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Sophos 2020 Antivirus solutions review

Simple low-cost security for all your Windows and Mac devices

Sophos 2020 Antivirus
(Image: © Sophos)

Our Verdict

It's very basic, but Sophos Home offers decent protection and guards up to 10 devices for a very low price.

For

  • Simple interface
  • Decent results with a few testing labs
  • Effective URL blocking
  • Seriously cheap when protecting multiple devices

Against

  • Short on features
  • Not very configurable
  • Not checked by most testing labs
  • Weak content filtering
Please note

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

(a) a full evaluation of Sophos Home Premium, along with our review of the free offering

(b) Sophos Home Free

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 when we evaluate the free offering, we refer back to features and capabilities discussed in the Home Premium review.

Sophos' consumer antivirus range is refreshingly simple. There's no densely packed comparison table stuffed with technical features, no pricing scheme so complex you need a copy of Excel to figure it out: there are just two straightforward products.

Sophos Home Free covers the security basics, with antivirus and malicious URL blocking. But there are also unusual extras, including content filtering for parents (block adult sites, violent content and more), and the ability to remotely view and manage the status of up to three other devices running the package.

Sophos Home Premium extends this with anti-phishing, advanced real-time threat prevention, an extra anti-ransomware layer, privacy tools (including webcam protection), and what the company calls 'advanced malware scan and clean.'

There's also live chat and email support, although it's for limited hours only: 8am to 8pm EST, Monday to Friday.

Both packages are available for Windows and Mac only. However, note that Sophos does offer very capable Android protection with its Intercept X range, but Sophos Home is just for desktop PCs.

Premium's feature descriptions are a little vague, and it's not always easy to understand what you're getting. The website explains that it 'stops apps from covertly sharing your personal information', for instance, and 'prevents malware from stealing usernames and passwords', but how? It's not clear, and that makes it difficult to compare the product with others.

It's easy to compare the prices, though, and Sophos performs very well, with a 10-device, one-year Home Premium license costing just $42. The equivalent Bitdefender Antivirus Plus license costs $80, and even a single device license is $40.

Sophos Home Premium

Sophos 2020 Antivirus

(Image credit: Sophos)

Download the Sophos Home Premium trial, hand over your email address and within a couple of minutes it'll be installed and running an initial system scan.

This wasn't amazingly fast for us, but it didn't spend hours crawling over every file and folder, either: we only had to wait around 20 minutes before the app gave us a clean bill of health.

We were surprised to find Sophos Home had added around 1.4GB of files to our system, especially as it's so short on features (we've seen far more capable products use less than half that).

Sophos Home also required 17 background processes and a handful of drivers running in the background, more than we see with most suites. These didn't seem to add much of load to our system, though, and beyond slightly longer boot times, we didn't see any major performance impact.

There's another potential downside in having so many active processes, in that this could give malware more opportunity to attack and perhaps disable your protection. We test this in several ways – by trying to kill or stop processes, delete key files, pause or remove services, unload filter drivers and more – but Sophos' tamper protection did its job, blocking everything we attempted.

Sophos 2020 Antivirus

(Image credit: Sophos)

Interface

Double-click the Sophos Home system tray icon and the program's very simple interface appears. There's some status information (last update, last scan time), a Scan Computer button, and a handful of other buttons for lesser functions (management, settings and a few other bits and pieces – more on those later).

Tap the Scan button and Sophos Home runs a full system scan on your PC. There's no upfront way to customize the scan, and no quick scan, or removable device scan, or indeed any other scan type.

Once you've launched a scan, you can't switch to any other part of the app until it's finished or cancelled. That's a potential hassle, especially as a full system scan could easily take an hour or more, which is why most antivirus apps allow you to leave a scan running but also use other areas of the package as usual.

Sophos 2020 Antivirus

(Image credit: Sophos)

Sophos adds a right-click option to Explorer, which is useful as a way to scan a particular file, folder or drive. Even this is a little underpowered, though, as the program doesn't support simultaneous scans. If it's busy running a lengthy system scan, for instance, and you try a right-click scan from Explorer, you're warned that 'a scan is already running, try again later.'

Sophos also adds an icon to your system tray, but it doesn't do very much. You can left-click it to launch the program, but that's it; there's no right-click menu with shortcut options, and the icon doesn't change to reflect the app state (scanning, virus found, and so on).

This simplicity certainly means that Sophos Home is easy to use, but if you're looking for any level of power or control over the app, expect to be disappointed.

