Despite Microsoft’s recent moves to bake in a rather
competent Defender
anti-virus and anti-malware solution right into Windows 8, third-party security
software vendors believe that they have nothing to fear quite yet, since they
can tout more comprehensive scans and heuristic analysis. One of these products
called ESET NOD32 is one of my personal favorites amongst commercial antivirus
software, particularly due to its efficient use of system resources. In October
2013, ESET released a new version of their full featured security suite, Smart Security 7.

Product Information

  • Title: Smart Security 7
  • Company: ESET
  • Supported OS: Windows XP,
    Vista, 7, and 8.x

Smart Security 7

From first installation to first startup, the entire setup
experience is fast and easy, with no annoying nags for toolbar installations to
be seen anywhere (which is something you would hope to expect from paid
software anyway). The main interface itself is by far one of the most
straightforward and simple, with all the options available within a quick mouse
click or two, and not having to rummage through a plethora of pop up dialog

On my first scan, I elected to choose the Quick Scan mode
first to see how long it would take on my Windows 8.1 test machine. Within
about four minutes, it covered all the memory space and essential operating
system files that were loaded at the time with no incident. Shortly thereafter,
Smart Security offered to perform a more detailed custom scan, which you can
run at your leisure. If such a scan is likely to take a while, Smart Security
includes options to either shut down or reboot the host machine. If you are
working on something at the time a shut down or reboot is about to be
initiated, you are given a 30 second grace period to save your work or cancel
the operation as deemed necessary.

ESET engineering hard at work

Real-time protection

As far as the background real-time protection goes, I
noticed hardly any performance penalty when running all of my regular software
programs. ESET has done a great job leveraging aggressive resource management,
ensuring that any incognito scans don’t impede on whatever the user is working
on at the time. Smart Security offers a feature called HIPS or Host-based
Intrusion Prevention System, which serves as something of a guardian angel,
watching to see if any rogue processes surface during day-to-day operation and
puts a stop before any malicious deed is taken. In certain resource-starved
systems, HIPS can potentially add some drag to performance, and it can be
easily disabled via the Settings area if need be.

If your system is in use by children, or you wish to prevent
employees from looking up smut at work, the parental control area allows you to
set up basic web and email filtering in order to prevent unsuitable content
from being viewed by others. Although I applaud ESET for thinking of the
children, I find local, software-based web filtering to be woefully inadequate
and easy to override if account security isn’t locked down tightly. A better
alternative would be to use a network-wide filtering service like OpenDNS,
which is administered from the router and not on a local PC.

Traverse the wrong path online, and you shall encounter

Finally, in what seems to be a newcomer to the ESET toolkit,
is the inclusion of a free anti-theft option, which can be activated after
Smart Security is installed and run for the first time. It touts the ability to
utilize your PC’s webcam and GPS hardware, in an effort to photograph and track
the thief. Although the gesture by ESET is much appreciated, most software-based
anti-theft can be worked around, simply by booting off other media and wiping
the main hard drive. Therefore, ESET Anti-Theft is likely to help when dealing
with less tech-savvy criminals.

Bottom line

So is ESET Smart Security
worth buying at a price of $59.99? The extras bundled on top of the base
anti-virus package, like the web filter, social media scanner and anti-theft
are nice to have, but the real appeal is the base NOD32 product. Since the aforementioned
extras can be replaced by free or cheaper alternatives, like LoJack for anti-theft and
OpenDNS for web filtering, which work
just as well, if not better than what Smart Security can provide, ESET’s NOD32 seems
to be a better value proposition at $39.99 a license, with volume discounts
available for multi-PC installations. The engine is robust, yet the software
will stay out of your way while you work for the most part.