July 21, 2024


Unlimited Technology

Avast One – Review 2021

Antivirus protection is a must for any PC, but security choices don’t stop there. For most users, a full-scale security suite is a better choice. The new Avast One suite includes antivirus, privacy protection, performance tuning, and a no-limits VPN. It’s the top product in Avast’s latest pantheon. Like its free edition, Avast One Essential, it offers protection for your devices running Windows, macOS, Android, or iOS. Aside from lifting limits on the VPN component, though, it doesn’t add a lot to what you can get for free.

Scaled Release of a New Product Line

The Avast One product line releases initially in the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia. All of Avast’s existing products remain available for download or purchase, including the Avast Premium Security suite. It’s true that Premium Security costs less than Avast One, but it also gives you less. With the old suite, quite a few features, most notably the VPN, require a separate payment, where Avast One is all-inclusive. The Avast One product line is clearly the wave of the future.

There’s no visible connection between the release of this new product line and the pending merger of Avast with NortonLifeLock. Do note that once that merger is complete, Norton will own Avast, Avira, AVG, and BullGuard.

How Much Does Avast One Cost?

Avast One comes in two editions. The Individual edition lists for $99.99 per year and lets you install protection on up to five of your devices. For $139.99 per year, the Family edition extends that protection to 30 licenses.

Kaspersky Total Security and ESET Smart Security Premium also give you five licenses for $99.99 per year. However, the next tier for both these products is 10 licenses for $149.99, which is quite a bit steeper than Avast’s family plan on a per-license basis.

You pay just a bit more for five Norton 360 Deluxe licenses, $104.99 per year. Both Norton and Avast also give you five no-limits VPN licenses, but Norton goes farther with 50GB of hosted storage for your online backups and a more comprehensive security suite on your desktops.

With a $159.99 subscription to McAfee Total Protection you get licenses for every device in your household. For most households, though, there’s probably no appreciable difference between 30 licenses and unlimited.

Shared With the Free Edition

When you purchase an Avast One subscription you naturally get access to all the features of the free Avast One Essential. Please read my review of that product for full details. I’ll recap my findings here.

The Avast One product line has a completely different look from Avast’s existing products. Instead of a dark background, it’s light and airy. No sharp-edged rectangles here, either. Buttons have rounded ends, and cheerful line-drawing images abound, with daubs of pastel colors. When space allows, the drawings include happy people. It’s quite a change from the previous stark, stoic appearance.

Avast One Main Window

Most security suites use the home page to display security status, typically with buttons for important actions like launching a scan or turning on VPN protection. With Avast One, the home page focuses on whatever security element most needs your attention. For example, immediately after installation it nudges you to run a Smart Scan. A separate page reached by clicking Explore in the menu at left gives you access to all the program’s features, divided into Device Protection, Online Privacy, and Smooth Performance.

All four of the independent antivirus testing labs I follow include Avast in their testing, and its scores are almost all top-notch. My aggregate lab score algorithm gives Avast 9.5 of 10 possible points. Among products tested by all four labs, only Norton, with 9.6, and Kaspersky, with 9.9, have higher standing. Avast’s cousin AVG Internet Security takes an aggregate score of 9.8, better than Avast’s because it wasn’t included in the one tough test Avast failed.

A full scan with Avast finished in a speedy 34 minutes, and a repeat scan cut that time in half. For tough malware that resists removal, you can invoke the Boot-Time Scan, which runs before Windows loads, so malware can’t defend itself.

Avast One Phishing Detected

In my own hands-on malware protection test, Avast scores 9.4 of 10 possible points. That score doesn’t quite reach the level of its lab tests, but I give the labs more weight. Challenged with a collection of 100 or so very recent malware-hosting URLs, Avast fends off 98%, most of them by preventing all access to the dangerous page.

Avast’s Web Shield protection happens below the browser level, so it works with any browser and requires no installation of extensions. That same feature detects phishing websites, frauds that try to scam consumers into giving away their login credentials. In a test using the newest suspected phishing URLs, Avast detects 99% of the verified frauds, another excellent score.

A malware attack that gets past your antivirus is never good news, but in most cases a malware definition update will quickly wipe out the infestation. However, if it was a ransomware attack, the damage is already done. Removing the malware won’t help bring back your maliciously encrypted files. Avast’s response to this grave situation lies in added protection for the typical targets of ransomware. Its ransomware protection system prevents unauthorized changes to those targets. On detecting an attempt to modify a target file, it displays a warning and asks you what to do. If you’re just using a new image editor for the first time, you simply mark it as trusted. But if you don’t recognize the program trying to fiddle with your files, block it!

