Security for everyone - Reviewing Heimdal Pro
The security market is filled with products that aim to protect you against all kinds of cyber threats. There are plenty of solutions that offer good antivirus protection or a good firewall. However, there are not many security products designed to watch over the vulnerabilities found in the third party software that you might have installed on your Windows computer. There are also even fewer products designed to track and stop zero hour exploits and financial and banking data leakage. Heimdal is one of the companies that offers this kind of protection. That’s what Heimdal Pro does in order to protect you. Seeing that a new version of this software was launched, we took it for a spin and made a few tests. Read this review and learn our opinion about this niche security product for Windows:
What is Heimdal?
Heimdal is a software application that is designed to enhance your security when you're online. It's not designed to replace your antivirus or your firewall, but rather complement these security products. Heimdal is available in three different versions :
Where To Buy
- Heimdal Free : it is the freeware version of Heimdal. It scans your computer for third party applications that are known to have security vulnerabilities. If any are found, Heimdal automatically updates these programs to their latest versions.
- Heimdal Pro : is the commercial version for home users or small offices. In addition to automatically patching your vulnerable applications, it also analyzes the behaviour of the software installed on your computer in order to detect malware that is trying to steal data and financial information. If such programs are detected, Heimdal Pro blocks the communication between your computer and the hacker controlled servers. It also scans your HTTP traffic in order to protect you against zero hour exploits and malicious websites.
- Heimdal Corp : is the corporate version of this software and offers centralized management and statistics for all the computers running Heimdal, alongside the features found in their consumer products.
In order to get Heimdal on your computer, you must first download it from the official website. The file you download is a small executable called HeimdalSetupLauncher.exe , with a size of only 1.41 MB.
The launcher downloads the files required by the installation. As far as we can tell, you should get around 25 MB of files from Heimdal’s servers.
Then, Heimdal will let you choose its install location and it will also ask you to agree with its license terms.
Then, you will have to activate your product. If you purchased a Pro or Corp license, enter your license key. If you only want to use the Free version, you must provide your e-mail address.
When the activation is complete, the wizard informs you and you can continue installing the software.
The install process takes a few seconds from start to finish. Once the installation is done, Heimdal will load its user interface and start its protection processes. There’s no need for a computer reboot.
The download and install processes for Heimdal are fast and easy to go through. If you’re installing the Free version, the only personal information you will have to provide is a valid e-mail address.
Ease of use and configuration
The 2015 version of Heimdal that we reviewed in the past had a very simple and easy to use interface. However, the user interface was quite spartan and didn’t look like modern day software. Things have changed for the better and the new Heimdal looks a lot more up to date. Also, it follows the flat design trend we see everywhere from Windows 10 to Android.
Heimdal’s main user interface is split into four major sections: Overview, Traffic scanning, Malware engine and Patching system.
The starting point is the Overview section that shows bits of information about the state of your Windows computer. You can see whether “Your computer is healthy” or not, you can see how many third-party apps have been patched with updates, the number of malware files cleaned by Heimdal and the number of malicious websites blocked by it. You can also find out when were the last scan and the last updates performed. And, if you want to trigger a manual scan, all you have to do is click/tap on the big Scan button.
To make it easier for you to see if there are any actions that need to be made, the main Overview console also changes its coloring. For instance, if Heimdal found third party apps that need to be patched with updates, the Overview will turn yellow, like in the screenshot below.
The second section of Heimdal’s user interface is called Traffic scanning and it lets you enable or disable the Traffic scanning and Traffic filtering features, as well as configure your proxy, in case you use one.
We feel that we should explain a bit what these features do:
- Traffic scanning scans the internet traffic going on your computer in order to detect and block malicious websites or content that could deliver Zero Hour exploits.
- Traffic filtering allows Heimdal to check whether the websites you try to navigate to are found in a list of known malicious websites stored on Heimdal’s Secure DNS database. This feature is the one that protects you against ransomware attacks and data leakage.
- Automatically disable traffic filtering is an option that, when turned on, can disable Heimdal’s Traffic Filtering feature if Heimdal cannot connect to the cloud servers maintained by the company in your location. In such situations, your PC could get disconnected from the internet, so it’s a good idea to leave this switch on.
