Kaspersky Lab makes some of the best antivirus products out there, offering thorough protection against all malware that threatens a PC. All three of its Windows programs — Kaspersky Anti-Virus, Kaspersky Internet Security and Kaspersky Total Security — share the same excellent malware-scanning engine and intuitive user interface, and have the same moderate performance impact upon a computer.
Your choice of which software to buy, if any, depends on your needs and budget. If you have young kids at home, you'll want the parental controls offered by Kaspersky Internet Security ($80 per year). If you don't already have a password manager or backup software, you may want to consider Kaspersky Total Security ($100 per year). If you have only a single machine to protect, Kaspersky Anti-Virus ($60 per year) may be for you, although the rival Bitdefender Antivirus Plus offers more features for the same price.
Costs and What's Covered
Kaspersky Anti-Virus has a starting list price of $40 annually for one PC. For three PCs, it's $60 per year. As with most antivirus products, deep discounts can be found with online retailers, and often on the Kaspersky site itself.
Kaspersky Internet Security lists at $80 per year for three devices, which can be Windows PC, Macs or Android devices. (The Kaspersky iOS and Windows Phone apps are free and don't scan for malware.) The three-device license is the only version of Internet Security that the Kaspersky website stocks, but retail sites such as Amazon stock five-device licenses.
Kaspersky Total Security is $100 per year for five devices. You can't get a three-device license on the Kaspersky site, but you can at other online retailers.
All three products work with Windows XP through Windows 10. The premium Android software included with Internet Security and Total Security support Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and up. The Mac application requires OS X 10.9 Mavericks and later; its features generally line up with those of Kaspersky Internet Security.
Kaspersky Anti-Virus, Internet Security and Total Security use the same scanning engine to root out malware. The engine combines traditional signature-matching of known malware with continuous heuristic monitoring of the system for behavior and suspicious code that may indicate an infection. If new malware is found on your system, a copy is automatically uploaded to Kaspersky's research lab for analysis, and a signature is then distributed to the company's 400 million users. Collection of new malware is anonymous and you can opt out of it at any time.
All three Kaspersky let you start scans in two clicks from the home page. Full Scan inspects everything that can be infected on the hard drive, while Quick Scan examines only the most susceptible files. You can scan an individual file by dragging it into the Selective Scan window, or by right-clicking it in Windows File Explorer. If a USB drive or SD card is inserted into the machine, Kaspersky will offer to scan it.
Kaspersky's Windows scanning engine is thorough and effective, catching nearly all malware with few false positives. In Windows 10 evaluations conducted in March and April of 2016 by German independent testing lab AV-TEST, Kaspersky Internet Security caught every zero-day piece of malware (detected by heuristic monitoring) as well as every widespread piece of malware (detected by signature matching).
On Windows 7, AV-TEST found that Kaspersky Internet Security detected 100 and 99.0 percent of zero-day exploits in evaluations conducted in January and February of 2016, respectively. It stopped 100 percent of the widespread malware in both months, and no false positives were registered.
A different lab, AV-Comparatives of Austria, found similar results in cumulative results from five separate evaluations conducted from February through June 2016 on Windows 7. Kaspersky Internet Security stopped 99.7 percent of "real-world" malware (chiefly from malicious websites), beaten only by Bitdefender's 99.9 percent and F-Secure and Trend Micro's perfect scores. Over those five months, it registered only two false positives, both in March.
Security and Privacy Features
Kaspersky Anti-Virus, Internet Security and Total Security share the same anti-phishing protection, website screening and ability to create a bootable Rescue Disk (on an optical disk or USB thumb drive) for systems weighed down with malware. But Anti-Virus has really the bare minimum to keep a system safe; Internet Security adds many more useful features. Total Security includes everything Internet Security has, but its own exclusives don't directly deal with system security.
Kaspersky Anti-Virus starts with Safe Surf web protection, a gaming mode to temporarily suspend background scanning and a feature called System Watcher that guards against encrypting ransomware. If it spots any, System Watcher will back up a clean copy of the attack's target; however, this feature is limited to files no bigger than 10MB.
Internet Security adds Kaspersky's Trusted Applications Mode to block potentially unwanted programs and whitelist apps. It can also block website banner ads and filter spam-laden emails. The new Updater feature scans for out-of-date apps and drivers, but doesn't work for Office files. There's a two-way firewall to screen both incoming and outgoing network traffic.
Safe Money is a browser extension, compatible with Chrome, Internet Explorer and Firefox, to protect your financial details. It checks on website reputation, prevents other browser extensions from running and walls off the browser's memory and storage from the rest of the computer.
