Four-way Security Shootout

Who has the best security software, Bitdefender, AVG, Kaspersky or Emsisoft? Roland Waddilove picks a winner and reveals how to get bargain prices.

There are many security companies and dozens of products all aiming to make your PC safer when browsing the web, fetching email and running downloading software. Choosing the right product can be a difficult decision, partly because there are so many to choose from. It can help to narrow down the choice, and there are many ways to do this. Here we take a look at the security software offered by four companies and see how they compare. An arbitrary selection perhaps, but they are among the best known and most popular, so they will be on most people’s shortlist.

Four-way Security Shootout

Should you choose free security software? Many people do, but is this the best option? What do you get if you pay for your antivirus program or internet security suite? Free and paid software is examined. One thing that came out of this comparison is that the prices people pay vary greatly, with special offers coming and going from week to week. Fantastic offers of 50% discounts are available if you know the trick to getting them, and the secret is revealed here.

Free Software

A large number of people choose to use free security software on their PC, which is for two reasons. The first is the obvious one: it doesn’t cost anything, so there’s a significant saving to be made. The other reason is that people believe free anti-virus provides all the protection you need. It may not. A best it provides base level security and the bare minimum that any PC connected to the internet should have.

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A free program does not provide as much protection as a full security suite, but having said that, it may be sufficient for experienced users who know how to avoid the most obvious dangers. One of the most basic free anti-virus tools is Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition. In fact, they don’t come much more basic.

The program interface is minimal, and a small window opens in the bottom-right corner of the screen. It cannot be moved, and it has just a few simple features and functions. There are two on/off buttons, one for the Virus Shield and another for Auto Scan.

Virus Shield is The real-time protection, and Auto Scan runs quick, and full scans whenever the program thinks it’s necessary. You can initiate a full scan, but there isn’t an option to run a quick scan. In fact, there are few options to do anything. You just install it and forget it.

AVG (avg.com) is probably the best-known supplier of free anti-virus software, and lots of people use it to protect their PC. It’s not hard to see why, and unlike Bitdefender’s free protection, AVG’s software has an excellent range of features and comprehensive configuration options. It has real-time protection, and in addition to this you can set up scheduled scans to run automatically every day, week or month. There are on-demand scans by right-clicking files or folders and the program priority can be set, so you can finish scans as fast as possible or run them slowly in the background while you use your computer.

AVG checks for rootkits and even offers quick and full scans. It can report PUPs (potentially unwanted programs), which is useful because many people suffer from irritating toolbars, pop-up adware and other unwanted items that are not viruses and so are normally ignored by anti-virus software. AVG checks web links to ensure that sites you visit are safe, and it has identity protection. Both incoming and outgoing email can be scanned.

Purely on features, AVG’s free anti-virus is miles ahead of Bitdefender. Kaspersky does have a free download, but this only scans for malware. It does not remove it, and there’s no real-time protection. Emsisoft does not provide free-virus protection.

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Cheap Security Software

Security software is often available at discounted prices, and special offers are common. They’re sometimes time-limited, so it’s not possible to know whether offers on at the time of writing will still be available by the time you read this. However, it’s the time of year where offers are common, so there’s a good chance that you can match the prices quoted here.

Kaspersky’s cheapest software is Anti-Virus 2015 priced for one PC for one year or for three PCs. Kaspersky does not look cheap at first sight, but you need to know the tricks for gening big discounts. Download and install the free trial from the website, and as soon as you run it, you will be offered a 50% discount. That is a bargain basement price, and it makes you look at the software in a whole new way.

The interface has a minimalist design that tells you only that the computer is protected and provides a few basic buttons and links. Some people may like this, but it means you have to work harder to get to the things you want. For example, you have to click through buttons or menus to access disk scans, a list of recent events, scheduled scans, what security features are on and off. and so on There is no reason why the interface could not be a lot more informative and useful.

The Scan button provides access to four different types of scan, full, quick, custom and removable drives, and there’s a scan Task Manager that shows running scans and provides links to access reports. The Custom Scan function enables you to drag and drop files and folders from Explorer onto the program window, which is useful.

There are a lot of useful options in the settings, and again the interface is kept very simple, but click the links and headings and you can customize the features. For example, there’s File Anti-Virus, Instant Messaging Anti-Virus, Mail Anti-Virus, Web Anti-Virus and System Watcher. The security level can be low, medium or high, there are exclusions and trusted applications and much more.

Right-click a file in Explorer, and in addition to the usual option to scan it that all anti-virus programs have, you can also check the reputation and access Kaspersky Application Advisor. This is crowd-sourced cloud information that tells you how many other people have the file, what percentage think it is safe or unsafe, and even which parts of the world it is commonly found in. It’s an excellent feature for identifying obscure programs that you’re unsure about.

Discounts may be available of course, but even so, AVG AntiVirus Free is so good that you might not think that the paid version is worth the small number of extra features you get – a file shredder for securely deleting files, a data safe for storing passwords and a couple of other items. If you are an AVG fan, skip this version and choose one of the more comprehensive, although higher priced packages.

Anti-Malware is Emsisoft’s cheapest security package. The home screen has lots of useful information, buttons, links and menus, which enable you to see the status and access functions more easily. There are four main sections in Anti-Malware, and the first is Protection. This has four subsections that show information about the protection status and provide configuration options. For example. File Guard has fast, balanced and thorough security settings, it checks for PUPs, and it can send an email if malware is detected. Emails alerts are useful if you’re responsible for other people’s computers, such as those in an office or at home.

The Scan section enables you to perform quick, smart and custom scans. Most anti-virus programs have an option to set the program priority to speed it up or reduce CPU and disk usage, but Anti-Malware goes further, and you can choose the processor cores and number of threads.

Anti-Malware did something unusual: after updating the virus definitions one day, it displayed a notification to say that previously quarantined files were rescanned, and a couple were found to be false positives. They were automatically restored, which is a great feature.

Security software includes anti-tampering measures to prevent it shutting it down, but Anti-Malware is unusual in that it shows a captcha, which is a useful security measure. Administrator and user accounts can be created and features limited for nonadmins, so users can be locked out of the settings or prevented from turning off protection. Emsisoft Anti-Malware has a good program interface and some unusual features.

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, but download page offers two years for the price of one. Enter your email address during installation and you receive a 50% price discount. Undercutting Kaspersky’s offer by a couple of pence.

BitDefender has a minimalist interface, although it does have more buttons than Kaspersky. For example, you can start a scan, update the virus definitions, access Safepay or optimize the system. The usual quick and full scans are available, and in the settings there’s a choice of three malware detection settings, permissive, normal and aggressive. Custom and scheduled scan jobs can be created, and there are useful settings such as the program priority to make it run faster or use fewer resources.

A Emsisoft Anti-Malware has a good range of features – and some unusual ones too.

Bitdefender Antivirus 2015 has all the anti-virus features you would expect, and it’s the extras that set it apart from other security utilities. For example, there’s a vulnerability scan, which checks for Windows updates and other key updates that might affect the security of the PC. Safepay is a secure web browser that can be used whenever you access online banking and shopping websites, and Wallet stores personal information, passwords and login information.

A number of PC tune-up tools are included, such as OneClick Optimiser, Startup Optimiser, PC Clean-Up, Registry Cleaner and Duplicate Finder. It means you don’t have to find and buy a separate tune-up utility, but some stand-alone tune-up tools offer more than you get here. Some people will like the tools bundle, but others will ignore it and source them elsewhere.

The low price of Bitdefender Antivirus 2015, if you can get the discount I did, and the extras that are included make it the best budget anti-virus software.

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Premium Software

Each of the four companies offer more than just basic anti-virus protection, and there are more expensive and more comprehensive security solutions. For example, Bitdefender has Internet Security 2015 and Total Security 2015. In addition to everything in Antivirus 2015, Internet Security offers a two-way firewall, parental controls and doud anti-spam.

Windows Firewall is good at blocking incoming hacker attacks, but it does not prevent information from being sent by spyware or adware. Outgoing connections are allowed, and it’s hard to configure it to block them. This means that to really lock down your computer you need a third-party firewall. Internet Security provides this. Total Security, which was being offered at 50% discount at the time of writing, also adds online storage, antitheft measures and file encryption.

Emsisoft Internet Security which is just more than Anti-Malware. However, the only notable extra feature is a firewall. It’s an essential component, and it doesn’t cost much, but discounts from rivals are better.

There are quite significant differences between Kaspersky Anti-Virus, Internet Security and Pure, the top-of-the-range package. Internet Security costs and adds not just a firewall, but also Safe Money (safer online transactions). Application Control, secure and virtual keyboards, and parental controls. Bizarrely, Pure, which does everything in Internet Security and a lot more besides, is a pound cheaper because it has a 30% discount. It adds anti-spam for email, anti-banner to block website adverts, gamer mode, a password manager and sync, file encryption and shredding, and PC clean-up tools. It’s a bargain at the current price and it makes Emsisoft Internet Security look lightweight in comparison.

AVG Antivirus is too much like the free product to be worth considering, but Internet Security adds more features and is better. It needs a good discount offer to make it worth it, as it only adds anti-spam and a firewall to Antivirus.

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Security Performance

A nice program interface and lots of features may be easy on the eye and enable you to perform many tasks, but at the end of the day it’s the security performance that is the most important. This overrides everything else, and to see how good each package is you can visit AV-Comparatives. AV-Test and Virus Bulletin. These are independent anti-virus testers that have large collections of virus samples. You can see the latest AV-Comparatives test results at chart.av-comparatives.org/chart1.php, v-test.org/en/anti-virus/home-windows and virusbtn.com.

All the virus testing companies agree that Bitdefender’s protection is excellent and is superior to the other three. Results vary slightly, but AV-Comparatives and AV-Test both rate AVG as the worst of the four, which is worth bearing in mind if you use AVG Free. It isn’t that bad, though, and it blocked 97.8% of real-world web threats and 98.4% of file threats in one test The difference between the best and the worst products here is really just a percentage point or two. After sorting the AV-Test results by protection, the result is very similar, with Bitdefender on top, Kaspersky a close second and AVG at the bottom.

AVG does better at Virus Bulletin, though, and has achieved respectable results.

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Conclusion

Bitdefender has consistently had excellent protection results and has been among the top security companies for a long time.

If you value protection above all else, then choose one of the Bitdefender products. Discounts are common, and it’s easy to pick up a bargain.

Kaspersky, Emsisoft and AVG all have solid security products that provide good, if not quite the best protection. If you check out the security performance tests, which look at many more than the four companies covered here, you will see that there are worse products than these, and the differences in protection are small. Kaspersky’s discounts are excellent and it’s best after Bitdefender.

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