Bitdefender antivirus review

Bitdefender offers excellent antivirus protection with plenty of extra features but deciding which version to get can be somewhat confusing

Bitdefender review
(Image: © Bitdefender)

Tom's Guide Verdict

Bitdefender’s Windows antivirus software continues to offer excellent protection along with a slew of features meant to secure an entire family’s worth of systems and identities but at the cost of a complicated lineup of products.


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    Simple interface

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    Excellent malware protection

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    Secure browser and parental controls included


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    No file encryption

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    Heavy background for scanning

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Bitdefender Total Security: Specs

Malware protection: Excellent
System impact, background: Light
System impact, scans: Moderate
Windows compatibility: 7, 8,1, 10, 11*
Anti-theft: Yes
Backup software: No
File encryption: No
File shredder: Yes
Firewall: Yes
Game mode: Yes
Hardened/secure browser: Yes
Parental controls: Yes
Password manager: Yes
Performance scanner: No
Ransomware rollback: Yes
System optimizer: Yes
Webcam protection: Yes
Virtual keyboard: Yes
VPN: Yes
Wi-Fi scanner: Yes
Support options: 24/7 phone, email, chat
Extra: Timeline of attack vector
*: Security updates end in January 2024 for Windows 7 and 8.1

Bitdefender’s antivirus defenses are just a hair behind that of industry leader Kaspersky, but its programs pack in more useful features at lower prices. There’s something for every budget — or lack of one. This starts with the completely free Antivirus Free Edition with basic protection and scanning. The entry-level Bitdefender Antivirus Plus for Windows offers basic protection with a bunch of defenses. Bitdefender Internet Security and Bitdefender Total Security add a firewall and cross-platform protection, culminating with the flagship Bitdefender Premium Security with its unlimited VPN. All five packages use the same malware-detection technology and differ in terms of extra security options.

It may not have the fastest or most efficient malware scanner but any of Bitdefender’s products can be relied upon to keep a system clean and free of threats while offering a wide assortments of features. Our Bitdefender antivirus review will help you decide if this is the best antivirus software for you and the right choice for your computer.

Bitdefender Total Security review: Costs and what's covered

The cheapest paid program, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, offers a lot for its price but is also aimed at Windows systems. It adds real-time scanning for rogue code, as well as Bitdefender’s Network Threat scanner, a file shredder and the company’s Safepay hardened browser. The Antivirus Plus package has anti-tracking, comes with 200MB of VPN use a day and can protect three devices for $60 –about what Sophos charges for 10 seats of its Home Premium package. It’s frequently available for less than $20 for the first year, although most Bitdefender products go up in price upon renewal.

Bitdefender Internet Security is a big step up and is also only available for Windows computers. It includes a two-way firewall, anti-spam control, parental controls and dedicated webcam and microphone protection. It covers three devices for $85, although it is often discounted to less than $35.

Bitdefender Total Security adds software for Macs and mobile devices for complete platform protection. The package has a system optimizer to squeeze out a little extra performance and covers five devices for $100 a year and 10 systems for $110. The Family Pack protects 15 systems for $120. These are generally available for $36 and $45 for the first year.

As if that weren’t enough, there are two more Bitdefender products that take security to a higher level. The $160 Premium Security suite adds unlimited use of the company’s VPN infrastructure and the company’s new Bitdefender Password Manager. There’s also the top-shelf $240 Ultimate Security package that also includes access to Bitdefender Digital Identity Protection, its new identity theft protection offering. Bitdefender is the rare security software company that provides a wide assortment of products at different prices, but at the cost of too much complexity.

Part of the top three suites, Bitdefender Mobile Security for Android and iOS are both available on their own for $15 each. While the Android app can scan for malware, block scams, locate and wipe a stolen phone and scan for malware, the iOS version can’t scan for malware.

Antivirus for Mac is available on its own for $40 per system or as part of Total, Premium or Ultimate Security; expect to pay closer to $25 for it on its own. It has basic scanning protection but lacks things the Windows programs have, like the adware blocker and anti-phishing. It does include 200MB a day of VPN use.

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In addition to buying Bitdefender Total Security on its own, it can be part of Netgear’s Armor security software that’s built into some of its routers. After the Armor free trial period expires, this can be an incredible value because rather than limiting the number of users to three, five, 10 or 15, it’s unlimited coverage that often costs about $100 a year. The company also supplies security software to Acronis and other companies.

While many of Bitdefender's paid products include a paltry 200MB per day of VPN use, there’s an upgrade path to the premium version of Bitdefender VPN for $70 a year or $7 a month. It’s frequently discounted to $30 for the first year and is part of Premium and Ultimate Security.

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Bitdefender’s Windows antivirus software works with Windows 7 (with Service Pack 1), Windows 8/8.1, Windows 10 and Windows 11, although the plan is for security updates to stop for Win 7 and 8.1 in January of next year. The Mac software requires macOS 10.10 Yosemite or later. Mobile devices require a minimum of Android 5.0 or iOS 12. Like most antivirus makers, Bitdefender doesn’t offer a consumer Linux program.

Bitdefender Total Security review: Antivirus protection

Starting with the goal of securing a user’s complete digital life by staying a step ahead of threats, Bitdefender Total Security covers as many malware bases as any security suite. The steps up include Premium Security with VPN use and Ultimate Security with identity protection.

Always on guard for danger, whenever Bitdefender’s malware-scanning engine encounters what may be a new piece of malware, it uploads the suspicious item to the company’s online testing lab for analysis. New malware signatures are distributed several times daily to the millions of systems protected by Bitdefender products.

These uploads will include some information about your system and what it was doing when a new threat was detected. If you’d rather Bitdefender not know that much about you and what you do online, it’s easy to opt out and, unlike some competitors, continue to get these malware-signature updates.

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In addition to watching for suspect scripts, command line fileless attacks and memory exploits, Bitdefender blocks potentially unwanted applications (PUAs) and rootkits. It also guards the integrity of files and automatically copies files under attack from encrypting ransomware so that you have backup copies.

In the event of an attack, the program steals a page from business-oriented security suites, like Bitdefender’s GravityZone, with an after-action Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) incident report. This dissection of the attack vector used is surprisingly simple and should be part of every consumer malware product. It shows what damage took place in an easy to read timeline that runs left to right. On the downside, the results disappear from Notifications in six months.

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There’s no one place to adjust the program’s overall security stance, but its Profiles do the next best thing. The Profiles feature monitors what you’re doing and tailors the protection accordingly without being too intrusive. There are preset profiles for work, movie, games and public Wi-Fi. Oddly, selecting which you want to use is in the Utilities section of the interface.

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Rather than a rescue app that needs to run on external media, Bitdefender Rescue Environment has been integrated into the program. If your system becomes saddled with malware, it uses a sandboxed version of Windows 10 to scan for and remove persistent threats.

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Bitdefender Total Security review: Antivirus performance

All Bitdefender malware products use the same underlying viral scanner that achieved excellent results that were only surpassed by Kaspersky. For instance, on AV-Test’s June 2023 malware effectiveness survey, the program scored a perfect 100 percent score. This matches results from Kaspersky, McAfee, Norton, Sophos and Trend Micro.

That said, its results have a small gotcha. Kaspersky, Norton, Sophos and Trend Micro didn’t have any false positives during their test runs. On the same tests, Bitdefender flagged five safe items as potentially dangerous; McAfee had one false positive result. 

Its 100 percent scoring held with AV Comparatives’ May 2023 test run. By comparison, only Kaspersky and Trend Micro hit this ideal level of malware identification. Using the same viral samples, McAfee and Norton both had 99.6 percent scores while ESET was on target 99.2 percent of the time.

On the other hand, Bitdefender had two false positives and Trend Micro had a whopping 39, seriously eating into its credibility with users. Kaspersky had no misidentifications of safe software as dangerous.

Bitdefender doesn’t work with SE Labs.

Bitdefender Total Security review: Security and privacy features

The individual privacy elements of Total Security add up to the ability to live and work in an online world with confidence. Each Bitdefender paid program includes browser extensions that block web-tracking in Chrome, Edge and Firefox.

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Bitdefender’s File Shredder can eliminate all the vestiges of an item and can be used directly from the File Explorer. On the other hand, the company’s Vault encryption feature has been discontinued, but files encrypted with older versions of Bitdefender programs can still be retrieved. That is, if you remember the password. 

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Meanwhile, the Safepay hardened browser has been improved to better protect online banking and shopping sessions. It not only doesn’t allow screenshots but blocks browser extensions being invoked and makes sure you’re using a secure HTTPS session to protect your private data. It also has an on-screen keyboard so you can type in passwords and credit-card numbers without having to worry about keyloggers.

Bitdefender Internet Security, Total Security and Premium Security still have one of the industry’s easiest and best webcam-protection features. It blocks access and lets you choose which applications are allowed to use the webcam, like Teams and Zoom.

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The top security suites also include a two-way firewall. My favorite part is using its Stealth mode to make sure nobody from outside your home network gets access. Meanwhile, Parental Controls come with Internet Security, Total Security and Premium Security and work across all platforms for seamless control and monitoring.

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The OneClick Optimizer took 15 seconds to go through the system and offered a list of streamlining items that range from junk files and registry entries to a privacy cleanup. It will clean them up as well.

