K7 Computing may not have the profile of the big-name competition, but there's more to the Indian company than you might think: 25 years of antivirus experience, VirusTotal and OPSWAT partners, a range of home and business products, and more than 20 million users around the world.
K7 Antivirus Premium is the starter product in the range, but don't assume that means it's short on features. There's antivirus, exploit protection, keylogger detection, tracking cookie clean-up, URL filtering, USB vaccination, a firewall, ad-blocking, basic system clean-up tools and a virtual keyboard.
Pricing is a little confusing. The headline says an average $30 (£37.50) for one device and one year, but the Buy link quoted an amazingly cheap $10.40 (£8.30). Even a three device, two-year licence was only $26.75 (£21.40). If this price stays long-term it makes K7 the best value commercial antivirus you'll find anywhere.
Hard to believe? Maybe, but you don't have to take the website's word about K7 Antivirus Premium's features. There's a free 30-day trial which is yours for the downloading.
Like much of the competition, K7 Antivirus Premium starts its setup process by checking the system for incompatible products. Unfortunately, it proved utterly useless at this on our test PC, warning us about two innocent Microsoft libraries (Visual Studio 2012's x86 and x64 redistributables), and entirely missing the Dr.Web Anti-virus installation we'd intentionally left from a previous review.
Setup tried to continue, but Dr.Web detected its low-level activities and killed the process, leaving us with half a K7 installation. This didn't have a working uninstaller, and the K7 setup program froze when we tried it again, even after Dr.Web was removed. It took an hour and a lot of low-level tweakery to clean up.
Your system probably won't have a copy of Dr.Web around to mess up K7's installation, but our experience does indicate more general issues. The check for incompatible apps isn't reliable. If Dr.Web can block K7's setup, so could a malware infection. And whatever the cause, K7 Antivirus Premium can be left in a limbo state where it can't easily be uninstalled or reinstalled.
Once we had sorted out the previous mess, K7 Antivirus Premium installed quickly and easily. We rebooted when asked, and the program was ready to go.
Checking out the K7 Computing folder revealed a relatively small installation, a little over 300MB. Most executable files were digitally signed by K7, but we noticed some unsigned DLLs relating to Chromium and the ANGLE graphics library. This doesn't constitute a significant security risk, but it's not ideal, either. Unsigned files are more difficult to authenticate, and using third-party components gives more opportunity for malware to attack the software.
Whatever the potential loopholes in the future, right now K7 Antivirus Premium does a good job of protecting its code. Processes and services are shielded from attack, files aren't easily deleted, and malware won't have any easy way to disable K7's protection.
K7 Antivirus Premium has an unusual interface which focuses more on your protection status than anything else. A large panel highlights details like the last update time, virus definition version and how long might be left on your subscription. The few action buttons – Scan, Tools, Settings – are tucked away at the edge of the window.
The program offers what looks like a familiar set of scan types in Quick, Complete, Custom and Rootkit, but this doesn't tell the whole story. When we ran a Quick Scan it finished in a fraction of a second, apparently because it checked only 263 files. Other packages might take two, three, four or more minutes, but they're also considerably more thorough, covering running processes, loaded modules, startup programs, maybe system folders, installed applications and more.
The problem with this feeble Quick Scan is you're left with few other options. The Complete Scan might take too long if you've lots of data, and the Custom Scan isn't very configurable. You can specify one or more folders, but it won't remember those choices for next time, and you can't include other system areas (running processes, the Registry). As a result, you're usually left to either scan not enough files, or far too many.
Real-world scanning speeds were slower than usual, and detection rates were average at best. When we turned on spyware detection, K7 Antivirus Premium also picked up a large number of files we would consider to be safe. A ‘clean automatically’ default setting means you don't get to decide how they're treated, either: the program removes them to Quarantine without further prompting, unless you turn the feature off.
K7 Antivirus includes a reasonably intelligent firewall. It sets up sensible automatic rules itself, so you're not hassled with endless "can process X go online?" queries, but experts can also add and edit custom rules as required.
Once again, there are some interface oddities. If we clicked the name of our protected network to change its location, the program first displayed a dialog to list our options (Home, Work, Public), and then displayed a separate desktop notification stating: "K7 Security Prompt: your decision is required. Click to review and decide." Yes, we know there's a decision to be made, thanks; we were trying to do that before you interrupted.
K7 Antivirus Premium is unusual in having a device control system. You're able to disable USB, CD or DVD discs, for instance. It’s also possible to add password protection, prevent programs launching from those devices, or stop users copying files to them.
A Tools tab bundles some much smaller functions. USB vaccination is probably the highlight, reducing the chance of a USB key becoming infected by autorun malware. A simple virtual keyboard might protect against keyloggers, and there are extremely basic cleaners for Windows and browser temporary files.
Browsing the Settings dialog reveals other interesting technologies and options, many not enabled by default. There's an Office plugin to scan all Word/Excel files opened by Office, for instance. We would expect those files to have been scanned already, but maybe checking them within Office brings some benefits. If you're interested, the plugin can be installed with a click.
We run simple detection tests on every antivirus we review, but these only give a general idea of what a package can do. To fully understand the big picture we also check product ratings with the major independent testing labs.
AV-Test's April 2017 Windows Home User report scored K7 Total Security at 5.5 out of 6 for common and zero-day malware protection, a little above the industry average. But 10 out of the 18 packages on test scored a full 6, so clearly there are more accurate and reliable packages around.
The VB100 RAP averages quadrant visualises common and zero-day protection on a single graph. At the time of writing it hasn’t been updated for a few months, but the February 2017 chart has truly horrible figures for K7, showing it outperformed by absolutely everything. VB100 results can be overly harsh and we don't think these are a true reflection of K7's abilities, but there are clearly some problems here.
The issues don't stop with detection rates, unfortunately. AV-Test's April 2017 report also assessed the performance impact of each product, and K7 Total Security did so poorly that it ranked equal last place with ESET Internet Security. If speed is vital, this might not be the antivirus app for you.
K7 Antivirus Premium has some powerful extras – namely device control, and a smart firewall – but the core antivirus engine just isn't as accurate or reliable as it needs to be. Throw in the interface issues and other quirks and it's not a package we can recommend.