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Panda is also cross-platform, with support for Windows, macOS, and Android. Like the free Panda antivirus, this product eschews the usual white or slate gray background for its main window. Instead, it fills the main window with a gorgeous scene from nature that changes from time to time.
Also like the free edition, it displays icons for five security features at the bottom of that main window. Scrolling down reveals two more rows of five icons. What do these 15 icons do? If you can’t figure it out from the pictures, you’ll have to point to each in turn to see its label. With so many icons, that gets a little awkward. Panda’s Product Lines When I last put Panda up on the rack for testing, the company offered two completely different product lines.
These products used traditional per-device pricing and a traditional user interface consisting of colored button panels representing the various security components. These three were clearly precursors to the current Panda Dome, with nature scenes making up the main window’s background. In the current lineup, Panda Free Antivirus retains its name, officially, but uses the Panda Dome name internally. Panda Dome Essential, reviewed here, adds the protection against dangerous and fraudulent websites that’s no longer part of the free edition, as well as a firewall, Wi-Fi protection, a virtual keyboard, and support for macOS and Android devices.
Each successive Dome product Advanced, Complete, and Premium adds another dose of high-end features, as you’ll see in my reviews. Shared With Free Antivirus You may be surprised to know that most purveyors of free antivirus utilities put all their essential protection technology into the free edition. Panda Free Antivirus doesn’t do that; it omits the Safe Browsing component that steers browsers and other programs away from phishing and malware-hosting sites.
Panda Dome Essential includes everything from the free edition, and more. Read my review for a full rundown on what comes free. Malware Protection Results Chart For every antivirus review, I check with the independent testing labs, to see what the testing experts report. It earned And of three tests by AV-Comparatives, it scored in the top tier for one and the second tier for the other two.
Its aggregate lab score of 8. Bitdefender didn’t make it into the latest report from SE Labs , but based on the other three lab scores, its aggregate score came in at a perfect Tested with a set of malware samples that I collected and analyzed myself, Panda detected 90 percent and scored 9.
Others have done a good bit better. For example, G Data Antivirus earned 9. As part of my malware protection test I use a second collection of malware samples that I’ve modified by hand. Panda missed most of these, including modified versions of two ransomware samples.
When I launched those two, one encrypted my documents and posted a ransom note, while the other disabled the virtual machine by encrypting entire hard drive. It wasn’t pretty. That set of curated samples necessarily remains the same for many months, as working up a new collection takes me several weeks. For another look at malware protection, I challenge each antivirus with a very new collection of malware-hosting URLs, noting whether the antivirus diverts the browser from the dangerous URL, eliminates the malware payload, or totally fails at protection.
Its overall score of 35 percent protection, based entirely on detecting and eliminating verified malware payloads, is one of the lowest I’ve recorded.
Cylance Smart Antivirus also didn’t attempt to block access to malware-hosting URLs, but it still quarantined 89 percent of the malware downloads. All three steered the browser away from some URLs and wiped out other malware payloads during the download process. I’ll discuss that test below. Panda Free Antivirus includes a handful of useful security bonus features. Like all members of the current product line, it comes with a VPN component; like all but the most expensive price tiers, it imposes stringent limits on that component.
Other bonus features include a shopping helper that looks for better deals as you shop, a vaccination system to armor USB drives against malware infestation, and a bootable antivirus rescue kit. Safe Browsing Fails to Impress As noted, this product includes Panda’s Safe Browsing, a feature no longer available in the free edition. The URLs are different every time, but they’re always the most recent, and I continue testing until I have data points, to get an accurate look at each product’s abilities.
I got through 25 verified malware-hosting URLs without once seeing a sign of Safe Browsing, which led me to suspect a configuration problem. That confirmed that Safe Browsing was active, so I completed my test. Panda did wipe out some of the malware payloads, but it scored slightly lower than when I tested the free edition.
Giving it the benefit of the doubt, I let it keep the free edition’s score. Poor Phishing Protection Phishing websites are frauds that imitate sensitive sites, hoping to trick people into logging in.
When you enter your username and password, you’re handing over your account to the fraudsters. To lull your suspicions, the phishing site will often pass your login to the real site, so it seems nothing unusual happened. If you’re alert to their chameleon-like ways, you may be able to steer clear of such phishing scams , but with just one slipup you’re in trouble. That’s why most antivirus utilities include a component to detect these frauds.
With Panda, Safe Browsing handles that task. After its poor performance blocking malware-hosting URLs I didn’t hold out much hope, but it did a little better in my phishing test. Not good, but better. At least I got to see the warning page that Panda displays when it diverts the browser from danger.
Phishing Protection Results Chart Panda scored 46 percent in this test, which is near the bottom. Don’t imagine for a minute that you can turn off that built-in protection and rely on Panda. Most other products fared better in this test. Eight competitors recently scored 97 percent or better, while Kaspersky Anti-Virus and McAfee fended off percent of the phishing frauds in their respective tests. I tested the macOS product at the same time as the Windows edition.
While phishing sites themselves are totally platform-agnostic, in my experience phishing protection systems are not. Typically, the Mac edition proves less effective than its Windows equivalent. Panda flips that concept on its head. Where the Windows product only eked out 46 percent protection, the Mac edition detected and blocked 84 percent, the same as Kaspersky on the Mac. I had to keep a sharp eye out, because when Panda blocked a secure HTTPS phishing site it just popped up a transient warning, leaving the browser to display an error.
I am disappointed that Panda had removed Safe Browsing from the free antivirus. I expected to at least see significant web-level protection in the commercial Panda Dome Essential. I saw no such thing. Safe Browsing did absolutely nothing to defend against malware-hosting URLs in testing, and its phishing protection score came in among the very lowest. I verified that Panda protects against port scans and other external attacks, putting all ports in stealth mode so that attackers can’t even see them.
Of course, the firewall built into Windows handles this task, so any replacement firewall must do the same, as a minimum. At the simplest level, you configure the personal firewall by identifying the network you’re using. If it’s your home network the default the firewall uses relatively relaxed settings. For a work network, it tightens things up a bit. And if you indicate that you’re using a public network, it battens down the hatches. Digging into the firewall’s settings, I found a group of items labeled Intrusion prevention.
Thinking these might protect against attempts to exploit system vulnerabilities, I hit the test system with several dozen exploit attacks generated by the CORE Impact penetration tool. Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic is one of the few products that blocks exploits at the network level; it caught 86 percent of the exploits in this test. Many other tools detect the malware payload associated with some of the exploits, and sometimes identify the attacks by name.
In a recent test, Sophos detected two-thirds of the exploits at the payload level. Panda did exactly nothing, neither blocking exploits directly nor detecting and eliminating their payloads. Most third-party firewalls pair protection against outside attack with protection against betrayal from within. That is, they monitor programs that make use of the network and internet and make sure they don’t misuse the privilege.
Firewalls in top suites like Symantec Norton Security Premium and Kaspersky automatically assign permissions to known programs and carefully watch the behavior of unknowns, springing into action if an unknown program abuses its privileges. Panda’s program control is much simpler. It does assign simple permissions to a few known processes, but in general it simply allows all outbound network connections and forbids unsolicited inbound connections. If you want program control at the per-process level, you’re free to dig in and manually define rules, but in practice nobody’s going to do that.
Early third-party firewalls were among the first security products to develop techniques for self-protection.
That makes sense; a firewall’s not much use if malware can just flip its “off” switch. I found four Panda processes in Task Manager, but couldn’t terminate them either using Task Manager or a separate process-killer tool.
Panda’s essential Windows services weren’t quite as well-protected. I stopped all three services, using a simple technique that a malware coder could implement. I also totally disabled one of the three; the other two resisted, just displaying “Access denied. Panda’s simple firewall handles basic protection tasks and offers simplistic program control. It’s mostly, but not entirely, protected against direct attack.
Bonus Features The Application Control feature is one of the few that Panda doesn’t enable by default. Don’t confuse this with the firewall’s program control, which determines how and whether programs can connect to the internet. Application Control determines whether applications can run, period. When Application Control is active, no new program, whether it’s good or bad, can run unless you grant it permission.
If you run the same programs all the time, rarely adding anything new, it can be effective.
Panda’s Product Lines
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