Simple Firewall Protection

You do get firewall protection even with the free edition. Avast’s firewall blocks network-based attacks and adds additional restrictions when you’re on an untrusted network. It lists all programs using the internet, along with the amount of bandwidth they’re sucking down, and lets you manually cut off any program. Be very careful using that power; you could really do damage by blocking the wrong program.

Avast One Firewall Advanced Settings

Advanced firewall systems like what Norton provides automatically configure network permissions for known good programs and keep careful watch on how unknowns use the network. Simple-minded firewalls pop up confusing queries on any new attempt at internet access, forcing you, the user, to make important security decisions. Even at the premium level, program control in Avast’s firewall occurs only if you dig into the program list and do the job manually.

Upgrading to premium unlocks the Advanced network security page in firewall settings. The firewall hides things like your computer name from other devices on the network. It warns you if it detects a port scan attack. And it notifies you if it detects evidence of ARP spoofing. It’s worth noting that some hardware-based parental control systems legitimately use ARP spoofing to accomplish their content filtering tasks. Really, these are just minor enhancements.

Device Protection Features

Looking at the list of features on the Explore page, there are three under Device Protection that don’t come for free. Trying to use these in Avast One Essential just gets you an invitation to upgrade.

Chances are good your computer contains documents with sensitive data, information a snoop or thief could misuse. Sensitive Data Shield seeks out such documents and applies an additional layer of protection. Files identified for protection can’t be opened by other user accounts on the PC, and you can limit which apps are allowed to open them.

Avast One Sensitive Data Shield

My test system contains a random dollop of personal files in its Documents folder, to serve as bait for ransomware attacks in testing. I figured the scan would find some of these, but it came up empty. My Avast contact explained that this scan specifically checks files of type .pdf, .doc, .docx, .xls, and .xlsx. It looks for items like email addresses and as many as 20 other identifying factors. Apparently, it didn’t find enough sensitive data in my sample files, so I added several to its protected list manually.

When I logged into a different Windows user account and tried to open protected files, I didn’t get a message from Avast, but my attempts failed with the message “An unexpected error occurred.” My contact verified this is working as designed.

I expected the application blocking system to work like ransomware protection, with unknown files banned until you, the user, approve them. However, it doesn’t work like that. Any app running under your own Windows account has full access unless you preemptively add it to the blacklist. I’m not convinced this feature significantly adds to your security.

The Domain Name System (DNS) is what translates human-friendly domain names like pcmag.com into machine-friendly IP addresses like DNS hijacking refers to attacks that subvert DNS, thereby connecting you to a dangerous page. It’s similar to phishing, but the hijack means the address bar shows the expected domain even when the page displayed is a fake. Web Hijack Guard, enabled by default, prevents such hijacking. I assume it works; it’s not something I could test.

A malware attack that lets a ne’er-do-well peek at you through your webcam is perhaps the ultimate form of spyware. This type of software can turn on the webcam without turning on its telltale light, so you have no idea you’re under observation. Like Bitdefender, ESET Smart Security Premium, and Kaspersky, Avast lets known and trusted applications access the webcam, but notifies you when an unknown program makes the attempt. If you’re using a new face-to-face meeting app, go ahead and trust it, but if you didn’t initiate use of the webcam, slam the peephole shut. You can also set Webcam Protection to require permission even for known and trusted programs, or to cut off all access to the camera.

Full-Scale VPN

Avast’s deep scan roots out any malware infestations on your devices, and real-time antivirus detects and prevents new attacks. Your data should be safe with this protection in place. However, the moment you communicate across the internet, antivirus protection loses its power. To protect your data on its travels, you need a Virtual Private Network, or VPN.

The VPN creates a secure encrypted connection between your device and a hardened server managed by the VPN company. No snoop, not even the owner of the shady coffer shop network you’re using, can access your data in transit. The VPN server interacts with whatever site you selected and returns its responses back to you through the same encrypted connection. A side benefit of this process is that your network traffic seems to come from the VPN server. That means a site can’t determine your location based on your IP address. It also can allow you to access content that would normally be restricted based on your location.

Avast’s free edition includes integrated VPN protection, but with limits. You don’t get a choice of servers or server locations—you must use whatever the system chooses. And you’re limited to 5GB of bandwidth per week. To be fair, that’s more generous than most. The free edition of Hotspot Shield VPN allows 500MB per day, a bit less than Avast. With TunnelBear VPN, non-paying users choke out at 500MB per month. On the other hand, you can use ProtonVPN for free with no limits on bandwidth.

PCMag has evaluated the standalone Avast SecureLine VPN and found it to be a decent VPN, but not an outstanding one. Do read our review for a full understanding of Avast’s VPN technology. Briefly, it uses recommended VPN protocols and offers a widespread but somewhat sparse selection of servers (55 locations in 34 countries). Its privacy policy clearly states what information it collects; reviewer Max Eddy noted that it gathers more data than is needed, and more than most competitors. It doesn’t offer features beyond VPN the way some similar products do, but it earned decent scores in our speed tests.

Avast One VPN Server Selection

With Avast One, the VPN is integrated, not a separate product, but the underlying technology is the same. You choose your country and, when available, location within that country. You turn on the VPN to protect your web traffic. And that’s all you really need to do.

The VPN reminds you to turn on protection when you connect to an untrusted network. Since your bandwidth isn’t capped, you may want to just have it connect automatically. I don’t advise turning off the untrusted network warning. Trusted network or not, you can also request a reminder to use the VPN when you do things like shop online or connect to your bank.

That’s it for VPN configuration options. You won’t find split-tunneling (the ability to send less-sensitive traffic outside the VPN’s protection) like you get with CyberGhost VPN or SurfShark VPN. There’s no option for the added security of a multihop VPN connection. You can’t get a static IP address (useful for evading services that try to block VPN usage). Some VPNs include a kill switch, meaning they cut all connectivity if the VPN connection goes down. That’s not the case with Avast.

Norton 360 Deluxe also includes full-scale VPN protection, and we rate Norton’s VPN three stars as a standalone, just like Avast’s. Yes, if you’re a VPN enthusiast you can do better with a top-tier standalone VPN. But having VPN technology integrated with your security suite is a very big plus.

Other Privacy Features

In the big feature list on the Explore page, VPN protection falls under the Online Privacy category. Also in that category are Clear Browsing Data and Password Protection. Clear Browsing Data, also present in the free edition, eliminates browsing traces such as cookies and cached data from Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Opera. You can do the same thing in any of those browsers, with finer control, by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Del.

You use the Privacy Protection feature to check whether your email address has turned up in any data breaches. Clicking a listed breach gets you a little more info about what happened. And you can click to change the affected password (and thereby remove the warning).

That much is available for free. In the premium edition, you can enroll one or more email addresses in real-time monitoring. Now if your email shows up in a breach, Avast will let you know right away.

Avast One Breach Monitoring

Browser protection for passwords is also a premium feature, but perhaps not as valuable. When active, it prevents unauthorized apps from accessing passwords stored in Chrome, Edge, and Firefox. Our advice, of course, is to get all those passwords out of your browsers and store them securely in a password manager. Then you won’t need this arcane protection.

Smooth Performance Features

Tuning up your device’s performance isn’t exactly a security task, but it can’t hurt. Avast One offers four components under the Smooth Performance descriptor: PC Speedup, Software Updater, Disk Cleaner, and Driver Updater.

PC Speedup, also available in the free edition, identifies programs that run in the background, drawing resources even when idle. You use this component to optimize those apps, meaning that Avast prevents them from using resources unless they’re actually performing some useful task.

In the free edition, Software Updater seeks out missing security patches for popular applications but doesn’t apply them until you ask it to. Paid users can configure Avast One to automatically apply any updates it finds, making the entire process effortless.

According to the product’s description, the Driver Updater works the same way. In the free edition it identifies hardware drivers that have a new version available; in the paid edition it updates to the new versions automatically. The free edition even states that updating to premium will automate the update process. By observation, this isn’t accurate. There’s no option to turn on automatic updates the way you do with Software Updater. My Avast contact confirmed that the driver updater scans automatically in the background and simply notifies the user if it finds any new updates.

Avast One Disk Cleaner

That leaves Disk Cleaner. In the free edition, this component finds junk files and other items that waste disk space, but it doesn’t clean them up. It doesn’t even list what it found so you could manually (and tediously) manage the cleanup. Premium users need only click Clean now to reap the benefits of this scan. On my test system it recovered almost 650MB of disk space.

Minuscule Impact on Performance

Big, bulky security suites in the dim and distant past used to have a well-deserved reputation for gobbling system resources and slowing everyday PC activities. A security product isn’t much use when the enraged user turns it off to fix performance problems. Fortunately, security companies learned their lesson. Modern products typically have only the most minor effect on performance. Even so, I run a few simple tests to make sure they’re not backsliding.

