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Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions review

There's much more to Avast than its free products. No, really…

Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions
(Image: © Avast)

Our Verdict

This is a capable suite which offers decent performance in most areas, but doesn't stand out enough to justify recommending it ahead of the top competition.

For

  • Stacks of features
  • Highly configurable
  • Accurate spam filter
  • Effective Ransomware Shield

Against

  • Can be a bit expensive in some configurations
  • Mixed results from testing labs
  • Could slow you down
  • Many core features available in free edition
Please note

This is our all-in-one roundup reviewing every Avast consumer security solution for 2020. On this page, after our brief intro, you’ll find

(a) a full evaluation of the Avast Premium Security suite, along with our reviews of the additional features incorporated with the rest of the range: 

(b) the top-end package, Avast Ultimate, and 

(c) our review of the free offering, Avast Free Antivirus

You can jump to the reviews of those individual products by clicking on the links in the bar at the top of this page, but bear in mind that this article is really designed to be read all the way through, as the core features of Avast Premium Security are present in both the free package and the Ultimate suite.

Avast Free Antivirus is one of the most popular antivirus apps around, and it's easy to see why. There are no annoying restrictions to try to persuade you to upgrade, and no gaping holes in its feature set: you get antivirus, malicious URL filtering, and some welcome bonus extras with a limited password manager and scanning for network vulnerabilities.

Upgrade to the capable Avast Premium Security suite and you'll also get a firewall, spam filter, secure file deletion and webcam hijacking protection. An extra anti-ransomware layer prevents unauthorized apps from modifying files in your chosen folders, and a software updater automatically finds and installs missing security patches.

And the feature list continues with some unusual extras, including a sandbox to safely run suspicious apps, and Avast's Real Site feature to reduce the chance of hackers using DNS trickery to redirect you to malicious sites.

Premium Security's single device license feels a little costly at $70 a year, but its multi-device deal costs only $90 to protect up to 10 devices for a year. That looks good to us, although if you only have a handful of devices, you could save a little cash elsewhere. Bitdefender Internet Security costs only $40 to cover three devices for the first year, for instance, $80 on renewal.

Avast Ultimate adds a very valuable extra in unlimited access to Avast's SecureLine VPN (which costs $70 on its own), as well as its Premium password manager and PC clean-up tool. The downside is that it only supports a single device, but if you need the VPN, the price looks fair at $100.

While that's decent value, Avira's Prime suite may also be worth considering. It has a similar feature set, including an unrestricted VPN, and is also priced at $100, but that protects up to five devices for a year, rather than Avast's one device.

If you're curious, trying out Avast Free Antivirus will help you find out more, and there's a free trial of Avast Premium Security available, too (30-days for Windows, 60-days for Mac).

Avast Premium Security

Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions

(Image credit: Avast)

Installing Avast Premium Security is a little different to most of the competition. Sometimes this is for good reasons, sometimes it's more dubious.

On the plus side, it's exceptionally configurable. Hit the Customize button in most antivirus installers and they'll maybe let you choose a target folder, but here you're also able to define exactly which of the 21 features you'd like to use.

Not interested in the browser extensions, maybe? Don't need the clean-up tool? Using another firewall? Click to clear those checkboxes and they won't be installed. If you're using other security tools or know exactly how you want to use the suite, that could be a major plus.

Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions

(Image credit: Avast)

What's less welcome is the setup program not only installs Avast Secure Browser by default, it also sets this as your default browser. This is clearly displayed on the main installer screen – albeit right at the bottom, in a tiny font – but a proportion of users are always going to miss that, as Avast will surely know.

Even if you notice the ‘Set As Default Browser’ setting and turn it off, after the installation you're presented with another dialog and a couple of options: Customize Setup and Finish Setup. Many users will assume Finish Setup does nothing major, but, guess what? It'll set Secure Browser as your default browser, despite your decision earlier. The only way to avoid this is to hit Customize Setup, although there's no obvious reason to do that, and manually disable the default browser setting. Again.

This kind of sneakiness doesn't look good, especially when combined with recent headlines about Avast collecting and selling customer data.

