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Review: Kaspersky Internet Security 2011

10 June 2010, Mike Williams

At first glance Kaspersky Internet Security 2011 looks much like many other internet security suite. Antivirus engine – check; real-time protection – check; firewall – check; safer surfing tools – check; parental controls – check, it’s all seems very much business as usual.

Spend a little more time with the program, though, and you’ll soon begin to realise that this isn’t just another identikit security tool. A strong attention to detail, extreme configurability and some uniquely powerful features are a few of the positive reasons that help Kaspersky Internet Security 2011 stand out from the crowd. There are some negatives, too, but it’s still an interesting package overall, and if you’re looking for a new security suite then Kaspersky Internet Security 2011 deserves to be high on the candidate list.

Of course you’ll need to install it, first, and if you’re unlucky then that’s where the first problem will emerge. The Kaspersky setup program complained soon after launch on our test PC that it couldn’t continue because ClamAV was installed, this was an incompatible program, and we should remove it immediately. But ClamAV hadn’t been installed for months. What next?

Manually scouring our hard drive for ClamAV remnants didn’t help. We found a stray ClamAV reference in the Registry, but deleting that made no difference, either. And so eventually we headed off to the Kaspersky support site, where a page explained in detail how the “incompatible software” check could be turned off. (If you’re looking for the same information, go here.)

And finally the program installed.

While we think Kaspersky could do a better job of distinguishing between an installed program and leftover fragments, it’s important to put this into perspective. Checking for the presence of incompatible software is a good idea, and something that could save you a great deal of hassle later.

You may not experience this problem anyway, and even if you do, it only takes a couple of minutes to apply the workaround in the link above. Once it’s done, Kaspersky Internet Security 2011 installs with no problems at all, and you’ll be able to explore everything the program has to offer.

Antivirus engine

Kaspersky’s previous antivirus engines have been generally well liked by independent testing labs; AV Comparatives, for instance, awarded Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2010 their highest Advanced+ rating for on-demand detection of malware, noting in particular that it raises very few false alarms.

The Internet Security 2011 engine is starting from a solid base, then, and provides a range of ways to check your system. Once installed, for instance, the program will check your drives only when the PC is idle, so you don’t have to be interrupted by a scan suddenly coming to life.

But you can also scan a file or folder with a right-click from Explorer. There’s the option to run a Critical Areas scan, which checks for threats in the most likely area, or a Full Scan that scours the entire system. And you can set up any of these to run automatically through the very configurable scheduler, which again has options to minimise the impact on performance; you’re able to have scheduled scans be paused until the screensaver is active, for example.

Scanning performance overall is average, but acceptable. If you need better performance, though, there are plenty of configuration options that might help. Ask the program to scan only new or changed files, say, and you introduce some vulnerabilities, but scans do become very speedy.

Real-time protection

Just as you’d expect, Kaspersky Internet Security 2011 deploys extensive real-time protection measures to look for threats wherever they might enter your PC. So it will check the applications you run, the files you open, incoming and outgoing emails, http web traffic and instant messages (ICQ, MSN, AIM, Yahoo!, Jabber, Google Talk, Mail.Ru Agent and IRC are supported), as well as checking incoming network packets for signs of danger.

Browsing protection is a little more lightweight than some of the competition. There’s no big extra toolbar here, no alerts displayed against search engine URLs, your browser looks just as it did. Kaspersky’s Safe Surf module is checking for suspect and phishing URLs in the background, though, and can block the opening of dangerous websites entirely (though, curiously, this option isn’t turned on by default).

At least, this is what should happen if you’re running IE or Firefox; everyone else is out of luck. A glance at the Settings dialog box reveals similar disappointing news elsewhere. There’s an option to “Block dangerous scripts”, but only “in Microsoft Internet Explorer”.

The core PC real-time protection is much better, though, in particular the new System Watcher technology. This tracks exactly what programs are doing, the files they’re creating and changing, Registry tweaks they might make, the system calls they’ve made. And if Internet Security 2011 finds they’re behaving suspiciously, then not only can the program be blocked, but many of its changes can be reversed in just a moment or two. That could potentially undo a great deal of damage, and is a major plus point for the program.

Safe Run

It happens to everyone, occasionally. You’ve found a program in some dark corner of the web, it looks interesting, but you don’t entirely trust the source – so should you try it?

Kaspersky recognise that you’ll have these doubts from time to time, and Internet Security 2011 helps out with a feature called Safe Run. Launch this from the program’s Vista/ Windows 7 gadget, or with a right-click on Kaspersky’s system tray icon, and a new desktop will appear. This looks just like your regular desktop, and you can run programs from it in exactly the same way, but it’s a sandbox, isolated from your system. Even if you accidentally launch malware in a Safe Run session, there’s very little chance that it will be able to infect your system or cause any damage.

