Eset Smart Security 4, a security program starting at $59.99 for one user license ($69.99 for three, $94.99 for four) does three things superbly: it offers a foolproof interface, plenty of manual controls, and a lightweight design. The problem is, for that kind of money you can choose from a spate of other programs that offer such features as online backup, tuneup utilities, and parental controls. If you can live without these extras, Smart Security 4 is worth a look.
Installation and Setup
When we download the program, but before we installed it, we were assigned a username and password (a random series of letters and numbers in each case). You’ll need to enter this info, post-installation, if you want to get updates. However, you can check a box to proceed with the installation and deal with this later.
Techie users will appreciate that during setup they can opt to adjust certain advanced settings. For instance, they can choose when to submit suspicious files (the default option is for the program to ask before submitting, but you can also have it submit them without asking, or not submit at all). For people who want to minimize pop-ups, the option to submit without asking could be a godsend. You’ll also be asked to decide if you want to enable or disable the detection of potentially unwanted applications (we enabled this feature). The fact that users are forced to make this choice before installation might intimidate novices.
Installing the 46MB program on our Toshiba Tecra M10 notebook took a speedy one minute. Finally, we saw a dialog box explaining a new network had been detected; we were asked to choose between strict protection (making the computer invisible to others on the network) or allow sharing (we chose this option, which Eset recommends for homes and offices).
Although it offers plenty of manual controls, Smart Security’s user interface remains foolproof. Using a discreet link in the lower left corner, users can toggle between an advanced interface and a more streamlined one (the simple one is the default). But whereas there’s a big difference between BitDefender Total Security 2010’s novice and advanced user interfaces, Eset’s two versions look virtually identical.
Regardless of the interface you choose, you’ll see all of the major categories (Protection status, Computer scan, Update, Setup, and Help and Support) listed in the left-hand pane, complete with colorful icons. The only difference is that if you’re using the advanced interface, a category called Tools appears, which includes such tasks as quarantining, scheduling tasks, and SysInspector, a diagnostic tool that looks at the registry, memory, and the file system to help identify potentially undetected threats and other problems.
Unfortunately, though, these results are presented in a complicated way (even when you use a drop-down menu to reduce the amount of information displayed), and is really meant as a log for, say, IT managers. Unfortunately, there’s no way to act on these results—say, a button that says “Fix,” which would automatically clean up your registry, defrag your hard drive, and delete temporary files.
Other features include a firewall that develops rules as it “observes” your usage habits; an improved spam filter; SysRescue, for creating a recovery disc; a mechanism that prevents strangers from uninstalling the program, and protection against threats harbored on portable media (few other programs promise this). What you won’t find are many of the consumer-friendly features offered in comparably priced security suites—namely, online backup, parental controls, and tuneup utilities, which don’t just diagnose inefficiencies in your system, but correct them with the click of a button.
Smart Security 4 is one of the most lightweight security programs that we’ve tested: it requires only 48MB RAM and 46MB of disk space (other, more full-featured suites require upwards of 200MB) and is one of the few that can support machines as old as those running Windows 2000. Users can opt for a Smart (standard) Scan or a custom one, in which case you can check off the folders you want the program to examine. We also like that you can see a progress bar while the scan is in progress, although you cannot opt to shut down your notebook automatically after the scan is complete.
In terms of its effectiveness, the independent organization Virus Bulletin found that it Smart Security 4 blocks 94.4 percent of malware. That falls between its competitors: Trend Micro and McAfee only blocked 91.3 and 93.6 percent, respectively, but other companies, such as Symantec and BitDefender, blocked 98.7 and 97.6 percent.
To gauge how this small program affects a computer’s performance, we timed how long it took our Tecra M10 notebook to open four applications—Internet Explorer, iTunes, Google Picasa 2, and Microsoft Word—both before we installed Smart Security 4 and while running a system scan. Before we installed the software, our PC took 1, 4, 1, and 2 seconds to open these programs. With a scan running, these launch times rose to 6, 6, 3, and 8 seconds. Depending on the application, that’s either below or above average. For these applications, the average open time is 3.8, 8.3, 5.2, and 5.5 seconds, respectively. (These numbers reflect our testing Smart Security 4, BitDefender Total Security 2010, McAfee Total Protection 2009, Symantec Norton 360 3.0, Trend Micro Internet Security Pro 3.0, and ZoneAlarm Extreme Security 2010.)
After installing the software and running a scan, the boot time of our latpops rose by a slight 7 seconds. Considering that heavier programs, such as ZoneAlarm Extreme Security 2010, raised the boot time of our test notebook by 49 seconds, Smart Security lives up to its name.
Licenses and Support
The price of Smart Security 4 varies depending on how many licenses you purchase: A single license costs $59.99; three cost $69.99; and four, $94.99. Three licenses in the sixty-dollar range, at least, is standard, although some programs, such as McAfee Total Protection 2009 (on sale for $39.99) are dirt cheap these days. Unlike some of its bigger competitors, such as Symantec, Eset doesn’t offer 24/7 phone support; rather, its hours are Monday through Friday, 6am to 6pm Pacific Time. To complement this, there are forums on Eset’s support page, as well as a knowledge base and a form for submitting an inquiry in writing.
Eset Smart Security 4 excels at security itself, delivering unobtrusive performance along with plenty of manual features for techie users. But for the average consumer, a comparably priced security suite, such as the foolproof Symantec Norton 360 ($69.99) or the more expert-friendly BitDefender Total Security 2010 ($79.95), would be a better choice, since they offer more automation, parental controls, online backup, and tuneup utilities. But if you don’t need these features, or really just want lightweight antivirus software, Smart Security 4 is a strong choice.