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Kaspersky 2020 Review: Still the One to Beat

The best overall Windows antivirus software

Kaspersky 2020
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Kaspersky)

Our Verdict

With top-notch protection, useful extras and customization options, Kaspersky's 2020 lineup is the best that money can buy.

For

  • Airtight malware defense
  • Password manager, improved parental controls
  • Two-factor authentication for online account

Against

  • Heavy system impact during full scans
  • VPN usage limited even on priciest program
  • Few extra features on entry-level paid program

Kaspersky's antivirus software lineup for Windows offers an enviable mix of fast scans and complete protection, with no shortage of add-on apps, although the extras are a bit sparse on the cheapest paid program.

The top product, Kaspersky Total Security, has an unlimited password manager, robust parental controls and backup software. The midrange Kaspersky Internet Security offers fewer extras but includes webcam protection, a hardened web browser and limited parental controls. That's our top pick overall for best antivirus software.

If you're looking to save money,  the entry-level Kaspersky Anti-Virus can't compete feature for feature with the similarly priced Bitdefender Antivirus Plus.

MORE: Best Windows Antivirus Software 2019

We're glad to see Kaspersky leading the consumer antivirus industry with the first implementation of two-factor authentication for online accounts. On the other hand, Kaspersky's full-system scans slowed down our system a lot, and none of its packages includes unlimited access to the company's VPN service.

Kaspersky 2020 costs and what's covered

Kaspersky's Windows antivirus programs share the same excellent malware scanner. The lineup starts with Kaspersky Security Cloud Free (formerly known as Kaspersky Free Antivirus) for those who just want the basics. 

Those basics, however, now include Kaspersky's password manager and client software for Kaspersky's Secure Connection VPN service.

Kaspersky 2020 security

Kaspersky 2020 security

(Image credit: Kaspersky)

The password manager is limited to 15 login credentials unless you either pay $15 per year or buy a Kaspersky Total Security license. 

The free VPN service is limited to 200MB per day, or 300MB per day with a My Kaspersky online account — unlimited data costs $30 per year (inexpensive compared to other VPN services) even for Total Security subscribers. (The competing Bitdefender Premium Security does offer unlimited VPN use.)

Kaspersky Anti-Virus, starting at $60 per year, can protect three to 10 PCs and adds phishing and spyware protection. (Tom's Guide readers get half off of all these prices.) The software can also examine email attachments and scan for vulnerabilities. 

The program is minimalist, however, compared to Bitdefender's Antivirus Plus, which offers many more features at the same price.

Starting at $80 to protect three to 10 computers, Kaspersky Internet Security includes software for Macs, Android devices, and iPhones and iPads. It protects against unwanted apps and webcam hijacking and includes Kaspersky's Safe Money hardened browser and limited parental controls.

MORE: Best Mac Antivirus Software 2019

Kaspersky Total Security is at the top of the pyramid and starts at $90 per year for three computers; it's $100 for five machines and $150 for 10. Total Security can back up, encrypt and "shred" files, and it can protect against a ransomware attack. Web-based parental controls are also part of the mix.

An internet-based security package, Kaspersky Security Cloud costs $90 per year for three devices, or $100 for five, and comes with unlimited password-manager use, up to 500MB a day of VPN data and some identity-protection features. A family package costs $150 for up to 20 devices and adds better parental controls.

Kaspersky prices are often massively discounted, so shop around. Be aware that some prices are introductory and go up when you renew the subscription.

Kaspersky security software works with Windows 7 through 10, macOS 10.12 through 10.14, Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and later, and iOS 11 or later. There's no Kaspersky Linux antivirus software for home computers, however, and the iOS protection software only filters out malicious websites and helps find lost devices.

For a few years, there have been allegations that Moscow-based Kaspersky works with the Russian intelligence services to spy on clients. U.S. federal government departments and contractors are forbidden to use the company's software.