The Malware engine section includes only one switch that you can use to turn this module On or Off. The Malware engine is self explanatory: Heimdal uses it to detect and block malware that may roam on your computer. It’s designed to act especially against Trojans, harmful scripts and spyware programs.
The final module from Heimdal is called Patching system. This is the module that is responsible for keeping your third party apps up to date, patched with the latest updates available. The Patching system displays all the third party apps that are supported and monitored by Heimdal. For each of them, you can see the latest version available, its Status and a check mark for turning the Autoupdate feature On or Off.
If one of the third party apps from Heimdal’s list is not installed on your computer, you can also install it from the Recommended software tab. We like this small detail, as it allows you to quickly install any of these apps with only one click. There’s no need to go to a certain website to download and install the app. If Heimdal knows it, it has it.
There is however one thing that we’d like to see Heimdal do: the list of known third party apps has grown in numbers, but it’s still rather short and it still doesn’t include some common apps many users have on their computers. Apps like iTunes, Opera, Paint.NET, Trillian, uTorrent, qBittorrent, Spotify, Dropbox and so on. We’ve asked the team behind Heimdal if they intend to expand the list of apps supported by Heimdal’s automatic patch engine, and their answer was positive so that’s very good news.
For now, Heimdal monitors 37 third party apps, although this number is a bit overestimated because some of the apps are actually different versions of the same software: 7-zip x64, 7-zip x 86, Adobe Acrobat Reader DC, Adobe AIR , Adobe Flash Player NPAPI, Adobe Flash Player PPAPI , Adobe Reader, Adobe Shockwave, CCleaner x64, CCleaner x86 , Classic Shell x32, Classic Shell x64, FileZilla , Firefox, Firefox x64, Foxit Reader, Gimp x64, Gimp x86, Google Chrome, Google Drive, Java 7 x64, Java 7 x86, Java 8 x64, Java 8 x86, Jitsi x64, Jitsi x86 , Libre Office, Microsoft Silverlight , Notepad++ , Pidgin, Skype, Teamviewer 11, Thunderbird, VLC x86, VLC x64, WinRar x64 and WinRar x86.
Heimdal’s user interface also offers a range of logs that detail the actions it took. If you want to see them, click or tap the Activity reports button from the top right of the user interface. Then, you will get to see General statistics or you can ask Heimdal to display Security news alerts or the logs it recorded for Software patches, Infections detected or Websites blocked.
Other than the options available inside each of the protection modules found in Heimdal, this security product also includes a few advanced Settings. You can access them by clicking on the small cog wheel from the top right corner of the main user interface. In here, you can turn the main modules On or Off as well as set the frequency of Heimdal’s scans for malware or outdated third party apps. By default, Heimdal does a Malware scan each 60 minutes and scans for outdated apps each 120 minutes. We found these values to be OK and we don’t think you should change them.
We appreciated that Heimdal includes a range of settings which you can use to adjust the number and types of notifications you will get from it. In the Notification center section you can turn the Balloon notification On or Off altogether, but you can also go into detail and see whether you want to see notifications about malicious traffic that has been blocked, about software updates, weekly activity reports or security news alerts.
Heimdal also includes some Support options: you can access their FAQ (Frequently asked questions) , read the User Guide or, if you need further help, you can Contact them by sending an email.
Heimdal offers a user interface with a modern flat design that adheres to the latest design trends. We liked how easy it is to understand what each module does and we are sure that each user will be pleased. Heimdal also improved the number of third party apps it monitors, compared to the apps monitored in their previous version.
How well does Heimdal protect you?
As we mentioned earlier, Heimdal is a security product that works by adding some extra layers of security on top of your antivirus solution, all in order to protect you against cyber threats. It’s not, as you know by now, a security product that should be used on its own: Heimdal is designed to work alongside a traditional security suite that has an antivirus module and a firewall module. On top of those modules, Heimdal adds three layers of extra protection that should make your computer experience even safer:
- Heimdal patches your computer vulnerabilities by automatically updating apps commonly targeted by malicious software or hackers that try to use them in order to gain access to your computer.
- Heimdal scans and filters your internet traffic in order to block dangerous websites, malicious content, ransomware attacks and data leakage.
- Heimdal includes a malware engine that is designed to protect you against nasty malware that traditional antiviruses don’t necessarily block very efficiently.
