Updated to reflect latest lab-test results. This review was originally published Aug. 20, 2018.
Kaspersky's 2019 lineup of Windows antivirus products continues the company's strong tradition of top-notch protection with a moderate system impact.
Once again, the top-priced Kaspersky Total Security delivers all the fixings, including file backups and a password manager. The midrange Internet Security has everything most people need, with parental controls and a hardened browser. They're our choices in the premium and intermediate categories for best Windows antivirus software. But the entry-priced software, Kaspersky Anti-Virus, looks pretty bare compared to its more fully kitted-out rival Bitdefender Antivirus Plus.
Costs and What's Covered
|Kaspersky Anti-Virus||Kaspersky Internet Security||Kaspersky Total Security|
|List price per year||$40-$96||$60-$100||$80-$150|
|Supported||Windows 7 thru 10||Windows 7 thru 10||Windows 7 thru 10|
|Bundled platforms||None||Mac, Android, iOS||Mac, Android, iOS|
|VPN client software||No||Yes||Yes|
Kaspersky Lab's slate of Windows antivirus programs starts with Kaspersky Free software, which offers basic malware protection and warns about dangerous websites. Like all Kaspersky programs, it supports Windows 7 through Windows 10.
Kaspersky Anti-Virus (starting at $40 per year for one PC) adds phishing and spyware protection, scans email and instant messages, checks your system for known vulnerabilities and has a gamer mode to minimize interruptions. But its features pale in comparison to those of the similarly priced Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, which tosses in a password manager and a hardened browser.
Kaspersky Internet Security (starting at $60 per year for one system) adds parental controls, webcam protections, a hardened web browser, anti-theft software and up to 200MB a day of secure data over a VPN. (To get unlimited VPN data, you'll have to pay an extra $30 per year.)
Internet Security also monitors all devices on your home network, stops unwanted software from being installed and includes browser add-ons that rate website safety and block banner ads. The license covers Kaspersky software for Macs, iOS and Android.
Kaspersky Total Security (starting at $80 per year for one system) adds file-backup software and storage, file encryption and a password manager.
There's an entirely new Kaspersky offering for 2019, but it's not an antivirus product: Kaspersky Security Cloud. It's more of a service than an application, although it includes basic antivirus protections that depend on a constant internet connection.
The free version of Kaspersky Security Cloud lets you store up to 15 passwords in its password manager; the paid versions remove the password limits and add 500MB a day of VPN use. Security Cloud Personal starts at $90 per year for three devices. A Family version, which includes parental controls, starts at $150 per year and covers 20 devices.
Recently, the U.S. government banned the use of Kaspersky Lab products for government agencies and contractors. The Moscow-based company insists it has no ties to the Russian government. We've never seen any convincing evidence that Kaspersky software is unsafe to use for civilian purposes, and until we do, we'll continue to recommend it.
Kaspersky's malware protection has three main elements: file-signature scanning to catch known threats, behavioral monitoring to spot unknown "zero-day" malware, and cloud-based analysis of suspicious software uploaded from users' machines.
The improvements to Kaspersky's defenses for 2019 are mostly incremental. The most significant is an enhanced ability to detect "fileless" malware that infects only running memory and leaves no trace on the storage drive. Several times a day, Kaspersky Labs sends out malware-definition updates to its 400 million users. The program has three scan-intensity settings so you can control the program's intrusiveness.
Kaspersky's System Watcher feature includes heuristics-based ransomware protection; if you do get tagged by encrypting ransomware, System Watcher can roll back key files that were overwritten.
Kaspersky's Windows antivirus products, all of which use the same underlying malware technology, do very well in lab testing of their malware detection and removal abilities. The detection engine is well-tuned, catching as much malware as possible without making many "false positive" misidentifications of benign software, websites or user actions.
In our own tests, run from February to June 2018, Kaspersky Anti-Virus stopped 98 percent of threats, which included both malware and malicious websites. That was only midway in a pack of 14 products; Bitdefender, ESET, McAfee, Trend Micro and Vipre all did a bit better.
