You buy a security suite because you want all of your security components integrated and working well together. You get that and a lot more from Kaspersky Internet Security (2017), which brings together all of the expected suite components, including antivirus, firewall, spam filter, parental control, and phishing protection. It also comes with quite a few useful bonus tools, and there are no duds in this collection of components. They range from very good to excellent. Kaspersky Internet Security is a winner.
The typical three-license pack costs $79.99 per year, but for $10 more you can get five licenses. Got a ton of devices? For $139.99 per year you can get ten licenses. And all of these prices are frequently discounted, sometimes steeply. You can use each license on Windows, Mac, or Android, but the Windows product is by far the most feature-rich.
Like the standalone antivirus, the suite's main window has changed just a bit since the previous edition. Four large horizontally aligned icons dominated the previous edition's main widow: Scan, Update, Safe Money, and Parental Control. The current edition has six icons, in two rows of three: Scan, Database Update, Safe Money, Privacy Protection, Parental Control, and Protection for all devices. As always, the large green banner across the top turns red if there's a problem. Clicking for problem details gets you easy access to the necessary fix.
Antivirus protection in this suite is exactly the same as what I described in my review of Kaspersky Anti-Virus (2017). I'll summarize that review here.
Kaspersky no longer bothers with certification from ICSA Labs or West Coast Labs, but it gets fantastic scores from four of the five independent testing labs that I follow. It earned a perfect score in the three-part test administered by AV-Test Institute. Of the AV-Comparatives tests that I follow, Kaspersky took the top rating in all five.
Simon Edwards Labs certified Kaspersky at the AAA level, the very best. And Kaspersky even did well in the tough tests from MRG-Effitas, where the majority of tested products simply fail. My aggregate lab test score algorithm comes up with 9.9 of 10 possible points for Kaspersky.
In my own hands-on malware blocking test, Kaspersky didn't fare as well, earning 8.4 of 10 possible points. Top score among products tested with this same malware collection goes to Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Plus (2016), which earned a perfect 10. My malicious URL blocking test checks how well each antivirus fends off very new malware-hosting URLs. Kaspersky's 64 percent protection rate doesn't begin to compare with the 99 percent protection exhibited by Avira Antivirus Pro 2016. Note, though, that when the labs overwhelmingly praise a product, I give those results significantly more weight than I do my necessarily limited hands-on tests.
Kaspersky was much more effective at protecting against phishing websites, fraudulent sites that try to trick you into giving away you passwords. Webroot and Bitdefender Internet Security 2016 are among the few products to best Symantec Norton Security Premium in this test, but Kaspersky outdid them all.
This suite shares quite a few bonus tools with the antivirus. The On-Screen Keyboard lets you enter passwords without rising capture by a keylogger, even a hardware one. A Kaspersky Rescue Disk can clean up your PC even if malware rendered it unbootable. Several scans check for problems with system optimization, security configuration, and privacy. The antivirus includes a vulnerability scan, but as I'll explain below, this suite does even more to handle unpatched security holes.
Antivirus and firewall are the two central components of most suites. In some suites, the firewall might as well be a fireworks show, popping up an endless series of confusing queries that force the uninformed user to make important security decisions. Fortunately, Kaspersky isn't one of those. It handles program control internally. For known trusted programs, it automatically configures necessary Internet and network permissions. Known bad programs get the boot, straight into quarantine. As for unknowns, it imposes limits on their activity, so they can't do any harm.
If you dig into the firewall configuration, you can see exactly which programs have been assigned to each of four trust levels: Trusted, Low Restricted, High Restricted, and Untrusted. You can even change the trust level of any program, though I wouldn't advise doing so.
Kaspersky also protects against network intrusion from the outside, but it doesn't attempt to put all ports in stealth mode, the way most firewalls do. My contacts at the company have explained that they don't see the value in stealthing ports when the product is fully equipped to block any attack.