In reality there's absolutely no reason for Secure Browser to be made the default browser right now, and we think it should be an opt-in decision, so this only happens if you actively request it.

Aside from the browser, the installer equipped our PC with a chunky 1GB+ of files. We only spotted a single major background process and a few drivers, though, and none of those appeared to have much of a performance impact.

We ran some speed tests anyway and found strangely inconsistent results. Sometimes boot and file copy times seemed barely affected by Avast, but occasionally they were much worse, and we couldn't track down the cause.

PassMark's Consumer Security Products Performance Benchmarks 2020 Edition 2 report uses far more detailed testing to track the performance impact of 15 top internet security products over 23 metrics. Its results also suggested Avast has some speed issues, with the company only making 12th place.

Avast did better in our self-protection tests, where we launch a number of attacks on the product to see if malware could disable it. These involve deleting files, disabling services, closing processes, unloading drivers and more, but none of them made the tiniest difference to the package, which continued to protect us as usual.

Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions

(Image credit: Avast)

Interface

Avast Premium Security has a clean interface which keeps most of its complexities out of your way. Launch the main console and you're looking at a large panel containing only your security status and a 'Run Smart Scan' button, while a Notifications icon lists any recent issues you need to know about. If you're the hands-off type, you could stop there and leave the app to handle everything else itself.

The suite's other functions – virus scans, network checks, the sandbox, firewall and more – are organized into three panels, accessed from the left-hand sidebar: Protection, Privacy and Performance.

With eight buttons on the Protection panel alone, these can look a little complicated, at least initially. But many buttons lead to little more than on/off switches or areas of the package you'll rarely need to explore, so once you've learned where everything is, the suite is easy enough to use.

Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions

(Image credit: Avast)

Still, there's some room for improvement. While Premium Security is supremely configurable (more on that later), there's very little you can do with the interface. Why not have the option to launch your favorite tools directly from the main console, for instance? Right now, it takes four clicks to launch a custom scan; having an optional customizable toolbar could reduce that to one.

We could do without Avast's upselling attempts, too. The panels have buttons for several features which require additional licenses or payments: SecureLine VPN, AntiTrack Premium, Cleanup Premium and Driver Updater. We expect advertising overload in free antivirus, but not so much when paying a significant chunk of cash for a commercial product.

Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions

(Image credit: Avast)

Antivirus

Avast Premium Security gives you many more scan options than most of the competition.

The Smart Scan is essentially a combination of a Quick Scan for malware and system-wide checks for unsafe settings and passwords, dubious browser add-ons and missing software patches. The Full Scan checks your entire system; the Targeted Scan examines specific files or folders; the Boot-Time Scan checks for threats before Windows starts. And, if that's not enough, you can create custom scan types to do whatever you like.

There are plenty of configuration options, too. You're able to define what to scan (all hard drives, the system drive only, removable drives, archives, more), how to treat any threats, set scan priority to optimize performance, and more.

The engine supports running on-demand scans in parallel, too, a level of flexibility you won't always see elsewhere. If you're running a lengthy full system scan, for instance, you're able to run a separate targeted scan on a removable drive you've just connected, and maybe check some recent downloads, all at the same time.

Smart Scans took just 10 seconds on our test system, which is as fast as we've seen. Regular scans were slower, though, and didn't reduce much over time. Avast scanned 50GB of test data in 32 minutes, falling to 22 minutes on the third run. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus checked the same data in 25 minutes on the first run, and dropped to six minutes on the third.

Accuracy is more important than speed, though, and Avast performed very well for us. Sample files were detected, downloads were scanned, zipped-up threats were blocked when we extracted them, and the engine worked as expected in all our test scenarios. Factor in Avast's configurability and there's a lot to like here.

AV-Comparatives

(Image credit: AV-Comparatives)

Protection

Our tests give us a basic idea of how an antivirus performs, but for the big picture we also look at the latest results from the major independent testing labs.

AV-Comparatives' July to October 2019 Real-World Protection report is a little disappointing, with Avast rating 12th out of 16. That's no great surprise, as its protection rate was a wobbly 99.3% (Avira and Symantec blocked 100% of the test threats). However, there's maybe a small consolation, in that Avast still beats some very big names: F-Secure, Kaspersky, ESET and Tencent were all ranked lower.

AV-Test's Windows 10 tests for December 2019 were far more positive, with Avast detecting 100% of both known and zero-day malware.

So that leaves us with a mixed picture, and SE-Labs October-December 2019 Home User report didn't help resolve anything, as it placed Avast towards the middle of the pack, 6th out of 15.

With the labs undecided on Avast's abilities, we tried to get more information by pitting the package against a couple of ransomware threats.

Avast had no issue with our first sample, a known ransomware variant, which was dispatched before it could touch our files.

The second was a simple ransomware simulator we've developed ourselves. As Avast hadn't seen this before, it wouldn't be able to detect it from a file signature alone, making this a useful test of behavior monitoring.

We launched the simulator and Avast Premium Security realized this was something new, and announced that it was being scanned for threats. A positive start? Maybe, but around 15 seconds later Avast told us the simulator was safe, then did nothing at all as it encrypted thousands of user files.

Some antivirus apps perform much better on this test. Bitdefender not only killed the simulator after it had encrypted just three files, it was able to recover those files only seconds later.

Our simulator isn't real malware, though, so while we treat successful detections as a plus, we don't penalize apps which fail to detect it.

What's more, this isn't Avast's only ransomware defense. There's another more effective layer available.

Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions

(Image credit: Avast)

Ransomware Shield

Install Avast Premium Security and it automatically detects folders with user documents, then protects them with Avast's Ransomware Shield, preventing ransomware or untrusted apps from modifying them without permission.

While Avast correctly added our key user folders to its Protected list, it wasn't so smart at detecting others, missing folders containing thousands of documents.

Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions

(Image credit: Avast)

It's easy to browse the Ransomware Shield folder list, though. We quickly realized the problem, and added our extra data folders manually.

Once we did, our ransomware simulator and other untrusted apps were unable to access the files. They were unaffected, whatever we did.

We can't be sure whether Ransomware Shield would be as effective with all real-world malware, but this was a good start, and it's a useful extra layer of protection which could work with even the very latest threats.

Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions

(Image credit: Avast)

Blocking malicious sites

Avast Premium Security includes multiple layers of protection for your online activities.

Its Real Site system aims to prevent malware hijacking your DNS. Furthermore, there's built-in blocking of malicious links and scanning of downloads, and Avast's Online Security browser extension gives safety ratings on your search results, blocks trackers and keeps you away from malicious websites.

AV-Comparatives' 2019 Anti-Phishing Certification Test has some positive results for Avast, rating it equal third out of six with a detection rate of 94%. Only Trend Micro (97%) and Bitdefender (98%) did better.

Normally we test anti-phishing ourselves, but Avast's security was so tight that it prevented our automated test system from completing its checks. From the URLs we were able to test, though, we also found that it wasn't as effective as Bitdefender.

Avast Online Security is highly rated (4.4 on the Chrome store), easy to use, and delivered reasonable results in testing.

It added safety ratings to our Google search results, for instance, and although these failed to identify a number of risky sites, it helped us avoid some genuinely dangerous links.

Although we didn't test it thoroughly, Avast's tracker blocking appeared to be effective, too, identifying even more privacy threats than Bitdefender's new Anti-Tracker add-on.

Overall, this is a very positive story, but there is one catch: you don't have to buy Avast Premium Security to get any of this, because both the core anti-phishing layer and Avast's browser extension are available with Avast Free.

Network protection

Avast Premium Security's firewall is a capable tool which more than covers the security basics.

The system automatically detects and manages internet connections made by your various apps and background processes. It's probably best to leave this alone, but if you're having connection troubles and you're sure you know what you're doing, you can tweak operations down to the protocol, port and packet levels.

Many firewalls stop there, but Avast provides a handy mid-level tool in its Network Connections display. This works in a basic way as a simple list of running apps and open connections, easy enough for just about anyone to use and understand. But if you need something more, the right-click menu enables jumping directly to the relevant application menu, or closing the connection entirely (maybe handy if you don't trust the process).

