Updated with latest lab-test results, license change for Bitdefender Family Pack from unlimited devices to 15 devices, and Netgear Armor tie-in. This review was originally published Aug. 20, 2018.
With everything from file encryption and ransomware protection to a game mode and a hardened browser, Bitdefender's 2019 antivirus products have some of the deepest defenses of in the industry. Each also has very good malware protection and a light system impact, and the newly upgraded Autopilot helps you navigate it all while providing useful advice.
On the flip side, Bitdefender's initial disk scan takes a long time, and the software isn't as good as some of its rivals at blocking specialized attacks of the sort used in online espionage. But Bitdefender's lowest-priced paid offering, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, continues to provide an unbeatable balance of protection, performance and useful extra features, and is our choice for best affordable Windows antivirus software.
Costs and What's Covered
|Bitdefender Antivirus Plus||Bitdefender Internet Security||Bitdefender Total Security|
|List price per year||$40-$80||$60-$90||$90-$100|
|Windows support||Windows 7 thru 10||Windows 7 thru 10||Windows 7 thru 10|
|Bundled platforms||None||None||Mac, Android, iOS|
|VPN client software||Yes||Yes||Yes|
Like many antivirus software makers, Bitdefender has several Windows products that add more features and services as prices go up.
At the base is Bitdefender's bare-bones Antivirus Free Edition, which delivers excellent malware protection but not much more.
Next up is Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, which ranges from $40 per year for one Windows PC to $80 for 10 PCs. (You can find discounts if you shop around.)
Antivirus Plus is the sweet spot in the Bitdefender lineup, with features mostly unavailable in comparably priced rival products, including a hardened browser, a password manager and a file shredder. Antivirus Plus also blocks key files from being changed and quickly copies targeted files if it detects a ransomware attack.
All the paid Bitdefender antivirus products come with a VPN client, but the service is limited to 200MB per day unless you pay $40 per year for unlimited service.
Bitdefender Internet Security costs $60 per year for one Windows PC and goes up to $90 per year for 10 PCs. It adds webcam protection, file encryption, parental controls and a two-way firewall.
Bitdefender Total Security offers the complete package, including licenses for Bitdefender's Mac, iOS and Android software. (Bitdefender's iOS apps are free in the App Store.) You can get it for $90 a year for five devices or $100 a year for 10 devices. It adds system-optimization tools and features to help find a lost or stolen laptop.
The $120-per-year Bitdefender Family Pack includes licenses for 15 instances of Total Security 2019. As with all of the other products mentioned here, you can often find it deeply discounted online.
Until recently, the Family Pack came with an unlimited number of licenses, and it's possible that Bitdefender won't enforce the limits if you install its software on more than 15 devices. But if you own a late-model Netgear Nighthawk or Orbi router, you can get a $70 yearly subscription to Netgear Armor, an optional router firmware update that builds in Bitdefender's smart-home-defense technology and comes with an unlimited number of seat licenses for Bitdefender Total Security.
All of these products support Windows 7 (with Service Pack 1), 8.1 and 10. The additional software licenses with Bitdefender Total Security require a minimum of OS X 10.9.5, Android 4.0.3 or iOS 10. But Bitdefender Internet Security for XP and Vista, a specialty version for legacy operating systems, has been discontinued.
Bitdefender's malware protection is threefold. A file-scanning engine compares suspect code to known malware signatures, while a heuristic monitor watches file behavior and inspects code. Anything new and suspicious goes up to the company's servers for analysis, and resulting signatures get pushed out several times daily to its 500 million users.
User browsing history and other recent activities are collected with suspicious files, but you can opt out of this data collection while still receiving malware-signature updates.
You can turn off Bitdefender's security modules individually, although it's usually better to just let the software's Autopilot feature manage things. There are Game, Movie and Work modes to automatically disable active scans or notifications.
Safe Files protects key documents from malware that tries to alter them, and Bitdefender's ransomware protection now automatically backs up targeted files at the first sign of ransomware behavior. The Windows, Desktop, Documents, Music, Video and Pictures directories are protected by default, but you'll have to manually designate additional folders.
