Like ESET NOD32 Antivirus 10, this app's main window showcases an image of ESET's serene cyborg mascot. A green status banner turns red if there's a problem with configuration. Down the left side is a simple menu, and along the bottom you find three panels that let you quickly launch a scan, invoke the secure browser, or open firewall configuration.
As is usually the case, this suite includes all the security features found in the corresponding standalone antivirus. If you'd like to know more about these features than found in the summary below, please read my full review of the standalone antivirus, linked above.
I follow five antivirus testing labs that regularly release test results; all five of them include ESET in their testing. For the most part it gets very good scores. It did fail two tests by London-based MRG-Effitas, but as these tests don't distinguish between almost-success and epic fail, I give their results less weight. ESET's aggregate lab score, 8.8 of 10 possible points, is quite good. Only four contenders have a better score. Kaspersky tops the group with 10 aggregate points.
In testing, ESET's full antivirus scan proved unusually speedy. An initial scan finished in just over 20 minutes; optimization during the initial scan cut the time for a subsequent scan down to 30 seconds. An initial scan with F-Secure Anti-Virus went even faster, taking just 11 minutes.
When I challenged ESET with my current malware collection, it detected 97 percent of the samples, some on sight, others after launch. Its overall score of 9.5 points is good, though several products have done even better. Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Plus rules this test, with a perfect 10 points.
In a separate test, I attempted to download malware from 100 recently discovered malware-hosting URLs. ESET blocked 89 percent, which is good. It prevented the browser from reaching about half of them and eliminated the other half during download. With 98 percent protection, Norton has the top score in this test.
ESET didn't do nearly as well in my antiphishing test, with a detection rate 33 percentage points behind Norton's. To be fair, it must have been a tough week for antiphishing utilities, as the built-in antiphishing systems in Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer all fared worse than ESET.
The standalone antivirus includes a Host Intrusion Prevention System (HIPS), something that many vendors reserve for the full security suite. Challenged to protect a test system against 30 exploit attacks, ESET detected and blocked more than half of them, which is a slightly better showing than Bitdefender Internet Security 2017 and Kaspersky. Norton blocked two-thirds of the attacks, all of them at the network level, before they could even try to drop a malicious payload.
The elaborate Device Control system is more suited for business use than a consumer setting, even though this is a consumer-centric product. Tech-savvy users can set it to prevent mounting of a wide variety of external devices including card readers, Bluetooth devices, and USB external drives. It's also possible to create exceptions for specific devices.
On the Security Tools page, you can view logs, events, and quarantined files. Other tools are better suited for a support agent performing remote-control troubleshooting. These include a list of all running processes, a live graph of file activity, and a tool that can create snapshots of system status, comparing them to see what changed.
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In testing, the firewall stealthed all ports, and resisted most Web-based tests. However, it failed the Ping Echo test, meaning that a hacker trolling for victims could get your computer's IP address. Think of it like this. It's as if you were hiding from a criminal, but when he yelled "Marco" you couldn't help responding "Polo!" and giving away your location. Quick Heal Internet Security 17 also failed this test, and left a very important port wide open.
The other task of any two-way firewall is program control, ensuring that programs don't misuse your system's Internet and network connections. ESET's program control can run in several different modes. The default Automatic mode just allows all outbound traffic and blocks unsolicited inbound traffic. That's barely program control at all.
If you switch to Interactive mode, ESET behaves like an old-school personal firewall. Every time it detects a new program attempting Internet access, it pops up a query asking you, the user, what to do. It's more complicated than many, as well. You don't just choose whether the firewall treats your choice as a one-time request or creates a rule to remember it always. There's also an option to remember your choice only until the program terminates. The default is no memory, so it will keep asking every time the program attempts to connect. I'd prefer to see it remember your decision by default.
For a little more complexity, you can click the More Details link. Now you see the company, the file reputation, and the remote computer and port. If you click Advanced Options, you can tweak the firewall rule so it references specific IP addresses and port numbers. Average users should skip these advanced details.
