PC Pitstop PC Matic With Super Shield

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It's not at all uncommon for a small purveyor of antivirus software to license the actual antivirus engine from a bigger, more-established vendor. It's also fairly common for those small vendors to switch engines occasionally. But PC Pitstop PC Matic with Super Shield is the only recent product I can think of that has stopped licensing another company's engine and bring all development in house. It looks all but identical to the version product I reviewed in March, but under the hood it's quite different. It scored reasonably well in my tests, but not in a way that inspired confidence, as I'll explain.

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Previously, PC Pitstop licensed antivirus technology from ThreatTrack Vipre Antivirus 2016, running it in conjunction with the company's own Super Shield. With this update, Super Shield takes over the entire job of protecting your system from malware. PC Matic also contains numerous components that work to maintain and optimize your system's performance. This review focuses on the antivirus.

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With straight antivirus programs, the current trend is toward simplicity, displaying only what's important on the main window and using a limited range of calming, flat colors. PC Matic's main window doesn't follow that trend at all. Colorful images represent all of your protected computers—your $50 per year subscription lets you install the product on five PCs. And a large status area at the bottom is bursting with colorful icons representing past successes, such as patched vulnerabilities and Registry problems fixed. The buttons to launch a scan or check antivirus status don't dominate the screen the way they do with most antivirus products, though they're still prominent.

Simple Installation
You don't have to purchase PC Matic to try it out, so I started by installing the free edition. After a quick install it gave me a choice: log in with my PC Pitstop account or continue on a free trial. I chose to continue, which brought me to a page of scan options. Here I retained the defaults, meaning I allowed it to scan disks, run benchmarks, and check for malware.

The scan included four parts: Internet Speed, Stability, Security, and Performance. On completion, the scan displayed a busy, colorful report of its findings, with a button to fix all the problems it found. When I clicked the button, it prompted me to purchase the full program; I did not do so. I did, however, reboot a few times to see if I'd get ransomware-like demands for payment, as described in one of the negative videos. I observed no such behavior.

Of course, this review is about the full, commercial edition of the product. Before going any further, I discarded the free edition and reinstalled, attempting to create a PC Pitstop account and register my license key. Surprise! Apparently I already had an account, but I didn't know the password. I was slightly shocked to find that the password recovery email simply displayed my password in plain text. I notified the company about this back in March, and they said they were fixing this glaring security problem. However, it's not fixed as of this writing.

Too Little From Labs
I'm always pleased to get confirmation of an antivirus product's abilities (or lack of same) from the independent antivirus testing labs around the world. Alas, there's not a lot of lab test information about PC Matic, certainly not enough for me to come up with an aggregate lab score. Here's what I do know from the labs.

PC Matic has received certification from ICSA Labs for malware detection. Certification is not a matter of percentages—if a product doesn't hit the goal, the lab reports what went wrong and gives the product another try. Achieving certification is clear confirmation that the product works.

Since that earlier review, I've changed the way I track the independent labs slightly. I used to count up how many VB100 awards each product got from Virus Bulletin. To reach VB100, a product must detect all malware samples and refrain from flagging any valid programs as malicious. A single false positive means no award. In several of these tests, PC Matic threw hundreds of false positives, but that seems to have stopped in the most recent tests.

For my current lab aggregate score, I look at Virus Bulletin's RAP (reactive and proactive) test, which assigns scores up to 100 percent. With 95.95 percent, TrustPort Antivirus 2015 currently has the best score in this test. PC Matic's 87.07 is very close to the average for programs that I track.

My contact at PC Pitstop tells me that the company is submitting PC Matic for testing by at least one major lab, but the results won't be available for a while. Right now, I don't have enough info from the labs to declare an aggregate score. The labs reveal a lot more about programs like Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2016 and Kaspersky Anti-Virus (2017), which get excellent marks in numerous lab tests that go into detail about actual antivirus capabilities.

