With one of the deepest arrays of protective features, Bitdefender's 2018 Windows antivirus lineup sets the standard with ultrafast quick scans, minimal system performance overhead, and the ability to customize most aspects of your protection or let the program do it.
Bitdefender's malware scanner takes a long time to complete its first system scan, and even the priciest package lacks a VPN client or backup software, but overall Bitdefender offers excellent malware protection at a reasonable price.
Costs and What's Covered
If you want more protection than Bitdefender's bare-bones Antivirus Free Edition can provide, look to Bitdefender Antivirus Plus. It starts at $40 a year for three devices and includes a password manager, local network security advisor and file shredder.
The next step up is the Bitdefender Internet Security package, starting at $60 per year, which adds file encryption, webcam protection and a two-way firewall. (The Windows firewall screens only inbound traffic; a two-way firewall can catch outbound connections from hidden malware.)
Bitdefender Total Security protects up to five computers for $90 a year (or 10 for $100) and includes licenses for Bitdefender's iOS, Android and Mac software, as well as a system optimizer and a tracker for a lost or stolen laptop.
If you have lots of computers at home, the Bitdefender Family Pack could be useful, providing an unlimited Total Security license for $120 per year.
The company's $130 Bitdefender Box network-security appliance also includes a year's subscription to Total Security for an unlimited number of devices; the Box's second generation is due to hit the market in the fall of 2017.
Bitdefender's 2018 Windows lineup can work with Windows 7 (with Service Pack 1) all the way through Windows 10. (For users of older PCs, there's the $80 Bitdefender Security for XP and Vista.)
Bitdefender's antivirus software for Macs supports OS X Mavericks 10.9.5 through macOS Sierra 10.12; the Bitdefender Android antivirus and security apps run on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and later. Bitdefender's upcoming iOS app, which will have a device tracker and parental controls but no antivirus features, will run on iPhones and iPads with iOS 9.0 or later.
Bitdefender uses the same underlying protection on all its Windows consumer products. This protection starts with a file-scanning engine that looks for matches to known exploits. There's also heuristic monitoring that watches for signs that an attack is underway. Anything suspicious is uploaded to the company's Cloud Center lab for immediate analysis and a quick fix.
Bitdefender updates its malware definitions and sends them out to its 500 million users several times a day. If giving Bitdefender information about your PC's configuration and activity goes against your wishes, you can opt out of the data collection as the software is installed.
Bitdefender's Autopilot feature automatically adjusts the software's defensive posture based on current computer’s conditions, such as how many system resources other processes are using. You can also white-list applications and set the program to Movie or Game mode to reduce interruptions.
Files that you absolutely can't live without can be cordoned off and theoretically immunized from ransomware attack with Bitdefender's Safe File feature. By default, protected folders will include the Desktop, Documents, Pictures, Music and Videos folders, as well as folders linked to Dropbox, OneDrive, Box and Google Drive accounts. It's easy to add others. Unfortunately, Safe Files blocked our access to a key spreadsheet needed for our benchmark tests; removing the spreadsheet from the Safe File list fixed the problem.
For anxious users, there's a Quick Scan link on the main window, although a full System Scan is two clicks away. To schedule nightly, weekly or monthly scans, access the Manage Scans section.
Bitdefender's Windows antivirus products provide some of the best protection against hackers and ransomware. In two rounds of evaluations conducted in 2017 by German independent lab AV-TEST on Windows 7, one in January and February and the second in July and August, Bitdefender Internet Security snagged nearly every piece of rogue software, whether new "zero-day" threats or well-known malware.
The sole exception to the 100 percent streak on Windows 7 came in February, when Bitdefender missed about 0.1 percent of the 11,524 samples of widespread malware tested. That's equivalent to scores posted by Avast, F-Secure and Trend Micro; Kaspersky and Norton got perfect scores across both months.
