Bitdefender has a full range of security products that protect everything from a single PC to a large family's assortment of digital devices. From Antivirus Plus and Internet Security to Total Security Multi-Device, all of Bitdefender's 2017 Windows antivirus programs use the same underlying malware-scanning technology, share a compact interface and have minimal impact on a system's performance.
Costs and What's Covered
Which version of Bitdefender is right for you depends as much on the variety of systems you have at home as on which features and extras you want.
Graphic: N.Bush/Tom's GuideBitdefender Antivirus Plus covers from one to 10 PCs and includes basic protection that can stop most web-based threats. It includes a Wi-Fi network scanner and has specialized ways of thwarting ransomware.
Unlike many of its peers in the basic antivirus category, Antivirus Plus adds a password manager, a secure browser for online banking and shopping, a file shredder and a vulnerability scanner. Many other antivirus vendors charge extra for these features.
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus costs range from $40 a year for a single PC, $60 for three PCs, $70 for five PCs and $80 for 10 PCs, roughly matching the prices of competitors such as Kaspersky Anti-Virus and Trend Micro Antivirus + Security.
The next step up the ladder is Bitdefender Internet Security, which adds a two-way firewall, spam blocking, file encryption and parental controls. It costs $60 for one PC, $80 for three PCs and $85 for five PCs, although you can get a 10-system license for $90.
Large digital families should look at Bitdefender Total Security Multi-Device, which adds a system optimizer and a way to tag a stolen or lost computer. Total Security Multi-Device 2017 protects up to five Windows PCs, Macs or Android devices for $90 or up to 10 devices for $100. (The non-Windows licenses are for Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac and Bitdefender Mobile Security, both of which we've reviewed separately.)
Want unlimited coverage? You can get the $120 Bitdefender Family Pack or the $130 network-protecting Bitdefender Box, both of which let you install Total Security on an unlimited number of devices. It pays to shop around, as antivirus products are often steeply discounted by online retailers, and often by the antivirus companies themselves.
Bitdefender's PC products work with Windows 7 through Windows 10. For older machines, there's Bitdefender Security for XP and Vista, essentially an older version of Bitdefender Internet Security. The Mac and Android software bundled with Total Security works with OS X 10.9.5 Mavericks and up, and Android 3.0 Honeycomb and newer.
Bitdefender's Antivirus Plus 2017, Internet Security 2017 and Total Security 2017 all use the same anti-malware detection engine, which starts with traditional signature-matching of known malware and adds heuristic monitoring of suspicious behavior and suspicious code to catch shape-shifting bugs and zero-day malware.
Bitdefender's malware detection is topped off with cloud-based analysis of suspect items that are constantly uploaded from the 500 million machines using Bitdefender software. You can opt out of this automatic file-collection program during installation, or later if you choose.
While there's a Quick Scan link in the main window of each of the three products, you'll need to go below the surface to do a more thorough Full System Scan. You can also set up recurring scans, such as for a back-up partition, as well as schedule nightly or weekly scans.
When a USB thumb drive is inserted, Bitdefender's USB Immunizer jumps into action, asking if you want to scan the drive for threats. You can scan individual files or folders on the PC by right-clicking them in Windows File Explorer.
All versions of Bitdefender come with revamped ransomware protection that lets you designate items that cannot be encrypted without your permission. There's no limit to how many files can be protected, and the feature includes boot-up protection as well.
Bitdefender's Windows scanning technology effectively thwarts a variety of attacks, but can deliver annoying false warnings. When the independent German lab AV-TEST evaluated Bitdefender Internet Security on Windows 10 in March and April 2016, it detected 100 percent of both zero-day and widespread malware in March, followed by a 99.9-percent zero-day score and a 100 widespread score in April. There were three false positives in April.
On Windows 8.1, the scanner caught every piece of malware in April, but only 97.8 percent of zero-day malware in March, one of the lowest scores Bitdefender has received in years. It caught all the widespread malware in April, but registered an annoying four false positives in each month.
In July and August, AV-TEST couldn't get anything past Bitdefender running on Windows 7, with perfect scores across the board; there were three false positives.
Overall, these scores on all three versions of Windows put Bitdefender's malware engine on a par with the similarly excellent Kaspersky Lab, Norton and Trend Micro scanners.
Finally, Bitdefender received nearly perfect scores in the most recent monthly tests carried out by Austrian lab AV-Comparatives. In June and August 2016, Bitdefender detected 100 percent of malware threats, and found 99.7 percent in July. It scored a single false positive, in June.
Security and Privacy Features
The real differences among Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, Internet Security and Total Security Multi-Device lie not in the malware protection, but in the additional features.
Bitdefender's entry-level product, Antivirus Plus, is remarkably well stocked for an entry-level product. It has an unlimited password manager and a file shredder for making deleted items really disappear. For online banking and other financial transactions, there's the Safepay secure web browser, which allows no extensions and includes a virtual on-screen keyboard to defeat keylogging malware.
There's also a vulnerability scanner that sweeps your system for old files and makes sure you have the latest patches, and also checks Wi-Fi connections. It took 1 minute and 20 seconds for Bitdefender to examine our Asus test laptop, and warned of a weak Wi-Fi password. A new Wi-Fi security adviser also checks local wireless networks for sloppy security procedures.
