Avira, a European anti-virus vendor, will probably be a name new to many PC users in the UK. Not so in Germany and Austria, where it is a top-five AV vendor. Its Premium Security Suite is, as you might guess, a security software bundle. However, it comprises just two elements:
AntiVir anti-virus and a firewall.
It doesn't offer protection against adware, spyware, rogue diallers, phishing or spam. Still, at less than £30 for a 12-month licence it's not expensive, and for another £7 you can also buy the mobile edition for pocket PC and Symbian smartphones. Note that a Windows Vista-compatible version won't be available until April.
Installation is simple. You download the package and install the provided product key to give you access to updates, which takes just a few minutes. Installation is guided by a step-by-step wizard, after which a reboot was required. Several updates incidentally required system reboots. A 30-day demo version is available for most products, as is a "free for personal use" version of AntiVir.
AntiVir provides the usual AV protection: a real-time monitor plus a system scanner, which you can schedule, although this is not turned on by default. Updates are provided on a daily basis, but AntiVir places more reliance on its advanced heuristic techniques to detect virus-like actions. It runs well as it is, but more detailed configuration options are hidden away in "expert mode", a tick-box option that's easy to overlook. One potentially useful feature is AntiVir's ability to exclude up to a dozen processes from on-access scanning. So, for example, it can peacefully co-exist with a spyware scanner. It's capable of scanning 30 different compressed and archive types. Pre-defined scanning profiles are available or you can create your own.
After detection a pop-up prompts you to repair infected files, quarantine them, delete them or delete only if repair fails. Upon insertion of a USB memory stick it successfully detected an executable containing the HotWebBar Trojan.
Avira uses few system resources, making it a good choice for older computers. It runs just five services and has minimal memory requirements.
AntiVir ticks all the right boxes when it comes to labs-based testing, earning for example, its eighth VB100 award in December. It's also been awarded an ICSA Labs certification and an 'Advanced+' award three times in 2006 by AC-Comparatives. To pass the tests administered by these labs, an anti-virus utility must, among other things, stop all viruses known to exist in the wild, on demand and on access.
A bigger threat comes from very new viruses that spread quickly across the internet. Here, the speed of reaction by AV vendors and their performance across all known malware is perhaps more relevant. AV-Test tested more than 30 products against almost 300,000 malware samples, a truly comprehensive test.
Only five products scored over 99%, in order, WebWasher, AntiVir, AVK 2007, AVK 2006 and Symantec. And WebWasher is based on the AntiVir engine. So AntiVir, a relative unknown in the UK, did surprisingly well, a testament to its macrovirus and Win32 File heuristic detection system.
Avira's firewall offers good protection, certainly better than XP's built-in firewall. At its most basic it prevents any program trying to access the internet from doing so. Unlike its rivals, it doesn't perform an initial sweep to automatically register and clear certain applications for internet access. This means that every program that tries to access the web requires approval or denial - even the Avira AV updater has to be approved the first time it updates. By default your response, allow or deny, is remembered for that application.
However, by the standards of its rivals, this is fairly crude. For example, the firewall in Norton Internet Security 2007 automatically decides which programs to allow and those to block, rather than pester the end-user.
AntiVir Premium Security may be fleet of foot, but one side effect of this is the absence of bells and whistles, so the product is definitely not as smart as some of its rivals and as a result demands a fair amount of user intervention. Its user interface is not as slick either, which makes it a bit more awkward to use. The updating process can be a bit slow and AntiVir MailGuard doesn't integrate directly with your email client, instead scanning attachments upon detachment. There were a few, trivial, localisation issues. German text crops up here and there, as well as some imperfect translations; the buttons labelled "reduce" actually mean "less detail". More significantly, technical support isn't free; the standard office-hours support adds 20 per cent to the purchase price, while 24/7 support costs 30 per cent for orders over EUR5000. A user forum is provided, but many of the posts are in German. There is no live chat.