Good Malware Blocking, But…
Given the dearth of lab results, my own hands-on tests take on more importance. Many products start real-time scanning the moment I open the folder containing my samples. Not PC Matic. It doesn't scan files on every access, unless you modify its default settings. Doing so can conceivably slow normal file manipulation actions, and this product is about speeding up your PC, not slowing it.

When I tried to launch my samples, PC Matic prevented every single one of them from executing. It blocked some right away, but for others there was a noticeable delay before the blocking notification appeared. In a few cases, this delay ran to more than 20 seconds. My PC Pitstop contact explained that PC Matic checks each file's reputation with the company's servers, and the time required can vary depending on server load. After that initial check, known good or known bad programs don't need to be checked again.

Note that PC Matic didn't delete or quarantine the samples; it just blocked execution. That's slightly worrisome to me. What happens if the antivirus crashes? I prefer to see known bad files locked away or deleted.

Per my contact at the company, unknown files get uploaded for categorization, which typically takes less than six hours. Knowing that, I ran my test again a day later, checking the Super Shield log to see each file's disposition.

The results were puzzling. Poring over the log, I found 55 percent of the samples marked as bad, and 22.5 percent still marked as unknown. Another 22.5 percent didn't appear in the log at all, although PC Matic actively blocked them from launching. Do I say that PC Matic detected 100 percent of the samples, because it blocked them all from loading? Or do I call its detection rate 55 percent, because it only identified that many as bad? I'm leaving the score at 100 percent, but with a mental reservation.

Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus (2016) also detected 100 percent of the samples, and also earned 10 of 10 possible points, but it did so in a very different way. Webroot wipes out known malware on sight and runs unknown programs in a special mode that prevents them from taking any irreversible actions, like sending your credit card number to Boris RipYouOff. It journals all activity by the suspect program and, if it proves to be malicious, rolls back everything the program did. For every sample, Webroot either eliminated it on sight or wiped out its changes after detecting malicious activity.

PC Pitstop recommends that after a detection you should run a full scan. When I did so, the results were also puzzling. The scan actively identified three of my testing tools as viruses, which was just wrong. It only quarantined a couple of the actual malware samples. The final screen of the scan recommended rebooting and scanning again. That second scan caught a few more of the malware samples. Why didn't it catch them the first time? My PC Pitstop contact suggested a server load issue, and pointed out that in any case unknown programs wouldn't be allowed to execute. A third scan brought no more changes. PC Matic's scan only identified a quarter of the samples as malware, which is peculiar, given that Super Shield marked 55 percent of them as bad. I'm beginning to miss the licensed antivirus engine.

PC Matic doesn't include a Web protection component, other than a simple ad blocker. You won't see it blocking access to malware-hosting websites or phishing sites. My malicious URL blocking test does give equal credit for wiping out downloads and for blocking all access to bad URLs, but it does not include launching downloaded files. In order to perform this test, I had to right-click PC Matic's icon and choose Protection Level > Monitor File Access. This triggered a warning that monitoring file access might slow file system activities.

The URLs I use for this test, kindly supplied by MRG-Effitas, are no more than a day old, quite different from my relatively static malware collection. Their newness seems to have worked to PC Matic's advantage, as it flagged 98 percent of the malware payloads. However, a scan only quarantined two of the downloaded samples; the rest were merely unknown. I don't see that result as comparable to a product like Avira Antivirus 2016, which actively prevented the browser from even visiting 99 percent of the malware-hosting URLs.

McAfee AntiVirus Plus (2016) and Symantec Norton Security Premium both blocked 91 percent of the malware downloads. McAfee's protection skewed strongly toward blocking URLs, while Norton mostly wiped out the downloaded malware.

About Those False Positives…
PC Matic did throw some false positives during my earlier testing. It permitted installation of the 20 PCMag utilities that I use for a false positive sanity check, but blocked three of the installed utilities from executing. This time around it let them all install and run, though I observed some lengthy pauses. In one case, PC Matic's examination caused a 25-second delay before the installer actually launched.