Certainly Kaspersky isn't vulnerable to the kind of direct attack that a malicious coder might attempt. It doesn't expose any important settings in the Registry. When I tried to kill its single process, I got "Access denied." In the same way, I couldn't stop or disable the Windows service that powers Kaspersky's protection.
Not all firewalls attempt to block network-based exploits that try to attack security holes in Windows or in popular applications. Kaspersky specifically includes a component to block this kind of attack, Automatic Exploit Prevention, which is part of System Watcher. In a commissioned real-world test by MRG-Effitas, Kaspersky's Enterprise product exhibited 100 percent protection, followed closely by Symantec with 98 percent.
In that test, researchers spent a good deal of time installing precisely the most vulnerable versions of popular browsers, Java, Adobe Reader, and so on. That's important, because Automatic Exploit Prevention relies in part on detecting exploit behaviors, behaviors that don't happen if the vulnerable software isn't present. My own exploit testing isn't as rigorous, as I don't have the resources of the big labs. My test, which uses exploits generated by the CORE Impact penetration tool, takes place on a fully patched test system. Even so, Kaspersky blocked half of the 30 exploits I threw at it, identifying several of them by name, which is better than many suites. Norton takes the prize in this test. It blocked all of the exploits at the network level.
Good Spam Filter
Not everyone needs a spam filter, so Kaspersky's is disabled by default. Webmail providers typical filter out spam automatically, as do some email servers. If you do need this feature, you want it to divert that deluge of spam from your Inbox while carefully refraining from throwing away any valid mail.
Kaspersky filters both POP3 and IMAP email accounts, marking messages as spam or probably spam. It integrates with Microsoft Outlook, adding a toolbar and automatically tossing spam in its own folder. If you use a different email client, you'll find it's not hard to create an email rule for filling spam.
Some suites come bristling with antispam configuration options; K7 Ultimate Security Gold 15 is an example. Kaspersky is the opposite. A simple slider starts off at the Recommended security level. You can tweak it to High or Low, but you probably shouldn't. Even if you dare to click the link for Advanced Settings, you won't find all that many options. As always, I tested using default settings.
Kaspersky's antispam didn't have any noticeable effect on the speed of downloading messages. When it finished draining my real-world spam-infested account, I discarded all messages more than 30 days old. I sorted both the Inbox and the Spam folder into three bins: valid personal mail, valid bulk mail (newsletters and such), and undeniable spam. Anything that didn't clearly match one of those categories, I discarded.
Like ESET Smart Security 9, BullGuard Internet Security (2016), and several others, Kaspersky didn't discard a single valid message, personal or bulk. However, it missed 16.1 percent of undeniable spam. That's nearly twice as much as the previous edition.
Bitdefender and Trend Micro Internet Security 2016 were a hair less careful than Kaspersky about valid mail. Both discarded 0.1 percent of valid personal mail. But Trend Micro only missed 3.9 percent of the spam, and Bitdefender missed just 1.8 percent. Kaspersky's accuracy is still good, but I hope to see it score better the next time around.
New in this edition, Kaspersky includes a VPN component called Secure Connection. While it was developed by Kaspersky, it relies on Hotspot Shield's worldwide network of servers. At the basic level, included in the suite, you can use 200MB of data per day on any number of devices. For unlimited access you pay $4.99 per month or $29.99 per year, When you pay, you also get the option to select which server you want to use. However, unlimited data comes with its own limit—five devices.
Using Secure Connection is a snap. All you do is click a button to turn it on. I turned it on and off ten times, over a period of two days, and got a server in Canada every time. Maybe it always connects through Canada? A few times, I got the message, "Secure connection is not available." However, clicking Retry banished that message.
By default, it connects to the VPN at system startup. You'll probably want to disable that setting, as you might well burn through your 200MB before leaving the house. Secure Connection prompts you to use its VPN service when you connect to an insecure Wi-Fi hotspot, which is handy. In the advanced settings screen, you can configure it to automatically kick in when you visit banking sites and other secure sites.
