ESET 2018 Review: Nothing Fancy

ESET's good, but not great, malware protection is complemented by its ability to defend a computer's firmware and, on the most expensive version, a password manager and file encryption. However, its Windows products lack a few features that are becoming common among antivirus suites, such as a VPN client, backup software or a file shredder.

Windows users who get ESET's Multi-Device Security package, which also includes licenses for ESET's Mac, Android and Linux software, will have to settle for the basic NOD32 Antivirus or intermediate Internet Security programs rather than the top-shelf Smart Security Premium. More important, there's no unlimited plan or product offered, so customers with many family members (or many devices) will have to pay a lot to be completely protected.

Overall, ESET's malware protection is decent and its system impact is moderate, but its multi-user licenses are on the pricey side, and its products don't offer as many extras as its competitors. For more bang for your buck, we recommend Bitdefender or Kaspersky products.

Costs and What's Covered

ESET has three progressively stronger (and more expensive) antivirus programs, starting with NOD32 Antivirus, which combines basic defenses against phishing and spyware with ransomware defenses. It starts at $40 for a year's coverage for a single PC, ratcheting up $10 per additional machine to $80 for five. (There are discounts for 2- and 3-year subscriptions.)

The next step up is ESET Internet Security, which starts at $60 per year (to $100 for five) and adds a firewall, spam protection and a scanner for vulnerable devices on the home network. ESET Internet Security also has a protected browser for online banking and shopping, and dedicated webcam protection.

ESET Smart Security Premium is at the top of ESET's marketing pyramid and starts at $80 a year for a single PC. (Ten PCs costs $170 per year). It adds file-level encryption and a password manager to Internet Security's toolkit.

All the ESET Windows-based paid products use the same scanning technology and work with Windows Vista, 7, 8.0/8.1 and 10. However, the premium security suite doesn't include licenses for other platforms, such as Mac or Android.

For that, you'll have to spring for ESET's Multi-Device Security (starting at $80 per year for three systems). Unlike most antivirus makers, ESET doesn't include its top-flight Windows software with its multiplatform bundle; instead, you have the choice of Internet Security or NOD32 for PCs.

There's no unlimited plan or product offered, so customers with many family members (or many devices) will have to pay a lot to be completely protected.

Macs get either ESET Cyber Security or Cyber Security Pro (Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard or newer) and Android phones and tablets can use ESET Mobile Security and Parental Control (Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or newer), but there are no iOS apps. (It's not like iOS security apps can do much anyway.)

ESET can even defend Linux machines running the most common distributions with a version of NOD32 Antivirus; it's aimed at business users but is also part of the Multi-Device bundle.

ESET doesn't offer any bargains for large families or users with many devices. Compared with Bitdefender's $120 unlimited Family Pack, protecting 10 devices with ESET Multi-Device Security costs $150, and with Smart Security Premium $170.

Antivirus Protection

ESET's Windows malware-detection engine uses three levels of protection. It first checks files against known viral signatures. Next, it uses heuristic analysis that inspects suspicious code and monitors software behavior to look for the attributes of a previously unknown attack.

Finally, if the software encounters anything potentially dangerous, the suspect files are sent to ESET's LiveGrid cloud lab for further examination. If a file is determined to be new malware, a new signature is created and sent out with the next database update, which is distributed to the company's 110 million users, often several times a day. If you'd rather not have antivirus software collecting data from your system, ESET lets you easily opt out.

While ESET's software doesn't include browser extensions to block known malicious sites, it is always examining where your web journeys go and will stop you from stumbling onto the web's seamier side. It also includes a Gaming Mode to reduce interruptions when you're building your dream city or blasting aliens. Gaming Mode works just as well for family movie night or any full-screen app.

Antivirus Performance

Despite their differing prices, ESET's three Windows antivirus products use the same malware-detection engine. Overall, its defenses are good and generate few false positives, but ESET's protection falls short of the excellent protection provided by rival brands Bitdefender, Kaspersky Lab, Norton and Trend Micro.

For instance, the most recent evaluations of antivirus software products conducted by German lab AV-TEST on Windows 10 showed that ESET Internet Security scored a perfect 100 percent against previously unknown "zero day" malware in September 2017. Unfortunately, that detection score was only 99.1 percent in October; 11 of the 21 other products tested detected 100 percent in both months.

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ESET hit near-perfect scores of 99.9 and 99.7 percent on widespread, known malware in September and October, but as with the zero-day results, those were below the median score. (The averages were dragged down by a truly terrible set of results from Chinese antivirus maker Qihoo 360). On the upside, ESET had no false positives over both months of tests.

These so-so results were mirrored in AV-TEST's most recent Windows 7 evaluations. ESET Internet Security stopped every zero-day threat in August 2017, but that was preceded by a score of only 96.9 percent in July, the lowest detection rate recorded that month.

The software recorded 99.9 percent detection scores for widespread malware in both months, with no false positives. Those are better results, but except for the very low false-positive rate, they're only average.

In October evaluations conducted by Austrian test lab AV-Comparatives, ESET stopped 98.4 percent of internet-borne malware, with no false positives. ESET did a bit better in September and August, with detection rates of 98.9 percent and 99.7 percent, respectively, with one false positive in August.