If you plug in a USB flash drive, Bitdefender will automatically scan it. To scan any file or folder on the computer, right-click in Windows Explorer; you can also "shred" or encrypt the item.
You can start a Quick Scan from Bitdefender's Dashboard interface, but a Full System Scan requires two more clicks. Scans can be set to automatically run nightly, weekly or monthly, or just when you're not using the machine.
If you get a bad infection that bogs down your computer, Bitdefender's Rescue Environment can help. Just go to the link in the interface, and click to reboot the system into a specialized version of Linux. The program does the rest.
All of the Bitdefender Windows antivirus products have the same underlying anti-malware technology, which is among the best in the business. The core protection is identical in all of them.
In our own tests, conducted from February through June 2018, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus stopped 99 percent of threats — a result bested only by McAfee Total Protection and Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security, both of which stopped 100 percent.
Bitdefender found and deleted all malware, but failed to block some phishing websites. A couple of sites harboring malware were also left unblocked, even as the malware they tried to deliver was stopped. Yet Bitdefender caught many threats that the web browsers' security settings failed to recognize.
In two rounds of tests conducted by German independent lab AV-TEST in the first half of 2019, Bitdefender Internet Security almost always detected 100 percent of previously unseen "zero-day" malware and known "widespread" malware across the board on Windows 10. Its only shortfall was a 98.8-percent detection rate of zero-day malware in February 2019, but it got perfect 100-percent results on all Windows 10 tests in 2018 and 2017.
Bitdefender flagged four false positives, or harmless pieces of software mistakenly seen as malicious, from January through April 2019. Over the same period, McAfee Internet Security and Norton Security registered only one false positive, and Kaspersky Internet Security and Trend Micro Internet Security two each.
In five monthly rounds of "real-world" malware-detection tests conducted by Austrian lab AV-Comparatives from July to November 2018, Bitdefender averaged a 99.9-percent score, racking up six false positives. Trend Micro detected 100 percent of malware in all five months, but it also got nearly four dozen false positives.
But SE Labs, based outside London, put Bitdefender Internet Security seventh out of 13 products tested, with an overall score of 96 percent — lower than the scores from comparable products from ESET, Kaspersky, McAfee, Norton and Trend Micro, and just behind Windows Defender. That was in tests conducted in the first half of 2018; Bitdefender has not participated in SE Labs' evaluations since June 2018.
While Bitdefender detected 100 percent of malware in SE Labs' tests, it failed to stop a few highly targeted attacks of the sort you'd see in espionage campaigns. It also merely neutralized, rather than completely blocked, several pieces of malware.
To the average user, neither factor would have much impact, but high-profile espionage targets such as government officials or dissidents might take pause.
Security and Privacy Features
All Bitdefender paid products come with a generous set of extra features, including anti-phishing protection, multilayer ransomware defense and the new VPN client software, which is provided by Hotspot Shield. You get 200MB of VPN data a day for free; it's $40 per year for the premium version with unlimited data.
There's also the password manager, which works with the company's Wallet browser extensions for Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. The Safepay hardened browser creates HTTPS connections, has an on-screen keyboard, and blocks add-ons and screenshots. Last but not least, there's a vulnerability scanner that checks your system for flaws and missing software updates, and a Wi-Fi network scanner that examines your home network for weak encryption and weak passwords.
Bitdefender's antivirus products don't install browser-security add-ons. The web protections are built right into the antivirus software and stay in the background until there's a threat. You can go ahead and download the free Traffic Light extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Safari to label search results, but Traffic Light's other protections will be redundant.
Bitdefender's Autopilot has managed all this activity for several years. In the 2019 lineup, Autopilot steps out from the background and advises the user when he or she needs to take extra steps to protect system security, such as by activating the built-in password manager.
Bitdefender Internet Security and Total Security add a two-way firewall to supersede Microsoft's built-in one, webcam protection that notifies you when an application tries to use the camera and file encryption.
The parental controls included with Internet Security and Total Security block specific applications and objectionable websites, schedule kids' online access and show how often each application is used.
