Avast 2012 examines your file booty

The latest major update to Avast includes a remote tech support tool, Web-based security management, and file reputation analysis in downloads--a first for free security suites.

Avast continues to stay on top of the feature game by introducing bombastic top-shelf features to its security suites, while more subtly debuting an alternative source of revenue to the paid upgrade.

Available exclusively from Download.com today, Avast Free Antivirus 2012 (download), Avast Pro Antivirus (download), and Avast Internet Security (download), the Czech security company gives its free users a useful batch of improvements, while keeping the paid upgrades competitive for those who an extra zing. Also worth noting is that Avast has modularized several new security components in an Avast Market.

Avast did not update its Mac or Android security products.

There's definitely enough in the new Avast to keep it cruising along with full sails. One of the biggest changes is a hybrid update technology that pushes out updates in real time. Because a full database update isn't required, Avast users will get their security updates much faster than before. Full database updates will also be pushed out.

Another important security change introduces a file reputation system for evaluating downloads. This tech has existed for a couple of years in paid security suites like Norton, Kaspersky, and Bitdefender, but Avast is the first free antivirus to offer it. It leverages community data from Avast's enormous active user base to help determine if a file is safe.

Avast's WebRep browser add-on for instant site safety evaluation has been extended to work with Safari, and it will also now check for fake certificates. Faked security certificates were an unexpected problem last year, demonstrating how fragile Web security protocol could be.

Windows 8 beta, also known as the Consumer Preview, gets some attention from Avast as the suite includes an Early-Load Antimalware Driver (ELAM) for guarding against system-level rootkits.

Avast 2012 includes a hybrid update technology for pushing out security updates to you faster.
Avast 2012 includes a hybrid update technology for pushing out security updates to you faster. (Credit: Avast)

Meanwhile, Avast has introduced some features to make your security easier to use. These include a compatibility mode, which is supposed to let you install Avast as a secondary security program; a new Remote Assistance feature, for friend-to-friend remote tech support access; and improvements to the AutoSandboxing feature where suspicious programs are now automatically sandboxed by default. The last one is interesting because it will also advise you when you're done using it as to how best to handle the program in the future.

Lastly for Avast Free users, there's a new Web-based management console for one-stop management of Avast installations across multiple Windows, Mac, and Android devices, too, although it won't be compatible with Avast's Android app until next week.

While its reputation is rock-solid, the quality of the security offered took some hits from independent testing agencies last year. That's not as bad as it sounds, though. It's true that AV-Test.org and AV-Comparatives.org during their most recent tests, it wasn't at the top of its class.

However, Avast's reputation with consumers continues to grow, and trust counts for a lot in the security game. The program now claims more than 150 million active users, around 15 million more than last summer. I doubt there's any other free or paid security suite that's growing at that rate.

The program now offers more control over how security pop-ups appear.
The program now offers more control over how security pop-ups appear. (Credit: Avast)

Upgrading to Avast Pro Antivirus 2012, which retails at $39.99 for a one-year license, includes all of the Avast Free Antivirus 2012 features, along with improvements to the Safe Zone and Browser Sandbox features. The Browser Sandbox now lets you force Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, or Safari to always run sandboxed away from your system. SafeZone now automatically asks you when you're about to perform a browser-based financial transaction if you'd like to switch to the SafeZone mode.

Avast Internet Security 2012, includes all of the above plus a firewall and anti-spam tool. Besides routine improvements, neither of those features was substantially changed from last year's version. A one-year license retails for $10 more than Avast Pro Antivirus.

The aforementioned Avast Market is section of suite where you can bolt on supplementary security tools for a fee. Located in the Market tab, it includes Avast Backup ($49.99 per year); Avast Rescue Disc ($9.99); Avast EasyPass ($9.99 per year); and Avast CreditAlert Premium ($9.99 per month). While many competitors offer these features in various combinations in their paid products, it's interesting to see Avast take a different approach. Security suite vendors are often reticent to explore changes like this that might strike other people as minor.

Not announced was the Avast VPN that the company first mentioned last year.

Full reviews of Avast's 2012 suites will be available for Avast Free Antivirus 2012, Avast Pro Antivirus, and Avast Internet Security later today.