Panda stands out from the rest, with a nature scene as its background. Five icons at the bottom offer access to things like launching scans, managing the panda antivirus free downlaod, and setting up VPN protection. Scrolling down a bit reveals five more icons for other useful features. It’s an unusual look, and quite attractive.
Panda stands out from the rest, with a nature scene as its background. Five icons at the bottom offer access to things like launching scans, managing the antivirus, and setting up VPN protection. Scrolling down a bit reveals five more icons for other useful features.
It’s an unusual look, and quite attractive. Whenever I review an antivirus product, I check results from four independent antivirus testing labs. Just the fact that a product appears in reported results means that the lab believed the product merited attention, and the company budgeted for the cost of participation. Panda appears in the latest results from two of the four labs, with scores that are just OK.
The experts at AV-Test Institute rate antivirus utilities on three criteria. Protection against malware attacks is essential, of course. A low impact on Performance means users won’t trade security for convenience. And products that avoid flagging valid sites or programs as malicious earn a good score for Usability. A product can receive six points in each area, for a maximum of 18 points.
In the latest reported results, Panda received the full six points for protection, which is good. A few false positives brought its Usability score down to 5.
With a total of More than half of the products in the latest test report earned at least At AV-Comparatives , testers don’t assign numeric scores. Every product that passes a test earns Standard certification. I closely follow four of this lab’s tests; Panda participates in three of them.
However, other products seriously outperformed Panda with this lab. Lab Test Results Chart The four labs each use a different scoring system. For example, SE Labs certifies products at five levels: I’ve developed an algorithm that maps all the scores onto a point scale and reports a lab-results aggregate.
Panda’s aggregate lab score of 8. Tested by all four labs, Avira, Kaspersky Free , and Avast came out to 9. With excellent scores from three of the four, Bitdefender owns a perfect 10 points. Scanning and Scheduling Any time you install antivirus protection on a previously unprotected computer, you should run a full malware scan right away.
There’s no telling just what kind of malicious software might have made its home in the unprotected device. A full scan on my standard clean test system took an hour and 22 minutes. That’s about the same as Sophos, and roughly twice the current average. Avast and Avira took even longer, at more than two hours.
It’s true that some antivirus products use the initial scan to optimize future scans. For example, the first scan with Total Defense Essential Anti-Virus ran about as long as Panda, but a repeat scan finished in about seven minutes. Panda did run faster the second time, but it still took 50 minutes. Of course, you can still use your computer while Panda is scanning, but you might want to run your scans at low-use times. The scheduler lets you set up one or more scans to run daily, weekly, or monthly.
For each scheduled scan, you can have it check the whole computer, critical areas only, or a custom set of files and folders. Diminished Malware Protection Lab results are important, of course, but I also put every antivirus through my hands-on malware protection tests. One simple test uses antivirus samples that I collected and analyzed myself. The real-time protection in some antivirus utilities starts checking on these the moment Windows Explorer displays their details, wiping out any known nasties.
Panda doesn’t scan files just because they’ve appeared in Windows Explorer, but moving or copying files to a new location is enough to get the interest of its real-time scanner. When I moved my samples to a new folder, it started gradually nibbling away at the collection, stacking up popups in the bottom right corner, with an indicator for the number of notifications.
Unlike some, it didn’t wait for me to view and dismiss the popups. The whole stack vanished shortly after the last new popup appeared. Continuing the test, I launched the handful of samples that remained after the initial culling. Considering both types of protection, Panda detected 90 percent of the samples and scored 9.
Challenged with precisely the same collection of samples, Sophos Home Free scored 9. Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus outshone the rest with a perfect 10 points. Malware Blocking Results Chart I maintain a second set of samples, hand-modified versions of the found-in-the-wild originals. For each sample, I change the filename, append zeroes to give it a different file size, and overwrite some non-executable bytes.
