Avira Internet Security 2013 review

Avira Internet Security 2013 has a busy, dated appearance, and its components just aren't up to the quality level of the best security suites. Despite this, its price is the highest of all the competition. You can do better.
Photo of Avira Internet Security 2013

Anyone using the free or premium antivirus utilities from Avira knows exactly what the company’s full security suite can do, because the suite’s features are visible in all three products, just grayed when not available. Avira Internet Security 2013 ($89.99/year for three licenses) does everything you’d expect a suite to do, and also offers local backup of important files. It just doesn’t do the job as well as the best of the competition.

The product’s busy main window lists all features down the left side; clicking any of them fills the rest of the window with that feature’s details. To keep users from drowning in a sea of details, the configuration window hides most of its options by default, revealing them only if you select “Expert mode.”

Uneven Antivirus Protection
This suite offers the same antivirus protection found in Avira Antivirus Premium 2013, so please read that review for full details. I’ll summarize here.

Getting protection installed on twelve malware-infested systems wasn’t easy, because some of the malware samples fought back, but with help from Avira’s bootable Rescue Environment and tech support I did it. The cleanup process wiped out essential Windows files on a couple of test systems, rendering them non-functional. Tech support identified the problem files and recommended replacing them from a Windows CD or from a system with the identical Windows version. I managed the task; the average user might have had difficulty.

In my hands-on malware removal test, Avira detected 79 percent of the threats and scored 6.2 points. That’s a good bit better than the 5.7 points scored by Avira Antivirus Free 2013. Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete 2013 and Norton Internet Security (2013) outscored the rest in this test, with 6.6 points. The article How We Test Malware Removal explains how I test malware removal and come up with the scores in the chart below.

Avira Internet Security 2013 malware removal chart

Like many antivirus products, Avira proved more effective at protecting a clean system than at cleaning up when the malware has already made itself at home. In my malware blocking test it detected 95 percent of the threats and scored 9.3 points. Webroot detected 100 percent and scored a near-perfect 9.9 points. For full details about this test, please see How We Test Malware Blocking.

Avira Internet Security 2013 malware blocking chart

Avira’s scored in independent lab tests are generally good. It earned the top rating of ADVANCED+ in two tests by AV-Comparatives and took ADVANCED in a third. AV-Test certifies antivirus products that achieve 11 of a possible 18 points; Avira scored 15 and 12.5 in the latest tests. The chart below summarizes lab test results for recent products. To learn more about the labs, please read How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests.

Avira Internet Security 2013 lab tests chart

Other Shared Features
Like the standalone antivirus, Avira’s suite installs a browser toolbar that includes an active “Do Not Track” feature. It lists the number of ad, commerce, and social media tracking links on the current page and gives you the option to prevent them from tracking you, much like the similar feature in the toolbar installed with AVG Internet Security 2013 .

The toolbar also rates the safety of the current site and marks up dangerous links in the Avira search tool’s results. It also attempts to identify and block phishing sites, but like the majority of current products it’s not very good at detecting the very latest frauds. Its detection rate was a full 50 percentage points lower than Norton’s and 25 percent lower than Internet Explorer alone. The article How We Test Antiphishing explains exactly how I derive these scores.

Avira Internet Security 2013 antiphishing chart

Old-School Firewall
Many modern computer users have no interest in tweaking security, and some vendors have taken note. For example, the designers of F-Secure Internet Security 2013 carefully considered every setting and removed any they figured the user could do without. Not Avira. In Expert mode the firewall is just bristling with settings.

At the default Medium protection level the firewall does not stealth your system’s ports. However, if it detects a port scan or other Web-based attack it blocks all traffic from the attacking IP address. At the High level it does stealth your ports, but it also makes your computer invisible on the local network, something you may not want.

Norton’s firewall uses Symantec’s online Insight database to allow Internet connectivity for known good programs; Kaspersky Internet Security (2013) does something similar. Both handle unknown programs without bothering the user.

Avira’s firewall isn’t quite so advanced. It automatically allows access for any program digitally signed by one of a few hundred trusted vendors. That’s fine until the bad guys manage to steal a digital certificate from one of those vendors. For other programs it resorts to asking you, the user, whether to allow Internet access.

Of course, if Avira doesn’t detect that the program is trying to get online, it can’t ask you whether to allow it. Leak test programs try to evade program control using the same techniques malicious programs do, just without a malicious payload. Avira did catch about half the leak test programs I threw at it. F-Secure’s firewall, similarly old-school, detected and blocked all of the leak tests.

I attacked the test system using over thirty exploits generated by the Core IMPACT penetration tool. It didn’t block any at the network level, but it detected and eliminated the malicious payload dropped by two-thirds of them. Norton is the anti-exploit champ; it blocked every single exploit early in the process, before any payload ever reached the protected system.

At least Avira is tough. I tried to turn it off by changing Registry settings, tried to kill it using Task Manager, and tried to disable its services. In every case I got “Access Denied.” It offers decent protection, but nowhere near what you get from the best modern firewalls.