VPN protection is great to have, especially when you're not on your home network. I like Secure Connection's ability to automatically connect when needed. One thing that'd make it even better would be a Kill Switch feature. This feature, found in quite a few competing products, kills Internet connectivity for browsers and other applications if the VPN connection is lost.
Competent Parental Control
Kaspersky has always had a more complete parental control offering than the average suite. Recently, though, the parental control development effort at Kaspersky has all been aimed at Kaspersky Safe Kids. That product comes as part of Kaspersky Total Security; those using the plain Internet Security suite get the same protection found in last year's edition.
Per-child configuration of the parental control system is based on Windows user accounts; naturally parents can exempt their own accounts. The content filter can block 14 websites matching 14 categories. It works even in off-brand routers, with one exception. I found that I could visit a secure anonymizing proxy in my hand-coded off-brand browser, but not in Internet Explorer. Once connected through the proxy, I encountered no restrictions from the parental control system. That's a way for a clever teen to avoid parental control and monitoring.
Kaspersky offers quite a few ways to limit a child's screen time. Parents can define a time span during which computer access is allowed, as well as a daily maximum time, with separate values for weekdays and weekends. Those who want more fine-grain control over computer time can mark allowed times on a full-week grid. There's also an option to force breaks in computer usage. The default is set at a 15-minute break each hour. And parents can separately limit the amount of Internet time per day.
Don't want your kids playing too-gory games? You can limit them based on ESRB's age-rating, or even block based on specific ESRB categories such as fantasy violence or use of tobacco. There's also an option to ban application types, including torrent clients and download managers, or to ban specific applications. The kids won't fool this feature by making a renamed copy of the banned file.
Parents can forbid certain social networking contacts, or limit contact to those that are pre-approved. For more fine-grain control, parents can choose to log social networking chats that include parent-specified keywords. Kaspersky can also prevent transmission of too-personal data like your home address. And it offers an overview of your child's activities, with the option to dig in for details.
The parental control component in this suite doesn't come up to the features found in Kaspersky Safe Kids, or in other top-rated standalone parental control systems. However, it offers more features than are found in many competing suites.
Kaspersky has offered Safe Money for some years now. It kicks in automatically when you visit a financial website, offering to open it in the smart, hardened Safe Money browser. If you accept, next time you visit that site it will open in Safe Money. You can edit the list of sites that always use Safe Money to add any site you like.
The protected browser displays a glowing green border, so you won't get mixed up. Kaspersky isolates this special browser from other products and, when possible, keeps other processes from capturing the screen.
Bitdefender offers a similar feature to protect your sensitive online transactions. Its SafePay is a whole separate desktop, not just a protected browser, but either way, you're protected.
Software Cleaner and Updater
Kaspersky's Software Cleaner and Software Updater are new in the current edition. Software Updater runs in the background to identify browsers and other important applications that haven't been updated to the latest version. You can also launch the scan on demand. When you have unpatched vulnerabilities, the main window's top banner turns yellow. Unlike the simple vulnerability scan found in the standalone antivirus, this tool performs the updates automatically, when possible. Just click Update All and sit back.
Software Cleaner also runs in the background, but with a different purpose. It looks for programs that you rarely use and offers to recover resources by uninstalling the apps. It also watches for programs with deceptive installation behaviors, hidden installations, and other unwanted behaviors. On my test systems, this uninstaller found some rarely used programs, but none of the other types.
The list of valuable security features packed into this suite just goes on and on. If you have a computer that's stable and rarely has new software installed, consider enabling Trusted Applications Mode. In this mode, no program is permitted to launch unless it is marked as known and trusted in Kaspersky's massive database. At the moment, it contains over 1.6 million known safe items and about 900,000 known dangerous items. Before enabling this mode, you should run its lengthy scan that checks all programs already on your system. On my test system, it found seven system files that weren't in the database, three related to the fact that the test system is a virtual machine and four involved in manage that annoying Windows 10 upgrade popup. These files wouldn't be allowed to run in Trusted Applications Mode, so the program advised against enabling that mode.
