We’re all accustomed to seeing antivirus products from the US, Europe, even Russia. K7 Antivirus Premium is a bit unusual in that the company is based in India, but you’ll find its features and functions familiar. With firewall, vulnerability scan, and other bonus features, it goes beyond the basics. On the other hand, it lacks web-based protection against malicious and fraudulent sites, reserving that feature for suite-level products.
K7’s prices have gone down since my last review. For $24.99, you get one year of protection for one computer; roughly doubling that to $49.99 protects three. And if you want to install on five computers, the per-installation price goes down, as five licenses costs $69.99. The most common price point for a single license is just under $40. Cylance Smart Antivirus, Emsisoft, and BullGuard go for about $10 less. Kaspersky Anti-Virus asks $59.99, but gives you three licenses for that price. At first glance, McAfee seems to cost the same as Kaspersky. However, a McAfee subscription lets you install protection on every device in your household.
Installation is quick and simple—just click one button to accept the EULA and launch the installation. When it finishes, you must activate the product, either by entering your serial number or by choosing a 30-day trial. Once it finishes updating the antivirus definitions, you're ready to go.
The main window displays handy stats in large, easy-to-read panels, including the date and time of the last update, the version of the virus definitions, and the number of days left in your subscription. Links and icons give you access to scans, settings, bonus tools, and more.
As you click those links and icons, new pages appear as if sliding in from above or below. On some pages, arrows lead to details or additional features that slide in from left or right. It’s a lively, animated interface, but you’ll want to take a little time clicking all the buttons and arrows to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Lab Results Good, but Sparse
Researchers at independent testing labs around the world spend their days torture-testing antivirus products to identify the best ones. I follow four labs that release public reports on a regular basis. Only two of them include K7 in their testing, but those two give it decent ratings.
AV-Test Institute rates antivirus products on three criteria: successful protection against malware; small impact on performance; and good usability, meaning few false positives (legitimate apps or sites flagged as malicious). Products can earn six points in each area.
K7 took 5.5 points for protection, the full six for performance, and 5.5 for usability. A total score of 17 points isn’t quite enough to get it the designation Top Product, but it’s good. In the latest report, F-Secure and Trend Micro earned a perfect 18 points. Another half-dozen competitors earned the 17.5 points required to be a Top Product, among them Bitdefender Antivirus Plus and Kaspersky Anti-Virus.
Reports from AV-Comparatives don’t come with numeric scores. Rather, a product that passes gets a Standard certification. Those that do more than the minimum can earn certification at the Advanced or Advanced+ level. Of the four tests I follow from this lab, K7 participates in three, taking one Advanced+ and two Advanced certifications. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is the only product to earn four Advanced+ ratings in the latest tests from this lab.
Each lab uses a different scoring system. I’ve devised an algorithm that maps scores onto a scale from 0 to 10 and generates an aggregate lab score for comparison. K7’s 9.1-point aggregate is respectable, but not at the top. Of the products tested by all four labs, Avira Free Security has the best aggregate score, 9.8 points. Tested by three labs, Bitdefender boasts a 9.9 point aggregate score.
A Speedy Scan
K7 offers the expected full system scan, quick scan, and custom scan, as well as a separate scan that aims to detect rootkits by their behavior. On my standard clean test system, a full scan took 48 minutes, about 20 minutes quicker than the current average. Like Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security, F-Secure Anti-Virus, and a few others, K7 uses that first scan to optimize subsequent scans for speed. A repeat scan with K7 took 10 minutes.
By default, K7 scans incoming email for malware; you can optionally set it to scan outgoing mail as well. You can also schedule a daily, weekly, or monthly scan.
Decent Malware Protection Score
Lab results are great to have, but with or without them, I always perform my own hands-on testing of each product’s malware protection abilities. When I opened the folder containing my current collection of malware samples, K7 started picking them off right away. Within a few minutes, it had eliminated 80 percent of the samples. That's a good start. Its popup notifications stack in a single location, with arrows so you can flip through them if you wish.
I proceeded to launch the remaining samples and record the product's reaction. It stopped some before the installer could launch, and eliminated others during the install process. One way or another, it detected 89 percent of the samples, the same as Avira Antivirus Pro and IObit. K7’s overall score of 8.7 points is decent, but not great. On the other hand, Bitdefender scored slightly lower against these samples. In Bitdefender’s case, stellar results from the labs overshadow this so-so performance. K7 also gets a lift from the labs, though not as much as Bitdefender.
Don’t let these so-so scores make you think my malware protection test is overly difficult. Tested with this same sample collection, Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus scored a perfect 10, and G Data managed 9.8 points.
For a different view of K7's malware combat skills, I launched 100 malware-hosting URLs from a feed supplied by MRG-Effitas. In this test, I give equal credit whether the antivirus steers the browser away from the dangerous URL or wipes out the payload during download.
Most antivirus tools include some form of protection against malware-hosting URLs. Typically, they divert the browser to a warning page, so you never access the dangerous URL. K7 is a bit unusual in that malicious URL blocking is present only in the security suite products, not in the basic antivirus. Phishing protection is likewise absent. K7 did block 75 percent of the malicious payloads during or immediately after the download. That’s better than it did when last tested, but still low. McAfee, Sophos Home Premium, and Vipre all blocked 100 percent of their malware-hosting URL samples, while Trend Micro and G Data managed 99 percent. To be fair, all five of those top-scoring products attacked the problem both by fending off dangerous URLs and detecting malware downloads, while K7 relied only on the latter.
K7's System Monitor component aims to detect brand-new malware based on its behavior. This kind of detection can easily generate false positives, as some of the behaviors it monitors are used by legitimate programs as well. As a kind of sanity check, I test each product's reaction when I install about 20 PCMag utilities, programs that must hook deeply into Windows to do their job.
System Monitor didn’t cause any problems. It did warn when one of the samples attempted install a Windows service, but taking a close look in such cases is a reasonable precaution.
Effective Ransomware Protection
Since my previous review of K7, I’ve begun actively challenging programs that promise ransomware-specific protection. When possible, I shut down ordinary real-time protection and just leave ransomware protection active. This doesn’t always work. With Avira Antivirus Pro, for example, even though the controls visibly show ransomware protection enabled, turning off real-time protection turns off the ransomware component too.
In K7’s case, I disabled all the real-time layers except Ransomware Protection and System Monitor—I found I couldn’t shut down the latter, so I left it. After carefully isolating my test virtual machine from the internet, I launched a dozen real-world ransomware samples. K7 clearly aims to detect file-encrypting ransomware based on its behavior, so my disk-encrypting and screen-locking samples slipped past. Two of the remaining samples didn’t attempt any suspicious behavior, perhaps detecting K7’s observation.
K7 successfully blocked all but one of the remaining eight, identifying them specifically as ransomware and stopping their file-encrypting behavior before it could damage any files. One sample managed to encrypt files and post its ransom note, but when K7 was not deliberately hobbled as for this test, it eliminated that sample on sight.
Some ransomware protection systems simply ban all access to protected files by unauthorized programs. My hand-coded hyper-simplified ransomware simulator triggers those, as does use of a tiny file editor I wrote. Since those files only exist on my test systems, they’re definitely not on any list of authorized programs. K7 clearly watches for actual signs of encrypting ransomware, so it didn’t balk these innocuous programs. Missing just one file-encrypting sample is a better performance than many competitors. For example, G Data Antivirus missed two samples and allowed another two to do their dirty deeds before eliminating them.
While antivirus defends your system against attack by malicious processes, a firewall protects the network and network traffic against attack. Most security companies reserve this component for their security suites. K7, like McAfee AntiVirus Plus, builds in firewall protection at the antivirus level.
I installed K7 on a physical test system with a direct connection to the internet, to avoid any unwanted help from the router. The firewall correctly stealthed all ports and fended off the port scans and other attacks I tried. Do note that Windows Firewall alone does the same; this test is only relevant when a product fails.
The flip side of firewall protection involves preventing local programs from misusing your network or internet connection. Those of a certain age may remember early personal firewalls that bombarded the user with confusing questions about what network activity should be allowed. To avoid that annoying popup storm, high-end firewalls like that of Norton 360 Deluxe automatically configure permissions for known good programs and apply extra scrutiny to unknowns. Others simply allow all traffic except unsolicited incoming connections.
K7 takes a different tack. It assumes that, for now, you don’t have any misbehaving programs. For the first week, it notes which programs access the network and creates rules to let them continue that access. Once the week is over, it tightens up, so new access attempts require permission.
I tested this feature by manually changing the firewall’s response, so it prompts for action. When I tried to use a tiny browser I wrote myself, it displayed a simple query noting the access attempt and asking me whether to allow or block it. By default, it remembers the response, so you don’t have to respond about the same program again. Because the program control system had already vetted all the browsers and Windows components that accessed the network, I didn’t get the flock of pop-ups that plague some similar systems.
K7 includes Exploit Protection in its antivirus repertoire and offers Intrusion Detection among its firewall features. To test this layer of protection, I hit the test system with about 30 exploits generated by the CORE Impact penetration tool. K7 didn’t react at all. Looking at the list of exploits it blocks, I did notice that many had ID numbers indicating they were discovered in 2012.
It’s great when your security tool detects an exploit attack at the network level. Even so, many such attacks involve dropping a payload of some kind on the victim system, and many products get a few points by detecting these payloads. Vipre Advanced Security, for example, caught 40 percent of the samples at that level. Not K7.
At least the firewall is properly hardened against code-based attacks. It keeps nothing significant in the Registry, so a malware program couldn’t just set Firewall to OFF. When I tried to kill off its eight processes using Task Manager, I ran into a wall of “Access Denied” messages. The same happened when I tried to set its five Windows services to start up disabled.
K7’s firewall protection is basic, but it does the job. It protected against web-based attacks and protected itself from getting shut down by malware. Its system of treating the first week as training for program control avoided the annoying storm of popups that come with some competitors. And while it didn’t block exploit intrusions, that feature is not typical for basic firewalls.
I mentioned earlier that you should explore the entire user interface, clicking all the icons and arrows. You’ll find a collection of bonus features scattered on different pages here and there.
On the main Scan page you get the expected quick, complete, and custom scans, along with a scan aimed specifically at rootkits and the ability to schedule scans. Clicking the arrow at right reveals several other scans.
Malware attacks often gain traction by exploiting security holes in Windows or in popular apps. The makers of those apps quickly release security patches, but it’s up to you to make sure you apply them. K7’s includes a scan to find vulnerabilities, which I take to mean missing security patches. In testing, though, the scan finished in a flash and found nothing, despite the fact that I deliberately keep Chrome and Firefox a version or two behind the latest. I’m not sure what this scan aims to do. The similar feature in McAfee and Kaspersky took a bit longer to run, but correctly found missing patches. Avira Free Security even offered to apply the patches it found.
I also clicked to scan for abnormal changes to system settings. This scan, too, finished in a flash. It charted entries found, entries scanned, entries modified, and entries to be fixed. In every case, the reported value was “None.” Here, too, I’m unsure of the scan’s purpose.
Advertisers use special cookies to track your browsing between different websites that share their ads. K7’s scan for these tracking cookies took a short while and found a handful, but reported itself capable of removing just one of them. “Bonus” may not be the best word for these additional scans, which don’t seem to add much value.
Clicking Tools on the main window brings up another collection of bonus tools, including a pair of simple cleaners for Windows and browser temp files. You can enter passwords using the virtual keyboard to avoid the possibility of capture by a keylogger, even a hardware-based keylogger.
Most modern malware propagates via the internet, but there are still some threats that gain entry via an infected USB drive. Just ask the nuclear scientists whose work was destroyed by Stuxnet! Like Panda Dome Essential, K7 offers to vaccinate USB drives so malware can’t use them to spread. It also offers to scan each USB drive for malware.
You’ll have to dig deeper for the next bonus. When you click Settings at the top of the main window, you get access to general settings and those for antivirus and firewall. You also reveal a feature called Device Control. This feature lets you put limits on the use of USB drives, CD/DVD drives, and even floppy disk drives. You can disable any of the three types or lock them with a password. You also can control read, write, and autorun, and configure whether K7 scans inserted media automatically.
Note that this is not like the device control feature found in G Data Total Security and a few others. Full-scale device control lets you do things like disable use of USB drives in general but permit access for specific pre-approved devices. K7 doesn’t operate on a per-device basis. For example, its USB settings affect all USB drives.
A Decent Antivirus
K7 Antivirus Premium earns good scores from two independent testing labs, but it lacks the web-based protection against malicious and fraudulent websites found in most competing products. It does include a basic firewall along with a collection of bonus features. In testing, though, some of those bonus features didn’t seem to do anything, and others proved lightweight. It’s a decent antivirus, at a good price.
Even so, you’ll do better to pay a little more for more protection. Kaspersky Anti-Virus and Bitdefender Antivirus Plus get better lab scores than K7, from more labs. Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus is the smallest antivirus around, and its journal-and-rollback system can undo even ransomware damage. And while McAfee costs about twice as much as K7, that price gets you protection for every device in your household. These varied products are our Editors’ Choice picks for antivirus protection.
K7 Antivirus Premium Specs
|On-Demand Malware Scan||Yes|
|On-Access Malware Scan||Yes|
|Malicious URL Blocking||No|
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