A similar “Safe Run for Websites” opens your default browser (as long as its IE, Firefox or Chrome) in an isolated window. This then works as a private browser, so if you log in to your online bank, say, then any cookies or logs will remain in the Safe Run environment, invisible to malware. And the system works well for surfing any potentially dangerous sites, as if you run into some forced download (for instance) it’s again very unlikely to be able to install itself onto your PC.

Safe Run isn’t perfect, and can’t provide a 100% guarantee of safety. It’s going to be very difficult for malware to break through the protective wall it provides, though, and overall the system is a welcome addition to Internet Security 2011, a genuinely useful technology that you won’t find in most competitors.

Parental controls

Kaspersky Internet Security’s Parental Controls used to be quite weak, but this version sees them extended into a far more capable product.

The core internet controls allow you to control when a particular user can go online, the sites they can visit, and the file types they’re allowed to download, for instance. It’s generally easy to set up, although we missed the option to configure defaults based on the user’s age. You can’t choose a “teenager” profile for one user, “pre-school” for another and be confident that the settings will be more or less appropriate: everyone gets the same default configuration and you must tweak everything individually.

Elsewhere you’ll find options to control which programs a user can run, when and how often (so maybe only one hour of games per day, and not after 10pm on weekdays, for example).

You’re also able to decide which instant messaging and social networking contacts can send messages to, or receive them from your child. Or, at least, that’s the theory. Even if they don’t have access to some other PC, or an internet-enabled mobile, though, it’s difficult to guarantee success here.

There are additional options to restrict the sending of private data (credit cards, phone numbers, addresses and so on); monitor the use of particular words or phrases in a users messages; or control exactly when your kids can use the PC at all.

But if you prefer to be more hands-off, you can tone down the restrictions and simply take advantage of the Parental Controls reports. These will let you see the applications a user has launched, the web sites they’ve visited, instant messaging conversations and more, so you can keep an eye on what your kids are doing and confirm that everything is okay.

Antispam, firewall

Kaspersky Internet Security 2011 includes a spam filter, with direct support for Outlook, Windows Mail, Thunderbird and The Bat!, and POP3/ SMTP/ IMAP traffic filtering to ensure it can work with everything else.

It uses a mix of techniques to detect spam; iBayes, GSG-based image recognition and a custom heuristic technology, comparisons with databases of dodgy URLs, and your own personal black and white lists. (You can directly import your address book into the latter, for instance, so emails from legitimate senders will never be marked as spam.)

You can even customise the results further by more traditional methods, building a list of “blocked phrases” that will be used to filter out the junk. That’s generally not a good idea, though, and probably unnecessary. The default settings did a decent job blocking our test spam, out of the box, and training only improves the results further.

The firewall similarly needs little in the way of configuration. It automatically chooses the appropriate actions most of the time, letting safe programs communicate online and only warning you of genuinely suspect behaviour.

If you’ve a complex network setup that requires a few tweaks, though, there’s plenty of configurability available. You’re able to set up rules for DNS packets, emails, remote desktop traffic, ICMP and more, and if anything these are more clearly presented here than in some competing firewalls.

Other features

Other interesting features include the Vulnerability Scan, which checks your Windows and application settings for security vulnerabilities. On our test PC we were warned that that CD/DVD autorun was enabled, for instance, and that we had Adobe AIR and Java files that contained security flaws.

This is all useful information, though sometimes not sufficiently detailed. The report on our test PC complained that “protocol prefixes are modified”, and gave us the ability to fix this at a click, but didn’t tell us exactly which this involved. Which prefixes were modified, what changes would the fix make? The Vulnerability Scan wasn’t saying.

There’s also a Privacy Cleaner, which removes your choice of various system and Internet Explorer histories: memory dumps, Windows logs, the Start > Run history, Regedit Favourites list and more.

While some of these steps are worthwhile, others may be counter-productive. We were recommended to clear the prefetch cache, for instance, and set IE to clean its cache when the browser closes, both of which would improve privacy only at the expense of system performance.

We had better luck with the Virtual Keyboard, an on-screen keyboard that allows you to enter personal details like logons or bank account details without them being intercepted by malware.

And hidden away at the bottom of the settings dialog is Kaspersky’s Anti-Banner, an effective tool for blocking ads and banners in your browser. It’s turned off by default, but is worth enabling: in our tests it did a great job of blocking annoying ads and speeding up our browsing, and proved a welcome finishing bonus to a generally very strong security suite.

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