Application Control (previously called Change Control) watches for suspicious changes to things like browser settings, asking the user to confirm that the change is desired. Its new Installation Assistant component works against installers that try to install additional software not requested by the user. And you can dig into it details to see all programs that launch at startup. If you wish, you can reversibly block any of them from launching. The startup list displays each program's trust level, as well as its popularity within the Kaspersky network.
You may have heard that it's possible for hackers to spy on you through your webcam without triggering the little light. Kaspersky can block all access to the webcam, or allow specific programs access. This applies to snooping via the microphone as well. An active Do Not Track feature for browsers and a banner ad blocker round out the collection of privacy features.
With all of this suite's features running to protect you, there's the possibility of an impact on your system's performance. Indeed, my simple hands-on tests showed some degree of performance impact, but nothing that would cause real trouble. It's worth noting that both AV-Test and AV-Comparatives gave Kaspersky top marks in their performance tests.
To check for a security suite's impact on boot time, I run a script that repeatedly reboots the test computer, waits for ten seconds with less than five percent CPU activity, and subtracts the start of the boot process (as reported by Windows). That gives me a measure of how long it takes for the system to be usable. I install the suite and then run the test again, comparing the before and after averages. With Kaspersky installed, this test took 18 percent longer. In real terms, that was 15 extra seconds, which isn't much.
A script that moves and copies a massive collection of various-sized files took 29 percent longer under Kaspersky's watchful eye, but the suite made no measurable difference in the time to run another script that repeatedly zips and unzips that same file collection. As with the boot time test, I averaged multiple runs of each test with no suite, then installed Kaspersky and averaged multiple runs again.
Hardly any modern products impose a significant impact on performance, but some are less of a drag than Kaspersky. Webroot in particular aced this test, with no measurable impact in any of my three tests.
See How We Test Security Software
As noted, you can use your Kaspersky licenses on Windows, Mac, and Android devices, but the available features differ from platform to platform. Fortunately, the online portal makes things very clear. Click on the Licenses tab, click on the Downloads link, and you'll see what's available.
Kaspersky Internet Security for Machas some, but not all, of the same features found in the Windows edition. It includes on demand, on access, and on schedule malware scanning. Safe Money is present, as is parental control. It blocks malware-hosting URLs and phishing attacks in the browser. And its Network Attack Blocker performs many functions of a firewall. Other shared features include webcam protection, active Do Not Track for browsers, and the on-screen keyboard.
For a full discussion of Kaspersky Internet Security (for Android) please read PCMag's separate review. Briefly, it offers excellent malware protection as well as Kaspersky's winning protection against phishing. Antitheft features include the ability to remotely locate, lock, or wipe the device, and also grab a mugshot of whoever took it. It can hide special contacts from view, block unwanted calls, and notify you if someone swaps out your Android smartphone's SIM. PCMag's Max Eddy found it to be good, but not great.
You Won't Go Wrong
Kaspersky Internet Security is an excellent suite, with all the expected features and much more. The independent testing labs rave about its antivirus, and it outscored all others in my hands-on antiphishing test. Not all of the components rise to that same pinnacle of excellence, but none are less than very good. You won't go wrong choosing this suite to protect your devices.
Along with Bitdefender Internet Security, Kaspersky is our Editors' Choice for basic security suites. At the mega-suite level, the Editors' Choice honor goes to Bitdefender Total Security. For those looking to protect a ton of devices on a mix of platforms, McAfee LiveSafe and Symantec Norton Security Premium share the Editors' Choice crown.
Note: These sub-ratings contribute to a product's overall star rating, as do other factors, including ease of use in real-world testing, bonus features, and overall integration of features.