Sophos Home Premium does a lot for a little, providing good malware protection at a price that's tough to beat among the best antivirus programs. Its powerful online management console lets you remotely scan connected systems and its interface is easy to navigate.
Malware protection: Good
System impact, background: Heavy
System impact, scans: Heavy
Windows compatibility: 7 through 10
Email scans: Yes
Game/silent mode: No
Hardened/secure browser: Yes
Password manager: No
Ransomware file reversal: Yes
Rescue disk: Yes
Scan scheduler: Yes
Support: Phone, email, chat on weekdays
URL screener: Yes
Webcam protection: Yes
Wi-Fi scanner: No
The program is a consumer version of Sophos' enterprise security software, and it lacks many of the consumer-oriented creature comforts we've come to expect from premium security suites, such as a password manager or VPN service.
But based on our Sophos Home Premium review, we think that some will find its minimalist approach to security — and its minimalist price tag — just right.
Sophos Home Premium: Costs and what's covered
Sophos' consumer antivirus software comes in only two versions: Sophos Home Free and Sophos Home Premium. That simple approach feels like a relief next to the complicated arrays of products offered by Norton, McAfee, Kaspersky and Bitdefender.
Sophos Home Free protects up to three systems with traditional virus-definition matching, AI-based predictive threat detection, real-time and behavioral malware detection and website filtering. Sophos' excellent online management console can monitor connected systems, add new ones and remotely scan them.
If you sign up for the Sophos Home Free product, you can use Home Premium's features for 30 days. These paid features include AI-based protection exploits and ransomware, webcam protection, systemwide protection against dangerous websites and browser hardening, including protection against keyloggers, when opening banking or shopping sites.
What you won't get with Sophos Home Premium are the extra features other antivirus makers often toss in to lure paying customers, but which don't actually protect against malware.
There's no password manager, file shredder, file encryption, backup software, identity protection or access to a virtual private network (VPN). Sophos provides the antivirus basics and not much more.
We can't complain about the price, though. Sophos Home Premium's retail price of $60 for up to 10 systems is already a bargain, but Sophos often discounts it to as little as $30 on its own website. Norton, Bitdefender and Kaspersky each list prices of at least $100 to protect 10 PCs or Macs.
Both Sophos Home programs work with Windows 7 and later, while Macs need macOS 10.12 Sierra or later. The Mac version of Sophos Home Premium lacks the Windows version's AI-based threat protection, advanced web protection and browser hardening.
Free Sophos products for other platforms are also consumer versions of its enterprise software. Sophos Anti-Virus for Linux provides basic protection for most major distributions.
Sophos Intercept X for Mobile for Android scans for malware and has a QR code scanner, a password manager, anti-theft features and a one-time-passcode generator along the lines of Google Authenticator — quite a compelling package for a free Android antivirus app. Sophos Intercept X for Mobile for iOS has all that minus the malware scans.
Sophos Home Premium: Antivirus protection
Sophos' old-school signature scanner matches new files to known malware, while its heuristic analysis monitors executable behavior and examines code. Suspicious new files are uploaded to Sophos' online lab, which quickly turns around new signatures that are sent to Sophos clients several times a day.
There's no way to opt out of uploading suspect code — many other antivirus products let you do so — but Sophos says it anonymizes what it copies from systems and promises not to sell or share your computer-usage data.
Sophos Home Premium has specific protection to deal with webcam hijacking, encrypting ransomware, boot-sector malware and fileless malware. You can also lock down the code base of many applications, including Home Premium itself.
Sophos Home Free and Sophos Home Premium both run fast full scans, but neither has a quick-scan option. You can scan individual files by right-clicking them in Windows Explorer.
You can toggle a dozen features on or off, but otherwise Sophos Home Premium essentially runs on automatic. There's no slider control to alter the overall security stance, and no gaming mode to pause scans or notifications.
Sophos Home Premium: Antivirus performance
Sophos Home antivirus uses the same malware-scanning technology as the company's business products. It does reasonably well in lab tests of malware-detection rates, generally matching ESET and Trend Micro and beating McAfee, but falling a bit behind Norton/Symantec, Kaspersky and Bitdefender.
Sophos Home Premium is regularly evaluated by SE Labs, one of the three independent testing labs whose results we use to gauge malware detection. The other two labs, AV-Test and AV-Comparatives, test only Sophos' enterprise antivirus protection.
We'll use all these results with the caveat that comparing consumer and enterprise results gives you only a rough picture.
In SE Labs' July-September 2019 consumer tests, Sophos Home Premium stopped everything, matching top malware detectors Kaspersky and Norton. But in the October-December 2019 round, Sophos' overall score fell to 98% as it let through two pieces of malware.
Kaspersky and Norton each got 100%, while Sophos tied with ESET and Trend Micro and was ahead of McAfee. (Bitdefender was not tested,)
In AV-Test's three most recent enterprise rounds, the Sophos business software always detected 100% of known "widespread" malware but missed some brand-new "zero-day" malware. Sophos' zero-day detection rates were 99.3% and 98.9%, respectively, in September and October 2019, putting it behind most enterprise and consumer products tested in those months.
