Kaspersky's malware protection is nearly perfect, and its highest-priced package, Kaspersky Total Security 2018, lives up to its name with just about every feature you could want, including a password manager, backup software, file shredding and file encryption.
Kaspersky Internet Security is nearly as full-featured, sharing a secure browser and webcam protection with its pricier sibling. Both are recommended in the premium and midrange antivirus tiers, which offer perks such as parental controls that not all customers may need.
However, the entry-level product, Kaspersky Anti-Virus, doesn't offer much more than Kaspersky's free antivirus package. We prefer Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, which has many of the same features as Kaspersky's costlier options and malware protection that's nearly as good as Kaspersky's, but with less of a system-performance impact.
Costs and What's Covered
Kaspersky's Windows antivirus software runs the gamut from the bare-bones Kaspersky Free to the full-featured Kaspersky Total Security. The free version, introduced in July 2017, includes Kaspersky's malware-detection engine and screens websites and email messages for malicious software and phishing scams.
Kaspersky Anti-Virus (starting at $59.99 per year for three PCs) doesn't add much to Kaspersky Free's offerings, other than website reputation monitoring and a gamer mode to minimize interruptions.
Kaspersky Internet Security (starting at $79.99 per year for three devices) adds licenses for Kaspersky's separate Mac, Android, iOS and Windows Phone security software (although there's no antivirus protection for the latter two platforms).
Internet Security has a ton of features, including anti-spam control, parental controls, webcam and microphone protection, and a banking browser to protect online transactions. You'll also get a two-way firewall, plus the abilities to block potentially unwanted apps and web trackers, stop changes to system settings, and thwart network threats.
At the top is Kaspersky Total Security (starting at $99.99 per year for five devices), which adds a password manager, file encryption, file shredding, an extra level of parental controls and automatic backup software with 2GB of online storage space from Dropbox.
At the time of this writing, Kaspersky offered all the above packages at half off their list prices. That's a bargain, but we don't know how long the promotion will last. Unlike Bitdefender or McAfee, Kaspersky doesn't have unlimited-device licenses. Each of the company's programs has a free 30-day trial period.
Kaspersky's 2018 Windows product lineup software supports Windows XP (Service Pack 3 for 32-bit machines, Service Pack 2 for 64-bit) through Windows 10. The separate Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac requires OS X 10.11 El Capitan or later. The various mobile products require iOS 9.0 or newer, Android 4.1 or newer, or Windows Phone 8 or newer.
Kaspersky's defenses start with digital-signature matching, which scans for known malware. Next is heuristic monitoring, which looks for signs of malice in the code and in the behavior of unknown software.
Snippets of suspect code get uploaded to the Kaspersky Security Network for analysis. If new malware is found, a quick update is sent to the company's 400 million client devices. You can choose whether to participate in this information-sharing during installation.
In every round of evaluations conducted by AV-TEST, Kaspersky Internet Security found and eradicated every single piece of zero-day malware as well as every piece of known widespread malware.
The program's System Watcher monitors all system activity, blocks malicious behavior and rolls back malicious changes. Its Crytpomalware Protection Subsystem creates copies of any file subjected to ransomware-like behavior, and automatically restores the files.
You can set the malware-scanning threshold to Low, Recommended or High. Kaspersky's Gamer Mode can also tone down the interruptions.
As of the summer of 2017, the U.S. Department of Defense was considering banning Kaspersky software from U.S. defense agencies and contractors, as rumors flew about the company's alleged links to Russian intelligence services. Nonetheless, we believe that Kaspersky software is safe for private individuals and non-defense-related companies.
All Kaspersky Windows antivirus products use the same scanning technology, which is excellent, at least in lab tests.
In every two-month round of evaluations — two on Windows 10 and two on Windows 7 — conducted in the first eight months of 2017 by German independent lab AV-TEST, Kaspersky Internet Security found and eradicated every single piece of "zero-day" malware (detected by heuristic monitoring) as well as every piece of known "widespread" malware (detected by signature matching).
These results were half a step ahead of Bitdefender's and in a different league from Microsoft Windows Defender or McAfee's Windows products.
Kaspersky's perfect scores were not due to an itchy trigger finger. In all four rounds, Kaspersky Internet Security registered three false positives (software mistakenly tagged as malicious), while Bitdefender had 15.
In evaluations conducted on Windows 7 by Austrian independent lab AV-Comparatives from February to June 2017, Kaspersky's results weren't perfect, averaging 99.8 detection of "real-world" online malware over five months. That was behind scores from Trend Micro, with a 100-percent average, and Bitdefender (99.9 percent), but still much better than McAfee's 97.7 percent.
Over those five months, Kaspersky registered one false positive, fewer than almost any other brand.
In July 2017, AV-Comparatives switched to testing on Windows 10, and the results were about the same. Kaspersky stopped 99.4 percent of malware in July, and 99.7 percent in August, with no false positives in either month. Norton and Panda were the only brands to score 100 percent in both months.
Security and Privacy
One extra feature included with Kaspersky Anti-Virus, as well the two pricier products, is the vulnerability scan, which looks for old software and unfixed flaws on your computer. It took 9 minutes and 53 seconds to find 10 problems with our system.
Internet Security adds client software for Kaspersky's Secure Connection virtual private network (VPN). Unfortunately, you'll get only the free version of the service, which caps data usage at 200MB per day and selects which country your traffic goes through.
When it's time to check your bank balance or pay Amazon, Internet Security lets you use Kaspersky's Safe Money hardened browser.
To get unlimited data and to choose from among the 18 countries with Secure Connection servers, you'll need to upgrade to a paid plan for $5 a month or $30 a year. That's still a very competitive price compared to other VPN services.
When it's time to check your bank balance or pay Amazon, Internet Security lets you use Kaspersky's Safe Money hardened browser. It checks the reputation of each website, requires an encrypted secure link, doesn't allow browser extensions and has an on-screen keyboard for thwarting keyloggers.
Internet Security also adds a two-way firewall that replaces the built-in Windows one. Its Trusted Application Mode allows only programs that pass Kaspersky's safety test to be installed, which can help keep your system clear of potentially unwanted applications (PUAs).
It lets you lock the system's webcam and microphone and alerts you to when a program accesses them. Application Manager stops PUAs from changing your browser settings; the Self-Defense feature blocks changes to system memory and the Windows Registry, and the Network Attack Blocker monitors incoming traffic for malicious activity and blocks anything untoward.
Kaspersky's parental controls, available on Kaspersky Internet Security and Total Security, are extensive and password-protected, and allow you to limit computer and online time for children. They can also block offensive material based on broad categories, like adult content and violence.
However, only Total Security includes a premium subscription to Kaspersky's separate Safe Kids service, which lets you install software on a child's phone to monitor mobile communications and check on a kid's physical location.
Many antivirus-program user interfaces are dark and foreboding, but Kaspersky's is airy and open.
Total Security also includes thorough backup and recovery software. You can save things locally or online, and the software comes with a 2GB Dropbox starter account.
Total Security can protect sensitive or family information with a file-encryption utility and a multipass file shredder. There's also an unlimited password manager, but if you forget your master password, Kaspersky can't recover it.
Finally, for systems so overburdened with malware that they can't run antivirus software, Kaspersky offers a free downloadable rescue disk for when nothing else works. It can be installed on an optical disk or a flash drive; either will boot a PC into a specialized operating system that will clean the Windows installation.
Performance and System Impact
We installed Kaspersky Total Security 2018 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 heavier load.
Kaspersky Total Security 2018 had close to no passive performance impact. With no third-party antivirus product installed, our OpenOffice benchmark test finished in 6 minutes and 52 seconds. Once Total Security 2018 was loaded, but not actively scanning, this completion time increased by less than half a percent, to 6:54. By contrast, Bitdefender Total Security 2018's passive performance impact was about 3 percent.
Kaspersky Total Security extracted a noticeable amount of system resources while doing a full scan or a quick scan, with OpenOffice finishing times of 8:56 (30 percent slower than the baseline) and 8:41 (26 percent slower), respectively.
That's not terrible, but it's more than Bitdefender Total Security, which notched a 16 percent slowdown during a full scan and 10 percent during a quick scan.
Kaspersky took 28 minutes and 21 seconds to do its first full scan of our Asus' hard drive. That settled down to 7:23 in subsequent full scans. Kaspersky's quick scan took 2:20 to complete.
Many antivirus-program user interfaces are dark and foreboding, but Kaspersky's is airy and open.
Its main screen has a lot of information, with buttons and icons for eight or nine different features, but it doesn't feel crowded. A More Tools link sends you to a section that is a geek's dream come true, with system monitors and a synopsis of recent attacks.
Along the bottom of the home screen are links for reports (log files of recent scans), news and notifications, and settings. Kaspersky software is very customizable and lets you adjust 15 different defenses, including the webcam and Application Control protection, email scanning and the Safe Money browser.
You can start a full scan two clicks in from the main interface screen, and a quick scan in one extra click. Scans can be scheduled for daily, weekly or monthly, and are customizable; you can choose to examine or ignore items such as system memory, email archives, boot sectors and networked drives.
You can have Kaspersky scan any file or folder by right-clicking on the item in the Windows File Explorer, or set it to automatically scan any new USB drive.
Installation and Support
It took us 5 minutes and 48 seconds to install Kaspersky Total Security. After we downloaded the 156MB installation file, we chose a language and decided whether to participate in Kaspersky's malware-data-collection program.
The software then installed itself. At the end of the process, we chose whether to use Kaspersky's ad blocker. Once everything was in place, the program tried to run a full scan.
In the user interface, there's a direct link toKaspersky's support personnel. Technicians are available from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. (Eastern Time) every day. They respond to phone calls, emails and chat messages.
Kaspersky Total Security delivers one of the most complete defensive arrays of any malware program, with everything from a password manager to file backup, encryption and shredding. Kaspersky Internet Security has about half of Total Security's features, including a firewall, parental controls and secure browser.
But the entry-level Kaspersky Anti-Virus may not be worth paying for, as it has only a couple of more features than Kaspersky Free. For a more full-featured starter antivirus product, we recommend Bitdefender Antivirus Plus. But if you want the best combination of features and protection, bet on Kaspersky Total Security.
[Editor's Note, Oct. 11, 2017: Best Buy has removed Kaspersky Lab products from its shelves, citing concerns regarding Kaspersky's alleged (but as yet undocumented) ties to the Russian government. Top U.S. newspapers have run stories in which anonymous sources say Kaspersky software helps Russia spy on American spy agencies. However, until we see real evidence that Kaspersky software is a threat to consumers, we will continue to recommend it. Here is further clarification of our position.]
Credit: Brian Nadel