Norton and Kaspersky, among a few others, make all firewall decisions internally rather than leaving them to the untrained user. Check Point ZoneAlarm Extreme Security 2017 maintains a huge database of known good files and configures program control for them automatically. As for ESET, if you choose Interactive mode you must tell it what to do for every program, even some internal Windows components. Not good.
Another strategy for avoiding the flood of firewall queries is to run the system for a while in Learning mode. In this mode, it takes note of every program that accesses the network, and creates a rule to always allow that access. By default, Learning mode ends after two weeks, though you can modify the time. Afterward, you'll see way fewer popups in Interactive mode. You can even consider choosing Policy-based mode, which blocks all connections except those explicitly allowed by firewall rules.
This full suite boasts protection layers beyond the HIPS found in the standalone antivirus. However, when I ran my exploit protection test, the results came in precisely the same. I didn't observe any additional protection from the network attack protection layers.
At least the app proved resistant to outside attack. Like Symantec Norton Security Deluxe, it has just two visible processes and a single Windows service, and like Norton, it resisted my attempts to terminate or disable those. I couldn't find any way to turn it off by tweaking the Registry.
I'm not pleased that the firewall allows responses to Ping Echo. At its default level, the program control component does very little, but if you crank it up to interactive mode, you may drown in popups. This is an old-school firewall, in a world where much better protection is demonstrably possible.
Clicking the big Home Network Protection panel on the main window brings up a very well-conceived network map. Found devices appear as icons in concentric rings, with your local device and its router in the center. The next ring out shows devices recently contacted, and the outermost ring holds devices contacted within the last month.
Clicking any icon gets you a detailed description, including the device name and type. If ESET can't come up with a name, it just shows the IP address. A network wizard who can figure out what that IP address means is free to edit it and add a friendly name. From the detail view, you can also click a Troubleshoot link to view any traffic from this device that the firewall blocked. This, too, is more useful to a network wizard than to the average person.
You should definitely click the Scan router button and let ESET scan your router's security. This runs some simple penetration tests on the router. If your settings aren't secure, ESET tells you how to fix them. Avast Internet Security 2016 includes a similar router scan.
ESET clearly considers this an important feature, as one of just three big panels on the main window launches it. Click the panel and you see a modified version of your default browser, with a green border and a Secured by ESET banner at the top. The browser opens to a page that explains the purpose of this feature, and enjoins users to only use it for online banking and financial transactions, not for general browsing. Note that this feature isn't fully functional until the first time you reboot after installation. Also, it specifically supports Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. If you rely on Opera, Vivaldi, or any but the top three browsers, you're out of luck.
Like the Safe Money feature in Kaspersky Internet Security, this feature kicks in automatically when you attempt to visit a known financial site in the ordinary, unsecured browser. It offers to launch a secured browser instead, and there's an option to always open this site in the secured browser.
ESET's parental control system is buried in the settings. To find it, click Setup and then click Security Tools. After you enable it, you'll see a list of available Windows accounts. To complete the configuration, you identify each account as belonging to a parent or to a child, and enter a birthdate for the child accounts.
Based on each child's age, ESET configures which of its three dozen content categories it should block. If you dig in to fine-tune the choices, you'll see each category marked as Everyone, 12+, 18+, or Restricted. Note that even for parent accounts, it blocks the Criminal Activities and Malicious categories by default. The fact that only three categories are visible at a time makes fine-tuning a chore.
In testing, the content filter worked well. It's browser-independent, and it didn't cave to the simple three-word network command that takes out the occasional poorly coded filter. I couldn't find any nasty sites that slipp past it. When blocking a site, ESET displays a simple warning in the browser, very like what it displays for a phishing or malicious site. There's no fancy option to let the child ask parental permission like you get with Symantec Norton Family Premier and a few others.
ESET handles filtering HTTPS sites a bit differently. It can't swap in the blocking page, so the browser just displays an error message, while a popup notification explains what happened.
Back in the main ESET application, parents can view a list of all blocked websites, with the date/time stamp, the account involved, and the category. It's better than Quick Heal, which lists the events but forces you to open an item if you want to see the URL involved. Kaspersky, Norton, BullGuard Internet Security, and quite a few others list all sites visited; ESET sticks to blocked sites.
