For the past 8 years, since 2003, PC Tools has been working to identify and clean PC threats and tune performance through their wide selection of tools and security applications. In 2008 PC Tools was acquired by Symantec but continues to function as a separate operation. This installment of the Security for Everyone Series will focus on the latest iteration of their Internet Security application - PC Tools Internet Security 2011.
PC Tools makes accessing their trial version of Internet Security 2011 a simple task. The pre-installer will download the full application, which weighs in around 55 MB. The install has very few options, and none that really let you customize the application to the point of removing components such as the firewall or anti-spam features. The only real option involves whether or not an update should be performed as part of the install.Thankfully this is selected by default.
It’s worth noting that PC Tools did identify some existing security software and would not perform its own install until the other had been removed first. This was handled well with the PC Tools installation resuming after a reboot. PC Tools did a fine job of disabling the Windows Firewall in lieu of its own yet did not handle Windows Defender with the same aplomb. I had to manually disable Windows Defender.
Once the install completes, an initial update is performed. The network you are connected to is promptly identified, and you are asked to set the network trust level as trusted or untrusted. Next, PC Tools kicks off an initial scan. An attractive and informative status screen is presented, giving insight into the status of the various PC Tools modules.
As first impressions go, mine was good. I do wish PC Tools handled ending the Windows Defender service, and a bit of installer customization would be welcomed - but all in all, there is nothing terribly broken here. The good, such as an initial update, network identification and initial scan certainly outweigh the undesirable. Let us move on and see how easy or difficult PC Tools Internet Security 2011 is to use and configure.
Ease of Use and Configuration
When it comes time to actually use and configure PC Tools Internet Security 2011, you’ll find an application that is largely intuitive yet provides opportunity to dig into the finer settings.
The status screen allows for quick access to the top four action modules. These include: configuring a Scan, Firewall settings, IntelliGuard and Anti-Spam settings. The Status screen also provides links to relevant history items and version information. Finally, there is a nice visual element to the design as each module's status is defined by a green check (enabled and active) or red x (disabled or out-of-date).
When it comes to scanning you have three main scan types to choose from: Intelli-scan, full scan or a custom scan. Intelli-scan is the default. It scans those areas most likely to contain a threat - such as browser setting, startup items and certain areas within the registry. A full scan operates just as the name implies and leaves no folder or file unchecked. The custom scan allows you to choose the drives or directories to target as well as the type of scanner to use, among which there are many.
IntelliGuard is where you will find all the protection modules included in Internet Security 2011. You can select each guard individually to manage its associated settings and history. You can also choose to disable all IntelliGuard modules with a single click; however, you will be prompted to choose how long IntelliGuard should remain disabled. The disable options include intervals from five minutes to one hour as well as an option to permanently disable IntelliGuard. Be cautious when disabling any of the IntelliGuard modules as your system will be more susceptible to threat as a result.
As it turns out, I like the firewall settings in PC Tools Internet Security 2011 quite a bit. What appeals to me is not the ability to define network traffic at the port or IP address level but the ease with which broad sweeping changes can be made in an intuitive way.
An example of this is found in the network settings. I like firewalls that allow one to easily define a network as trusted or not. Another characteristic of a good firewall, in my opinion, is one that prompts when a new network is accessed. The PC Tools firewall has these characteristics as evidenced by the ability to adjust a predefined network with only a couple of clicks. You can also set the default behavior to notify you when a new network is accessed. PC Tools Internet Security 2011 takes an additional step and allows you to define the default profile for new networks as trusted or untrusted (the default is untrusted).
Within the firewall you will also find the application level settings you are likely accustomed to. You can allow or deny an application access to the network and even choose the protocols and ports it should be communicating on. The settings also include an Intrusion Prevention section that allows you to define ports and port ranges that should be allowed across all profiles. This may come in handy if you are a Gmail IMAP user and consistently like to use their IMAP SSL connection regardless of the type of network you are connecting to.
