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Webroot used to focus its attention solely on system utilities and antispyware programs, such as Spy Sweeper, arguably it’s most popular product. Starting in 2006, Webroot widened its security net and now offers a fleshed-out lineup of antivirus products, the one reviewed here being its flagship suite.
Green and purple is a garish combination, but the color scheme is about the only thing Webroot gets wrong with the UI.
In making the transition from antispyware specialist to an all-encompassing security vendor, Webroot didn’t build its own scan engine and instead uses one provided by Sophos, a well-known security lab. This comes wrapped in a clever UI that’s one of the best we’ve seen. Webroot lays out the program’s four main functions—PC Security, Sync & Sharing, System Cleaner, Identity & Privacy—within easy reach via four large squares. A green checkmark or yellow exclamation point in the upper left corner of each square gives you a quick status report. Hovering over a square expands it to show additional information, like the next scheduled scan, as well as a link to edit settings. Clicking a box brings up a tabbed menu that consolidates all the advanced features into a single, manageable window. It’s a brilliant design with an intuitive flow.
Curiously missing from Webroot’s top-of-the-line security software are parental controls. In the plus column, Webroot includes 10GB of online storage, about five times as much as most other suites offer, and something we might actually use. We also appreciate Webroot’s quiet nature, as it doesn’t bombard you with pop-ups or silly questions it can figure out on its own.
Webroot did a good job thwarting spyware and zero-day threats, but toward the end of testing, it fell for one of the oldest tricks in the book by letting a fake AV program take control of our test bed. Even a safe-mode scan proved futile. The high RAM use didn’t earn any brownie points, either.
Extremely well designed UI; lots of online storage.
Heavy RAM use; scan engine needs some TLC.
$80 (1 year, 3 PCs), www.webroot.com
F-Secure caught lightning in a bottle, poured it into its scan engine, and then built a security suite around it. When we say this scanner’s fast, we mean buckle up, hold on to the seat of your pants, and hope you don’t get whiplash. F-Secure’s scanner sped through our test bed in just three minutes and 18 seconds the first time around, which is nearly twice as fast as the next-quickest AV suite and more nimble than the second, optimized scans of 60 percent of the other apps in this roundup. During a second scan, F-Secure zipped through our files in a mere 45 seconds.
F-Secure is one of the easier AV programs to use, mostly because it doesn’t afford a whole lot of fine grain control.
At that pace, we have to wonder if F-Secure is racing simply to come in first or if it can actually detect viruses, too. As it turns it out, it can. We threw a variety of foul files at F-Secure and hit up a handful of websites serving zero-day malware. The reason we do this is to test both the scan engine and the software’s behavioral analysis. So how did F-Secure do?
F-Secure’s sprightly scanner closed the lid on our boxful of contaminants, blocked most malicious websites, and stopped most suspicious downloads from doing any harm. The lone exception was a polluted installer that contained adware. For everything else, F-Secure kept our test bed out of harm’s way, although it oftentimes required a reboot to do so.
On the usability scale, F-Secure sports an intentionally dumbed-down interface based on the mantra that less is more. New users won’t find the layout intimidating, and while advanced options are hidden behind the main window, advanced users who love to micromanage every last detail will ultimately feel a little shortchanged.
Crazy-fast scanning; minimal interface (if that’s your thing).
Requires lots of rebooting to be effective; minimal interface (if that’s not your thing).
$60 (1 year, 3PCs), www.f-secure.com
|Scan 1 (min:sec)||27:04||7:15||9:52||7:47||6:10|
|Scan 2 (min:sec)||8:25||2:03||4:08||7:26||1:55|
|3GB File Transfer||+0||+0||+1||+2||+5|
|Scan 1 (min:sec)||14:27||5:59||6:36||10:51||3:18|
|Scan 2 (min:sec)||13:51||4:58||1:00||3:19||0:45|
|3GB File Transfer||+0||+3||+5||+0||+5|
Our test bed is an Intel Core i7 930 on an Asus P6X58D Premium, with 6GB Corsair DDR3/1333, a Radeon HD 5850, a Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB 7,200rpm, and Windows 7 Professional 64-bit.
When it comes to PC security, there’s no such thing as one size fits all. If you’re particularly cautious, more than a little computer savvy, and a little bit lucky, you could get by without any antivirus software at all, and while we don’t recommend it, we know plenty of people willing to roll the dice.
A better option for penny-pinching power users is to install free antivirus software supplemented by the occasional antispyware sweep.
There’s nothing wrong with rolling your own security setup, but if you want more protection, you’re going to have to pay for it. There are several advantages to fee-based antivirus. One is that these apps typically roll spyware and virus scanning into one, so there’s no need to install a separate program. Another common trait is more frequent definition updates, sometimes referred to as pulse updates. And while it varies by vendor, paid antivirus apps may include phishing protection, flexible scheduled-scan options, gaming modes, and other tools and services.
You’ll notice we focus most of our attention on so-called Internet security suites, but since most vendors offer AV software à la carte, what do you gain by leveling up? In most cases, the major addition is a more powerful firewall than what Windows provides. It varies by vendor, but security suites might also include enhanced identity-theft safeguards, antispam protection, parental controls, online backups, and other features you may or may not find valuable. It’s important to do your research to avoid overpaying for security.
Smart computing habits and antivirus software go a long way in fending off the bad guys, but it doesn’t make you invincible. For mission-critical setups or just extra peace of mind, you have to take security to the next level. Wipe the sweat from your brow, Charlie, because we’ve come up with a three-step supplemental program to lock down your system tighter than Fort Knox.
The first thing you need to do is download and install Secunia PSI (free, www.secunia.com). This nifty application audits every inch of your system for unpatched software that could potentially expose it to attack. Secunia PSI provides a threat rating for all of your outdated programs, and includes links to the latest patches.
Step two involves adding another layer of protection to Internet activities. BufferZone Pro (free, www.trustware.com) works its mojo by isolating all web-based activities in a virtual bubble. When it’s active, a red border surrounds your browser or IM client, and if you download and install an infected file, it gets written to a virtual folder, not your OS.
The third and final step is to install a virtual machine, like VMWare Player (free, www.wmware.com) or Windows Virtual PC (free, http://bit.ly/3fAC9). While BufferZone Pro protects your system at the application level, a VM isolates your entire OS. It’s the ultimate sandbox for experimenting with potentially harmful software or surfing the web willy-nilly; if you screw up and fall prey to attack, just nuke your VM and create a new one!