The new edition of Bitdefender sports a user interface makeover. Its background is still shades of dark gray, and it still features a big status panel that's green when all is well, red when you need to attend to configuration. But the icons in the new left rail make it even easier to reach any of the suite's many security components.
Powerful Shared Antivirus
The core antivirus protection in this suite is the same as that of Editors' Choice Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017. I'll sum up my findings here. As always, you can read my review of the standalone antivirus for full details.
Bitdefender earned a perfect 18 points in the latest three-part test reported by AV-Test Institute. Kaspersky and Trend Micro also took 18 points.
I follow five of the many tests regularly performed by AV-Comparatives. Bitdefender earned the best possible rating in all five, as did Kaspersky.
Bitdefender's score in Virus Bulletin's RAP (Reactive and Proactive) test was just average. As for the two tests from MRG-Effitas that I track, Bitdefender failed one and got partial credit for the other. However, the majority of tested products simply fail these tests, with no indication whether it was just-on-the-edge fail or epic fail. Because of that I've reduced its weight in my aggregate lab-scoring algorithm. Bitdefender's aggregate is 9.4 of 10. Only Kaspersky Internet Security and Norton came in higher.
In my hands-on malware blocking test, Bitdefender detected 90 percent of the samples and earned 8.8 points, putting it in the middle of products tested using the current malware collection. Tested with the same samples, Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus came out with a perfect 10 point.
Challenged with 100 malware-hosting URLs, Bitdefender exhibited a very good 91 percent protection rate. Top score in this test goes to Avira Antivirus 2016, with 99 percent. Norton also did well, scoring 98 percent.
Bitdefender's browser extension proved extremely effective at detecting and blocking phishing sites, fraudulent sites that try to trick you into giving away your passwords. In fact, it earned the best score ever seen on this test. Bitdefender also specifically flags over a dozen types of fraudulent websites.
Many Other Shared Features
As noted, Bitdefender's standalone antivirus actually doesn't stand alone—it includes a ton of useful bonus features. Its vulnerability scan doesn't just look for missing Windows updates and application security patches. It also checks for weak passwords on Windows user accounts and even checks that your home Wi-Fi is properly secured.
Ransomware is a huge problem, and Bitdefender addresses it directly. It prevents unauthorized programs from making any changes to the folders you've charged it to protect. By default, those are the Documents and Pictures folders for each user account. If it blocks a legitimate program, perhaps a less-used document editor, you can easily whitelist that program. Panda and Trend Micro offer similar anti-ransomware features.
Bitdefender Wallet is a complete, if basic, password manager. It captures and replays passwords, and its browser extension provides a menu of saved secure sites. You can store one or more identity profiles or credit cards and use them to fill Web forms. Admittedly, in testing it didn't handle non-standard password pages and didn't fill all fields on some Web forms. But it includes all the basics.
When you try to open a website that Bitdefender recognizes as a financial site, it offers to open in Safepay instead. This is a separate desktop, isolated from other processes, with its own hardened browser. If the Wi-Fi Advisor component detects that you're connected to an insecure hotspot, it suggests that you do all your browsing through Safepay. It also checks your home network's security configuration.
Rounding out the bonus collection is the file shredder. This is a secure deletion utility that overwrites files and folders three times before deletion, making forensic recovery impossible.
Strong, Silent Firewall
In the spirit of AutoPilot mode, Bitdefender's firewall does its best to stay out of your face. It automatically configures network permissions for known programs. As for unknowns, it allows them access, too, but keeps an eye out for misuse of resources. Symantec Norton Security Premium and Kaspersky both do something similar. It makes total sense for the firewall to make these decisions, rather than bombarding users with popups asking for answers to questions they don't understand.
The firewall fended off the port scans and other Web-based tests I hit it with, making all the test system's ports invisible to outside attack. That's more of a baseline than an accomplishment, though, since the built-in Windows Firewall protects against such outside attacks.
Bitdefender also blocks some exploit attacks. To see it working, I had to turn off AutoPilot mode. Then I hit it with about 30 exploits generated by the CORE Impact penetration tool. None of the exploits penetrated security, which is not surprising on this fully patched test system. Bitdefender actively blocked 44 percent of the attacks, identifying the majority of them by their official name and number. Trend Micro did a bit better, with 52 percent blocked, and Norton blocked 63 percent at the network level, before they even reached the browser.