Security and Privacy

All of ESET's paid products include anti-spyware and anti-phishing features, an exploit blocker that monitors the most commonly attacked applications and the company's ransomware shield, which prompts the user whether an encryption procedure should be allowed to begin. However, there's no way to check social-media accounts or online drives such as Dropbox or OneDrive.

The big new defense for 2018 is ESET's UEFI Scanner, which monitors the firmware that boots newer Windows computers for signs of tampering.

ESET Smart Security Premium and Internet Security include not only a firewall, but can create one-click firewall rules based on recurring use. The company's Network Attack Protection, available on all but NOD32 Antivirus, includes inspection of data packets entering the machine, but there's no way to protect key files from encrypting-ransomware attack by putting them in a secure folder, as many of ESET's competitors do.

If your computer is lost or stolen, ESET Smart Security Premium's and ESET Internet Security's antitheft features can help.

ESET's programs lacks backup software or a VPN, two extra features often thrown into premium packages by its competitors. But the parental controls, included with Internet Security and Smart Security Premium, can block websites by category but not filter content by age. Any excluded sites can be whitelisted by anyone with the password.

ESET Smart Security Premium, Internet Security and NOD32 Antivirus lack a file shredder, but Smart Security Premium can encrypt any file or folder using AES encryption with a 256-bit key. With a right-click on any file in Windows Explorer, you can encrypt or scan anything for viruses.

If your computer is lost or stolen, Smart Security Premium and Internet Security's antitheft feature can help. After you've set up an ESET online account, you can locate your machine on a map, use the webcam to see who might be using the machine and take screen captures, but you can't remotely wipe the notebook's drive. Of course, these features work only if the system is turned on and connected to the internet.

ESET Smart Security Premium can protect and streamline your online life with a password manager, which includes an on-screen keyboard to foil a keylogger. The Banking & Payment protection, available with all but NOD32 Antivirus, provides a hardened browser for online commerce; it doesn't allow extensions and requires a secure connection.

ESET's downloadable SysRescue Live software can be used to create a DVD or flash drive, which can then boot a Windows system into a clean Linux environment and scan for pervasive threats. It's essential for reviving a machine bogged down with malware.

Performance and System Impact

We installed ESET Smart Security Premium on an Asus X555LA notebook running the Windows 10 Creators Update. The notebook had an Intel Core i3-5005U processor, 6GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive containing 36GB of assorted files.

We used our custom OpenOffice-based benchmark test, which matches 20,000 names and addresses on a spreadsheet, to measure system performance. The data-matching task takes longer to complete when a processor is under heavy load.

Before any antivirus software was installed on our test laptop, the OpenOffice test finished in 7 minutes and 1 second. After loading Smart Security Premium, but before any active scans were run, the OpenOffice task-completion time lengthened to 7:17, an increase of 16 seconds, or 4 percent. This is more than Bitdefender's 3-percent passive performance increase, but much less than Trend Micro's 23 percent.

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When using ESET Smart Security Premium's scanning engine, the OpenOffice task took 8:16 to complete, 18 percent more than the baseline score. That puts ESET Smart Security Premium's scanning system load midway between Bitdefender Total Security (a 16 percent slowdown) and McAfee Total Protection and Trend Micro Maximum Security (62 percent and 63 percent, respectively).

The system's first ESET full scan took 32 minutes and 17 seconds to examine 239,090 files, which was relatively swift. This settled down to 9:33 after three runs that trained the software about what it could ignore.

ESET doesn't give the option of a quick scan, but in its place, we used ESET's downloadable Online Scanner. It went through the system's most vulnerable files in 11 minutes and 23 seconds.

While performing ESET's Online Scan, the system's OpenOffice task-finishing time grew to 8:43, an increase of 24 percent over the baseline. That's not too surprising, given that it's a separate program from ESET's regular antivirus software.

Interface

The ESET interface is dominated by the company's robot mascot and open, bright and functional windows. When everything is safe, the interface's home page proclaims "You are protected" along with a green check mark.

Along the left side are category headings. Computer Scan can start a scan with one click; you can scan by drive, memory, boot sector or external drive.

Update shows the current versions of the signature-database and scanning engines. Tools includes the password manager, network monitor, encryption tool, banking protection and antitheft feature.

The More Tools link in the lower-right corner is easy to miss, but leads to scanning logs, graphs of network activity and utilities such as the system cleaner and scan scheduler.

Installation and Support

Online installation starts with a 4.1MB beachhead installer that, in turn, fetches and installs the main program. After entering your activation code, you can (and should) set up an account with ESET.

At this point, you'll be prompted to choose whether to stay in or opt out of ESET's malware-collection program, and whether to detect potentially unwanted (but legal) programs such as the adware or system optimizers that often install themselves with free software.

Forget about 24/7 tech support – ESET's technicians take phone calls only between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. Pacific time on weekdays. But you can email them for help or scroll through the company's tips  at any time.

Bottom Line

With midrange malware protection and the ability to keep your PC's boot firmware from being hacked, ESET's line of Windows antivirus products can keep your family's computers clean.

But even the priciest ESET program lacks extra features such as backup software, a VPN client or a file shredder, all of which are becoming more commonplace among ESET's competitors. Nor does ESET offer an unlimited plan, so large digital families will end up paying a lot. For better protection, more features and lower costs, we recommend Bitdefender or Kaspersky antivirus software instead.

Credit: Tom's Guide

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