Bitdefender made up for this setback in March and April, scoring perfectly across the board on Windows 10, as did AVG, F-Secure, Kaspersky and Norton. Bitdefender's scanner returned five false positives, or safe files erroneously flagged as harmful, across both months. That's one less than Norton but three more than Kaspersky. In a second round of Windows 10 evaluations conducted in May and June 2017, Bitdefender again stopped all malware, but notched up four false positives.
Bitdefender did similarly well in tests conducted by Austrian lab AV-Comparatives in the first half of 2017. In five rounds of tests from February through June, in which Bitdefender running on Windows 7 was exposed to hundreds of malicious websites, the software stopped an average of 99.9 percent of online malware. Trend Micro stopped 100 percent but registered 53 false positives over the five months, as opposed to Bitdefender's five.
The same trend continued after AV-Comparatives switched to testing on Windows 10 halfway through the year. In the July tests, Bitdefender stopped 99.7 percent of internet-borne malware; in August, it stopped 100 percent. The program registered zero false positives in either month.
Security and Privacy Features
Bitdefender's 2018 lineup adds a new privacy and security option to its defenses. Internet Security and Total Security catch up to their Kaspersky counterparts with webcam protection that limits which programs — internally and externally — can use the camera. You'll need to manually add approved apps.
Still, Total Security lacks the virtual private network client and service subscription that comes with Avira's Total Security Suite, and the backup software and online storage that come with Panda Gold Protection and Norton Security Premium.
There's also a powerful Password Manager, available on Bitdefender Antivirus Plus and up, that encrypts your login protocols online and doles them out as needed. It pops up for online-payment screens and also works with the Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer web browsers; Bitdefender is working on adding support for Microsoft's Edge browser.
The Wi-Fi Security Advisor, available on Bitdefender Antivirus Plus and up, looks for cracks in your home network's defenses. The firewall, on Bitdefender Internet Security and up, can help keep your system secure. It allows for lots of adjustments, so its action is not overbearing, unless you want it to be. The firewall's Paranoid Mode notifies you of all traffic, but I prefer the Stealth Mode, which lets you fly under the radar by making the system invisible to the local network and wider internet.
The Safepay browser, designed for online shopping and banking, is on Antivirus Plus and up. It blocks browser extensions and demands an encrypted HTTPS server link. To guard against keyloggers, SafePay forces you to enter your passwords with a virtual, on-screen keyboard.
If you're unsure that your system is safe from data leaks, run a vulnerability scan, renamed Quick Risk Checker and available on Antivirus Plus and up. It took 47.8 seconds for the scan to go through our system looking for old software, unsafe system settings and open Wi-Fi links. It found two minor vulnerabilities.
Bitdefender has several utilities to make your system run more smoothly, including the OneClick Optimizer, available on Total Security and Family Pack. This utility took less than 5 seconds to find more than a thousand Windows and application problems and offered to fix them.
The Startup Optimizer, which is included with Total Security, streamlines the boot sequence and tells you how long startup took the previous time. Meanwhile, the Disk Cleanup tool, also part of Total Security, visually shows how much of your disk space goes to major categories like Windows, Programs, Data and others.
If you have impressionable little ones, you might appreciate the Parental Advisor, available on Internet Security and up, which can block a variety of objectionable material. You can limit a child's web time, but can't block specific apps from running.
Lost your laptop? Bitdefender Total Security might be able to locate it on a map and will let you remotely wipe the drive, but only if it's turned on. Finally, Antivirus Plus and up can help you keep your secrets by using the program's three-pass file shredder, and Internet Security can do so with its 256-bit AES file-encryption tool. Neither feature is adjustable, though.
For Windows 10, Bitdefender has revamped its former Rescue Mode as a Rescue Environment that uses the Windows 10 Recovery Environment to bring back a system inundated with rootkits or other hard-to-delete malware. All you do is install this mode and reboot the system. The Rescue Environment can't be put on a USB flash drive or an optical disc, but you can download separate Rescue CD software from the Bitdefender website and use it that way.
