Sophos has been developing business-oriented security software for more than 30 years, but recently it has been expanding into the consumer market with the development of Sophos Home.
The free edition of Sophos Home provides the core security essentials of antivirus and web filtering, and allows you to view and manage the security of multiple devices - Windows or Macs - from a simple web console.
The commercial Sophos Home Premium edition builds on this with more advanced real-time, ransomware and web protection, banking protection, advanced malware removal, live email and chat support, and more.
Sophos Home Premium isn't cheap at £40 ($56) a year, but this does cover up to 10 devices. Installing Sophos Home Free gets you a 30-day trial of the Premium edition, too, giving you a chance to check the product out for yourself.
Finding Sophos Home's free edition is easy on its clear and simple website, but understanding what you're going to get is a little more difficult.
A comparison table attempts to explain the differences between the Free and Premium versions, for example, but it may not be quite as specific as you would like. The table tells us that Sophos Home Free includes real-time protection and web protection, for instance, while Sophos Home Premium gets you 'advanced' real-time protection and 'advanced' web protection. What does that mean, exactly? The website doesn't make it entirely clear.
Click the Download button at the bottom of the tab and Sophos demands you register the program with your name and email address, which it will then use to send you marketing emails unless you check a box. Bitdefender and Kaspersky also require you to create an account before you can use their free antivirus, but Avast and Avira leave this optional.
Hand over your details, the installer downloads, we launched it and the program set itself up in a couple of minutes, with no further intervention required from us.
Checking our PC post-installation revealed that Sophos Home Free wasn't exactly lightweight, with the program adding at least 12 background processes to our PC, gobbling up at least 400MB RAM (working set). Visible changes were kept to a minimum, though, with little more than a couple of shortcuts and a new system tray icon to show that anything had changed.
Double-click the Sophos Home system tray icon and the program's very simple interface appears. There's a little status information (last update, last scan time), a Scan My Computer button, a Manage My Security button, and that's essentially it.
Tap the Scan button and Sophos Home Free runs a full system scan on your PC. There's no Quick Scan option in the Free edition and the interface doesn't support custom scans, although you can scan a particular file, folder or drive by right-clicking it in Explorer and selecting Scan With Sophos Home.
Sophos Home Free has some other options, but they're not available locally. The program can only be configured remotely by logging into your account on the Sophos website. That could be useful if you're installing Sophos Home for your kids, or anyone else who you don't want to be able to play with the settings, but it's otherwise a little inconvenient.
We logged in to our account and an opening screen displayed the status of our Antivirus and Web Protection modules.
A Protection tab allowed us to enable or disable various modules: real-time protection, potentially unwanted program detection, web protection, and a download reputation service (a safety score for downloads based on their content and website). You can filter website access by content, and add exceptions for file and website filtering.
Options not available in the Free edition are displayed with a Premium tag. Some of these might justify that - Malicious Traffic Detection (spot programs connecting to malicious servers), Exploit Mitigation, specialist Ransomware Protection, Webcam Protection - but others are more ordinary. We might have expected 'Master Boot Record Protection' and 'Risk Reduction (protection against common ways of infecting your machine, such as malicious USB devices)' to be included even in the free edition, for instance.
A Web Filtering tab allows you to block access to websites by content type (sex, drugs, gambling, violence and more). There are no presets or templates to speed things up (this person is an 8-year-old, that one is a teenager), and the setting is per device, not user account. Block a particular category of websites and they're blocked for everyone.
Elsewhere, a History tab acts as a log for all the significant events on the device, including threats detected and websites blocked.
A Scan button remotely launches a scan on your target device, and an Add Device option gives you a link which you can pass to others to install Sophos Home on their own PCs.
Put it all together and Sophos Home Free doesn't do very much, and if you're only using it on a single system, having to go online to change any settings might become annoying. But the basic interface does ensure the program is very easy to use, and if you need security for the entire family across multiple systems, it could be appealing.
We normally assess the accuracy of an antivirus package by checking its recent performance with the big testing labs, but in this case that's not so easy. Sophos hasn't appeared in AV-Comparatives Real World Protection Test since 2016, for instance, and those results were poor (96.2% protection rate and a ranking of 18 out of 19.)
Look closely, though, and Sophos products have scored well in more recent reports. For example, AV-Comparatives' March 2018 Android Test found that Sophos Free Antivirus and Security blocked 100% of Android threats.
In April 2018 AV-Comparatives also published the results of an interesting Advanced Endpoint Protection Test. This was focused on high-end business products, but the test threats could be faced by anyone, and although Sophos managed mixed results overall, it delivered a creditable 100% in the real-world protection test.
AV-Test also covered Sophos in the same month, this time as part of a client/server report. The company lagged behind a little with a ranking of equal 10th out of 16, but AV-Test still described its detection score as excellent.
Finally, AV-Test's last Mac report found Sophos Home for Mac blocked 100% of test threats. That's not as impressive as it would be in a Windows report - there are far fewer Mac threats to spot, and most decent Mac antivirus tools block everything - but it does confirm the Mac edition is at least as effective as everything else.
The lack of options and settings will annoy experienced users, but Sophos Home Free might be worth a look if you're interested in simple antivirus to protect several desktops.
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