Sophos aced AV-Test's November and December 2019 enterprise tests. But while January 2020 was similarly perfect, Sophos dipped to a 97.8% zero-day detection rate in February, again below average.
Again, we can't directly compare those results to the consumer tests, but we can note that Bitdefender aced both the enterprise and consumer tests in all three rounds, as did the former corporate siblings Symantec (for enterprise) and Norton (for consumers).
In all of AV-Comparatives' 2019 enterprise tests, Sophos did respectably well. It detected an average of 99.7% of "real-world" online malware in four monthly rounds from March through June, then an average of 99.5% from August through November.
This put Sophos a bit behind Bitdefender and Kaspersky but ahead of ESET and McAfee. (Symantec and Trend Micro were not tested.)
Sophos Home Premium: Security and privacy
Sophos Home and Sophos Home Premium block known malicious websites directly from the antivirus product, rather than by using browser extensions like many other antivirus brands.
All Sophos Home users get an online Sophos account, with which you can access the online "Dashboard" to control the Sophos software on all your devices. Sophos recently added a two-factor authentication (2FA) option to protect the account, a feature we hope becomes standard in consumer antivirus products.
Both Home Free and Home Premium also get the fairly rudimentary Parental Web Filter. You can block objectionable topics, but there are no age-based settings and no way to "pause" a home internet connection.
Sophos Home Premium users get an extra line of defenses, including the company's CryptoGuard ransomware protection that not only blunts ransomware attacks but returns encrypted files to their original state. You don't need to pick your most valuable files beforehand because CryptoGuard works automatically on all files.
Sophos Home Premium lacks a stand-alone secure browser for online banking and shopping, but it can harden an existing browser by encrypting keyboard strokes to foil keylogging malware and blocking known phishing websites.
Sophos Home Premium: Performance and system impact
Sophos Home Premium has one of the fastest malware scanners on the market, but it comes with the heaviest system-performance impact of any paid Windows antivirus product we've recently reviewed.
To measure system load, we used our custom benchmark test, which matches 20,000 names and addresses in an Excel spreadsheet. Our Lenovo ThinkPad T470 test machine had a 2.5GHz Core i5-7200U processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state storage with 43.3GB of files.
Before we installed Sophos Home Premium, the laptop took an average of 8.4 seconds to complete the benchmark's tasks. This rose to 10.0 seconds after Home Premium was installed, a 19% loss of performance potential just from the background activity.
That's more taxing than Kaspersky and Bitdefender, which caused 18% and 15% slowdowns after installation, respectively.
The full-disk scanner slowed things even further. Our laptop took 14 seconds to sort through the Excel test, resulting in a 66.7% performance decline from the baseline and a 40% percent increase from the post-installation system load. Only Kaspersky Total Security was equally heavy.
Heavy scan loads matter less nowadays because most antivirus protection now takes place in the background. But if you do opt for Sophos (or Kaspersky), make sure to set the program so that scans take place after hours, not while you're working.
The program's full scans don't last long, taking all of 6 minutes and 35 seconds. This remained constant, because the program doesn't teach itself what to ignore items on subsequent scans. (As mentioned earlier, there's no quick-scan option.)
Sophos Home Premium: Interface
Sophos Home Premium has an easy-to-manage interface, ideal for anyone who wants a program that will protect but not annoy.
In the main window, the program shows scan results and lets you start a new one.
Below that is a smaller button to add a new device, and in the bottom right corner are links to tech support and to the Troubleshooting section, which lets you check for updates, whitelist apps and protect Sophos Home against tampering.
The program's My Activity link takes you to your Sophos Cloud online account, where just about all of your settings and configuration changes will have to be made.
There are five main sections in your online account: Status, History, Protection, Web Filtering and Privacy.
The Ransomware tab in the Protection section has controls for exploit mitigation, risk reduction, protected applications and a set of preferences, while the General tab controls everything from the real-time scanner to the machine-learning engine and lets you schedule scans. Privacy controls the webcam protection.
Finally, the program's System Tray icon is not a power hitter. Hovering over it reveals only the program version and when the last scan took place. You can't use it to force an update, jump to the main interface or start a scan.
Sophos Home Premium: Installation and support
Sophos Home Premium took us a fairly long 15 minutes to download and install. We first had to download an 174MB installation file, then create a Sophos account and verify it with an email link.
After a 5-minute scan, the program restarted the PC, then prompted us to either use the Free version, pay for the Premium version or enter a license code in our Sophos account.
Sophos-support technicians can be reached via email or chat from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. Should a problem arise at 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, you'll have to rely on the online help material, which includes how-to videos and configuration tips.
Sophos Home Premium review: Verdict
We admire the purity of Sophos Home Premium. It does what it needs to without all the bells, whistles and interruptions of conventional antivirus suites. And with a $60 list price to cover 10 PCs or Macs, it undercuts most of its competitors among the best antivirus programs.
If you want something that's cheap, reliable and doesn't make a fuss, then Sophos Home Premium might be for you.