Avast's Wi-Fi Inspector is a much simpler tool: point, click, it scans your network, lists any connected devices and highlights any vulnerabilities. It's easy to use, but didn't find anything of interest for us, and it's difficult to say how much value this adds to the suite.

Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions

(Image credit: Avast)

Secure Browser

Avast Secure Browser is a Chromium-based browser which comes with a lengthy list of security and privacy tools: ad, tracker and malicious site blocking; a custom stealth mode for private browsing; controls to block Flash content, and decide which sites can access your webcam.

There’s also browser history cleaning, forced HTTPS connections, a password manager, an anti-fingerprinting system to reduce the chance of sites tracking your browser, and more.

If you're happy with your existing browser and extensions, you're probably not going to want to switch fully to another one. There's a lot of power here, though, and you may find the browser handy in some situations.

For example, the most significant feature is probably Bank Mode, which runs Secure Browser on a separate Windows desktop. It's a similar approach to Bitdefender's Safepay, and has some of the same benefits. For instance, Bank Mode reduces the chance that keyloggers or other sneaky software can record your keystrokes as you log in, enter PIN numbers or other personal details. We tried this, and it worked perfectly, with our keystrokes being recorded under normal circumstances, but shielded when using Bank Mode.

On balance, Secure Browser is a welcome addition to the suite, even with Avast's regular attempts to set it as your default browser. Keep in mind, though, that you don't have to buy Premium Security to get this: it works with Avast Free, too.

Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions

(Image credit: Avast)

More features

Avast's Software Updater can automatically detect missing software patches and even install them for you, which in theory could protect you from the latest exploits.

The complication is the feature doesn't always work. On our system, for instance, the Java update checker told us (correctly) that there was a new version available, but Avast said we were up to date. The entirely free and portable PatchMyPC detected many more updates (15 vs 8), including Java, so it's hard to see why you should spend any time with Avast's offering.

The Password Manager is a smarter tool, importing your current logins from Chrome or Firefox, then syncing them across desktops and mobiles. Credentials are then captured and saved when you create them (if you approve), and logins automatically entered when you visit sites. It isn't nearly as powerful as a specialist password manager like Dashlane, but it handles the essentials well enough.

Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions

(Image credit: Avast)

It's a similar story with the data shredder. While some security suites have the bare minimum of secure deletion functionality – add some files or folders, then overwrite them – Avast has at least tried to make this a useful tool. You can choose to wipe specific files or folders, unused disk space or entire drives, for instance, and you're able to choose the shredding algorithm and number of passes. There's more powerful freeware around, if you go looking, but if you don't have the time, Avast's data shredder will get the job done.

The Sandbox provides a quick way to run a suspect app in an isolated environment where it can't touch your system. Whether you should be running a suspect app in the first place is open to question, and even sandboxed apps can be potentially dangerous (they can capture keystrokes while running, for instance). Still, it's handy for users who know what they're doing and we're glad it's included with the package.

The Webcam Shield prevents unauthorized apps from accessing your webcam. It didn't raise an alert for our little-known test program, apparently deciding it was trustworthy. That's a little worrying – no other security suite we've used has ever trusted our app by default – but we were able to get it to prompt us by ramping up our security level to Strict (that is, prompt for all apps, trusted or not).

We completed our review with a brief look at Avast's spam filter. This wasn't installed by default, but we fixed that in a very few clicks, and watched as it equipped our Outlook installation with a new Avast add-in.

Our sample size was small at just 44 emails, but Avast still managed an excellent performance, flagging 22 out of 23 spam messages and not falsely flagging a single legitimate email.

To put that in perspective, Outlook's regular Junk filter only blocked 11 of the test messages, and even the commercial SPAMfighter could only match Avast's performance. We can't give a definitive verdict from such a quick test, but at first glance, it looks like Avast's spam filter could be as effective as some specialist products.

Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions

(Image credit: Avast)

Final verdict

Avast Premium Security is a likeable suite with a lot of security and privacy-related power, but although it's a decent performer, there are faster, more accurate and better value products around.

Avast Ultimate

Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions

(Image credit: Avast)

Figuring out exactly what you get when upgrading a security suite can be a challenge, but not with Avast Ultimate. This is a bundle of Avast packages built around Avast Premium Security, so you get that, plus three further products for your extra cash, namely: Avast's SecureLine VPN, its Premium password manager, plus the PC clean-up tool.

The password manager and PC maintenance app could be handy for some people, but they don't really hold much value. If you're interested in either, you've probably got something which covers the basics already, and even if you haven't, it's not difficult to find very capable apps for free.

The star feature here is clearly the VPN. Buying a one-year subscription from NordVPN might cost you around $84 all on its own, which makes the $100 for SecureLine VPN and a feature-packed security suite look like an excellent deal.

This shouldn't necessarily put Avast Ultimate at the top of your purchase list. Avira Prime also starts at $100, includes Avira's own VPN, and protects more devices (five rather than Avast's one). And we wouldn't recommend choosing your security suite purely based on a bundled extra, either, no matter how valuable. The antivirus, firewall and other core features should come first.

There's certainly enough here to justify a closer look at Avast Ultimate, though, so let's do that right now.

Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions

(Image credit: Avast)

SecureLine VPN

Avast's SecureLine VPN is a basic but speedy VPN service powered by the HideMyAss! network (HideMyAss! is now a part of the Avast group.)

The service specs aren't outstanding, but they'll be good enough for many users: there are servers across 36 countries, P2P support, desktop and mobile apps, and the ability to connect up to five devices at once.

Avast claims SecureLine enables streaming the content you need from anywhere, but it didn't work for us: both BBC iPlayer and US Netflix were blocked. This can change at any time, though, so if streaming is a priority, try it out for yourself to get a definitive verdict.

There's better news with the kill switch. We forcibly closed our VPN connection and it kicked in immediately, blocking internet access and protecting our real IP address.

Avast's Windows client is otherwise very basic, with few configuration options (you can't change protocol, for instance).

Overall, SecureLine isn't a great VPN (especially if you need Netflix), but it's as capable as many commercial services, and it's definitely a valuable addition to the Avast Ultimate feature list.

Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions

(Image credit: Avast)

Cleanup Premium

If you've ever used any PC maintenance tool, Avast Cleanup Premium will seem very familiar. Tap the Scan button, the app checks your system for a while, then lists any problems it's found across five areas: 'system junk' (junk files),  junk programs, broken Registry items, PC health problems (poorly chosen Windows settings, apparently) and 'programs slowing down your PC' (apps and services configured to load when Windows starts).

Finding and deleting junk files is a handy feature which can sometimes free up a lot of storage space, so we were interested to see Cleanup Premium list 21GB of 'system junk', especially as CCleaner only found 4GB.

But then we looked at the detail, and found Cleanup Premium included 6.6GB of System Restore's restore points in its total, as well as 12.3GB of 'Win Download Files.' Restore points aren't 'junk', and as Cleanup Premium doesn't allow users to view its lists of 'Win Download Files', we're not going to assume they are, either.

The other 'problem' categories weren't much better. Cleanup Premium found no 'junk problems' on our system – the only PC health problem Cleanup Premium listed was incorrect (it told us User Account Control was turned off, but this wasn't the case).

The 'programs slowing down your PC' report listed apps and services along with their startup impact, but didn't give us any further information, or any idea of what to do next. And deleting Registry items, even if you think they're redundant or 'broken', is more likely to cause issues than fix them.

There's no real configurability here, either. You can't tell Avast not to include restore points in the 'system junk' list, for instance, or choose to leave restore points alone but delete everything else. It's very much all or nothing, and that's particularly worrying if the Registry cleaning does cause problems, because you won't have any restore points available to undo the damage.

Put it all together and Cleanup Premium isn't something we would recommend anyone should use. If you're interested in PC maintenance, go try something else. CCleaner is also an Avast product (Avast bought developer Piriform in 2017), but even the free version is far more capable than Cleanup Premium.