To counter the accusations, Kaspersky has moved its data farms to Switzerland and other neutral locales. We have seen no indication that any of Kaspersky's products are unsafe or contain deliberate security holes or backdoors.

Antivirus protection

Kaspersky's products mix scans for known malware, "heuristic" monitoring to quickly spot suspicious behavior and code, and artificial-intelligence analysis in the Kaspersky Security Network labs. The company sends malware-definition updates to its 400 million users several times a day.

Kaspersky has lots of dedicated defenses against specific threats, including fileless malware and attacks on the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) startup system.

Kaspersky's Application Control can set restrictions so that only trusted programs run. Meanwhile, just about every element has three levels of scan intensity. The Gaming mode works with games, movies and even large Excel spreadsheets. The System Watcher keeps an eye out for the first signs of a ransomware attack.

If all else fails, Kaspersky's Rescue Disk can restart the system from a USB flash drive and remove any residual infections, but you'll need to download the software to build it separately.

Kaspersky 2020 app control

Kaspersky 2020 app control

(Image credit: Kaspersky)

Antivirus performance

Kaspersky's malware aced the most-recent tests by the three malware labs whose results we use, delivering excellent protection without any false positives.

Kaspersky got perfect 100% detection scores in both the zero-day (unknown) and widespread (known) malware categories that German lab AV-Test surveyed in May and June 2019. Norton, Trend Micro and Microsoft Defender matched those scores, although Norton racked up three false positives while the others had none.

In all of AV-Test's bimonthly evaluations dating back to January 2017, Kaspersky failed to get a perfect score only once in 60 tests.

Kaspersky was also perfect in Austrian lab AV-Comparatives' February-May 2019 tests, detecting 100% of online malware with no false positives.

Finally, London-based SE Labs gave Kaspersky (along with ESET, Microsoft and Norton), its highest rating in tests conducted from April through June 2019. Each detected 100% of malware without any false positives, although Microsoft arguably won by a hair because the other three neutralized rather than blocked 1% of malware.

Security and privacy

Kaspersky desktop antivirus applications offer an escalating number of features at an escalating price. While Kaspersky Anti-Virus is basic, it can now block phishing sites that use shortened URLs.

Kaspersky Internet Security protects phones, tablets and Macs. It adds basic parental controls, a two-way firewall and protection against webcam hijacking, but surreptitious audio recordings are blocked separately.

With the Private Browsing setting, you can block sites that track your online movements. Safe Money, Kaspersky's hardened browser, forces the use of HTTPS encryption and blocks common web attacks and (with its virtual, on-screen keyboard) keyloggers. There are Kaspersky browser extensions for Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome, but not Microsoft Edge.

Kaspersky Total Security adds an unlimited version of the Password Manager. It also has better parental controls with Safe Kids Premium, which lets parents monitor Facebook activity, block objectionable material and geo-locate their children (or at least their phones). Screen time can be limited across phones, tablets and PCs.

Total Security's Backup and Restore keeps copies of your most valuable files away from ransomware attacks. It backs up My Documents, Pictures, Videos and Music by default, and you can add others to the list, although full drives can't be archived. 

If you have files that shouldn't see the light of day, Total Security can shred them or encrypt them.

MORE: Best Cloud Backup Services 2019

Total Security includes a good assortment of system optimizers to remove unwanted programs, recover storage space and remove traces of your online activity. There's even a troubleshooting routine for Windows problems.

Finally, with the company's My Kaspersky online accounts, you can monitor all covered computers, and you can now use two-factor authentication (2FA) for extra account protection. The server sends your phone a text message with a one-time code required for logging in. We hope other antivirus software makers follow Kaspersky's lead on 2FA.

Performance and system impact

Kaspersky Total Security provides excellent protection, but it can require a lot of system resources. To measure the program's impact, we used our custom benchmark test, which times how long the CPU takes to match 20,000 names and addresses in an Excel spreadsheet. 