Let’s start with the first protection layer: at the time of writing this review, Heimdal monitored and was able to automatically patch 37 different third party apps (which we mentioned in the previous section of this review). This list includes many of the widely used programs known to be vulnerable, and usually targeted by malware and hackers that try to take control of your computer.
We wanted to see if Heimdal does indeed update the programs found in this list of critical applications. So we used our test computer that was running on Windows 10 and we installed old versions of the programs found in Heimdal’s list. Then, we watched what Heimdal does. It immediately detected and started updating the old apps. In only a couple of moments, they were all patched up.
The second protection layer offered by Heimdal is its Traffic scanning module. Heimdal analyzes all the traffic going on your computer and also check if the websites you’re trying to load are known to hold malicious content. This type of protection is included in many traditional security suites, but we can tell you from experience that not many of them work well and protect you as they should. That’s why we consider this protection feature from Heimdal to be a welcomed addition. To test it out, we took our test computer and we used all the popular web browsers ( Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Opera) and tried to load some known malicious websites. We would also like to mention that we used a clean Windows 10 installation and clean web browsers, meaning that we used no antivirus and the browsers had no addons installed. We also disabled all the in-browser antimalware protection modules. We did all that in order to check if Heimdal does indeed stop malicious websites on its own. However, this is an extreme situation, as you should use Heimdal together with all the other security modules that we disabled. :)
Our findings were positive and we can confirm that Heimdal managed to block all the malicious websites that we tried to access. It worked as it should have in all the web browsers that we tested, as you can see in the screenshot below.
Last but not least, Heimdal also includes a Malware engine that’s designed to protect you by detecting and blocking the communications between your infected computer and the hackers or servers that try to compromise your information. As we mentioned earlier, the Malware engine protection module is available only in Heimdal Pro and in Heimdal Corp, but not in Heimdal Free. In order to test its efficiency, we used two ransomware samples - Cryptowall and Cryptolocker - and infected our Windows 10 test system with them. Unlike traditional security solutions, and by that we’re pointing fingers at antiviruses, Heimdal didn’t pop on the desktop saying that “the end is near”. Instead, we noticed that it monitored and blocked all the attempts the ransomware made to connect to remote malicious servers. The list of blocked attempts kept on growing and growing, but no data was getting away from our PC.
If you encounter such a situation, you will be more than happy to know that none of your financial and banking information got stolen. If neither your antivirus solution, nor the proactive measures taken by Heimdal didn’t manage to keep you safe from getting infected with malware, the reactive protection module - the Malware engine - will at least stop you from losing information, by analyzing the network traffic on your PC.
Heimdal Pro keeps its word and delivers all it promises: old third party apps you have installed are automatically patched to their latest versions, the websites you visit are permanently checked and if they contain malware your access is halted, and the internet traffic on your PC is always monitored for attempts of data stealing. Everything works as advertised and that makes us happy.
Pros and cons
After using and testing Heimdal for quite a while now, we appreciated the following:
Where To Buy
- Both Heimdal Free and Heimdal Pro enhance your security by automatically patching many of the commonly used, known to be vulnerable, third party apps.
- Heimdal Pro has a web scanning engine that protects you against malicious websites before you reach those websites.
- If your PC gets infected, Heimdal Pro can block internet traffic and stop hackers from stealing your information. That’s especially important when you think about your financial and banking data.
- The user interface looks good and it is easy to use.
There are also a few not so positive elements we’d like to mention:
- $44 is a bit pricey for a Heimdal Pro license, if you take into consideration the fact that this cost adds to that of your antivirus.
- The list of third party apps that Heimdal can automatically patch to their latest versions could grow a bit more and include other programs that are commonly found on Windows PCs.
Heimdal Pro is not a security product that was created to replace your traditional antivirus and firewall solutions. It is a program and a service that is developed and maintained by a team of security experts, that’s designed to complement traditional security products. Heimdal covers a security gap usually left open by antiviruses, firewalls and other antimalware products, by taking care of your outdated software, which otherwise can be vulnerable, by blocking your access to malicious websites and by cutting off communications between financial and banking related malware and hacker controlled servers. These are all very important aspects when it comes to online security and Heimdal does a good job at what it promises, so our verdict can only be a positive one. We recommend all of you, our readers, to at least try Heimdal and see if you like it.