Adaware Antivirus Pro review

Veteran spyware hunter adds antivirus, antispam and a firewall

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Our Verdict

Adaware is well-designed with some valuable features, but it’s let down by below-par detection rates.

For

  • Highly configurable
  • Lightweight firewall
  • Reliable URL blocking
  • Spam filter

Against

  • Poor detection results in some lab tests
  • Above average performance impact
  • No trial for full package

Adaware was one of the first commercial anti-spyware packages, released by Lavasoft in 1999. Over the years Lavasoft extended its abilities and added technologies from third-parties, including Bitdefender's antivirus engine and Avira's malicious URL database. The program remains a popular antivirus choice, and in 2016 Lavasoft changed its name to Adaware to reflect the success of the brand.

The current range starts with Adaware Antivirus Free, a very basic product which covers the bare essentials only: static malware detection, real-time blocking of malicious processes and infected files, and the scanning of any downloads to check for threats.

In this review we’re looking at Adaware Antivirus Pro, a far more powerful commercial edition. It extends Adaware Free with malicious URL blocking, online banking and shopping protection, a firewall, antispam and more, as well as 24/7 technical support if you run into problems.

Single user prices seem a little high at £27 ($34) for a one-year, one-user licence. The value improves significantly as you add users and extend the term, though: covering three PCs for two years costs only £63 ($79). 

Adaware doesn't rip you off with unexpected increases on renewal, either – quite the opposite. Licences renew at a 25% discount off the regular price, plus tax, making them notably cheaper than most of the competition.

Setup

There's no trial build of Adaware Antivirus Pro, which leaves you with two options. Either you grab the stripped-back free edition to get a basic idea of the program's capabilities, or you buy the product and rely on the ‘30-day satisfaction guarantee’. The company says you can claim a refund "for any reason" simply by contacting customer service.

The Buy screen annoyed us immediately by adding an installation CD to our order, bumping up the price by £10 ($13). You can remove it from your cart by checking a box, assuming you notice, but this shouldn't be necessary.

The next problem is that the page demands too much personal information: name, email address, country and postcode (or ZIP), even if you're paying by PayPal.

Hand over the cash and the website displays a purchase summary and licence key, and gives you a download link for the program. 

Adaware installation is smarter than most. The program recognises incompatible software, even when it's relatively uncommon. It doesn't demand you uninstall these apps, either, unlike some of the competition. Instead you can install it in a ‘compatibility mode’, which essentially means dropping Adaware’s real-time protection and using it as an on-demand second-opinion scanner instead.

Browsing the Adaware files and folders told us more about Adaware’s third-party components. In particular, there's a big chunk of the Bitdefender engine here, not just the minimal setup we've often seen elsewhere. Adaware's spam filter uses Bitdefender code, too.

We have some questions about file organisation. There are three versions and five copies of one Bitdefender DLL scattered around Adaware’s folders; it's hard to see how that’s a good thing. Another Adaware DLL appears in two places, one signed, one unsigned. These issues might not have any practical consequences at all, but they leave us wondering about Adaware’s attention to detail.

Still, the bulk of the package comes digitally signed, sensibly arranged, and properly protected against malware attack. We made several attempts to disable or damage the program's protection, but all our attacks bounced off Adaware’s armour plating and it carried on regardless.

Features

Adaware Antivirus Pro can seem confusing, at least initially. You’re confronted by an array of buttons, switches, a toolbar, and it looks like there's a lot to explore.

The reality is simpler and more straightforward than you might think. Clicking Scan Options displays nine functions, for instance, but this is just a sensible way to organise common and useful features. You can run Quick, Full and Custom scans, schedule scans, view reports, manage exclusions, check quarantined files, change definition update rules and more, all from the same panel.

Quick Scans took just under three minutes on our test system, a little faster than average. They're well-judged, checking the key areas only, without wasting much time on anything else. Accuracy was mid-range only, but the program didn't raise any false alarms.

Custom Scans are exceptionally configurable. As well as specifying individual folders, you can ask the program to check processes, boot sectors, the Registry, cookies, emails and more.

Adaware's spam filter was a reasonable performer, highlighting 80% of the incoming junk heading into our test inbox without flagging any legitimate emails. This works at the network level, automatically adding a ‘SPAM’ tag to the header of junk emails. That's convenient to set up, as it means you don't have to install any kind of email client add-in. But if you want the spam to be moved to a specific folder, you'll have to sort that out yourself.

Comprehensive browsing protection includes separate modules blocking access to malware URLs, phishing sites or dangerous downloads. You're able to decide whether you scan archives, packed executables, or run deep scans within CHM or other files which might contain embedded objects. The core URL blocking worked well, with Adaware detecting almost all our test links. We didn't explore its more advanced scanning settings, but the principles look good to us.

A limited firewall blocks port scans and suspect program actions. Simple built-in rules prevent suspect behaviour, including HTTP and FTP activity relating to Windows Explorer (a possible sign of malware). You can add custom rules of your own as required. 

By default the firewall allows most actions so it's unlikely to cause problems, but you can alternatively set it to block everything by default. That's much more hassle as it means you'll have to set explicit rules for everything you want to work. But it's also far more secure, as nothing gets online unless you've authorised it first.

Browsing the Adaware interface revealed several other thoughtful touches and options. A Gaming Mode disables notifications within full-screen apps. Adaware settings can be protected with a PIN code, and if the program starts misbehaving, you're able to restore all settings to the factory defaults. It's all very convenient and easy-to-use.

Protection

Adaware Antivirus Pro did only a little better than average in terms of detection rates when it came to our very simple malware tests, but to get a full picture of its effectiveness we also look at Adaware’s results with the major independent testing labs.

AV-Comparatives' Real-World Protection Test pits over 20 of the top antivirus engines against some of the latest threats. Adaware managed 100% protection in April, topping the list with Kaspersky and Panda. Unfortunately, the other results up to June saw protection rates drop to 96-98%, and the February to June chart placed the company 18th out of 21 (only McAfee, Emsisoft and Seqrite scored lower).

The latest VB100 RAP averages quadrant provides a simple visual way to compare Adaware’s performance with the competition. This is a little kinder to Adaware, but still suggests protection rates are mid-range at best: not bad, but you're likely to get better protection elsewhere.

AV-Comparatives' May 2017 Performance Test may point to another issue. The report uses multiple benchmarks to measure the impact of 21 security packages on a test system, and Adaware managed a very disappointing 20th place (only Microsoft was worse). The differences between the applications are often very small, and the results don't necessarily mean Adaware will slow you down in any very noticeable way. But if speed is a priority, you might want to consider these findings before you buy.

Final verdict

Adaware Antivirus Pro wraps a host of valuable bonus features in a thoughtfully designed interface, but disappointing detection results in independent testing make it difficult to recommend.