Avast Free AntiVirus for Mac 8.0 review

The pirate-accented company was founded in communist Czechoslovakia in 1988 and maintains a headquarters in Prague. Its co-founders still serve as directors, although the company has had significant foreign investment, with one-fifth of its revenue in 2012 coming from Google.

Like many virus companies Avast (née Alwil Software) rose to recognition from the ascent of Windows 95 as the world’s most popular and vulnerable computing software. It has more recently diversified with anti-virus for other platform such as Android, Linux and of course OS X.

See also: Best Mac antivirus software | Mac software reviews

Avast Free Antivirus for Mac 8.0 is the company’s only Mac software, although a paid-for Pro version is also offered for businesses since its licence terms block commercial use of the free edition. Avast admits somewhat ironically that its Pro version doesn’t support remote management as well as the consumer version.

The software includes core anti-virus, as well as a Mail Shield and Web Shield components. The company’s privacy policy explains that the software will report URLs of sites you visit, metadata and the contents of your emails. Mail and web screening can be switched off if required. During installation, Avast tries to sideload Google Chrome as your default browser.

Avast can also be over-zealous and accuses OS X of being malware

In use, Avast will report analytics information to Google. The program also enrols your Mac into reporting back to Avast, to ‘participate in avast! online community’. This can be manually switched off.

It installs an extension into the Safari browser – avast! Online Security and Web Reputation Plugin – with plugins also made for Firefox and Chrome. The software must be registered within 30 days, to give you a 1-year licence requiring annual renewal and your agreement to the latest terms of use.

During the course of writing this review we tried to browse the Avast forums but these had been taken offline after a major hacker intrusion that had obtained users’ names, email addresses and hashed passwords. For a company that sells security services we cannot see how this would inspire confidence among its user base.

Avast 8.0: Application design and interface

The application is a little more difficult to disable or pause than some, as you must go into your Mac’s System Preferences, where the app’s prefs are accessed. An admin password is required to make any changes.

Avast’s interface is relatively easy to navigate, based on a sidebar that links to scanning, report and maintenance sections. The main pane shows Status, with running graph which indicates the passing scans on files.

For on-demand scans, you click on Start new scan, and select between Full System Scan, Removable Volumes Scan, your home directory, and Custom Scan for selected folders and files. There’s no contextual Finder shortcut to scan local files.

In lab malware testing by Security Spread, Avast scored highly, coming second place here with almost 95 percent malware detection. It was relatively successful at finding traces of malefic components already installed (71 percent success).

It also proved one of the best ways to slow down your Mac in our tests, turning a 50-second file copy operation into one lasting over 12 minutes. In this respect it suggests it’s at least monitoring every file you copy on your computer, where some other anti-malware software will turn a blind eye to pre-existing files on your internal drive.

Avast’s on-demand scan test put it near the bottom of the list too, when it took around 6 min to scan our folder of files, but only reporting checking around half of them.

In terms of needless panics, it additionally raised the alarm for four out of 11 lab false-positive test files. And in our use it wrongly accused an OS X system file of being a decompression bomb.

OUR VERDICT

The free price looks attractive, and its malware-finding abilities are among the best of current products. Avast Free Antivirus for Mac 8.0 could make a good fallback for monitoring known Mac malware, although our tests suggest it can slow your Mac to a crawl in daily activities when simply running in the background. The Avast ‘free’ business model is based on personal data gathering and marketing to a larger degree than most others, so may be less inticing to Mac users looking for protection but trying to avoid spyware.

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