Virus Protection on the Cheap

ETrust EZ Antivirus is a simple, effective tool to disinfect your disks

Computer Associates' original antivirus product, Inoculate IT, once was the best deal in the industry: It was free for home users. But along with canine sock puppets, most Internet freebies are just distant memories. Renamed ETrust EZ Antivirus and garnished with a $20 price tag (plus a $10 annual renewal fee after the first year), Computer Associates' offering is still a bargain compared to competitors, which are priced in the $30 to $60 range. And it proved to be a top-notch virus killer in our lab tests. The ETrust line also includes a firewall, an e-mail scanner for messages with malicious code, and a suite that bundles all three utilities.

Offered as a 3.9MB download from the Computer Associates Web site, EZ Antivirus retains the simple Inoculate IT interface, which mimics Windows Explorer. Two panels on the top of the program window allow you to navigate your computer and select entire drives or drill down to individual folders or files for on-demand virus scanning. A third panel at the bottom logs the scan results. Like all major antivirus products today, EZ Antivirus also includes an on-access or "real-time" scanner that automatically checks a file for dangerous code when you attempt to open it or make a copy.


  Both scan functions performed flawlessly in our tests. We began by updating EZ Antivirus with the company's latest virus definitions and performing a scan of a hard drive infested with 225 viruses from the March 2001 Wild List, the internationally recognized monthly roster of active viruses. We then tested the on-access scanner by copying each of the viruses to a new location on the hard drive. EZ Antivirus caught every piece of nefarious code in both tests, and it posted an impressive average time for on-demand scanning of just 4 minutes and 9 seconds--faster than all but one of the products (Norton Antivirus 2001) we reviewed in a previous test. It also scored a perfect record for repairing the infected files by extracting the viral code.

One way to improve a scanner's chances of catching viruses is to make it so sensitive that it flags any piece of suspicious code as an infection. The downside of such a hypersensitive scanner, of course, is that it can mislead you with so-called false positives that either create unnecessary panic or eventually cause you to ignore your scanner's warnings. In our tests, EZ Antivirus achieved a perfect balance of vigilance and caution: It caught all the true viruses without wrongly accusing any innocent code.

EZ Antivirus appears to perform very well against other antivirus utilities. Of the seven products we tested, only Panda Antivirus scored 100 percent for both the on-demand and on-access scans while also avoiding any false positives. We cannot directly compare EZ Antivirus to the other utilities, however, because we didn't evaluate it under identical conditions. The utilities we looked at were all tested against the March 2001 WildList, using virus definitions downloaded on April 20, 2001, but we were first able to test EZ Antivirus with virus definitions downloaded about a month later.


  Installation went smoothly, requiring just one system restart at the end of the process. During the install, you have the option to register the program in order to qualify for virus signature updates. (Or you may register at a later time.) You can also elect to scan your entire system and to create an emergency antivirus disk that you can run from your floppy drive if an infection makes your hard disk unbootable. (However, you'll have to also create a boot disk using the utility in Windows. Unlike many other antivirus packages, EZ Antivirus doesn't automatically create a book disk.)

The program's default settings are adequate for most home users. EZ Antivirus is set to automatically run on-access scanning at all times, to scan all file types, and to write the results of on-demand scans to a log file. By default, the system also turns on heuristics--an artificial intelligence engine found in almost all antivirus products that doesn't rely on exact definitions of viral code but rather examines all code for virus-like qualities. Heuristics is the only way to capture new threats for which antivirus vendors have not yet been able to analyze and write definitions.

If you want to change the program defaults, you can access each setting individually or run the Options Wizard, which walks you through all of the settings and explains what they do.


  EZ Antivirus lacks many advanced features found in its competitors. For example, it doesn't provide a mechanism to schedule automatic virus definition updates. To perform an update, you'll have to manually choose the so-called AutoDownload feature under the Tools menu. The program does provide update reminder alarms that will go off at whatever intervals you choose. But you'll want to set them to run more frequently than the default setting of once a month--which is not very helpful in a world where new viruses appear virtually every day. Equally frustrating, there is no way to define and schedule automatic scans.

Virus alerts are also very simplistic. By default, a pop-up window simply informs you that an infected file has been discovered and cleaned. Your only choice is to click OK. If a file cannot be cleaned, EZ Antivirus will simply deny access to it, but the program will not delete the infected file.

As a download product, EZ Antivirus doesn't include a printed manual, but it does provide extensive Help files and a basic online encyclopedia describing hundreds of common viruses.

A Good Deal

While lacking the polish and amenities of its shrink-wrapped competitors, EZ Antivirus is an efficient and very reliable virus scanner. Power users may crave more bells and whistles, but this simple, reasonably priced app is a powerful shield to protect your home PC.

By Sean Captain,