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Bitdefender 2020

TechRadar logo TechRadar 30/01/2020 Mike Williams
a screenshot of a cell phone: Bitdefender 2020 © Provided by TechRadar Bitdefender 2020

Bitdefender 2020 is the Romanian firm's latest power-packed family of top-of-the-range antivirus and security suites.

The consumer range starts with Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition, a simple Windows tool which focuses very much on the core security basics: antivirus, blocking of phishing and other scam sites, and that's about it.

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is the first-tier commercial product, and as you might guess from the name, it's crammed with useful security and privacy extras: an additional layer of ransomware protection, Wi-Fi security scanning to detect network problems, banking protection via a secure browser, secure file deletion, a vulnerability scanner and a password manager.

You even get the free version of Bitdefender VPN, although as that limits you to 200MB traffic a day, it's only going to be suitable for the lightest of users. (But it could be worse – the unregistered version of Avira's Phantom VPN restricts you to 500MB a month.)

New in Bitdefender 2020 is a Windows and Mac Anti-tracker browsing extension to detect and block a wide range of web trackers, maintaining your privacy and possibly improving page load times.

Pricing is fair, with a 50% introductory discount getting you a three-device, one-year license for $30 ($60 on renewal), and savings can be made when you add more devices and years.

NOTE: Bitdefender is currently running a massive 60% discount on Antivirus Plus (or click here for a 50% discount if you're in Australia). That means the price comes down to just $23.99 (around £18) or AU$35 for the year for three devices!

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Bitdefender Internet Security extends the package with a firewall, spam filter and parental controls. Webcam protection enables blocking unauthorized access to your webcam, and a new microphone monitor shows you which apps are accessing your microphone. $40 gets you a three-device, one-year license, rising to $80 on renewal.

At the top of the range, Bitdefender Total Security adds device clean-up and optimization tools, and introduces apps to cover Mac, Android and iOS devices, as well as Windows. That's a major bonus, and it's only marginally more expensive than Internet Security, at $45 for the first year ($90 on renewal) to cover up to five devices.

Some of these headline prices can look high, especially when there's no introductory discount, but they're generally good value in the long-term. Kaspersky Anti-Virus costs a low $120 to protect 5 devices for the first three years, for instance, but renews at $240. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus covers the same hardware for $150 from the beginning (even covering 10 devices costs only $180).

If you're not yet convinced, no problem: every product has a 30-day trial build available. There are no credit card details required, just register with your email address and you can check out Bitdefender's abilities for yourself.

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Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2020

Installing Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2020 is quick, simple and largely automatic. We pointed, we clicked, and within a couple of minutes a reassuring 'Bitdefender is successfully installed' message told us it was time to get started.

Browsing our system, we found the installer had added Bitdefender's Anti-Tracker extension to Google Chrome, and Bitdefender Anti-Tracker and Wallet to Firefox. (Anti-Tracker also works in Internet Explorer and Safari, but there's no support for Opera or Edge).

Bitdefender had equipped our test system with plenty of new background processes, services, drivers and assorted other low-level clutter, too. That's not unusual for an antivirus, but it can be a problem if it affects performance.

PassMark's Consumer Security Products Performance Benchmarks 2020 Edition 2 report measured the PC performance impact of 15 top internet security products over 23 metrics. It's just as thorough a test as it sounds, and the results weren't good for Bitdefender, with the company ranking a next-to-bottom 14th place (Norton, Kaspersky and ESET came top).

Other tests are more generous. AV-Test's Windows Home User report for December 2019 placed Bitdefender in the middle of the pack, while AV-Comparatives' October 2019 Performance report ranked it 7th out of 16.

Our own checks showed mid-range results; it slowed down booting more than Trend Micro Antivirus, for instance, but boot times were more consistent than Avast. Overall, we suspect you won't have any significant performance issues, but keep that poor PassMark score in mind anyway, and test the trial build carefully before you buy.

There was better news with our self-protection results, where we test security apps to see if malware can disable them. We tried closing processes, stopping services, unloading drivers, tweaking settings, and generally doing our best to break the package, but Bitdefender Antivirus Plus shrugged off our attacks and carried on as normal.

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Interface

Launching Bitdefender Antivirus Plus for the first time fires up a simple tour highlighting key areas of the interface and explaining what they do. Experienced users will probably figure this out on their own, but it's good to have this guidance available for those who need it.

Bitdefender's nicely designed dashboard gives you speedy access to the functions you'll need most often, with Quick Scans and the VPN just one click away.

A left-hand sidebar organizes Bitdefender's other tools into Protection, Privacy and Utilities areas, and tapping any of these lists the various functions they contain. Most of these are sensibly named, and if you've ever used another antivirus you'll quickly find your way around, but tooltips are on hand if you need a hint.