On systems running Windows 7 through 8.1, Bitdefender will install the hidden Rescue Mode partition as before. This partition boots into Linux and then runs Bitdefender antivirus software to clean the Windows installation. Users of severely infected computers can access Rescue Mode from the Bitdefender user interface, or press the spacebar when rebooting the machine.
Performance and System Impact
We installed Bitdefender Total Security on an Asus X555LA notebook running the Windows 10 Creators Update with an Intel Core i3 processor, 6GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive containing 36GB of assorted files.
To test the software's impact on system performance, we used our custom OpenOffice benchmark, which matches 20,000 names with 20,000 addresses on a spreadsheet, and measured the task's completion time.
Bitdefender Total Security had a small system impact in our performance tests.
With no third-party antivirus software installed (but with Microsoft's obligatory Windows Defender running), the OpenOffice test completed in 6 minutes and 59 seconds, establishing a baseline for comparison.
After Total Security was installed, the same test took 7:11, a passive system impact of less than 3 percent. That's practically imperceptible, and smaller than the 5.3 percent impact Bitdefender Total Security 2017 had on the same test machine.
During a full-system scan, our OpenOffice benchmark test finished in an average of 8:05,which is 16 percent longer than the baseline. During a quick scan, the OpenOffice test finished in 7:42, indicating a system hit of about 10 percent.
Those are both quite small system slowdowns, and you probably wouldn't notice them. We haven't yet been able to test other vendors' 2018 antivirus software, but these scores would beat or tie all of the 2017 performance results.
You'll need to go get a cup of coffee and maybe a book for Bitdefender's first full scan, because the software took 1 hour and 22 minutes to examine 1,655,376 files. After three passes, the full scan learned what to concentrate on and what to ignore, and looked at roughly 500,000 files in an average of 35 minutes and 5 seconds. By contrast, Bitdefender quick scans are ultrafast, at an average of 13.7 seconds.
As Bitdefender's interface did in the previous year, the 2018 edition takes up half the desktop. It can't be resized or run full screen, but it can be moved around. The main screen is dark with white type, but many of the subsidiary screens are brighter.
The home screen has an on/off switch for the program's Autopilot and buttons to start a quick scan or a vulnerability scan; full-system scans are a level below. Displays show recent activity regarding on apps, files and websites.
The main window's left navigation column lists arbitrarily named categories, each with a different set of main items and a link to the details. They include Protection (scanning, firewall and the Safe Files ransomware protection), Privacy (the Safepay secure browser, parental advisor, password manager and encryption tool) and Tools (the startup and system optimizers, antitheft feature, and disk-cleanup tool).
You can also get to pages containing activity reports, notifications, account details and support. The most useful is the Settings section, which is divided into General, Advanced, Update and Profiles categories.
Along the bottom is a listing of how many computers your license allows and how many are protected. Next to that, is a link to add another computer to the account, which leads to the Bitdefender Central online portal.
Installation and Support
The first step to installing Bitdefender antivirus software is creating a Bitdefender Central account or accessing an existing one. You'll be given the option of installing the 380MB program in a custom location. Once you hit download, the first-stage installer does a quick system scan, then loads the rest of the installer while displaying a progress bar.
There's a 30-day free trial, after which you'll have to pay or enter a license number. During installation, you can opt out of Bitdefender's data-collection program. All told, it took us a long 11 minutes and 26 seconds to fully install Bitdefender Total Security. Most antivirus programs take half that long.
Bitdefender has support technicians on call 24/7, whom you can contact via the interface. You can call or email the technicians, chat with them, or just read through the support forums.
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2018, Internet Security 2018 and Total Security 2018 take the lead in computer protection with everything from advanced ransomware defenses and a firewall to file shredding and encryption. Despite having some of the best overall defenses against malware, these programs don't put a lot of strain on your PC.
The low-end Antivirus Plus is the best option for a single person or couple with only a few PCs to protect. With its parental controls, Bitdefender Internet Security is best for parents of young children. But for families with teenagers, or even smaller households with many devices on many platforms, Total Security and its Family Pack unlimited option are the ways to go for maximum peace of mind with minimal hassle.