If a malware coder can programmatically flip the off switch and end firewall protection, that's bad. I couldn't find any opening for that sort of attack. I found that Bitdefender had four processes running, and was able to terminate the two less-important ones…but the other two resisted termination and reanimated those I did kill. I also couldn't stop or otherwise influence Bitdefender's three essential Windows services.
You might notice that I didn't mention the firewall-assisting Intrusion Detection system. That's because it's no longer exposed as a user-adjustable component. It's rolled into Bitdefender's active threat control.
See How We Test Security Software
Friendly Parental Advisor
You manage Bitdefender's Parental Advisor online, leaving the local Bitdefender app on your Windows and Android devices to enforce the rules you set and report on the child's activity. Based on user feedback, the designers made a few changes, making this component even more simple and friendly.
To start, you create a profile for each of your children. Name, gender, and birthdate are required. You can optionally add a photo.
Next, you identify the devices this child uses. It assumes just one user for Android devices. On Windows devices, you can either associate the entire device, or just one user account. Note that you can't tie one user account to one child and another to a different child on the same device. My Bitdefender contact commented that while reviewers might want to do this, customer research shows that virtually no actual users want to.
Click on a child's name to open the online console, which has six tabs: Dashboard, Activities, Interests, Friends, Places, and Social. Activities refers to the programs and apps that the child has used recently. If you see something off-key, just click it to prevent use of that program. Note that a checkmark means the program is blocked while a plus-sign means it is allowed. Your child won't fool this feature by creating a renamed copy of the blocked program.
Click on Interests to see a list of the 42 content categories that Bitdefender tracks. Based on the child's birthdate, this component selects a set of categories to be blocked, but as always, you can make your own selections. In testing, I couldn't find any inappropriate sites that weren't blocked, even in my massively off-brand hand-written browser. Bitdefender filters HTTPS pages too, so your child won't evade parental control using a secure anonymizing proxy.
A teen who just wants to look at naked ladies can get an eyeful simply by doing a Google image search. It's no longer possible for parental control to force Safe Search on search portals that default to HTTPS. Trend Micro is one of the few products that address this issue, attempting to detect and cover up prurient images.
If the child profile has an associated Android device, the Friends tab displays a list of contacts. You can click a contact to block calls and texts.
The last time I reviewed this product, it also included the ability to block specific keywords in messages. I couldn't find this feature. My Bitdefender contact explained that after consulting with actual users, they removed it. Parents had trouble using it, and kids had no trouble avoiding it by using slang and leet-speak.
Places is another feature that's only functional if your child has an Android device associated. By selecting a point on a map and choosing a radius from 100 to 2,000 meters, you define named places and identify them as safe or restricted. Bitdefender takes note when the child enters or leaves one of these places.
To make use of the Social tab, you must get the Bitdefender app installed on your child's Facebook account. If you know the credentials you can just log in and add it. There's also an option to email the child a request to install the app. There's no way to prevent the child from later uninstalling it, but by default you get a notification if that happens.
With the app in place, the Social page becomes useful. To start, it reports on settings that are, or could be, a threat to privacy. For example, having email, relationship status, or birthday visible are considers high threats to a child's privacy. Exposing location or education data could be a threat, especially if a cyber-bully targeted your child, so Bitdefender suggests exposing this data only to friends.
You can also view all of the pages your child has liked, and click any of them to view the page. Another sub-tab shows photos from the last few months, specifically tagged photos, profile pictures, cover photos, mobile uploads, and timeline photos. I do wish this page displayed the photos in a thumbnail grid rather than in a long, long scrolling list.
Finally, the Dashboard gives an overview of the child's activity. It reports recent locations, if the child has an Android device. It summarizes what website categories interest the child most, lists the programs and apps that were used, and reports how long the child spent using each device.
I tried to drill down from the list of content categories to the actual list of allowed and blocked URLs, but couldn't figure out how. My Bitdefender contact explained that this feature was removed. "We categorize websites based on content, not just the URL, and content can change," she noted. The point is to give parents insight into the child's interests, not to nitpick a precise list of URLs.
Bitdefender also has the ability to control how much time your child spends using devices, but it's a little bit hidden. In the section of the dashboard that shows the time spent on each device, there's a link to set sleep time. When you click this, you can set a span of time during which the child's devices are unavailable, separately for weekdays and weekends. During the designated sleep time, the child can't log in to Windows and can't go online on an Android device. The designers chose not to block all use of Android devices, given the child might need emergency access to phone home.
