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Some free security programs appear to offer an array of features beyond just basic antivirus protection. But when you dig deep, you find that most of those extra, advanced options actually require a paid subscription. Such is the case with Avira Free Security for Mac. Free for home use, Avira Free Security starts off with antivirus protection but then lists a VPN, password manager, browser cookie cleaner, junk file cleaner, application uninstaller, startup manager, and PC performance booster. All of these features pop up in the program’s dashboard, but only a few are actually accessible in the free product.
The Avira Free Security for Mac installation is quick and painless, although, as with all antivirus programs on macOS, however, you have to change some system settings during installation. The process directs you to the specific preferences on your Mac that must receive permission for Avira to install. After the initial setup, the program invites you to run a smart scan on your Mac to check for any security or privacy issues and any performance concerns.
The first time I ran the smart scan on my Mac, Avira caught 44 tracking cookies and informed me that my email was not being monitored for phishing attempts. It also promised that it could free up 2.6GB of disk space. Further details identified one of the privacy issues as tracking cookies in Chrome and the disk space clutter as cache files, logs, and general trash. I could check or uncheck any of these options and then tell Avira to fix the issues.
However, here’s where the first sales pitch kicked in. The free version of Avira identified the issues found in the smart scan. But to actually clean up anything beyond the junk files would have required one of the paid editions—Avira Internet Security at $34.99/£22.99 for the first year or Avira Prime at $59.99/£51.99 for the first year.
Features & Interface
The user interface of the free version lists the functions of the paid version, which can be a little confusing as only half of the listed functions can actually be used. However, the free version offers all the important scan functions, including “Quick Scan” which checks the most vulnerable areas in a few minutes, and the complete scan or manual and timed scan.
Though the smart scan’s usefulness is limited unless you plan to upgrade to one of the paid editions, the program’s dashboard seems to offer access to a variety of impressive tools, all organized into three main categories: Security, Privacy, and Performance.
Under Security is virus scanning. Here, you can run a quick scan to check out system files and other vulnerable areas or a full scan to analyze your entire Mac for malware. With both types of scans, you’re able to schedule a scan to run daily, weekly, or monthly. Plus, you can create a custom scan to look only at certain folders.
By default, the real-time virus protection scans any new file saved to your computer as well as files downloaded from the internet. Scanning USB drives is listed as another option, but that requires one of the paid Avira products. Any malware discovered is automatically quarantined for you to inspect it. Clicking the name of a piece of malware takes you to the Avira website with a helpful analysis of the file.
Under Privacy are the VPN, password manager, and cookie cleaner. To use the VPN, you must download a separate and free tool called Avira Phantom VPN and WiFi Proxy from the Mac App Store. Manually turning on the VPN uses your nearest location for the network. With the free version of Avira, you’re limited to just one network location chosen automatically. Plus, your monthly quota of encrypted traffic tops out at 500MB, which won’t last very long.
A free password manager is also included, but for most users, Apple’s password manager is probably the more convenient solution. The password manager Avira PWM for Safari works just as a Safari extension. Avira PWM meets the basic functions of a password manager, creating and storing secure passwords, applying them at the associated websites, and requiring you to devise a master password to protect the information. Next on the list is a Cookie Cleaner, but this is yet another feature that requires the paid Prime edition of Avira.
Finally, the Performance category lists three tools—a junk cleaner, an uninstaller, and a startup app manager. Among these, the junk cleaner is available in the free version of Avira and will scan and remove junk files and other unnecessary files clogging up your system. The uninstaller and startup app manager both require the Prime edition of Avira.
Avira was effective at detecting and stopping malware. The program easily caught and quarantined the different EICAR test files that I tried to download, including the eicar.com file and the eicar text file. It didn’t scan the eicar.zip file when I downloaded it. But when I tried to open the file, Avira caught and quarantined it.
One benefit compared to Avira’s free-to-use competitor Avast is that while Avast advertises quite intrusively for the paid version in its free version, Avira is much more moderate with its advertising.
The most frustrating part of Avira Free Security is the sheer number of tools that require one of the paid editions. I don’t necessarily fault Avira for this type of trickery; it’s a game played by a lot of free products. But listing each tool in the program as if it were available felt deceptive to me. Ultimately, the old adage of “you get what you pay for” is certainly true with Avira Free Security. Take away the tools that require a subscription, and you’re left with the antivirus feature, a limited VPN, a password manager that works only in Safari, and a junk file cleaner. On the surface, that’s not a terrible mix for a free product. But you can do better with other free standalone products.