, however, it also handles cleanup. PC TuneUp includes a range of other features. It will tweak the system’s power mode for best battery life or best performance, for example. It finds and fixes “PC Health” problems. It will locate duplicate files, recover deleted files, and more.

The catch is, your purchase of the suite entitles you to use the TuneUp product for a one-day trial period. If you want to keep using it after that, you’ll have to purchase it separately. Once you’ve invoked the trial period, be sure to use all of the product’s optimization features before time runs out.

Tiny Performance Impact
I checked AVG’s impact on system performance by averaging many runs of timed tests with no suite installed and with AVG installed. Its overall impact was among the lowest I’ve seen. My boot time test took 7 percent longer with AVG installed, way below the current suite average of 21 percent. A script that moves and copies a monstrous collection of monster files between drives took just 3 percent longer. The average suite slows that particular test by 21 percent.

Another of my test scripts ZIPs and unZIPs the same collection of files. That test took 4 percent longer with AVG watching, still a good bit less than the current average of 16 percent.

AVG’s overall average impact came in a 5 percent. Few suites have done better. TrustPort Internet Security 2013 averaged 3 percent, while Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Plus 2013 barely slowed the system by 1 percent. The only other suite to do better was Astaro Security Gateway Version 8 Home Edition, which has no impact because it runs on a dedicated, separate PC.

For a run-down on how I conduct and score my performance tests, see How We Test Security Suites for Performance.

AVG Internet Security 2014 performance chart

Some Excellent Components
AVG’s antivirus protection earned excellent scores in PCMag’s hands-on malware cleanup and malware blocking tests, though it didn’t fare quite as well in independent lab tests. Its spam filter is among the most accurate, and it hardly impacted system performance at all. The much-improved firewall won’t hassle you with confusing popups. However, you shouldn’t rely on this suite to steer you away from fraudulent websites; its antiphishing score was truly dismal.

This suite is decent, but I’d recommend spending just a little more to get one of our Editors’ Choice security suites. All the components in Norton Internet Security (2014) function at top efficiency. Bitdefender Total Security (2014) includes just about every security feature you could imagine, if you want comprehensive protection. Looking for something lean and mean instead? You might prefer Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete 2013.

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


Verdict
Getting AVG Internet Security 2014 installed on malware-infested systems was a challenge, but it did a good job in the end. A smart firewall, accurate spam filtering, and useful encryption system make up for less-than-stellar protection against phishing frauds.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc