Take an antivirus utility, add firewall protection, and you’ve got the bare bones of a security suite. Many suites add features like spam filtering and parental control, but Outpost Security Suite Pro 8 ($49.95 direct; $59.95 for three licenses) sticks to the basics. It costs less than most of the competition, but you’ll be better off paying a bit more and getting more protection.
The standalone products Outpost Antivirus Pro 8 and Outpost Firewall Pro 8 have a number of features in common. Outpost Security Suite Pro 8 is a combination of these two products, nothing more and nothing less.
At first glance, the suite looks exactly like the standalone antivirus, with a prominent tab labeled “Malware Scan.” In the standalone firewall, that’s replaced by a Firewall tab that shows current network activity. The suite moves network activity reporting as an option under the Tools tab.
From the Settings tab you can turn security components on or off and make high-level configuration changes. For configuration changes at a deeper level you’ll need to open the Advanced Settings dialog.
Same Antivirus Protection
Outpost Security Suite Pro offers exactly the same antivirus protection as the standalone antivirus. I’ll summarize here.
While installing Outpost on my malware-infested test systems, I discovered that the product’s HTML-based user interface is a weak spot. Once Outpost is running, it protects the HTML files and images that make up its interface, but the files are vulnerable during installation. On one system, a virus infected the HTML files. Outpost wiped out the infected files and thereby destroyed its own user interface. On several other systems, malware prevented a proper installation, but tech support managed to solve all of those, along with the interface problem.
In my malware cleanup test, Outpost detected 68 percent of the threats, the same as McAfee Total Protection 2013. Its overall score of 5.1 points is a bit below average. Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete 2013 and Norton Internet Security (2013) tied for top score in this test, with 6.6 points.
Outpost also turned in a below-average score when measured specifically against rootkits. For an explanation of this test, see How We Test Malware Removal.
Outpost Security Suite Pro 8 malware removal chart
When challenged to protect a clean system against new attacks, Outpost scored much better. With 9.4 points it came in just behind BullGuard Internet Security 2013. Webroot aced this test, achieving 9.9 of 10 possible points. Outpost blocked rootkits very effectively, scoring 9.8 points. To learn more about this test, see How We Test Malware Blocking.
Outpost Security Suite Pro 8 malware blocking chart
Normally I factor the results of independent lab tests into my overall product rating, but hardly any of the labs that I follow include Outpost in their testing regimens. Outpost did receive VB100 recognition in nine of the last ten tests by Virus Bulletin. For background on the independent labs and their tests, please read How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests.
Outpost Security Suite Pro 8 lab tests chart
All three Outpost products include the proactive protection components Anti-Leak Control, Application Guard, and System Guard. Anti-Leak aims to keep malicious programs from manipulating other programs or damaging sensitive system areas. It can track 14 distinct activities, among them process memory injection, keylogging, and loading unsigned drivers. However, by default it allows all but three of these.
In its default Auto-Learn mode, Outpost not only doesn’t block suspect actions, it actually creates rules to continue allowing any detected action once Auto-Learn is turned off. With Auto-Learn off, I found that Outpost pops up a ton of warnings about both good programs and bad. When I installed twenty PCMag utilities, it averaged over three popups apiece, claiming that the utilities were attempting to modify other programs or modify critical objects. Amid this plethora of pointless popups the user is bound to miss any truly significant warnings.
Outpost’s firewall correctly put all of my test system’s ports in steath mode, hiding them from outside attackers. Windows Firewall alone can do that, true, but Outpost went a step further, identifying and actively blocking port scan attacks.
The standalone firewall didn’t succeed in blocking any exploits at the network level. With help from the antivirus component, Outpost Security Suite Pro did a bit better. When I attacked the test system using thirty exploits generated by the Core IMPACT penetration tool, the firewall still kept mum. However, the antivirus component detected and eliminated files dropped by six of the exploits.
That’s still not too impressive. Norton detected and identified every exploit at the network level, before they had a chance to transfer any malicious files to the test system. F-Secure Internet Security 2013 and Avira Internet Security 2013 blocked two-thirds of the exploits using a combination of firewall and antivirus protection.
At least Outpost won’t cave to attack by malware. Its configuration files are protected from modification just as the user interface files are. I couldn’t terminate its essential process using Task Manager. And when I tried to stop or disable its services, it popped up asking for confirmation, something a malicious program couldn’t give.
The firewall’s program control component manages which programs are permitted to access the Internet and network. As with the proactive protection features, in its default Auto-Learn mode the firewall allows every network access attempt and also creates a rule to allow that type of access in the future. With Auto-Learn turned off, Outpost asks you, the user, to make all security decisions about network access. Where many firewalls just let you choose to allow or block a given connection, Outpost also lets you choose from rule presets such as browser or download manager.
I don’t approve of leaving security decisions to the possibly-uninformed user. The best firewalls handle program control internally. Norton relies on a vast database of known programs to pre-configure permissions for known good programs, terminate known bad programs, and scrutinize the behavior of unknowns. Kaspersky assigns each program a trust level, with less and less access to sensitive areas as the trust level goes down.
Bonuses and Minuses
As noted, the network activity pane from the standalone firewall moves to the Tools tab in the suite. It joins a number of other tools, most of which the average user should not touch. You can view details of process activity and terminate any process; don’t terminate the wrong one! A file and Registry monitor records vast amounts of information about all changes to the file system and Registry, but the amount of information is overwhelming, and it can slow down the system. Tech support might ask you to check something using the list of active ports, but that information won’t tell the non-techie user much of anything.
In my review of Outpost’s previous edition, I slammed its spam filtering component. It did absolutely nothing until you, the user, manually trained it using user-selected valid messages and spam messages. Agnitum simply omitted the spam filter this time around, which makes sense to me. So many users get spam filtering via Web-based email accounts or through server-side spam filters, it’s better to just skip the antispam component than to offer a bad one.
While Outpost nominally includes phishing protection, I could not manage to see it in action. I spent hours testing with newly-reported phishing sites and it didn’t detect a single one. The only privacy-related functionality it offers is ID Block. This feature prevents transmission of user-defined private information out of the PC, either blocking network packets altogether or replacing the private data with asterisks.
Minor Performance Hit
In every security suite review I include a report on the product’s effect on system performance. Outpost doesn’t include all the features of some bigger suites, but it still had a small effect on some of the performance tests.
One of my performance tests simply measures the time required to move and copy a large collection of large files between drives. Antivirus programs check files for malware on any access, which can sometimes slow the file move/copy test. Indeed, this test took 49 percent longer with Outpost installed than with no security suite. A related test that zips and unzips the same file collection repeatedly took 25 percent longer.
Most security products try to keep you away from dangerous websites, or at least block malicious downloads. This can sometimes slow down the browsing experience. My browser test times how long it takes to fully load 100 busy websites. With Outpost installed, this test took 12 percent longer; chances are good you won’t notice that while surfing the web.
Outpost didn’t add to the system’s boot time at all, not measurably. I average ten runs for most of my tests, but I run the automated boot time test 100 times with the suite installed and 100 times with no suite.
The days of bloated security tools that egregiously slowed system performance is long over. Outpost did slow some of my tests, but not to a degree that worries me. For details on how I measure security suite performance see How We Test Security Suites for Performance.
Outpost Security Suite Pro 8 performance chart
Pay More, Get More
Outpost Security Suite Pro 8 doesn’t cost as much as most suites, but it also doesn’t offer nearly as much. Antivirus, firewall, and a handful of tools that most users shouldn’t touch—that’s the extent of it. The firewall foists important security decisions off on the user, and the antivirus isn’t fully effective at cleaning up malware-infested systems.
You’ll do better to pay a little more and purchase one of PCMag’s Editor’s Choice products. Norton Internet Security (2013) includes everything you could want in a security suite along with unusual features like program stability reporting and password management. Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete 2013 offers password management too, and it’s by far the smallest and least ponderous of current offerings. Either of these will be a better choice.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc