Avast Splices The Mainbrace With A New Release

Avast is based in Prague, a city of light and dark contrasts, which is a suitable backdrop for an anti- malware specialist, writes Eric Doyle

Avast called a press conference at its headquarters in the Czech Republic to launch version 6 of its anti-malware package. The software comes at various price points from free to paid-for versions.

The company’s aim is to offer the maximum functionality in its free PC version while adding easy-to-use management tools for its enterprise and server packages. For this latest release, the company has bent towards the small-to-medium business (SMB) market.

“The typical SMB has little or no in-house expertise so we have produced a simple management dashboard for SMBs,” said Miloslav Korenko, marketing director at Avast.

The Delights And Downsides Of Prague

Prague is a seductive city. Its statue-laden bridge, fairytale churches and chocolate-box architecture make it a confection of delights that attracts tourists from everywhere. In Wenceslas Square at the heart of the city, browsers visiting the sites have to run the gauntlet of street touts who spam them with leaflets advertising cultural events during the day and clip joints at night.

The day shift are a friendly bunch trying to lure passers-by to the classical music venues and art exhibitions but at twilight the daylight gives way to a darker mood. Free drinks, pretty girls and a night to remember are the promises of the evening shift – but you know it means one free drink followed by grossly expensive ones, women trained in how to make you spend more money, and a night to remember because your bank balance has mysteriously plummeted.

Against this backdrop, which mirrors the World Wide Web, it comes as no surprise to find Prague has spawned Avast, specialising in neutralising crowd-pulling locations that have been marred with malware and drive-by malvertising.

Avast aims to provide the highest possible protection from Internet malware, equalling the paid-for products from Symantec and McAfee. The only barrier to this is the need to make money to keep the Avast ship afloat.

In the past this has been done by selling advanced features on top of  the basic, free scanning software in the Pro and Internet Security editions. As time passes and more advanced features are developed, the former paid-for features trickle down into the free version. There are also server-based versions and bulk-buying deals for businesses.

It’s an interesting model that is reflected by its closest competitor AVG – literally close as it is based just a few miles away in Brno, Czech Republic. Avast claims 130 million active users and AVG is close behind on 110 million – but does not specify if these are all active users.

The growth of Avast is notable because it relies on word of mouth and allocates no money for advertising – as Glenn Taylor, sales director for Avast told us (through gritted teeth). Ironic that an anti-malware company should depend on viral growth for its business model.

Not A Bunch Of Thieving Pirates

In a land-locked country, it seems odd that a company should be using a word associated with the nautical world as its branding. This is purely accidental, according to the company, because founders Eduard Kučera and Pavel Baudiš developed the name from Anti-Virus Advanced SeT. They did this not realising that the word also meant “stop” or “halt” – serendipitously suitable for an antivirus company.

The latest addition to the version line-up, Avast v6.0, has taken the product into new areas.

Avast is very proud of its users who act as informants about new threats but also a few contributors have freely answered thousands of user queries on behalf of the company. The power of the people has also enabled the company to introduce a website reliability feature.

WebRep is a catch-up on other antivirus packages by rating websites according to their trustworthiness. It uses generally available information that name the dodgy sites but Avast also adds community feedback to keep the feature at the forefront of the battle against poisoned pages, the company said.

Isolating Malware In Sandboxes

Avast has also added virtual environments, or sandboxes, that isolate running programs in a protected zone so that any malicious behaviour is contained and does not wreck the real PC’s settings.

In the free version, AutoSandbox prompts the user to run a suspicious application in a virtual protected environment. In the paid-for versions, Pro Antivirus and Internet Security, Sandbox and SafeZone allows a similar kind of protection.

The Sandbox is a virtual PC for applications generally and SafeZone throws up an instance to isolate online banking or shopping from any other applications or spyware running on the computer.

Unlike many of its competitors products, the Avast footprint seems very small and it works in the background without a great deal of inconvenience when the user is busy working. To many users who are used to module upon module taking up space on their systems, it may be hard to believe that Avast is anything more than a freebie that will soon show the need to upgrade by a lack of functionality or by constant nagging from dialog boxes.

The truth is that in most comparative reviews Avast comes out on top, or very near the top, which shows that its aim to provide a free product that competes well with paid-for suites is no idle boast.