You should not accept your security software's default settings without question because they may not be the best that is possible. You might want to increase the security or the performance depending on how you use your PC and your level of knowledge.
Let's take a look at the settings in Avast Free Antivirus (they apply to Internet Security and Premier too), and see the ways in which they can be improved. The result will be security that suits you better.
Click the up arrow at the right side of the taskbar to display the tray of icons in the notification area and click Avast to open the program window. Click the gear icon in the top right corner to open Avast settings.
Select General on the left and among the settings is Enable Hardened Mode. This is turned off by default, but clicking the tick provides two options – Moderate and Aggressive. Both of these increase the security and are recommended for inexperienced users.
With the moderate setting Avast examines files you try to open and they are blocked if they have a poor reputation. If it is set to aggressive then only whitelisted files can be opened. It doesn't say which these are, so just try it and see.
The moderate setting is adequate for most people, but you might want to set aggressive on a child's PC where they might be tempted to click all sorts of files emailed and downloaded from the internet.
Select Active Protection on the left in settings. On the right is Mail Shield. This only works for email that is downloaded to the computer using an email program running on the PC. This includes the Mail app that is provided with Windows 8 and 10.
Mail Shield does not work if you only ever access email in a browser, such as Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Outlook.com and others. If you do not use an email program then it is safe to turn this off. It does not do any harm to leave it running, but it will never be used.
Click the Customise link next to Web Shield. In the Main Settings section tick the box Warn when downloading files with a poor reputation.
Return to the main settings screen and expand the Popups section. Information and warning messages pop up on the screen and stay there for 20 seconds by default. Do they get in the way? Click in the boxes and reduce the time. Set them to five seconds, for example.
If you are setting up Avast on someone else's computer or if your own computer is used by other people, you might want to password protect Avast so they cannot change the settings. Expand the Password section, tick the box Protect Avast with a password, and enter a password.
There are tick boxes for the sections the password applies to, so you can allow access to the main window, but not the settings for example.
Expand the Smart Scan section and click the Customise link next to Scan for viruses. In the Scan areas section it is set to perform a very quick scan for rootkits. Click it and there is an option to perform a full scan for rootkits. This is more thorough and is more likely to detect malware, but it takes longer. It is your choice, but clearly if you want to maximise protection then go for the full scan option.
Just below this is another setting and only auto-start programs are scanned. If other people use the computer and have their own accounts, you should click this and select the option to scan start-up programs for all users, otherwise you are only checking your own.
This does not mean other users aren't protected, when they log in Avast will scan their account, but it is useful to be able to scan their start-up programs from your own account.
There is an Add button just below the rootkit and start-up settings and this enables you to add extra areas to scan. Click Add, click the arrow on the right, click Browse and then select the Downloads folder. It is useful to include this in the scan because it is where dodgy downloads from the internet are saved.
Select Sensitivity on the left and on the right is Heuristics. This is one of the methods Avast uses to detect malware. It is set to Low by default, but clicking the next bar in the icon increases this to Normal. It makes it more sensitive to malware and therefore more effective.
Select Performance on the left and there are three scan priority settings, displayed as bars. Click the bars for low, normal and high. The priority setting determines how much of the computer's time is dedicated to running Avast.
The priority setting does not affect its ability to detect malware and it only affects your ability to run other programs while a scan is in progress. Scans can take many minutes to complete and setting the priority to high will result in faster scans. However, other programs that are running will slow down. Setting the priority to low would enable you to use the computer for other things while a scan is in progress, such as browsing the web, word processing, watching YouTube or whatever.
It's your choice – high priority finishes faster and low priority lets you do other things while scanning.
With these settings you can make the PC more secure and perform faster scans too.