See How We Test Security Software

Of course, PC Matic did see all those files back in March, so they're probably in its database of known programs now. For another quick sanity check, I downloaded 20 of the countless free utilities available from Nirsoft. All of these ran without any complaints from PC Matic. And, as I noted earlier, in the four most recent tests by Virus Bulletin, PC Matic didn't display any false positives (though it also didn't receive the VB100 award).

Malware Scanning with PC Matic
Getting a precise handle on how long a PC Matic malware scan takes isn't easy. Even when I unchecked all scan choices except malware, the scanner still performed a number of optimizations such as searching for junk files. I found that it finished in about 30 minutes, well below the average of current products, but nothing like the speedy 10-minute scan I timed with the previous version.

As noted, I also found that it only quarantined a quarter of the malware samples, though the real-time protection stopped them all from launching. It still quarantines files by appending the extension .pcpquar. My company contact told me back in March that the developers were working on a more robust quarantine system, but clearly it isn't here yet. For now, if a file is quarantined in error you can simply remove the added extension and run a new scan. When the scan finishes, dig into to the list of alleged malware and check off any that you want whitelisted.

I did find that PC Matic also quarantined some of my hand-coded analysis tools. To be fair, those exist nowhere but on my virtual machines, so they're unlikely to show up in any whitelist. PC Matic didn't quarantine any other files beyond those tools and the actual malware samples.

I also maintain a folder containing hand-modified versions of my malware collection. For each sample, I changed the filename, appended nulls to change the file size, and tweaked a few non-executable bytes. As before, PC Matic's scan didn't detect a single one of these, which suggests its malware definitions may be too rigid. Competing antivirus products typically detect almost all of the hand-tweaked samples just the same as they detect the originals.

System Optimization
This review focuses on the antivirus capabilities of PC Matic, but there's a lot more to the product than that. In fact, most of PC Matic is designed to keep your PC optimized and up-to-date. My concentration on the malware-blocking features got me a polite admonition from the program, saying, "We noticed that you have not run a scan and clean on this computer."

The full scan runs through dozens of analyses, grouped into four parts: Internet Speed, Stability, Security, and Performance. Specific tasks include scanning for junk files, optimizing the Registry, and running system benchmarks, among many others. When the scan finishes, it displays a page loaded with color-coded result summaries. You can click on any of them for details, or just click the big Fix All button.

The full scan and fix took a while, mostly because it includes the slow process of fixing disk fragmentation. Even so, it was all done in less than 40 minutes. After a scan, the program advises rebooting and re-scanning. This repeat scan didn't result in a perfect score; there were still a few minor problems. I find that result encouragingly realistic. A program that doesn't actually perform system optimizations (as some denigrators have claimed) would surely display utter perfection after completing its spurious activity.

Once you've run a scan, you can click for details about the particular PC you're using, and optionally schedule regular scans. A trio of slightly confusing dials indicate something about the system's CPU, RAM, and disk usage. You can also click for details on specific performance trends. However, I didn't find the trend graphs terribly informative. They seemed to show wild swings in things like used hard drive space, memory speed, and processor speed.

It Works
Based on my hands-on testing, PC Pitstop's PC Matic does seem to block malware from launching, but I'm a bit concerned about its ability to actually identify and quarantine malicious programs. Yes, it blocked all of my samples, but only identified 55 percent of them as bad, and its scan only quarantined 25 percent.

It's also worth noting that if you search for PC Matic online, you'll turn up a raft of negative reviews (along with a few testimonials). It doesn't help that the company's hype-happy website contains items that are patently false, like most of the page comparing PC Matic to other software.

At $50 for five licenses, PC Matic is inexpensive, and it optimizes your system performance. However, it lacks the Web-level protection that allows many products to steer your browser away from malicious and fraudulent URLs, and it didn't detect any of my hand-modified malware samples in testing. You'll do better spending your money on one of our Editors' Choice antivirus products, Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus, McAfee AntiVirus Plus, Kaspersky Anti-Virus, or Bitdefender Antivirus Plus.

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