While Internet Security adds antispam tools, file encryption and a two-way firewall, the big step up is the addition of Bitdefender's Parental Advisor. It can keep kids on the straight and narrow by blocking objectionable sites and scheduling their web time.
The top-of-the-line Total Security Multi-Device package adds not only Macintosh and Android licenses, but a helpful anti-theft feature. If your laptop goes missing, your account on the Bitdefender Central website will let you find the device's location on a map, secretly take photos of the thief, lock the machine or wipe the drive clean.
Total Security also has a one-click system optimizer that can free up space, fix registry errors and alert you to potential privacy issues. It found hundreds of problems on our Asus system.
None of the Bitdefender programs have anything to compare with Kaspersky's webcam protection, but all treat webcam-spying malware as a regular threat. Bitdefender's products also lack backup software and online storage, which are packaged with some other brands' more expensive antivirus suites.
Like most antivirus makers, Bitdefender offers a free rescue disk that you can download and put on a CD or flash drive. But it also has a built-in rescue mode that reboots the PC in a safe environment to thoroughly scan and clean a very infected system. All you do is press the space bar during the startup phase. (This won't work on systems with Microsoft's Secure Boot feature.)
The Bitdefender Central website lets you can manage your subscription, and any or all of your machines with Bitdefender software installed. You can start scans remotely, and track lost or stolen devices.
Performance and System Impact
Bitdefender's security technology had a small but measurable impact on the performance of our test system, an Asus X555LA notebook running Windows 10 with 6GB of RAM, a 2-GHz Intel Core i3 processer and 36GB of data on a 500GB hard drive.
To assess system impact, we used our OpenOffice-based performance test, which matches 20,000 names and addresses in a spreadsheet. We compared how long the software took to complete this task during four different scenarios. First, we ran it with no third-party antivirus software installed; then, after Bitdefender Total Security had been installed; then during full scans; and finally, during quick scans.
With no software installed (but with Microsoft's obligatory Windows Defender running in the background), the OpenOffice test completed in 6 minutes and 54 seconds. After Bitdefender Total Security had been installed, the system ran through the same routine in 7 minutes and 16 seconds. This increase of 22 seconds, or 5.3 percent, shows a small passive system impact.
While performing a full scan, the Asus system took 8 minutes and 11 seconds to churn through the OpenOffice test, a slowdown of 18 percent. With a quick scan running, it took 7 minutes and 49 seconds, a drop of 13 percent. This performance shortfall might not be noticeable unless you're doing something processor-intensive, such as rendering video.
Don't be in a hurry with Bitdefender's scans. Its first full scan of our 500 GB hard drive took 2 hours and 31 minutes, but was one of the most thorough we've seen, examining 2,128,705 items. After five runs, the full scan took 51:21 to look at 795,705 files; the rest of the files were judged to be safe. As slow as it was at full scans, Total Security was lightning-fast with quick scans, taking 8.9 seconds to go through 3,865 files.
The 2017 Bitdefender interface continues with the black-and-gray look of the past few years, but has added a left-hand navigation bar for easier access to other screens. Most of the subsidiary windows and the online Bitdefender Central screens are brighter with lots of white space.
There's a prominent green checkmark on the main screen to show that you're protected, alongside buttons for Vulnerability and Quick Scans as well as the latest information on any application, file and web protection.
In the upper right, you can toggle the company's AutoPilot for automatically setting the security stance. If you turn it off, you can use individual profiles for Work, Movie and Game, as well as the hair-trigger Paranoid mode.
One thing missing from last year's version is a main-screen display of how many days are left on your subscription. You now need to dig a little into the Account Info screen to find this.
Overall, the half-size windows present a lot of detail in a small space without appearing crowded. A new pull-out bar on the left leads to Privacy and Tools, but leaves the checkmark info. There are also sections for Activity, Notifications, Account Info, Settings and Support.
Unlike many of its peers, Bitdefender has support technicians available day and night, every day, to help with an errant installation or attack. You can call them toll-free, chat with them online, send them an email or get their attention from the Support section of the interface.
Setup and Installation
Bitdefender's installation sequence starts with a downloadable installer file. It does a quick scan for viruses and compatibility, then downloads the full 372MB program.
The program asks if you want to participate in the company's malware-collection program, which will send some system information to Bitdefender's servers. If you miss the question, you can opt out later. You can easily do a custom installation.
When installation is done, you'll need to log into or create a Bitdefender Central account and choose between paying for a subscription or starting a 30-day free trial. It took us 10 minutes and 20 seconds to protect our Asus test system.
With a nearly perfect defense against the worst aspects of the internet, Bitdefender Total Security Multi-Device 2017 lives up to its name with lots of extras. The program has minimal impact on system performance, includes licenses for Macs and Androids, and is a great way to protect a multiplatform digital family.
However, if you've got no Macs or Android devices, or if you're pretty tech-savvy, you might consider one of Bitdefender's cheaper packages. Even the lowest-priced Antivirus Plus has plenty of useful extra features, and offers the same stellar malware protection as the other versions.