Kaspersky detected and blocked all malware, but it failed to block some malware-laden or phishing web pages. (No single brand dominated all four sets of lab tests whose results we consider.)
Kaspersky's scanning engine detected everything that German lab AV-TEST threw at it in more than a year's worth of evaluations conducted on Windows 7 (January-February 2018) and Windows 10 (March 2018 through June 2019) while incurring only three false positives. No other brand matched that nearly spotless record, although Norton Security came close.
In five monthly "real-world" tests done by Austrian lab AV-Comparatives in the second half of 2018, Kaspersky Internet Security averaged a 99.5-percent detection rate, with highs of 100 percent in July and August, and a low of 99.0 percent in October.
In the first half of 2019, tests conducted by AV-Comparatives from February through May showed that Kaspersky blocked 100 percent of real-world malware. It had no false positives in any of those tests, the only one of the antivirus brands we regularly review to do so.
In four rounds of very granular tests conducted by England's SE Labs throughout 2018, Kaspersky Internet Security prevented infection by 100 percent of malware three times, and 99 percent the fourth time. It detected all malware but failed to stop one of 25 directed attacks of the sort you'd see carried out against "high value" targets such as corporate executives or political figures. Ordinary consumers won't need to worry about such attacks.
Kaspersky also merely neutralized two pieces of malware instead of completely removing them, a distinction that the other testing labs don't take into account. No other product did as well in SE Labs' 2018 tests; only Norton and ESET came close.
Security and Privacy
Kaspersky's defenses depend on which product you get. Kaspersky Anti-Virus offers an on-screen keyboard that can protect your passwords from keylogging malware and a vulnerability scan that checks the system for outdated software and insecure settings.
Kaspersky Internet Security blocks unwanted software and adds parental controls, webcam protection and secure browser extensions. The flagship Kaspersky Total Security adds backup software and a password manager for an excellent array of features.
Both Internet Security and Total Security have a two-way firewall that monitors traffic both entering and exiting your system, unlike the one-way Windows 10 firewall. They also come with the Safe Money secure browser plugins (for Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer) to protect your online bank accounts and financial transactions.
Internet Security and Total Security 2019 bundle in the client software for Kaspersky's Secure Connection Virtual Private Network (VPN), which uses Hotspot Shield's infrastructure. But you'll get only 200MB of data for "free." To get unlimited use, it's an extra $5 per month or $30 per year. (Anti-Virus users can download the Secure Connection client software for free.)
Internet Security 2019 has basic parental controls that let you block potentially offensive online material and limit a child's computer time. Total Security takes it a step further with Kaspersky's Safe Kids service, which adds the ability to find children (or at least their phones) on a map and monitor their calls and text messages (on Android devices).
Total Security 2019's Password Manager stores an unlimited number of login credentials and automatically fills in form fields. Total Security also has backup software, but the online storage that accompanies the software is just Dropbox's standard free 2GB, which will fill up faster than you can ask, "How big is that video file?" There's also AES-256 file encryption and a file "shredder" that overwrites sensitive deleted files.
If a Windows system becomes burdened by malware and won't operate properly, Kaspersky's Rescue Disk can disinfect it. You'll need to put the software on a DVD or flash drive, and then boot the PC from that. Bitdefender is a step ahead here because you can boot straight into its rescue disk directly from its desktop software.
Performance and System Impact
To check Kaspersky Total Security 2019's impact on overall performance, we used our custom OpenOffice benchmark test, which measures how long it takes to match 20,000 names and 20,000 addresses in a spreadsheet.
Our test bed was an Asus X555LA notebook with a 2-GHz Core i3 processor, 6GB of RAM and 117GB of files on a 500GB hard drive, running Windows 10 with the latest updates.
Compared with earlier Kaspersky programs, Total Security 2019 was a bit of a resource hog when running in the background, but it was lighter during system scans. It had a bit more of a performance impact than Bitdefender Total Security 2019, but overall, its system demands were on the good side of moderate.
Before any third-party antivirus software was loaded, the OpenOffice task finished in an average of 6 minutes and 52 seconds, which we used as the baseline.
With Total Security 2019 installed but not actively scanning, the OpenOffice task-completion time grew to an average of 7 minutes and 42 seconds. That indicates a 12-percent passive performance decline, which is more than Bitdefender's 8 percent.
Using the Total Security 2019 scanner slowed the system further, with the average OpenOffice completion time coming in at 8:19 during a full scan. That's 21 percent longer than the baseline, and 8 percent longer than with Total Security 2019 just running in the background.
That's a smaller system impact than in the previous year's tests, when Kaspersky Total Security 2018 slowed down the same laptop by 30 percent during a full scan, but it's still a bit more than Bitdefender's 17-percent slowdown.
Nevertheless, you wouldn't notice the system impact during a scan unless you were playing a game or rendering a video, and unfortunately, that's not always the case with other antivirus brands. Kaspersky does have a gaming mode to disable scans during games and movies.
Quick scans were a tad less resource-intensive, letting the OpenOffice task finish in an average of 7:51 — 14 percent longer than the baseline and 2 percent longer than with Total Security running in the background. Again, that's a significant improvement over the previous year, which saw a 26-percent quick-scan slowdown. Bitdefender's comparable impact was 8 percent.
Kaspersky Total Security 2019 completed its first full scan very quickly, taking 33 minutes and 45 seconds to look at 339,927 files. Subsequent scans lowered this completion time to 7:05. A quick scan was done in 3 minutes and 27 seconds.
Kaspersky's 2019 interface is lighter and more open than in previous years. At the top of the main screen is a green check mark that changes to a red "X" when you're at risk. To the right, there's a list of things that need to be done, which for me included setting up backups and updating software.
The program's main features are displayed on the home screen, including Scan, Safe Money and Parental Control. Some are grayed out for Internet Security and Anti-Virus users. At the bottom of the screen, you can see when your subscription expires.
The More Tools link leads to tasks and utilities, such as the on-screen keyboard and the VPN client. The Settings icon lets you choose from modules for Anti-Virus, Firewall, Webcam Protection and other features, making Kaspersky Total Security 2019 ideal for anyone who wants to personalize their antivirus software.
A full-system scan is two clicks away from the main screen, and a quick scan requires a third click. External Device Scan and Selective Scan options let you examine a flash drive, pick a folder or file to scan, or drop an item into the scan box.
Scans can be scheduled daily, weekly or monthly, and you can customize them to examine or ignore system memory, email archives, boot sectors or networked drives.
Right-click the program's powerful Windows Task Tray icon to open the Kaspersky task manager, update malware definitions, open the Safe Money web browser or disable parental controls.
Installation and Support
Kaspersky claims to have reduced installation time by 15 percent, but our total installation time of 5 minutes and 19 seconds was merely 8 percent shorter than last year. However, it's still better than the more than 8 minutes it took to get Bitdefender Total Security 2019 loaded.
The process begins with getting the 2.5MB starter installation file, choosing a language and deciding whether to allow uploads from your system to Kaspersky's malware-analysis labs. After you agree to the company's terms of service, the 142MB main installation file finishes the process automatically.
A big benefit of paying for Kaspersky products is the company's full support. Technicians can be reached by phone, chat and email from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. (Eastern time) seven days a week. There are also helpful videos, FAQs and articles on the company's support website.
As we did last year, we can wholeheartedly recommend Kaspersky Internet Security ($79.99) and Kaspersky Total Security ($99.99), which combine a wide assortment of useful features with nearly perfect malware protection and a light to moderate system impact.
At the moment, only Bitdefender gives you a similar balance of performance and perks, although Kaspersky's protection is a tad better. Other top-protecting brands either have a heavy system impact or offer few extras.
Speaking of few extras, the relatively bare-bones Kaspersky Anti-Virus ($59.99) is outshone by Bitdefender Antivirus Plus ($39.99), which gives you most of the features found only in Kaspersky's more expensive products, but at a bargain price.
Credit: Tom's Guide