Editors’ Note: We are aware of the allegations of Kaspersky Lab’s inappropriate ties to the Russian government. Until we see some actual proof of these allegations, we will treat them as unproven, and continue to recommend Kaspersky’s security products as long as their performance continues to merit our endorsement.
When you’re looking to purchase antivirus software, how do you know which is best? One help for your search comes from the independent antivirus testing labs, which evaluate and rate dozens of antivirus solutions. On that basis, Kaspersky Anti-Virus is a winner; it earned the top or nearly top score in every test by every lab that we follow and aced our antiphishing test. The core antivirus is the same excellent protection as what you get with Kaspersky’s free product, but the paid edition includes a useful vulnerability scan and full access to tech support. Kaspersky Anti-Virus retains its Editors’ Choice award.
You pay $59.99 per year for a three-license Kaspersky subscription, discounted to $29.99 for new customers. That’s pretty good. Bitdefender, Webroot, and ZoneAlarm, among others, charge $39.99 for a single license. On the other hand, F-Secure gives you three licenses for $39.99. Symantec Norton AntiVirus Plus costs $59.99 too, but that gets you just one license. With McAfee, that same subscription price lets you install protection on every Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS device in your household.
Kaspersky’s main window appears unchanged since my last review, with the same slightly textured white background and plenty of whitespace. There’s a status panel at the top, a More Tools button at the bottom, and button-panels for Scan, Database Update, Reports, and On-Screen Keyboard.
The purpose of the On-Screen Keyboard is to protect your entry of sensitive information against any keylogger, even a hardware keylogger. By default it includes a number pad and arrow keys, but you can shrink those away if you don’t need them.
Interestingly, the interface for Kaspersky’s free antivirus is not based on that of the premium edition, reviewed here. Rather, the free product is a free version of Kaspersky Internet Security, with premium features marked as requiring upgrade. I ran all my hands-on tests simultaneously with this product and the free edition and got identical results.
Shared With Free Edition
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free includes the behavior-based System Watcher component, along with all the antivirus protection you get in the premium antivirus. I’ll summarize those shared features here, and you can get more information by perusing my review of the free product.
The four independent testing labs I follow all include Kaspersky in their regular test reports. Kaspersky earned the highest possible score in all but one test by every one of the labs; the exception was just one notch below the top. Bitdefender also got one near-perfect score and the rest perfect. Both scored 9.9 of 10 possible points overall for lab tests.
Kaspersky didn’t fare as well in my hands-on malware protection test, but when results don’t jibe, I defer to the labs and their dozens of researchers. At 8.7 of 10 available points, Kaspersky’s score is OK. The best score against my current malware collection is 9.7 points, scored by Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus. Tested with my previous sample collection, Norton also scored 9.7.
One way to fend off malware attacks is to make sure the malicious software never reaches your computer. In my malicious URL blocking test, Kaspersky prevented the browser from even visiting over 80 percent of the dangerous URLs, and wiped out a few malware downloads that got past the URL filter. Kaspersky’s score of 89 percent is good, but almost a dozen competitors have done better. Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security made a near-perfect 99 percent, while Sophos and McAfee exhibited 97 percent protection.
Phishing websites don’t host malware; they just trick users into giving away their login credentials. Kaspersky proved extremely effective, using heuristic detection to foil frauds too new to be blacklisted. With 100 percent protection, Kaspersky beat out the built-in protection in Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer, and tied with McAfee AntiVirus Plus for the top score in this test. Bitdefender and Trend Micro came very close, with 99 percent protection.
The System Watcher component aims to detect malicious activity, including ransomware activity, in processes missed by the main real-time antivirus. To test this feature, I disabled real-time protection and launched a collection of real-world ransomware samples.
A couple samples took no action, perhaps because they detected Kaspersky. System Watcher caught all the other file-encrypting ransomware samples, and also nabbed the uncommon disk-encrypting Petya ransomware. One screen-locker sample did manage to lock up my test system, but pressing Kaspersky’s lock-breaker key combination defeated it. You can type this configurable key combination (by default it’s Ctrl+Alt+Shift+F4) to spur Kaspersky to act even when your PC’s interface is locked, as it was here.
The free product includes access to Kaspersky’s Rescue Disk, a full blown ISO image that you burn to a CD or DVD. When you boot from the rescue disk’s alternate operating system, Windows-based malware has no power to resist. It’s worth noting that Bitdefender Antivirus Plus makes the process a lot easier. You just select Rescue Mode and reboot. There’s no disk to burn or USB to prepare.