Slow Spam Filtering
Like many antispam products, Avira marks messages it deems to be spam by inserting [SPAM] in the message subject. Most products integrate with popular email clients, adding a toolbar that lets you flag messages that were erroneously marked as spam, or valid messages thrown into the spam folder. With Avira you instead make any such corrections using a message list inside the program itself.

I downloaded thousands of spam and valid messages from a real-world email account and timed how long the download took. Most spam filters slow the download process a little. With Avira checking for spam, downloading a thousand messages took four times as long as with no spam filter. You might well notice that kind of slowdown even with a normal quantity of mail.

Avira misfiled just 0.2 percent of valid personal mail as spam, and didn’t misfile any valid bulk mail (newsletters and such). However, it let nearly 20 percent of the undeniable spam into the Inbox. That’s not horrendous, but other products do a lot better. Norton didn’t block any valid mail and missed just 5.3 percent of spam, for example. AVG blocked 0.2 percent of valid mail, like Avira, but only let 3.4 percent of spam into the Inbox.

For details on how I analyze antispam accuracy, read How We Test Antispam.

Avira Internet Security 2013 antispam chart

Dual Parental Controls
The parental control system built into this suite handles the basics, filtering out inappropriate websites and controlling time online, but no more. To start, you assign each Windows account a profile: Adult, Young person, or Child. That’s it. That’s all you can do unless you switch to Expert mode.

In Expert mode you can view and change settings for the predefined profiles, or create a new profile. As far as I can tell, there’s no difference between the Child and Young person profiles out of the box. Content filtering is turned on for both, with the same 11 categories blocked, and Internet time control is turned off.

The content filter is fully browser-independent, but it has several weaknesses. A simple three-word network command will disable it, for starters. And since it can’t filter secure (HTTPS) websites, a naughty teen with access to a secure anonymizing proxy could totally evade content filtering. F-Secure shares neither of these weaknesses, but on the flip side it’s not fully browser-independent.

Parents can limit how many hours each child can spend online, with a separate setting for weekdays and weekends. Weekly and monthly limits are also available, and an optional full-week grid lets parents define just when Internet access is allowed. Note, though, that it’s easy to fool the scheduler by resetting the system clock.

That’s the extent of Avira’s built-in parental control. However, the suite includes a link to install a free, separate Avira product that helps parents track the children’s social networking activity. When I reviewed SocialShield it cost $96/year, but Avira purchased it and made it a free product. The three stars I gave Avira for parental control are a balance between the excellent (if highly focused) SocialShield and the poor built-in parental control system.

Limited Local Backup
Hosted online backup is a nice benefit in many current suites. Webroot offers 25GB of storage that you can use both for backup and file synchronization, for example. The similar backup and sync feature of Trend Micro Titanium Maximum Security 2013 comes with 5GB of storage.With Norton 360 (2013) you can use 2GB of online storage or back up to any local drive, network drive, removable drive or optical media.

Avira’s backup system isn’t quite as elaborate. You can choose a predefined backup profile or define one of your own, and you can store your backed-up files on a local drive, a network drive, or a removable drive. There’s no online component, and the backup system doesn’t keep multiple versions of files the way many of the others do.

There is one clever twist in the backup scheduling system. As expected, you can choose to backup on a daily or weekly basis, at each login, or at a predefined interval. But if you’ve chosen a USB drive as the backup destination the “Plug&Play” schedule will automatically launch a backup any time you plug in that same drive.

Small Performance Impact
Avira and F-Secure both averaged 9 percent performance impact across my several performance tests, but they did so in very different ways. My boot-time test took just 1 percent longer with F-Secure installed than with no suite, but 24 percent longer with Avira installed. The browsing test, which measures the time required to fully load a list of 100 websites, took 7 percent longer under F-Secure, 4 percent longer under Avira. Avira achieved the same average as F-Secure by doing much better in the other two tests.

The file move and copy test times a script that moves and copies a large collection of large files between drives. With Avira installed that script tool 7 percent longer, much better than the average of 20 percent, and better than F-Secure’s 18 percent. Another test times a script that zips and unzips that same file collection. The average suite slows that script by 16 percent, F-Secure slowed it by 10 percent, and Avira had no measureable effect.

You probably boot up your computer once per day, if that, so a little slowdown in that area may be no big deal. Overall, Avira has a light touch on your system’s resources. For details on my security suite performance tests, see How We Test Security Suites for Performance.

Avira Internet Security 2013 performance chart

Less Bang for the Buck
Avira costs more than most security suites, so you might expect to get more protection. Nope, you don’t. Editors’ Choice Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete 2013 doesn’t include spam filtering or parental control, but all its other components are more effective than Avira’s, especially its flexible backup and sync, and it’s ten bucks cheaper.

Norton Internet Security (2013) does everything Avira does, but better, with the exception of backup, and it’s $20 cheaper. Need backup? For the same price as Avira you can get Norton 360 (2013) , another Editor’s Choice. While it does some things well, Avira Internet Security 2013 is overpriced and dated.

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

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Verdict
Avira Internet Security 2013 has a busy, dated appearance, and its components just aren't up to the quality level of the best security suites. Despite this, its price is the highest of all the competition. You can do better.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc