Avast Free Antivirus 7 will have new features including cloud-based updates, remote assistance and file reputation.
Avast Free Antivirus is one of the most popular antimalware products for consumers. According to statistics supplied by the vendor, the program has over 150 million active users.
Version 7 has a new remote assistance feature that allows Avast users to help other people who also use the program solve technical or malware-related issues by temporarily taking control of their computers.
The remote assistance sessions are routed through Avast's servers in order to ensure their security and can only be initiated by the users whose computers will be controlled.
When a session is initiated, an 8-digit code gets generated and needs to be communicated to the remote user, Avast Software's chief technology officer Ondrej Vlcek said.
The remote assistance feature doesn't require any special firewall rules or exceptions to work, because it relies only on outbound connections to Avast's server, Vlcek said.
In addition to providing remote assistance to other people, Avast Antivirus 7 allows users to monitor multiple installations of the program with an online Avast account.
This is done through a web portal where users can see the Avast-protected computers under their management, their protection status, which virus database version they have, which malware files they recently blocked and other information.
It's similar to the central management consoles found in business products, but for now it's read only, Vlcek said. This means that users can't modify the settings of remote Avast installations through the interface, but there are plans to add this functionality in the future, Vlcek said.
Another new feature in Avast Free Antivirus 7 is a cloud-based file reputation system called FileRep, which alerts users about suspicious browser downloads and integrates with Avast's AutoSandbox mechanism.
In Avast Antivirus 6, AutoSandbox asks users if they want to run suspicious files inside a virtual environment instead of giving them full access to the OS.
However, in version 7, the feature is similar to a scanning engine, Vllcek said. Suspicious files are opened automatically in the sandbox where they are analysed for malware behaviour.
Avast Free Antivirus 7 also has access to new malware information quicker than its previous version thanks to a new cloud-based updating component.
Until now, Avast Antivirus was connecting to the company's servers several times a day to check for malware definition updates. However, starting with version 7, a connection is kept open permanently with the server, which actually pushes new updates to the clients as they are available.
This is not a fully cloud-based product, where cloud servers are queried every time a file is scanned, but it allows Avast Antivirus to use the freshest malware data for local processing, Vlcek said.
The WebRep browser plug-in has also been updated to use information about phishing websites from Avast's cloud. Until now, the plug-in relied on site ratings supplied by users to tag potentially risky websites.
WebRep won't block users from going to phishing websites, but it will alert them if they attempt to input credit card or personal information on those websites.
With Windows 8 Beta (Consumer Preview) expected to be released later this month, Avast's developers have made sure that Avast Antivirus 7 is compatible with Microsoft's new OS. It has been tested and all features should be working, Vlcek said.
In terms of other improvements, Vlcek mentioned that the Script Shield is now compatible with all major browsers and that Avast Free Antivirus 7 uses less memory than version 6. However, the recommended system requirements remain the same.
Avast Pro Antivirus 7 and Avast Internet Security 7 is also set for release, but version 7 of Avast Free Antivirus for Mac and Avast Business Protection will be launched at a later date.