Our Lenovo ThinkPad T470 test bed had a 2.5-GHz Core i5-7200U processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state storage holding 43.3GB of files.

Before we installed the Kaspersky software, the T470 registered a baseline task-completion time of 7.8 seconds on our Excel benchmark. That time rose to 9.2 seconds after we installed Kaspersky Total Security, a loss of 18% of performance potential, which is a bit more than Bitdefender Total Security's 15% drop.

Kaspersky 2020 full scan

Kaspersky 2020 full scan

(Image credit: Kaspersky)

The Kaspersky software churned through the system's files in 10 minutes and 31 seconds on the first pass of a full scan, examining 339,537 items, about a third of what Bitdefender saw. After Kaspersky indexed the system, the software's third full-scan time dropped to 5:17, looking at 297,403 files. Quick Scans were accomplished in an average of 52 seconds, half the time required by Bitdefender.

Kaspersky 2020 quick scan

Kaspersky 2020 quick scan

(Image credit: Kaspersky)

A Quick Scan only marginally slowed the benchmark, from 9.2 to 9.6 seconds (a 4% drop from the background CPU consumption, but a 23% one from the baseline). Meanwhile, a full scan slowed the Excel spreadsheet completion task to 13 seconds. This 41% drop in performance from the background consumption, and 67% drop from the baseline, is among the worst we've seen in antivirus programs.

Kaspersky Total Security had a 7.9 on AV-Comparatives' Performance Impact test. That was slightly better than Bitdefender's 8.3 but paled in comparison to McAfee's 0.8.

Interface

Kaspersky's main screen puts a green check mark and eight main tasks in front, with current security recommendations up above. Most of what you'll need is right there, including Scan, Database Update, Safe Money, Password Manager, Privacy Protection, Backup and Restore, Parental Control, and My Kaspersky online account access.

Kaspersky 2020 safe money

Kaspersky 2020 safe money

(Image credit: Kaspersky)

More Tools takes you to Security (Cloud protection, quarantine and the rescue disk), My Network (LAN scanner and VPN), Manage Applications (updates, vulnerability scan and trusted app mode), Data Protection (encryption and file shredder), and Clean and Optimize (software optimization and troubleshooting). A report generator shows updates, scans and neutralized threats.

It's easy to schedule scans for daily, weekly or monthly runs with settings for full, quick or vulnerability scans. You can set scans to run only when the system is locked or has its screen saver running.

Kaspersky's Task Tray icon shows you virus definitions if you hover over it, but a left click opens the Safe Money browser, parental controls or a software update.

Installation and support

It took us 10 minutes and 30 seconds, a bit long but not onerous, to install Kaspersky Total Security. You start by setting up a My Kaspersky online account entering your activation code.

Kaspersky 2020 installation

Kaspersky 2020 installation

(Image credit: Kaspersky)

You then download the 2.5MB installer (a link can be sent via email), which in turn downloads the 152MB main installer, does a quick scan and installs the entire product. At this point, you can opt out of having Kaspersky collect malware and threat data from your system.

Kaspersky has technicians on call for North American customers from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. (Eastern Time), seven days a week. You can reach them via a phone call, an email or a chat window, and they promise next-day response.

During off hours, the Kaspersky website, reachable from the program interface, offers how-to videos and FAQs, articles, and warnings about the latest threats.

Bottom line

Kaspersky Total Security remains the top-tier security suite to beat, with protection and fast scans no other program can deliver. The password manager, improved parental controls and two-factor authentication add up to the closest thing to airtight protection.

But it's not quite perfect. Total Security could be enhanced by offering unlimited access to Kaspersky's VPN service; Bitdefender Premium Security offers VPN service at a lower price per system. Kaspersky also creates too much of a performance load during full scans.

If you don't need parental controls, backup software or a password manager, then consider Kaspersky Internet Security. But at entry-level prices, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is a better buy than the bare-bones Kaspersky Anti-Virus.