The big three companies known for their free antivirus software are AVG, Avast and the subject of this review, the German supplier, Avira. Avast! claims to have 198 million customers, more than any other supplier, but the live counter on the Avira site seems to contest this, at 232,924,106, no 232,924,125, no 232,924,187. See Group test: what's the best security software?
Avira Free Antivirus offers a number of modules for free, but also encourages you to upgrade by adding paid-for extras. You get AV scans and real time protection, a two-way firewall , a social network shield and a scan scheduler. All the admin functions, such as showing quarantined files, are also present. Go to Security Advisor.
The interface is smart and traditional, without the Windows 8-style panels adopted by many other AV suites. The main functions appear as a menu down the left-hand side of the screen with corresponding status and control panels to their right, as you click on them. See also G Data InternetSecurity 2012.
Things like automatic and manual AV scans are provided and Avira helpfully offers a series of predefined scan sets, such as local drives, My Documents and active processes. The Configuration settings also offer to protect you from adware and phishing attempts, and from games and jokes, so no more watching BBC Parliament.
Missing from the Free product are things like email scanning and a Website checker, but on the plus side, there appear to be fewer nags when running the free product to upgrade to one of its paid-for stablemates.
There are two extra functions you can add for free: Secure Backup and Avira Free Mobile. Secure backup provides 5GB of online storage with a simple dashboard interface giving full access. By default, it backs up the contents of My Documents, including photos and videos, but there's no facility to use the software for local or internal network backups.
Avira Free Mobile is available for iPhone, iPad, iPod and Android phones and tablets and offers AV protection and anti-theft, with location tracking and the ability to wipe the phone and set off an alarm – pretty good for a free offering.
We last looked at Avira Free Antivirus in its 2012 incarnation and running the same set of tests on the new version gave improved results. Scanning 50GB of mixed files took 42 minutes 12 seconds, a scan rate of 141 files/s, around 10 percent higher than before. There's still no noticeable fingerprinting, though, with a second run examining the same number of files in a very similar time.
The software has noticeable impact on system resources and our 1GB copy took 32 percent longer to run with a background scan in progress than without. The German test site AV Test (www.AV-test.org) reflected this problem and scored it at 3.5/6.0 under its Usability criteria, which measures the overall system hit.
It didn't do too well under the Protection category, either, again scoring 3.5/6.0. Although it was consistently better at spotting new and widespread malware than the group average, it dropped significantly to just 81 percent when looking at zero-day attacks.
The software did best for Usability, which measures false alerts. Here the program scored 5.0/6.0, a respectable result. These figures are all from the 2013 version of Avira Internet Security, which uses the same engine as the free product, though there may have been improvements in the 2014 iteration. AV-Test results are not yet available for this product.