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Bitdefender Total Security review: Performance and system impact

Bitdefender Total Security continues to have a moderate impact on system performance. To measure the performance impact, we used our custom benchmark test, which clocks how long a PC takes to match 20,000 names and addresses on an Excel spreadsheet. The Lenovo ThinkPad T470 laptop we used had a 2.5GHz Core i5-7200U processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state storage with 50.7GB of files.

Prior to getting started on Bitdefender Total Security, the ThinkPad T470 registered a benchmark time of 9.8 seconds, which was in accord with the others. After the program was loaded but before any scanning took place, it slowed slightly to 10.2 seconds, a 4% drop in performance potential. This is not as good as the 2% passive decline that other products experienced but is a vast improvement compared to earlier versions that lost up to 20% of their performance at this stage.

While scanning, Total Security’s benchmark score dropped significantly to 2.8 seconds during a System Scan, its full scan. That 31% drop is pretty bad, particularly compared to ESET, whose score dropped marginally. It was a lot better than McAfee’s huge loss of system resources during scanning. Quick scanning was even worse at 13 seconds, a 34% decline in performance potential. 

Its scan times were fast, although not as good as with Sophos. It took 37 minutes and 42 seconds to sift through the system’s drive on the first pass to look at 1,260,341 files. This is one of the largest scan results, showing the program’s thoroughness.

Happily, by the third scan, this dropped to 4:17 as the program learned the system’s contents. Its Quick Scan was just as fast at 4:04 to examine 5,464 of the most pressing dangers. That’s five-times the number of files that others, like Acronis Cyber Protect Home Office looked at during a quick scan.

Bitdefender Total Security review: Interface

Bitdefender’s desktop interface has been slightly updated and tightened but is still easy to figure out. The current Dashboard uses a soothing blue, black and white color scheme and shows the program’s major categories on the left, including Protection, Privacy, Utilities, Notifications and Settings. Unfortunately, it can’t run full screen.

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On the right are functional boxes where you can start a scan and also fire up the VPN or open the Safepay hardened browser. There’s also access to the Vulnerability Assessment that looks for old and outdated drivers as well as the lack of key security patches and potentially dangerous security settings. You can add another “quick action” of your choosing or replace an existing one.

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Bitdefender’s Tasktray icon lets you open the main program or update its malware definitions, but it can’t start a scan. If everything is good and you hover the mouse over it, you’ll see “You are safe”.

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The Bitdefender Central online portal lets you check your subscription status, get tech support and use the Parental Advisor feature. It’s also the place to work with the Password Manage and Theft Protection features. Happily, it can require two-factor-authentication. On the other hand, the Central interface needs to be scaled to 33% on a 1920 x 1080 screen to take in all its elements, which can lead to a lot of squinting. There’s no direct link from the local Dashboard, although you can get there by clicking on your name in the upper right and then using “Go to Central.”

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Bitdefender’s Digital Identity Protection can take this a step further without the hassles and expense of ID protection insurance. It checks your online personal data exposure and alerts you to threats, data breaches and identity theft. It costs $35 for the first year to cover up to three phones and five computers.

Bitdefender Total Security review: Installation and support

Loading Bitdefender on a fresh system starts with creating an account at Bitdefender Central, then downloading the 12.2MB installer app. After that the program brings down the rest of the 678MB program.

I agreed to the license, made sure that it would be in English and unchecked the box that allows Bitdefender to report on my use of the computer. As it installs, the program runs a slide show of Total Security’s features. Finally, I was asked to pay and activate the program.

At this point, the installation process took 6 minutes and 40 seconds, but it wanted to perform a Device Assessment scan to look for existing infections. It found nothing bad.

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Unlike competitors, such as ESET and Sophos, Bitdefender’s paid programs include full 24/7 tech support.

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You can call, email or use the company’s chat window, but the upgrade to Premium Security adds priority support. The Bitdefender website has a slew of FAQs, self-service material and instructional videos.

Bitdefender Total Security review: Bottom line

With more than six security suites available, Bitdefender covers the malware territory well. Bitdefender’s Windows antivirus lineup continues its top tier status with the enviable combination of excellent defenses, the best assortment of security features and the choice of six different products. Its scanning engine may be slow and eat up too many of a system’s precious resources, but it let nothing potentially dangerous through. In the event of an infection, Bitdefender’s software can dissect the attack and improve the computer’s defenses. However,  it does without file encryption and did show a few annoying false positives along the way. Only Kaspersky proved to be better but costs more per protected computer.

Regardless of which Bitdefender product is chosen, it can keep a home’s worth of computers on the straight and narrow for less.

Brian Nadel

Brian Nadel is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in technology reporting and reviewing. He works out of the suburban New York City area and has covered topics from nuclear power plants and Wi-Fi routers to cars and tablets. The former editor-in-chief of Mobile Computing and Communications, Nadel is the recipient of the TransPacific Writing Award.