All in all I’m quite impressed with the usability of PC Tools Internet Security 2011. A click or two will deliver you to important settings and areas such as the quarantine, scheduled tasks and history logs. There are a lot of configuration opportunities yet they are all well organized and within grasp. Not an easy task. Now, onto determining if the polished exterior is housing a security pro worthy of your consideration.
I’ve carried on a bit about the firewall configuration which I find pretty easy to work with and believe you would too. Of course the easiest to configure firewall is worthless if it doesn’t provide adequate protection.
I’m pleased to report the PC Tools Internet Security 2011 firewall passed my tests without issue. These tests include running an intrusive scan from both Nmap and Nessus. These are utilities that can be used to identify vulnerabilities in a system by extracting as much system information as possible from the target or taking advantage of unpatched exploits.
There is really very little to report. At the surface, the default firewall configuration of PC Tools responds the same, regardless of whether or not the network is set as trusted or untrusted. In many cases this can be a bad thing, especially if the firewall relies on the least secure configuration. The PC Tools firewall takes the proper approach and locks the system down pretty tight (not even a ping response is allowed). Each intrusive scan, set to run without verifying a ping response, returned next to no information. All scanned ports were filtered and gave little to no information.
The firewall has proven to be quiet, with few prompts beyond the first five minutes of the installation. The prompts that are displayed provide adequate information for a user to make an informed response.
The PC tools firewall configuration is very intuitive, considering the depth one can pursue. It also provides excellent protection in a deliverable that is neither noisy nor intrusive. A very impressive offering. While a firewall is excellent for blocking threats at the network layer there remain a plethora of opportunities to introduce virus and malware laden files through basic everyday use. In the next section we’ll look at how well PC Tools protects against such threats.
Antivirus and Antispyware Features
When testing the scanning portion of a security suite, I like to scatter in a few infected files during and prior to its installation. I also introduce several other infected files via USB drives after the installation of the security suite, and I also check to see if a website can successfully plant anything malicious.
In the case of PC Tools Internet Security 2011, I can vouch for its good detection abilities. Threats were successfully identified when a full scan was run. It was also shown effective later, when the real-time scanner leaped into action as files were introduced through the network or via a local USB drive. The full scan did take longer to complete than several other tested products and the PC was noticeably slower during a full scan. Not unusable though, just slower. The latest performance comparative at AV-Comparatives cited some performance concerns a well.
I wish I could report the act of cleaning as being as successful as detection. Unfortunately, PC Tools has chosen to disable the cleaning portion of the scanner in the trial version. You are required to purchase the product before any cleaning will be performed. Unfortunate, as this doesn’t really make the trial version a fully-usable product and doesn’t protect your computer completely while you have it installed.
Thankfully there are organizations that perform independent testing of solutions like PC Tools Internet Security 2011. Regrettably, it is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to the ratings applied toward PC Tools Internet Security 2011. Each site I reviewed (AV-Comparatives, AV-Test and Virus Bulletin) awarded PC tools a passing certification yet in several cases the detection rate was well below the competition; however, cleaning did show to be on the effective side for the most part. If PC Tools Internet Security 2011 is a solution you may be considering, I recommend reviewing the test results at these various sites.
The good news, from a usability perspective, is that you’ll find all scan associated tasks with ease, while browsing through the menus: excluding files, setting schedules, etc. Defining exclusions appears to occur at the file type and specific file level. I did not find where one could exclude an entire directory. I do wish PC Tools Internet Security 2011 allowed potential consumers to test how effective their removal process is - but until that is allowed, you can use the excellent resources mentioned previously to evaluate its efficacy.
When testing for Internet or browser based threats, PC Tools Internet Security 2011 identified malicious sites and scripts without issue. The suite includes a basic toolbar that provides a visual cue as to whether or not a site is considered safe. The toolbar is present in both Internet Explorer and Firefox. The toolbar, aside from being too large, does appear to be effective.
I like PC Tools Internet Security 2011. It doesn’t have the fastest antivirus scanner I’ve tested but the impact on your computer’s performance seems average when compared to other solutions. The firewall module provides great protection and those areas of the antivirus scanner that could be tested proved effective as well. I believe Grandma could install this solution and essentially forget about it, which is really what we all want, isn’t it?