As with the unmodified samples, I moved these to a new folder, to trigger Panda’s real-time protection. Panda missed fully 60 percent of the samples whose originals it detected, which isn’t good.
This figure suggests a signature-based detection system that’s overly rigid. I noticed that a couple of my real-world ransomware samples were among the modified samples Panda missed. Just to see what would happen, I launched those.
The results were dismal. A Cerber sample encrypted all my documents and posted its ransom warning, without a peep from Panda. And the pernicious Petya rendered the virtual machine test system unusable by encrypting its entire hard drive.
In this test, products get the opportunity to fend off malware by keeping the browser away from the nasty URL, or wipe out the malware sample at the download stage. Since my last review, Panda has removed the Safe Browsing feature from the free edition, so its only defense is to identify and eliminate malware on download. In this test, Panda missed almost twice as many verified malware downloads as it detected. For quite a few of the samples it did detect, its cleanup process crashed Internet Explorer.
With just 35 percent protection, its score is one of the lowest I’ve recorded. At the other end of the spectrum, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition , Norton, and Trend Micro defended against 99 percent of malware downloads.
Sophos managed 97 percent, and Avira 96 percent. Panda’s performance is just dismal by comparison. In addition, the absence of Safe Browsing in Panda’s free edition means that you get no help with identifying phishing scams. You’ll just have to rely on the phishing protection built into your browser, and stay alert for those the browser misses. Nobody, not even the owner of the Wi-Fi network you’re using, can peek at or tweak your data.
As a bonus, your traffic seems to be coming from the VPN server’s IP address, so sites that try to track you using your personal IP address simply fail. All of Panda’s security products, even the lowly free antivirus, include a VPN component. In fact, Panda licenses VPN technology and server network from AnchorFree, as do quite a few other security companies. At first glance, it looks like you can choose a server in any of about two dozen countries, but if you try, you’ll find that country selection is a premium feature.
All you can do is let the VPN automatically connect to the server it thinks is best. The VPN’s display page keeps you apprised of how much bandwidth you’ve used, which is important given that MB daily limit.
For a little hands-on experience, I visited a couple media-heavy sites and watched a video on YouTube. Strangely, the reported data usage didn’t change from zero bytes until it reached one whole megabyte. Panda doesn’t offer all the configuration options found in Hotspot Shield itself.
Hotspot Shield also includes a component that warns users away from dangerous websites. When you visit a shopping site, you can check whether Panda supports it by pointing to the toolbar icon. If it does, you just shop as usual. In the background, Panda searches for your selected items on other sites, and also looks for special deals on the current site. If it finds anything useful, it slides in a banner at the top of the page to report. For example, when I searched for an adult Chewbacca costume at Walmart, it found several shipping deals on the site, and proposed some deals on other sites.
I didn’t actually find the suggested deals very useful. If I’m looking for a Chewbacca costume, a discount on Star Wars toys or tie fighter cufflinks just doesn’t seem relevant. But there’s no harm in letting Panda try to save you money. Bonus Features You’d think that a company giving away antivirus protection would reserve bonus security features for the paid version. You’d be wrong, in many cases. For example, with Avast you get a network security inspector, a simple password manager, a secure browser, the shopping price-checker I mentioned, and more.
AVG blocks online trackers, marks up dangerous links in search results, and shreds your sensitive files to prevent forensic recovery. Like Panda, Avira offers limited VPN protection, along with a secure browser and a tool to check for missing security patches.
Panda’s bonus features show up in the second row of main-window icons. The other side is more proactive, guarding against malware that tries to infect your computer using USB autoplay. Panda calls what it does “vaccination. It’s helpful, and it’s harmless. I recommend flipping the switch that automatically vaccinates every USB drive.
Some extra-nasty Trojans prevent Windows from even booting, or interfere with installation of antivirus software. Reboot the problem computer using the Rescue Kit and you’ve got a fully capable antivirus running in an alternate operating system.
Scanning and Scheduling
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