eScan is a popular brand of security products developed by Mumbai-based MicroWorld Technologies.
This antivirus product is at the very bottom of eScan’s PC range, but don’t be fooled – it’s more capable than you think. The program includes a two-way firewall and a spam filter, as well as behaviour monitoring, on-access threat detection, and more.
Its use of the excellent Bitdefender engine means you can be sure of a good baseline level of accuracy in terms of antivirus protection. The company claims to take this even further with layers of its own technology.
The price is average at $30 (£24) for a one-year, one-PC licence. If you’re an eScan fan, a three-year, five-device licence offers much better value at $136 (£109). Bitdefender’s own Antivirus Plus 2017 is a better choice for multiple devices – covering three computers for a year costs $31.25, and a 10-device, three-year licence is $137 – but then it doesn’t have a firewall or spam filter. If you need these extra bits of functionality, eScan Anti-Virus may still appeal.
There are trial builds available for all the main eScan products, and although the download page asks for your email address, you don’t have to provide it. Close the pop-up window and you can choose to download the package as normal.
The first part of the setup process is simple and almost entirely automatic. Accept the default installation folder, then eScan installs its various components and runs a quick scan to confirm you’re safe.
We quickly noticed a problem. Although the program was displaying a ‘Date of virus signatures’ that was months old, there was no active warning, no flashing ‘Update required!’ button. We tried running a scan, hoping to see an alert about our outdated signatures, but no.
Around an hour later, a pop-up dialog finally complained about the lack of updates, incorrectly suggesting this might be a problem with our internet connection. We launched the update manually, then watched as the program took almost nine minutes to download and apply what it said was 50MB of data. That’s about ten times longer than we would have expected.
There are one or two other setup issues, mostly down to eScan’s defaults. If you were tempted to download the program because of its spam filter, for instance, you’ll quickly discover it’s initially turned off. Switching it on is easy enough, but that’s just the start (more on anti-spam later).
The program’s resource usage could be another concern. While other antivirus packages might have two or three background processes, eScan Anti-Virus had 12 on our test system, grabbing a total of some 160MB of RAM at a minimum.
Checking the program’s files and folders brought better news. Every eScan executable was digitally signed, and we weren’t able to close or delete them. Malware won’t have any easy way to disable eScan’s protection.
The program has a dated and bulky interface which makes maybe the worst use of screen real-estate that we’ve seen. The main area is half empty, with five tiles for what look like key areas of the program: File Anti-Virus, Mail Anti-Virus, Anti-Spam, Firewall and Cloud Protection. But clicking these leads to settings, not any actions you’ll use on a regular basis. It would have made more sense to put them in a Settings dialog, where they’re only visible when you actually need them.
Meanwhile the much more important Scan function is relegated to a small icon at the bottom of the screen. Still, click it and you get a good set of scan types: quick, system, USB drives, CD-ROM and a custom scan.
All the scan options seem very configurable, although it’s not clear what all the settings do. Would you check the box marked ‘Use separate exclude list for ODS’? What happens if you apply an ‘automatic’ action in case of infection, rather than ‘delete’? What’s the difference between scanning program files only, and using ‘automatic type detection’?
There’s a Help icon top-right of every dialog, so of course we clicked it to find out more. Unfortunately, this opened a very lengthy web page covering all scanning functions, and not just the dialog box we were using. It was also out of date, written originally for eScan 11, using screen grabs dated 2010, and didn’t have the information to cover all our eScan 14 features.
It gets worse. When we clicked the main Help icon and selected eScan Online Help, the program opened a browser window at an empty wiki page, leaving us to find the real documentation ourselves. That’s easy enough, but it shouldn’t be necessary, and it leaves us wondering what other important coding or security tasks the company has forgotten to do.
Scanning results were mixed in our tests. System scans seemed to run very quickly, but they also checked fewer files than most of the competition. That might be a good move if you’re using some intelligent optimisations and can be sure they’re not infected, but as eScan missed some of our test threats, that might not be the case. We’ll look at other scanning results later.
There’s no anti-phishing protection or general blocking of malicious URLs. The program will scan downloads to detect threats, but that’s as far as the web protection goes.
The firewall is the major bonus feature here, but an intimidating interface will scare off the network novice. Options like Limited Filter and Interactive Filter are presented with no upfront clues about their functions, a Settings button takes you to some very expert-level and equally unexplained options, and once again the Help isn’t very helpful. Still, if you’re an experienced user and looking for something you can fine-tune to suit your precise needs, it might be interesting.
The spam filter isn’t so useful, in part because it works at the network level, rather than integrating with email clients. The module was able to detect spam and add a ‘[SPAM]’ marker to a message heading, for instance, but couldn’t directly move it to our Outlook 2016’s Spam folder. That’s something the user has to set up themselves.
Performance is another problem. Our Outlook setup reported download speeds of under 1Kbps, and although that seemed slightly misleading, email downloads were many times slower than usual.
The next issue is that, bizarrely, someone decided that the program should display a focus-grabbing pop-up window and an audio alert whenever a spam email arrives. Why? Users don’t want to be bothered by spam, that’s why they’re using the filter in the first place. You can turn this off, but again, it shouldn’t be necessary.
The filter does have plenty of settings. They’re mostly for advanced users – specifying custom RBL servers, enabling X-Spam rules or SPF checks – but might be handy in some situations.
The real problem with the antispam filter is it’s just not very good, at least with its initial settings. We found the module missed 40% of our test messages, including some we’d expect to have been very obvious. The filter didn’t flag any legitimate emails as spam, a welcome plus, but it’s still very hard to recommend.
This antivirus app has a few other bonus tools, including creating a bootable rescue environment on a USB stick, but there’s nothing exceptional. These also suffer from the lack of documentation. An option called Restore Windows Default Settings might sound appealing, for instance, but we’d like to know what it does. Unfortunately, even the Help page says just that it restores “the original Windows settings” and that “system variables are set to their default values.” Is it safe, could it be dangerous? There’s no way to tell.
We put eScan Anti-Virus through some basic malware detection tests, but the results were difficult to interpret. To get more information on antivirus effectiveness it’s always worth checking out the reports of the major independent testing labs.
AV-Comparatives’ Real-World Protection Test has recorded very mixed results in the first four tests of 2017. February saw eScan achieve 100% protection which secured it third place, just behind Bitdefender and Panda. But the others saw protection rates of 99%, 98.7% and 97.3%, as well as a significant number of false alarms, placing eScan firmly in the bottom half of the table.
AV-Test’s March-April 2017 tests gave us a little more detail. They found the program achieved almost 100% detection of known malware, which we’d guess is largely due to the Bitdefender engine. But detection of zero-day malware was notably worse at 95.6% and 96.5%. The industry average is 98%, and top names like Bitdefender scored 100% in every test.
VirusBulletin’s RAP averages quadrant provides a visual representation of known and zero-day malware detection rates, making it easy to compare companies. The last available chart (February 2017) rates eScan as having higher than average detection, especially for brand new threats, although ESET and Bitdefender did even better.
We completed our roundup by checking AV-Comparatives’ May 2017 performance test, a simple measure of the impact a security package has on your system speed. Despite its many background processes, eScan scored very well, ranking equal fifth with Avira. Only ESET, McAfee, Seqrite and Symantec did better.
This is a poorly designed product which underperforms in most areas, and the obvious lack of investment in basic features – like up-to-date help – suggests that eScan isn’t going to get better any time soon.
By Mike Williams
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