Acronis Privacy Expert Suite 8 review

Price when reviewed

Acronis Privacy Expert Suite 8 is, as the name suggests, more than just a spyware scanner. Everything from pop-up blocking through to Internet click-trail cleaning is included, plus system and application activity cleansing.

The Internet clean-up features, however, are compromised, as they’re limited to Internet Explorer only. On both our test machines, only IE (and the related AOL Browser) were discovered, and there were no options to point Acronis to where it could find the Firefox and Opera browsers, which were also installed. Considering the number of advanced users who are making the move away from IE, this is something of a major omission for a new suite selling itself with the expert tag in the title.

On a brighter note, the disk clean-up function is almost worth the asking price on its own. This also enables properly secure erasure of all content on hard disks from a CD reboot, using the same multipass methods as can be configured for file shredding. It’s easy to use, delivers on the secure-deletion promise and enables you to feel safe in the knowledge that your privacy can be assured when you sell or dispose of your computer. Acronis also includes a startup shield that helps prevent browser hijacks, Registry and start-up changes, monitors ActiveX configuration and analyses running processes for anything with malicious intent.

Spyware protection remains at the core of the suite, though, and ultimately this is where many a purchasing decision will be made. Scanning speed was impressive in the Smart scan mode, completing the task on our test machine in just one minute, 50 seconds. The problem is that this can be attributed to the fact that it only looks in ‘known spyware locations’ on your computer – it’s like having a burglar alarm that doesn’t cover the toilet window, as not many thieves come in that way. A ‘deep scan’ is better, probing all hard disks, files and folders, although this remains user configurable. It slowed Acronis down somewhat to nine minutes, 48 seconds, putting it towards the lower end of our yardstick range – competing programs ranged from under three minutes to over ten minutes.

But speed is only one element in the spyware scanner equation, as depth and accuracy are fundamentally more important. Since both non-executable and ‘large’ files are skipped by default, and Acronis doesn’t provide any feedback with regard to exactly how many files are being scanned, it’s impossible to measure depth. This is a serious drawback for an ‘expert’-level scanner. There’s a logfile, but, again, the information recorded and reported is minimal by default. Although you can toggle the skipping of large files on and off, we failed to find any mention within the application or accompanying documentation as to what, exactly, constitutes large.

Accuracy was reasonable, with no significant false-positives, apart from one odd error on both our test setups: Acronis insisted they were infected by the ancient Windows 95/98 chupacabra trojan and claimed to repair this. But it simply wasn’t there, and we weren’t surprised to find it ‘appear’ again on subsequent scans. We double-checked both machines to ensure there was no trace of infection: none of the usual Registry entries or dropped files were present, and four other spyware scanners agreed with us.

We recommend configuration of threat types before scanning and certainly before processing any removal actions. You may not agree that the eBay toolbar is adware (although many would differ on that conclusion), or that social bookmarking tools such as StumbleUpon invade your privacy (bookmark sharing is what it’s there for) – in both cases, Acronis lets you flag them as safe with a single click. If things do go wrong, though, there’s no ‘reinstall shield’ as found in Tenebril SpyCatcher (see issue 130, p91), so you’ll need to be certain of their intent before hitting the Proceed button. This is particularly important when it comes to the various Internet and system clean-up operations, as not only will files be deleted but, according to your preferences, securely erased as well.

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