My boot time test is fairly simple. Immediately after a reboot it starts quizzing Windows about how overall CPU usage, which spikes as startup programs go through their loading sequences. After 10 seconds with CPU usage below 5%, I consider the computer ready for action. Subtracting the start of the boot process (as reported by Windows) yields the boot time. Averaging dozens of runs before and after installing a suite yields a measure of how the suite slowed the boot process. And Avast One slowed the process not at all.

Modern computers boot really fast, and most users don’t reboot often, so even a product with a big boot impact might not be cause for alarm. On the other hand, if carefully monitoring by antivirus and other components slows everyday activities like copying and saving files, that could be a problem. I test for that possibility using a script that moves and copies a huge collection of all kinds of files between drives, averaging the time required with and without the suite. Another test measures the time needed to repeatedly zip and unzip those files. The move and copy test took 2% longer with Avast active, and the zip/unzip test ran just 1% longer.

ESET, K7, and Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Complete didn’t stretch the time required by any of my tests, for an average impact of exactly 0%. Technically that’s better than the 1% impact achieved by Avast, but you’re not going to notice any slowdown either way.

Premium-Level macOS Protection

Users of Avast One on Windows gain the most from a premium upgrade, but there are enhancements on the Mac as well. For starters, upgrading removes limits on the macOS VPN. You get unlimited bandwidth, and you can choose whatever server location you want.

The Tracker Prevention component draws on technology from the standalone Avast AntiTrack. Advertisers and other trackers use data supplied by your browser to create a unique fingerprint that lets them track your online behavior. Tracker Prevention tweaks that browser data so your browser fingerprint keeps changing. Strangely, this feature appears only on macOS, not on any other platform, even though AntiTrack is available for Windows, macOS, and Android.

Avast One macOS Explore Page

The components listed under Smooth Performance on the Explore page are all premium-only, and all of them involve ways to free up disk space on your Mac. Disk cleaner finds junk files that you can delete, and App Uninstaller helps you find and remove apps that you never use, or that are just too darn huge. Finally, the Photo Cleaner scans your photos and identifies sets of very similar ones, as well as photos that are just plain bad. For a full rundown of what you get, please see my review of Avast One for Mac.

Android Enhancements

Even when you pony up the cash for a subscription, Avast One doesn’t offer the expected anti-theft for Android devices. In fact, there’s not a lot of difference between the free and paid editions, other than removing limits on the Android VPN.

Avast One Android Montage

With a paid Avast One license, you can schedule regular scans for malware and vulnerable Wi-Fi networks and automate the junk cleanup feature. As on Windows, free users can manually scan for compromised email accounts, while paying customers get to set up real-time monitoring for new breaches. I expected that monitored accounts would be shared across different platforms via the online Avast account, but it seems that’s not so. Your best bet is to configure breach monitoring on whatever device you use most, so you’ll be sure to see any notifications.

Still Less for iOS

As with almost every cross-platform suite, Avast offers the least when installed on an iOS device. VPN protection is valuable on any platform, and paying for it removes the bandwidth and server location choice limitations on iOS, as it does on other platforms.

Avast One iOS Montage

Data Breach Monitoring isn’t specific to any platform, but when you pay for Avast, you can set it up on your iOS devices just as on your other devices. Finally, upgrading lifts the limit on the Photo Vault. Instead of 40 photos, you can store unlimited photos in the vault. Note once again that you absolutely must export all your photos from the vault before uninstalling Avast; otherwise you lose them forever.

VPN Benefit, Not Much More

Avast One brings you Avast’s top-scoring antivirus protection, along with a no-limits VPN, a basic firewall, and various security, privacy, and performance tools. However, the free edition includes almost all the important bits. The one big benefit when you upgrade is removal of VPN limits. As a standalone, Avast’s VPN costs almost $60 per year. If you were going to buy it anyway, this suite is a bargain. If not, you can do better.

Norton 360 Deluxe comes with a no-limits VPN and protects Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS, just as Avast One does. Feature-wise it goes beyond Avast, with a self-configuring firewall, 50GB of storage for hosted online backups, parental control, and more. Kaspersky Security Cloud, like Avast, offers a feature-limited free edition and covers all the platforms. Full access to its VPN component requires a separate fee, but it brings along a wide set of features includes parental control, home network security scan, password manager, hard drive health monitor, and more. These two are our Editors’ Choice picks for cross-platform multidevice security suites.

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