Passwords Premium

As we discussed earlier, Avast's password manager covers the core basics, capturing logins as they're created, syncing them across desktops and mobiles, and automatically completing login forms when you revisit your favorite sites.

Avast Ultimate's Passwords Premium adds a 'one-touch login' feature which enables accessing your web accounts with a tap, but the key addition is Password Guardian, a monitoring system which raises an alert if your details have been exposed in a data breach.

This is a useful extra feature, but the best password managers do much the same (Dashlane has its own security alerts, and may be able to automatically change any affected logins).

There's a little value in Passwords Premium, then, but not enough to justify choosing Avast Ultimate. The key feature here is the bundled VPN – if you'll use it, Avast Ultimate might be interesting. If you won't, Avast Free or Avast Premium Security are the products you should be considering.

Avast Free Antivirus

Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions

(Image credit: Avast)

Avast Free Antivirus is a nicely judged product which focuses on the core antivirus essentials, but still manages to deliver a little more functionality than you might expect.

There's the same antivirus engine you get in the commercial products, for instance, with no significant limits or restrictions. Furthermore, you get the same antiphishing layer to keep you safe from malicious URLs. Avast's Wi-Fi Inspector checks your network for dangers, the Software Updater alerts you to missing software patches (though doesn't install them in the free package), and the Password Manager generates secure passwords, syncs them across your devices and automatically completes login forms.

The key Premium Security features you don't get with Avast Free are the firewall, the spam filter and Avast's Ransomware Shield, a handy technology which prevents unauthorized apps from altering the files and folders you specify.

The sandbox, webcam protection, data shredder, and Real Site DNS protection system aren't included, either. We expect they'll have less of an impact for most users, though, and on balance Avast Free Antivirus has a very capable feature set.

Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions

(Image credit: Avast)

Getting started

Avast's highly configurable installer makes it easy to choose precisely which features you'd like to use. If you don't need the password manager because you have one already, say, just clear a checkbox and it won't be installed, a convenience you won't always see elsewhere.

Watch out for Avast's Secure Browser, though – the installer will set it as your default browser unless you notice the setting and turn it off (and you have to do that at least twice).

Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions

(Image credit: Avast)

The upselling continues post-installation, with regular pop-ups and prompts suggesting you install this, or buy that. That's not unusual with free software, but Avast does more of this than most.

Fortunately, you can generally leave Avast Free to run in the background, where it does a capable job of keeping you safe. We found threats were detected and blocked when launched or downloaded, and the app did a fair job of keeping us safe from malicious URLs.

Alternatively, running an ultra-fast Smart Scan will check the most likely areas of infection for malware, identify dubious browser extensions and missing software patches, all in a very few seconds. The malware hunting tools are effective, but the bonus features have some problems. The Software Updater didn't detect some missing patches, for instance, and failed to install a VLC Media Player update.

Avast 2020 Antivirus solutions

(Image credit: Avast)

Protection

Although Avast Free handled most of our test threats well, it wasn't so effective with our custom ransomware. Avast Premium Security's Ransomware Shield protected us from the threat, but that isn't included with Avast Free, and it was able to encrypt all our test documents without difficulty.

That's not unusual, and we had similar results with Bitdefender (the commercial builds stopped our simulator, the free version didn't). That doesn't mean you're unprotected – free antivirus still blocks the vast majority of even zero-day threats – but it does show you're not quite as safe with some free builds, as you are with the commercial editions.

Checking how an antivirus performs with the big testing labs normally gives a more detailed view of its reliability, but the Avast picture is a little uncertain. AV-Test's Windows 10 tests for December 2019 found it blocked everything, but SE-Labs October-December 2019 Home User report ranked it a middling 6th out of 15, and AV-Comparatives' July to October 2019 Real-World Protection report placed it 12th out of 16 with a protection rate of 99.3%.

It's difficult to draw firm conclusions from this, but overall we'd say Avast has a lot of features and gives fair protection for a free antivirus, but it's not the best around. You'll be safer with the commercial Avast products and, maybe, some of the top competition.