That's it. That's the extent of parental control in this suite. You won't find fancy features like IM contact management, social networking analysis, or rating-based game control. You won't even find management of the child's time on the Internet, or on the computer. It's very basic, but what there is does work.
The standalone antivirus has significant built-in email protection. It scans incoming POP3 and IMAP email for malware, as well as outgoing SMTP email. Including IMAP is good; not all products do. Trend Micro Internet Security filters Exchange accounts, where ESET doesn't, but it doesn't handle IMAP. McAfee extends its reach by filtering webmail accounts. ESET can integrate with Outlook, Outlook Express / Windows Mail, or Windows Live Mail for additional control. When it detects a malicious attachment, it removes it and adds the name of the malware to the subject line. The suite extends this existing protection to also filter out spam.
To configure the spam filter, click Setup, click Internet Protection, click the gear next to Antispam protection, and click Configure. There's not a lot to do here. You can enable the advanced antispam scan, which promises better accuracy. I assume it's off by default because it slows down the process. You can choose a subject-line marker other than [SPAM], or enable spam score logging. Really, though, there's little to change.
By default, the spam filter imports your contacts list into the whitelist of never-blocked addresses. It also adds addresses from your outgoing messages, and from messages that you reclassify as not spam. You can also manually manage the whitelist and blacklist.
In this modern world, most of us don't need a local spam filter, because our webmail provider or ISP slams the spam before it ever reaches us. If you're one of the few who still needs a spam filter right on your PC, ESET's no-fuss spam filter does the job.
From time to time we've reported on incidents of webcam spying, a rather unsettling prospect. You could tape over your webcam when not using it, but if you need it for things like video meetings, taping and untaping it could get tedious.
ESET's Webcam Protection is an extension of Device Control, with a bit less complexity. You can set it to block all use of the webcam, then disable protection when you want to Skype with your friends. If you're up for a little configuration work, you can set it to block or allow access by specific programs, or notify you and ask permission before letting a program peek through. My test systems are virtual machines, without webcams, so I couldn't see this feature in action. But for those who do use a PC with a webcam, it looks quite handy.
The bad old days of security software that ensured protection but sucked up all your CPU cycles are long gone. Virtually all modern suites have a light touch on system resources and performance. Even so, there's a range, from almost no impact to just short of noticeable. ESET falls somewhere better than the middle of that range.
My boot time test script reboots the system and then watches until it detects 10 seconds in a row with no more than five percent CPU usage. I figure at that point the system is ready to use. Subtracting the time the boot process started yields the total boot time. I average multiple runs on a system with no security suite, then install the suite and again average multiple runs. In this test, ESET increased the boot time by 11 percent, which is a better than average result.
If you're like most people, you reboot no more than once per day, but you're constantly loading, saving, and organizing files. To test the impact of a suite's antimalware vigilance on file system operations, I use a script that moves and copies a monster collection of various-sized files between drives. As with the boot time test, I average multiple runs, install the suite, average multiple runs again, and check the difference. The script took 20 percent longer to run with ESET in place, which also is better than the average for this test. As for the third script, the one that zips and unzips that same file collection repeatedly, ESET had no measurable impact.
As noted, ESET Internet Security is a new member of the ESET collection, so I can't compare its performance testing results with the previous version. However, it looks good in comparison with last year's ESET Smart Security, which displayed a significant drag in all three of my performance tests. The average of the current product's impact scores is 11 percent; last year's product averaged 39 percent, putting it at the very bottom.
I didn't notice any drag on performance while testing ESET. Even so, a few apps have turned in more impressive scores on this test. Webroot didn't exhibit any performance drag at all, and Norton averaged just 5 percent.
While antivirus is the star of this show, some other components deserve attention. Webcam protection is an unusual feature, banking protection secures your online transactions, and the router scan helps secure your home network. However, the firewall component failed some basic tests, parental control is just content filtering, and the antiphishing score seriously dipped since last year.
When you choose a security suite, you want one that has all top-notch components, no losers. That's why Bitdefender Internet Security and Kaspersky Internet Security are our Editors' Choice products in the entry-level suite category.
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.