Sophos 2020 Antivirus

(Image credit: Sophos)

Antivirus options

Sophos Home does have some security options and settings, but they're only available via a web interface. Tap the Settings button, for instance, and a browser tab opens at the Sophos website. Log in and you can then begin configuring the program.

If you're thinking this is a little inconvenient, we would probably agree. But once you're logged in, it doesn't take any more time, and it does at least mean the support pages are only a click or two away, if you need them.

This kind of central management could also be very handy if you're intending to install Sophos on multiple devices, as it enables viewing and managing everyone's protection from one place. If your family aren't technical types, for instance, it might be wise to keep them away from the more complicated settings. If there's a problem, they can contact you, and you're able to log on and make whatever tweaks you need within a couple of minutes.

Sophos 2020 Antivirus

(Image credit: Sophos)

The Sophos Settings pages open at the Protection tab, where there are tools to schedule scans and exclude particular drives, files and folders from checks.

Advanced options include the ability to enable or disable multiple techniques used by Sophos to block common exploits. There's specific exploit protection for browsers, browser plugins, Java and more; prevention of privilege escalation, code cave utilization and APC violations; and further layers to fool sandbox-aware malware, prevent backdoor traffic, protect against DLL hijacking, and more.

These lists are interesting, and it's good to see Sophos covering so many common attack vectors. But as almost all of these settings are highly technical, and turned on by default, they're unlikely to help most users.

For example, even if you know that the 'APC violation' switch aims to 'prevent attacks from using Application Procedure Calls (APC) to run their code', would you be confident enough to know when it should be turned off, and what the consequences might be? (It's okay, we're not even slightly qualified to decide that, either.)

Sophos 2020 Antivirus

(Image credit: Sophos)

We only noticed one significant feature which wasn't enabled by default: 'Stop malicious USB devices' apparently 'blocks malicious USB devices which impersonate a keyboard.' Sounds interesting, but as it's disabled by default, presumably it's not entirely safe. We searched the Support site to try and find out more, but no luck – searching for 'malicious USB' (or even 'USB') found no results. Looks like Sophos is as unsure about the feature as we are.

It's good to see that Sophos Home Premium has at least some configuration options, and the ability to schedule scans and exclude particular objects is helpful. But the other settings won't make much difference to anyone, and overall the package is still distinctly short on settings and tweaks.

Sophos 2020 Antivirus

(Image credit: Sophos)

Protection

To get an initial idea of how well an antivirus performs, we'll typically check its results with the main independent testing labs. Unfortunately, that's not so easy with Sophos Home, as it's not covered in most of the reports we follow.

Sophos Home is included in the SE-Labs Home Anti-Malware report for October-December 2019, though, and its results were positive, with the company ranking equal third out of a field of 15. That's not quite as good as it sounds – that equal third place was shared by six other packages – but it's still ranked 'mid-range or better', and that works for us.

Sophos enterprise products are covered in a handful of other tests, and although these results can't tell us much about Sophos Home, they do give us some idea of how Sophos performs against other companies.

Sophos 2020 Antivirus

(Image credit: Sophos)

Sophos appears in the Enterprise version of AV-Comparatives' Real-World Protection Test, for example, where it ranked a creditable fourth out of 17 contenders. It was just behind Panda, Bitdefender and Kaspersky, but ahead of names like ESET, VIPRE, Avast and McAfee.

MRG Effitas 360 Assessment & Certification reports certify products as meeting a set standard, rather than simply awarding a score, but it also includes Sophos business-oriented Intercept X product, and that performed reasonably well in the final report of 2019.

We ran some further tests of our own, and Sophos Home Premium passed them all without difficulty. Malware was detected in archives and downloads, when it was written to disk or executed, with the threat immediately deleted. Detection was so good that even our custom ransomware was blocked before it could touch our test files.

Our positive experiences, along with decent results from SE-Labs and MRG Effitas, suggest that Sophos provides capable malware protection. But we would like to see Sophos Home covered at AV-Comparatives and AV-Test to get a clearer idea of how it compares to the competition.

Sophos 2020 Antivirus

(Image credit: Sophos)

Blocking malicious URLs

Sophos Home Premium includes a simple web protection layer which aims to keep you safe from dangerous websites.

We tried to visit a few dubious domains and Sophos caught them all, raised a desktop notification to highlight the problem, and displayed a warning in our browser that the sites had been blocked because they contained malicious content.

The app didn't falsely flag any websites during testing, but if that happens to you, there's no 'let me in anyway' button or other quick way to bypass Sophos and load the page.