If the standard dashboard layout doesn't quite suit your needs, you can customize it to remove default features or add new ones. Not interested in the VPN, maybe? In a click or two you could replace it with links to the full system scan, the password manager, disk clean-up module or a host of other tools. If only everyone was this flexible.

Overall, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus offers a polished and professional interface which delivers in just about every area. It's easy and comfortable to use for beginners, but also offers the configurability and control that experts need.

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Antivirus

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2020 supports several scan modes. Quick Scan checks the most commonly infected areas, and System Scan examines everything. Furthermore, File Explorer integration enables scanning objects from Explorer's right-click menu, and there's a bootable rescue environment to assist in cleaning the most stubborn threats.

A Manage Scans tool lets you create new scan types to check specific files and folders, as well as configuring how the scan works, and setting it up to run on a schedule, or on-demand only. This works well enough, although it doesn't begin to provide the expert-level options that we've seen from vendors like Avast and Avira. Unfortunately, you can't pin your custom scan type to the main dashboard, either, so it's always at least three clicks away.

Bitdefender's antivirus settings can't match the geek-level configurability of some of the competition, either, but they're well-judged and focus on the functions you're more likely to need.

You don't get intimidating and overly technical options to scan RAR archives to a nested depth of 4, but not scan TARs, for instance – there's just the usual 'scan archives, yes or no?' setting.

But in an unusual touch, you're able to control whether Bitdefender scans incoming and outgoing emails, incoming only, outgoing only, or ignores emails entirely. That may well prove pretty useful.

Default scanning speeds are decent, with Quick Scans taking around 15-30 seconds on our test computer. Regular scans started a little slowly at 25 minutes to check 50GB of files, but this dropped to under six minutes on the second run, and by the third run the scan time was just 67 seconds.

The scanning engine is smart enough to handle simultaneous scans without difficulty, too. If you're running a lengthy full system scan, for instance, you can still run an on-demand scan of a recent download, or anything else you like. A window pops up to display the results of your second scan, while the first scan continues to run in the background.

The total sum of this is a polished set of malware-hunting tools which go well beyond the basics, but remain easy to use for not-so-technical types. Experts might wish there were a few more fine-tuning options, but in general Bitdefender gets the configurability balance right.

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Protection

Bitdefender has a great name for protection, and its products regularly top the charts with most of the big independent testing labs.

AV-Comparatives' July to October 2019 Real-World Protection report showed Bitdefender performing very well. The engine blocked 99.7% of threats (that's 701 out of 703, to put it in perspective), placing it fifth out of 16 for overall protection rate, just behind Avira, Symantec, Trend Micro, and VIPRE.

AV-Test's Windows 10 tests for December 2019 highlighted even better detection results, with Bitdefender blocking 100% of test threats.

No individual reviewer can hope to compete with the testing labs for thoroughness, but we were keen to confirm their verdicts by seeing how Bitdefender Antivirus Plus handled a couple of ransomware threats.

The first, a real-world ransomware specimen, was eliminated almost immediately, with Bitdefender killing the process before it could cause any harm.

The second was a custom ransomware simulator of our own. It's about as simple a malware sample as you could get, but it's also something Bitdefender would never have seen before, allowing us to evaluate how Antivirus Plus performs when presented with brand new threats.

We ran our test software, and in just a fraction of a second, Bitdefender's engine cut in and displayed an alert. Not only had it detected and killed our test process, but it successfully restored the handful of files our software had managed to encrypt (just five).

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We had some small issues with threat handling. Our simulator executable wasn't quarantined or even blocked from running, for instance. We were able to run it multiple times, and when we manually scanned it later, Bitdefender marked the simulator as 'clean.'

The company told us that threats are removed only if they're detected by the signature layer. Ours was picked up by the behavior layer, which will kill an offending process, but not try to remove it.

Other antivirus software can go further, for example taking steps to prevent a dangerous executable from running again, and on balance that's the approach we prefer. But this isn't a major deal, as Bitdefender's gentler approach doesn't seem to have any practical effect on system security, as although we were able to repeatedly run the same threat, Bitdefender blocked it each time.

That's a major improvement on many competitors, which either miss the simulator entirely or aren't able to stop it destroying at least some files. On balance, we think Bitdefender provides very capable and effective all-round ransomware protection.

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Blocking malicious sites

Bitdefender's capable web protection module monitors your internet access and blocks malicious and phishing links. AV-Comparatives' 2019 Anti-Phishing Certification Test showed Bitdefender blocking 98% of dangerous links, putting it top in a field of six.

