In today’s age of identity theft and viruses crazed on destroying our lives, using a computer can be more trouble than it’s worth. No security suite is a golden ticket guarantee not to get hit by a nasty – a little commonsense and regular OS patching goes a long way – but at the very least you should install an anti-virus/malware package to protect your confidential data and surfing habits. Some suites, like ESET Smart Security 4, go even further and protect your PC from a whole host of other stuff you don’t even want to think about. Forget bloated solutions from the likes of Norton, ESET is the real deal.

I’ve been using ESET’s NOD32 Anti-Virus package for a couple of years and I’ve never had a single security breach. So, it’s with great pleasure that I learned that the company has released an even more powerful security solution. Aimed at home users and small-to-medium-sized businesses running Windows 2000, XP, 2003 or Vista (32- or 64-bit), ESET Smart Security (£39 per year for three licenses) includes anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-spam and software firewall features – all of which are built on ESET’s advanced heuristic ThreatSense detection system and the ESET NOD32 scanning engine.

New Version
ESET Smart Security 4 isn’t a major overhaul compared to the previous version, but its enhancements certainly make it a more powerful product and worth the upgrade. The anti-virus system now cleans and deletes most of the detected infiltrations without requiring user intervention. Computer scanning can be launched in the background without slowing down performance, and core optimisation processes keep the size of update files considerably smaller than in earlier versions. Also, the protection of update files against damage has been improved. It is now possible to scan incoming mail not only in Outlook but also in Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail and Thunderbird.

The personal firewall now displays IPv6 addresses and allows you to create rules for them, and it monitors changes in executable files in order to overcome infection. It is possible to allow file modification of signed applications. Integrated file scanning in HTTP and POP3 application protocols are now supported so you are protected when browsing the Internet or downloading e-mails, and there’s now the ability to recognise the character of network communication and various types of network attacks along with an option to automatically ban such communication. You can select whether the firewall actions will be executed automatically, or if you want to set rules interactively, and communication in policy-based mode is handled according to rules predefined by the user. Importantly, although the personal firewall supersedes the integrated Windows Firewall (ESET Smart Security installation turns off the windows firewall by default), it interacts with the Windows Security Center so you are always informed about your security status.

Other key improvements worth mentioning include the ESET SysRescue feature that enables you to create a bootable CD/DVD/USB containing ESET Smart Security, which is perfect for getting your system rid of hard-to-remove infiltrations without booting the operating system. ESET SysInspector, an application that thoroughly inspects your computer for information like installed drivers and applications, network connections or important registry entries, is now integrated directly in ESET Smart Security, and document protection serves to scan Microsoft Office documents before they are opened and files downloaded automatically by Internet Explorer, such as Microsoft ActiveX elements. Lastly, new Self Defense technology protects ESET Smart Security components against deactivation attempts, and the user interface is now capable of working in the non-graphical mode, which allows for keyboard control.

ESET Smart Security 4 is just as easy to use as ESET NOD32, thanks to the same uncultured interface design. The software is surprisingly light too, using only 40MB of disk space and just 50MB of RAM when running. The only downside is that it did increase my system’s boot time by 10 or so seconds and the ESET Smart Security splash screen just didn’t want to disappear! But once the software is installed you don’t even need to get your hands dirty and configure any settings – ESET Smart Security offers protection out of the box.

The main window of ESET Smart Security is divided into two main sections. The narrower left-hand column provides access to the main menu, while the right-hand side predominantly serves to display information. A number of buttons are contained within the main menu on the left. The home page, or Protection Status, provides information about the protection status of ESET Smart Security, such as if the database is out of date or you’re not running all the security modules. If the advance mode is activated, the status of all protection modules is displayed. Computer Scan enables you to configure and launch the on-demand computer scan, while Update accesses the update module that manages program updates.

Setup contains three submenus which open their own menus. The submenus are anti-virus protection, personal firewall and anti-spam module setup, while the Tools button enables access to view Log files, Quarantine and configure Scheduler (this menu is only available in advanced mode). Help and Support opens a form with which to submit customer care requests directly to ESET. It also provides access to the informative Help pages, along withe articles in the Knowledgebase and ESET’s Web site.

The major benefit of ESET Smart Security is its real-time file system protection, which controls all antivirus-related events in the system. All files are scanned for malicious code at the moment they are opened, created or run on your computer, so you don’t have to worry too much about running executables. The same applies to e-mail client protection. When examining incoming messages received through POP3, MAPI, IMAP, HTTP, the program uses all scanning methods provided by the ThreatSense scanning engine. This means that detection of malicious programs takes place even before being matched against the virus signature database. Scanning of POP3 protocol communications is independent of the e-mail client used.

The personal firewall is where ESET Smart Security extends its protection compared to ESET NOD32. The firewall controls all network traffic to and from your system, accomplished by allowing or denying individual network connections based on specified filtering rules. It provides protection against attacks from remote computers and enables blocking of some services. It also provides anti-virus protection for HTTP and POP3 protocols, a very important element in computer security.

Just as important and useful is the built-in anti-spam protection. One important principle in spam detection is the ability to recognise unsolicited e-mail based on predefined trusted (whitelist) and spam addresses (blacklist). All addresses from your e-mail client are automatically added to the Whitelist, as well as all other addresses marked by yourself as safe. The primary method used to detect spam is the scanning of e-mail message properties. Received messages are scanned for basic anti-spam criteria (message definitions, statistical heuristics, recognising algorithms and other unique methods) and the resulting index value determines whether a message is spam or not. The Bayesian filter is also utilised in filtering. By marking messages as spam and not spam, you can create a database of words used in the respective category. The larger the database, the more accurate the results. A combination of the above mentioned methods provides a high spam detection rate.

Threats no longer appear in the form of pure viruses or spam or phishing, but as ‘blended’ threats which require an integration of individual security features. ESET Smart Security 4 is an effective security solution. As an added bonus, is easy to install and use, and doesn’t slow down your computer. And unlike some other suites, all of the tools within ESET Smart Security 4 look and feel part of the same program. For getting your anti-virus, firewall and spam protection tools in one box, ESET Smart Security 4 is a solid choice. But its overall malware protection isn’t as strong as Webroot’s Internet Security Essentials (WISE) and it has no parental controls or backup utilities. Personally, sticking all my eggs in one basket makes me nervous: I’m going to stick with my tried-and-tested combination of ESET NOD32 Antivirus 4.0 and WISE.