Internet Security also includes Kaspersky's unique webcam protection, which now guards a computer's microphone too. There's an onscreen virtual keyboard to use if you're worried about keyloggers stealing passwords and other sensitive material.
For 2017. Kaspersky has added a virtual private network (VPN) service to Internet Security and Total Security. It lets you use up to 200MB of data daily; an unlimited plan costs $25 a year and lets you use 20 connection locations worldwide, from Canada to the Czech Republic.
Total Security exclusives include strong file encryption, a password manager, backup software that integrates with Dropbox and a system optimizer. There's also a capable file shredder for files that you never want to see again, and the premium version of the new Safe Kids feature.
Safe Kids is a freemium product that anyone can use. (Kaspersky account holders can manually install it from the My Kaspersky website.) The free version monitors and manages kids' web activities and application and device usage; the premium product, which costs $15 per year for everyone but Total Security users, monitors Facebook activity and text messages and can locate your kids (or at least their phones) on a map.
Performance and System Impact
All of Kaspersky's products recorded similar performance scores and had a moderate impact on the performance of our test system, an ASUS X555LA notebook running Windows 10 with 6GB of RAM, a 2-GHz Intel Core i3 processer and 36GB of data on a 500GB hard drive.
To assess system impact, we compared how long our OpenOffice-based performance test, which matches 20,000 names and addresses in a spreadsheet, took to complete in four scenarios: with no antivirus software installed; after Kaspersky Total Security had been installed; during full scans; and during quick scans.
With no software installed (but with Microsoft's obligatory Windows Defender running in the background), the OpenOffice test completed in 6 minutes and 56 seconds. It completed in the same time after Kaspersky Total Security had been installed, indicating zero passive system impact.
During a full scan, the OpenOffice test took 9 minutes and 26 seconds to complete, a slowdown of 36 percent from the baseline. The test finished in 7 minutes and 19 seconds during a quick scan, indicating a system hit of 5.5 percent. Both performance hits are about average as far as Windows antivirus software products go.
A full scan on our system took 3 minutes and 5 seconds, and examined 203,365 files. That's very fast — other programs had taken nearly an hour. In a hurry? A quick scan was done in 1 minute and 51 seconds and looked at 2,579 key files.
The 2017 version of the Kaspersky user interface isn't very different from that of previous years, retaining the familiar white, gray and green interface. A green check mark shows things are safe; it changes to yellow when the program requires attention, and red means danger. You can review infections from the past month in the Reports section (lower left of main screen).
For Total Security, the main screen has links for starting scans and updating the program, as well as to the Safe Money, Password Manager, Privacy Protection, Backup, Protection for all Devices and Parental Controls features. Anti-Virus lacks those features, graying them out, while Internet Security does without Backup and Password Manager. On the downside, Total Security has so much to offer that it seems crowded.
The More Tools link leads to every major feature, many of which are grayed out in Anti-Virus and Internet Security, alongside graphs of processor use, network speed and recent attacks. Navigation can be a little confusing because some pages have go-back arrows, while others have an "X" in the upper right to close the current pop-up window. Consistency would have helped smooth this out.
All three Kaspersky products have a link that takes you to the Kaspersky Support website, which contains a nice forum along with FAQs and a knowledge base of answers. Kaspersky support personnel are available to customers of all three products, 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern time, seven days a week, for a phone call, online chat or email.
Setup and Installation
Kaspersky has the same setup routine for all three of its paid products, but the installation downloads get slightly larger as you move up the product tiers. Each installer contains the entire program, but you're likely to need an update once the software is fully installed.
Once you've agreed to Kaspersky's license, the installer gets to work, displaying a prominent progress bar. After you enter the license code and create a My Kaspersky online account, you'll need to check the boxes for Kaspersky's Privacy Statement and decide whether the company can share your contact info with others. It took me 6 minutes and 30 seconds to install Total Security on a fresh computer.
Kaspersky's fast and thorough antivirus programs build an effective fence around a family's computers, and have only a few rivals among other brands for their excellent protection abilities. Our recommendations as to which to buy are based on each product's extra features.
Kaspersky Total Security lives up to its name with a slew of protective services and features that range from traditional viral scanning to a password manager and backup software, and can often be found heavily discounted online.
On the other end, Kaspersky Anti-Virus has few extra features compared with similar products from rival brands, such as Bitdefender Anti-Virus. Many people may find Kaspersky Internet Security to be the sweet spot; it offers useful protective features such as a firewall, a VPN client and parental controls for a moderate price.