To get some confirmation of this, we pitted Bitdefender against 233 brand new suspect URLs (malicious and phishing) provided by independent security testing company MRG Effitas. These were so new – many reported only hours ago – that they hadn't all even been verified yet, making them a real challenge to block.

The results were very positive, though, with Bitdefender blocking 65% of our test links. For comparison, Avast Premium Security stopped 49% of the same set of links, while Windows Defender managed 30%.

Don't be distracted by the low percentages: this is a measure of how quickly a vendor responds to new threats, not your overall protection against any dangerous links. The main takeaway point from this test is Bitdefender was giving us significantly better protection than others against even the very latest malicious sites.

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When you reach a legitimate site, the new Anti-Tracker feature should detect and block the most intrusive web trackers. Its Chrome extension wasn't turned on by default on our test system, but we successfully enabled it in a couple of clicks from Bitdefender's settings.

Pointing our browser at the newspaper site dailymail.co.uk, the extension reported a chunky 25 trackers in three categories: Advertising (20), Site Analytics (4) and Social Media (1). You can browse these, allow blockers in some categories if you like, or whitelist particular sites, but we suspect most users will just leave the extension to do its work.

If you've installed one of the big ad blockers then you're probably protected from at least some of this, anyway. UBlock Origin blocked an amazing 73% of dailymail.co.uk requests all on its own, for instance. But Anti-Tracker still reported blocking a further 12 trackers, suggesting there are real benefits to running ad blockers and Bitdefender Anti-Tracker side-by-side.

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Password manager

Wallet is Bitdefender's password manager. Along with regular website logins, it's able to store credit card details, wireless network passwords, application logins and license keys, email server credentials and details, and assorted personal information (name, date of birth, address, email, phone number(s), and more). Wallet is able to create multiple password databases and sync them across all your Bitdefender-equipped devices.

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus automatically installed the Wallet extension on Internet Explorer and Firefox, and gave us the option to install it on Chrome, but paid no attention at all to Edge or Opera.

We found Wallet wasn't as easy to use as top competitors like Dashlane: it didn't add icons to text fields, didn't always capture username and password fields as we entered them, sometimes failed to fill in forms correctly, and couldn't automatically submit forms. However, it just about handled the basics, and is a worthwhile addition to the package.

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Online banking protection

Safepay is a secure and isolated browser which protects online banking and other transactions from snoopers – or maybe even malware which has somehow installed itself on your system.

Many other security vendors also claim to have similar secure browsers, but Bitdefender goes further than most. Safepay makes real efforts to isolate itself from other processes on your PC, running on a separate desktop and preventing screen grabbers and keyloggers from recording what you're doing.

This is a highlight of the suite and worked exactly as advertised for us, successfully defending against the aforementioned dangers – and once it was closed, it didn't leave any trace of our activities.

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More features

A Vulnerability Scan checks your system for application updates and critical Windows patches, as well as weak Windows account passwords and simple Wi-Fi network issues. It's a basic tool but still picked up a minor Firefox update and a Windows patch which had been released since Windows Update checked a few hours earlier, so it may be worth running occasionally.

The Vulnerability section also includes a Wi-Fi Security Advisor, which listed our wireless networks, told us more about them (encryption type, authentication type, password strength) and gave a security verdict on each (secure, or unsafe).

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2020 has a lot of settings. Most of these are best left alone (you can tell the package not to update itself automatically, for instance, although we wouldn't recommend it), but they reveal a few small hidden features. If you'd like to keep an eye on your device security status, for instance, you can optionally have this permanently displayed via a desktop widget.

The highlight is probably Bitdefender's Profile system, which enables customizing the suite's behavior to match what you're doing, perhaps limiting background activity when you're running on battery power, or boosting protection settings when you connect to an unsafe public Wi-Fi network. This works well out of the box, but you can also customize each profile to improve security, save more power or otherwise work according to your priorities.

Final verdict

This is a superb all-round antivirus tool which does a great job of keeping even brand new, undiscovered threats at bay. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2020 is an absolute must for your PC security shortlist.

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Bitdefender Internet Security 2020

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2020 has way more functionality than most antivirus apps, but it's still missing some key security suite features. And that's where Bitdefender Internet Security 2020 comes in, adding essentials like a firewall, spam filter and parental controls.

A privacy layer protects you from webcam hijacking by stopping unauthorized apps from accessing your webcam, and the new microphone monitor identifies all the apps using the microphone.

As we mentioned at the outset, pricing is reasonable at $40 for a three-device, one-year license, just $10 more than Bitdefender Antivirus Plus alone. That's probably worth the upgrade if you'll use any two Internet Security features, although keep in mind that this is just the introductory price: it'll double to $80 on renewal.

