AVG 8.0 alerts you to Internet dangers

GCN Lab Review

Pros: Makes the Internet a safer place for your PC

Cons: Sometimes gives off confusing error messages

Functionality: A-

Ease of use: A

Speed: B

Value: A

Price: $54.99 for a one-year subscription, $79.99 for a two-year subscription.

When I was a copy editor at Government Computer News, my job was to weed out grammatical and style errors. I knew I was doing my job best when nobody knew I was there. It was when writers, readers and editors would send me e-mail messages saying, 'Hey, that 'compose' was supposed to be 'comprise,'' or 'Don't you know the difference between 'Perl' and 'peril'?' that I knew I had to step up my game.

A good Internet security package is a little like a good copy editor. It highlights the good stuff and filters out the bad stuff. It finds and deletes the problems before they arise, and it works best when you hardly know it's there.

And there's a bit of an art to both copy editing and Internet security. For example, a good copy editor doesn't globally ban passive voice; sometimes it's appropriate for the situation and can be allowed. And a good Internet security package doesn't automatically banish all e-mail messages from Nigeria to the spam folder; you might have friends who live there.

For the most part, AVG Internet Security 8.0 does a fine job of protecting your computer against the viruses, spam, spyware, Trojans, phishing attacks and rootkits that lurk on the Internet and does it with a bit of panache. It listens to the Web in a way you can't and reports back on what it finds. You might call AVG 8.0 the Web whisperer.

From a link on AVG's site (www.avg.com), I downloaded the software to my Hewlett-Packard Pavilion zd7000 laptop PC, which has a 2.8 GHz Pentium 4 processor and 512M of RAM and runs Microsoft Windows XP, and used the password and log-in information AVG e-mailed to me. The download took a full 10 minutes. And you must first uninstall or disable any antivirus software you might already have on your machine or AVG 8.0 won't work, which is typical for any AVG installation.

AVG 8.0's user interface is a very readable full-screen dashboard. It shows all the available AVG security components and their status: antivirus, anti-spyware, anti-spam, anti-rootkit, e-mail scanner, LinkScanner, Web Shield, Resident Shield and Update Manager. A reassuring note at the top says, "You are protected."

In the lower left-hand corner, AVG 8.0 shows when it last performed an update and scan. The software's default is to perform a scan every four hours, but you can change that to more or less frequent intervals via an update panel.

I was gratified to find that my HP Pavilion was infection-free on AVG 8.0's first scan. However, the software discovered 99 potentially dangerous objects, which were mostly tracking cookies, little nuggets of information left behind by Web sites I visited. When it finds infected files, AVG 8.0 gives you the option of repairing or quarantining them.

AVG's e-mail and spam scanners not only alert you to virus and malware threats in incoming e-mail messages, they also alert you to threats that might lurk in your outgoing e-mail messages so you don't inadvertently pass a virus along to a colleague or client.

AVG's Safe Search, Web Shield and LinkScanner features warn you about Web sites that might pose a threat to your computer before you even click on the link. When you perform a search using Google, Yahoo or MSN search engines, AVG 8.0 will post an icon next to each search result: a green star if there is no active threat, a question mark if there's possible trouble and a red X if the page contains active threats. In the last case, an alert message pops up and you won't be able to click through to the site.

To test the feature, I did a Google search for "aliens, rumors and conspiracies," thinking that this unholy triumvirate would turn up some infected Web sites. Google came back with 252,000 sites and only one -- a site about aliens and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin -- was marked with a question mark. But Web threats are often transient, so what was a safe site this morning might well have some sort of malware by afternoon. AVG officials say they base their technology on real-time analysis of Web sites, not on static databases that could be days or weeks old.

Web sites might be infected by users and not the people who programmed them. An increasing number of Web-based attacks happen when a hacker uses a code exploit, such as the dreaded one where they can query a Web database and change information fields, to poison a site with virus code or links to specially built virus sites. So a Web site that is safe right now might be bad five seconds from now. The AVG LinkScanner works by sending information back to headquarters when someone using AVG software visits a poisoned site. That way others are warned about going there when they conduct future Internet searches. It's not foolproof protection because if you are the first one in the water, you are going to find the shark, though the program does a good job of protecting you in any case.

We also noticed a small glitch in the update process, though this only happened once in a while. Sometimes when we logged on, the little AVG icon in the lower-right task bar would be black and white, not brightly colored as it usually is. It would display a message saying that a DLL file was missing. AVG 8.0 is basically telling us to reboot our system for a virus update to complete, but it's being annoyingly indirect about it. It should say, 'We updated your virus profiles, but you need to reboot your computer for everything to work.'

Overall, AVG 8.0 seems like a lot of peace of mind for a relatively modest fee.

AVG Technologies, 321-274-1888, www.avg.com


About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.


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