Ad-Aware levels up its detection engines

Working off of a faster release schedule, Lavasoft primes the pump in Ad-Aware 9 by providing users with a long-desired feature, as well as introducing two new detection engines.

In its third update of the year, Ad-Aware receives a hefty change to how it protects you. Lavasoft's Ad-Aware 9 Free, available today exclusively on CNET, debuts two new detection engines as the company fights to keep its well-known freeware competitive.

Visually, not much has changed in Ad-Aware 9 Free. The engines that power the program have, and publisher Lavasoft anticipates that will make all the difference. (Credit: Lavasoft)

Lavasoft first started changing Ad-Aware's protection engine more than a year ago in version 8.1, when it introduced Genotype. This heuristics-based technology identified identical snippets of code across multiple threat mutations. In version 9, Genotype receives support from what Lavasoft calls "Dedicated Detection". This tech looks inside files, analyzes the code, and creates a loose pattern for finding families of related malware. The company touts that a single dedicated detection signature can detect hundreds of thousands of threats. More importantly, Lavasoft expects that dedicated detection will lower false positive rates by creating more points of comparison.

The second new engine, MagmaShield, is pro-active. It emulates processor instructions, comparing approved processor-level operations against those that are undefined in the application layer. This means that it aggressively looks at how a file interacts with the CPU and uses that to call out threats faster.

Ad-Aware 9 Free also includes a scheduler for automatic scans, which joins the automatic update scheduler that finally made it into the free edition of Ad-Aware in version 8.3.

However, there are some notable features that Ad-Aware's competitors offer but aren't in Ad-Aware 9 Free. Several competitors, such as Avast and AVG, give users full real-time protection, which Ad-Aware has but limits. Ad-Aware also lacks Web surfing protection and silent or gaming mode which has become standard in most of its free competitors.

A full review of Ad-Aware 9 Free is available on CNET