Under its simple-looking façade, this is a full-featured parental control system, more than you get in most suites. The geofencing and call blocking features stand out, as does the analysis of Facebook privacy settings. If you want your parental control integrated with a security suite, Bitdefender is a dandy choice.
Smooth, Simple Antispam
These days it seems that almost everyone gets spam filtered by a webmail service or at the email server. If you're that rare individual who still needs a local spam filter, Bitdefender has you covered, as long as your account uses POP3 and not IMAP or Exchange. According to my Bitdefender contact, while it aims to block all spam, it particularly focuses on blocking spam that contains malware or ransomware.
The spam filter integrates with Microsoft Outlook and Thunderbird. You can still use it with a different email client, but you will have to create a message rule to divert marked spam messages away from your Inbox. That's a distinction from Trend Micro Internet Security, which only works with its supported clients.
For those two supported clients, Bitdefender installs a toolbar that lets you mark any spam messages that reached the Inbox, or rescue valid messages that got tossed in with the spam. You can also add senders to the Friends list or the Spammers list, either by clicking a button or by editing the lists manually. In the latter case, you can blacklist or whitelist a whole domain, if desired.
By default, when you flag a message as spam or not spam Bitdefender asks permission to submit the message to its cloud-based filter system, so as to improve detection rates. You can set to never do this, or to always do it without asking. Those concerned with privacy might consider automatically submitting spam messages that slipped through, but suppressing upload of valid messages that were originally marked as spam.
In addition to those settings that affect submitting messages to the cloud, Bitdefender includes the option to block any messages written in Asian characters, or in Cyrillic. There are a few more settings, but really, you'll do well to just leave them at their default values. There's very little to configure in this smooth, simple spam filter.
File Encryption and File Shredder
Encrypting ransomware locks up your files and threatens to throw away the key unless you pony up cash, or Bitcoins. Not nice! But when you control the encryption keys, keeping your most sensitive files in encrypted storage can be a very smart way to protect them. Previously reserved for Bitdefender's Total Security mega-suite, file encryption is now available in the entry-level suite.
Creating a vault is simple. You give it a name, accept or change the location for the file that represents the vault, sets its size, and give it a password. You can also choose to accept whatever drive letter Windows assigns or use a hard-coded drive letter. When the vault is open, you use it like any other disk drive. When it's locked, its contents aren't even visible, much less accessible.
As with the similar feature in Kaspersky, you can't change the vault size after creation. Trend Micro Maximum Security 2016 lets you create just one vault, but its size isn't set in stone. Even better, if your computer is lost or stolen, you can remotely seal the vault, so it won't open even with the password.
Copying a super-sensitive document into encrypted storage doesn't do much good if you leave the unencrypted original lying around, and just deleting that original, even if you skip the Recycle Bin, won't prevent forensic recovery. Instead, run the original through Bitdefender's File Shredder. This tool, also found in the standalone antivirus, overwrites the file's data three times before deletion, making forensic recovery impossible.
Mixed Performance Impact
The days when installing a security suite meant giving up peppy performance are long over. Consumers won't accept it, nor will Microsoft. Even so, there are variations in how much a given suite's background activities impact performance.
Every antivirus that includes on-access scanning has the potential to slow down normal file operations. To check on this, I average the time for multiple runs of a script that moves and copies a large collection of files between drives. Comparing the times before and after installing the suite, I come up with an impact percentage. I also time another script that zips and unzips the same file collection.
Bitdefender had no impact at all on these two tests. In fact, the two scripts actually ran faster with the suite installed. I repeated the test, with the same results.
I also measure boot time using a script that calculates the time-span between the start of the boot process and the point where the system has gone ten seconds with CPU usage no more than five percent. Looking at average values before and after installing the suite, I saw an increase in boot time of 45 percent.
Discussing this finding with my contacts at the company, I learned that the suite very deliberately stretches out the loading of any components not essential to security, so as to reduce impact on boot time. It may well be that this feature and my exact test methodology aren't compatible. In any case, most users reboot as infrequently as possible. The low impact on day-to-day file operations is more important.
Still a Winner
Bitdefender Internet Security 2017 goes way beyond the minimum suite features. Yes, it has antivirus, antiphishing, antispam, firewall, and parental control. But it also offers password management, secure browsing, ransomware protection, and file encryption, among many other bonus features. Along with Kaspersky Internet Security, it's an Editors' Choice security suite.
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.