Kaspersky Secure Connection
All programs in the current Kaspersky product line come with a bandwidth-capped copy of Kaspersky Secure Connection VPN. You can use 200MB of secured connectivity per day on each device, and the VPN chooses the server you’ll use. For $4.99 per month you can upgrade to the premium edition, which removes the bandwidth cap and lets you choose the country you want to use for your connection. Please read our review of the VPN for full details.
Bitdefender’s product line offers a very similar VPN arrangement, with 200MB and no server choice for free, or unlimited bandwidth and choice of servers for a premium. It’s no surprise that the two are similar, since both are backed by the server network of AnchorFree Hotspot Shield Elite. We have dinged Hotspot Shield in past reviews for some iffy privacy policies. Both Bitdefender and Kaspersky put severe limits on the user info they share with AnchorFree.
People write software. People aren’t perfect. Ergo, software isn’t perfect. Malware coders look for ways to exploit vulnerable code in popular programs. Once an exploit comes out, the program’s designers work feverishly to patch it. And if you ignore the patches, you’re hosed.
Kaspersky’s vulnerability scanner, notably absent from the free product, looks for missing security patches in the operating system and in browsers and other popular programs. On my test system, after a lengthy scan it found eight OS vulnerabilities and two in applications. I am disappointed that the output is a simple, static list of applications. The software updater that comes with Avira Total Security Suite not only finds available updates, it installs them automatically. The same is true of Avast Premier. Note, though, that these two are the top tier suites in their respective product lines—lesser products don’t include automation.
The list of operating system vulnerabilities didn’t include any missing Windows updates, which makes sense because I keep my test systems fully updated. What it did show was a list of settings that make for poor security. Several involving Autorun showed the status “Strongly recommended to fix” or “Recommended to fix.” A few others, mostly involving data stored in Internet Explorer, received the status “Not necessary to fix.” When I selected all the items and clicked Fix, Kaspersky did the job in a flash. If for some reason you don’t like the effect of the fix, you can view fixed items and roll back any that don’t suit you.
The free product includes a scan that overlaps this one, to some extent. Called Microsoft Windows Troubleshooting, it finished in a flash and reported some of the same Autorun problems.
Browser Configuration Check
This scan very specifically diagnoses problems with Internet Explorer (beyond the fact that you’re using IE). Once you’ve used it, a second option becomes available to roll back any changes you made.
After a very quick scan I saw some results, in a kind of tree format, all under the heading Problems That Can Be Fixed. Consulting the help system, I learned that one might see headings for problems recommended or strongly recommended to be fixed. Note that this same scan appears in the free product.
As you surf the web and use your computer, you accumulate a trail of activity traces. A snoop could learn a lot by examining your browser history, cookies, recent file lists, and so on. If that possibility worries you, the Privacy Cleaner component, also present in the free antivirus, can help.
At the start, this component does warn that its cleanup could cause some inconvenience. For example, clearing out cookies can wipe out your saved settings for websites that use them. On my test system, the scan finished in a flash and listed dozens of activity traces. As with the browser check, it divided them into strongly recommended actions, recommended actions, and available actions, with all items in the first two categories checked off.
The recommended actions included clearing cookies, history, and temp files for Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Opera. Firefox is present on the system, but didn’t appear in the list. It also suggested clearing the temp folder, and wiping the cache and temp files used by Flash Player. Cleanup went quickly. On completion, it pointed out the option to roll back changes, which could be handy.
Microsoft Windows Troubleshooting
In years past, I’ve seen Kaspersky offer to run the Microsoft Windows Troubleshooting wizard after malware cleanup. That didn’t happen this time around, but you can run the troubleshooter at will to check for any malware-created damage.
This scan follows the pattern of offering strongly recommended, recommended, and available fixes. On my test system, its advice duplicated the Autorun-related items from the Vulnerability Scan. I’m thinking that Kaspersky should merge all these overlapping scans into one.
Kaspersky Anti-Virus gets the very highest scores in all the tests from all the labs that we follow, and it comes with a feature-limited version of Kaspersky’s VPN. The core antivirus technology is the same as what’s in Kaspersky Security Cloud Free, but the paid edition includes scanning for vulnerabilities and the ability to get direct tech support by phone or live chat. Still, the free edition is looking pretty good.
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus scores just as high as Kaspersky with the labs, and it packs enough useful bonus security features to almost qualify as a suite. Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus uses behavioral detection along with a journal-and-rollback system that can reverse malware damage. And while McAfee AntiVirus Plus doesn’t score quite as high, it lets you protect every device in your household. From the dozens of available antivirus products, we’ve picked these three, along with Kaspersky Anti-Virus, as Editors’ Choice antivirus tools.