Total Security's exclusive features include optimization tools that shaved 0.1 second off our boot-up sequence. There's also Bitdefender's Network Threat Prevention feature, which blocks botnet-related websites and brute-force attacks.
Should your PC or Windows tablet get lost or stolen, Total Security's anti-theft protection just might help. You can see the device's location and IP address of the computer, and can even remotely disable the device.
Performance and System Impact
Bitdefender Total Security had a light impact on system performance. To check the program's impact, we used our custom benchmark test, which matches 20,000 names and 20,000 addresses in an OpenOffice spreadsheet. Our test bed was an Asus X555LA notebook running Windows 10 with a 2-GHz Core i3 processor, 6GB of RAM and 117GB of files on a 500GB hard drive.
Before we installed Total Security, it took our OpenOffice performance benchmark 6 minutes and 53 seconds to complete. This rose to 7:26 after Total Security 2019 was installed but before any scans ran.
This passive performance hit of 8 percent is slightly higher than Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition's 5-percent decline, but such a small slowdown would be hard to notice.
We were pleasantly surprised by the speed of the initial system scan, which, at 1 hour, 28 minutes and 47 seconds, was quicker than in previous editions of Bitdefender. Average full-scan times declined to 32 minutes and 8 seconds after the program trained itself which files to skip. (The number of files examined dropped from 2,242,648 to 536,878.)
Bitdefender's Quick Scan, which examines only the files the program deems most susceptible to infection, took a lightning-fast 7.2 seconds to look at 3,279 files.
We're happy to report that such thoroughness did not come at the cost of performance. During a full system scan, the OpenOffice task took 8 minutes and 2 seconds to complete — 8 percent longer than without an active scan and 17 percent longer than with no third-party antivirus software installed. That's not bad at all; some antivirus scans slow down systems by more than 50 percent.
During a Quick Scan, the OpenOffice task took 7 minutes and 25 seconds to complete, which is virtually identical to Bitdefender's background performance impact.
Bitdefender's look and feel have evolved for 2019, allowing a huge degree of customization and squeezing in more information while looking less cluttered.
The dashboard on the interface's front page displays a shield with a green check mark when everything is safe and sound. It changes to a red "X" otherwise. It also lists the Autopilot recommendations and links to the Quick Scan, the VPN and the Safepay browser. You can add an extra module in about 15 seconds.
Along the left, buttons lead to screens where you can customize Protection (Antivirus, Vulnerability and Firewall), Privacy (Password Manager, VPN and Webcam Protection) and Utilities (the optimizers and Anti-Theft protection). There are also links for Notifications, My Account and Support.
The Settings section is where you make Bitdefender act exactly the way you want it to. You can change passwords, tweak Bitdefender's Security Widget, use a proxy server or adjust the frequency of update checks.
Hover over the Task Tray icon, and it will say whether you're protected. Give it a right click, and it can update the software, see the virus-definition details or open the Bitdefender Security Widget.
Bitdefender Central remains one of the best antivirus online security accounts. It shows each system you've got covered, your parental-control information and when your subscription expires. The bottom of the screen links directly to Bitdefender tech support.
Installation and Support
To get Bitdefender Total Security 2019, you download and run an 11.3MB beachhead installer that does a quick system scan and then fetches the 456MB main installer.
You'll need to decide if you want to send Bitdefender system reports, and then verify your email address and enter your product code. The installation process took about 8 minutes, a short time considering all the individual modules involved.
Technical-support staffers can be reached 24/7 via email, online chat or telephone. You can also peruse forums and FAQs, which include how-to videos and answers to the day's pressing security questions.
Bitdefender's 2019 Windows antivirus lineup offers just about everything you need to protect your computers, including protection from ransomware and all sorts of online threats, plus file shredding and encryption, parental controls and a variety of ways to speed up your PC. None of its activities slowed down our computer noticeably.
Kaspersky offers even better malware protection with slightly more system impact, and we recommend Kaspersky's Total Security and Internet Security products. But Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is still the best option for anyone who wants lots of user-friendly features at a low price. Likewise, Bitdefender's Family Pack is a great deal if you have more devices to protect than you can count.
Credit: Tom's Guide