To get around the block you must open the Sophos Home Premium console, click Settings > Web and enter the URL or domain you'd like to whitelist. Not difficult, at all, but it could still be a hassle if it happens regularly.

Of course, if you're looking to impose restrictions on someone else – maybe your kids or employees, for example – making it more difficult to get around this web protection could be a real plus.

Sophos 2020 Antivirus

(Image credit: Sophos)

Content filtering

Sophos Home Premium has one of the shortest feature lists in the antivirus world, but poke around in the web-based Settings menus for a while and you'll find one unusual extra: a simple parental controls-like content filtering system.

Don't get excited – it's extremely basic. There are three lists of site types: 'Adult & Inappropriate', 'Social Networking & Computing' and 'General Interest', and these include various content areas which you might like to block: 'Drugs', 'Violence', 'Networking' and so on. All areas are enabled by default, but you can disable any with a click.

It doesn't take long to begin spotting issues. There's no single item to block social networking sites, for instance. And while there's a site whitelist for domains which should never be blocked, Sophos Home doesn't provide a blacklist to specify sites which should never be available.

Still, it's easy enough to get started, and you can limit access to the worst of the web in a very few clicks.

Once the system is set up, attempting to visit a site in a no-go category got us a desktop notification, and a message in our web browser explaining that Sophos Home had blocked access to the site.

While that sounds good, there's a problem. The content filtering system blocks access from the top browsers only, so if a user installs something like Brave they'll be able to view whatever content they like.

Tech-savvy teenagers will bypass Sophos Home Premium without much difficulty, then. But if you're just looking for something to protect very young children from discovering web nastiness by accident, this feature could still be useful.

Sophos 2020 Antivirus

(Image credit: Sophos)

Final verdict

The lack of features and configurability may be a problem for experienced users, but Sophos Home could be worth a look if you're after a simple centrally-managed antivirus to protect several desktop PCs. It helps that the price is right, too.

Sophos Home Free

Sophos 2020 Antivirus

(Image credit: Sophos)

Equipping your PC or Mac with Sophos Home Free is quick and easy. Sign up with an email address, download and install the app, and it's ready to go within two or three minutes.

Sophos Home Free looks and feels much like Sophos Home Premium. As it comes with a 30-day free trial of Home Premium, that's no great surprise, but even when the trial has expired, there are barely any visible changes.

The interface looks much the same, with little more than a Scan button and a scattering of settings accessible from Sophos' web dashboard.

The only real extra is a content filtering system which enables blocking access to websites by their content type (adult, violent, drugs and so on). But as we discussed in the Home Premium review above, it's basic, easy to bypass, and you'll probably be better off with something else.

This lack of features will be a problem for many, but it's really the point of the package. It's not aimed at experts who want to create their own custom scan types and define different scan nesting depths for individual archive types. It's a stripped-back antivirus, simple enough that it can be used by the most non-technical of newbies, which you can just leave running in the background to keep you safe.

Sophos Home does have one bonus for those looking to protect multiple devices: you're able to tweak, monitor and manage the security of all your devices from a central web dashboard. If you're installing Sophos for several family members, say, who don't want to spend time learning low-level security details, that could be a real advantage.

Sophos 2020 Antivirus

(Image credit: Sophos)

Protection

Although Sophos Home Free looks like Home Premium, it does leave out a number of important features.

Some of these are very specific. There's no anti-keylogger layer to protect your browser, for instance. No protection against webcam hijacking. No live chat or email support. And you can manage a maximum of three devices on a Sophos Home Free account (Sophos Home Premium can handle 10).

Other differences are harder to define. Sophos Home Free doesn't include 'advanced real-time threat prevention' or 'advanced malware scan and clean', for instance, but the company doesn't explain exactly what this means, or what the impact might be.

Should you use this version, then? The free build caught everything we threw at it, but our tests were too small-scale to give a definitive verdict. We would normally try to get confirmation of an antivirus app’s abilities by checking results from the big testing labs, but they mostly don't cover Sophos Home. And even when they do, they're typically looking at Sophos Home Premium, not Free.

Sophos Home Free is an interesting product, simpler than most competitors and with handy central management of all your device security. The uncertainty over its features is an issue, though, and we'd like to see more coverage from the testing labs, too.

Check Sophos Home out anyway, especially if you're looking to protect a large number of devices. But focus on Sophos Home Premium, not Free – at $42 to cover up to 10 devices for a year, it's already very cheap, and the extra features are worth the minimal cost.