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Firewall

Bitdefender's firewall works exactly as you would hope, automatically blocking incoming attacks, intelligently deciding which apps are safe to allow online, and which apps really, really aren't. Most people can leave the firewall to do its work, never seeing any prompts, or having to tweak a single setting.

But if you're more experienced in the ways of networks, you can take plenty of low-level control, drilling down to the rule level and tweaking settings for protocols, ports, IP addresses and more.

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Spam filter

Internet Security comes with a simple spam filter, which in theory should have automatically added a tab to our Outlook setup. This didn't happen for us, and digging deeper, we found an Outlook alert reporting that 'Bitdefender Antispam... caused Outlook to crash. As a result, it was disabled.'

Enabling it manually, we found the filter has only a bare minimum of features, little more than Outlook's own junk filter (blacklists and whitelists, Is Spam and Not Spam options to mark misidentified emails, simple blocking of messages with Asian or Cyrillic characters).

This lack of control doesn't seem to affect functionality, though, with our brief tests suggesting the filter blocks more than 90% of junk mails, while falsely flagging less than 1% of legitimate emails as spam. This was only a very quick check, but it suggests that Bitdefender's filter matches the best of the specialist antispam competition.

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Parental controls

Bitdefender's Parental Controls feature has a reasonable set of features for monitoring and controlling your child's digital activities. You're able to block websites by content, restrict application use, block device usage for specified periods (like bedtime) or set a daily limit of screen time which includes both mobile and desktop devices. Android apps enable monitoring who your child contacts by calls and messages, and you can optionally block calls without caller ID.

We don't often pay a lot of attention to app review scores from users, but being rated at 2.1 out of 5 on the Play store, Bitdefender Parental Control's Android offering seems like it might have some problems. We haven't carried out a definitive review and so can't tell you whether the score is fair, or not, but if you're interested in the app, we'd recommend you test it carefully first.

If the baseline app works for you, upgrading to Bitdefender Parental Control Premium gets you several more powerful features, including the intelligent detection of cyber-bullying, aggressiveness and grooming, as well as requests for addresses, phone numbers and other information.

You can upgrade to Parental Control Premium from within Internet Security and Total Security 2020 for $49.99. Alternatively, buy both at the same time and you'll save $5.

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Webcam and microphone protection

A Webcam Protection module gives you control over which applications can access your webcam. This has more options than usual, with settings to block access to all but your chosen applications, block browsers only, or disable the webcam for everything. We tested this with our custom command line capture tool, and Internet Security correctly notified us that it was trying to access the webcam, and blocked it when requested.

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The new Microphone Monitor takes a more basic approach, raising alerts for apps which access the microphone, but not allowing you to block them, or set up rules to block all future microphone access.

This clearly isn't as useful as it could be, but it's vastly better than most competitors, who typically have no microphone-related features at all. We're happy to see it added to the package, and hopefully it'll gain features in upcoming releases.

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Bitdefender Total Security 2020

The top-of-the-range Bitdefender Total Security 2020 introduces a familiar set of PC maintenance tools, including modules to highlight large files, remove disk-hogging junk and optimize the boot process.

Total Security's clean-up options are basic, with CCleaner finding 50% more junk files on our test PC. It's a similar story with the Startup Optimizer, where Bitdefender gives you options to enable, disable or delay when individual apps boot, but CCleaner also offers expert-level control over services, scheduled tasks and more.

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The real benefit of upgrading to Bitdefender Total Security 2020 is you get apps for Android, Mac and iOS devices, as well as PCs. And although the new apps can't match the power of the Windows edition, they're are well worth having.

The Mac app looks out for malware and adware and includes Time Machine protection to keep your backups safe from ransomware. Top quality anti-phishing blocks access to malicious links, and the 200MB a day version of Bitdefender VPN is thrown in.

Bitdefender Mobile Security for iOS is mostly about detecting malicious websites, but it does this well, and that alone could save you from real problems. As a bonus, an account privacy tool raises an alert if your web accounts are involved in a privacy breach.

Bitdefender Mobile Security for Android includes everything you get in the Mac and iOS builds, and adds on-installation scanning for dangerous apps, an app locker to prevent others accessing your personal data, and anti-theft to remotely locate, lock or wipe a missing device.

You can get a lot of this functionality elsewhere for free – there's no shortage of app locker or anti-theft apps, for instance – but as we discussed earlier, Bitdefender's malicious URL blocking easily outperforms most of the competition. That feature alone might justify the install.

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If you're still in doubt, check the prices. A baseline Bitdefender Internet Security 2020 license protects up to three PCs for $40 in year one, $80 on renewal. Upgrading to Bitdefender Total Security 2020 protects up to five devices, which could be any mix of Windows, Mac, Android or iOS, but only costs from $45 in year one, $90 on renewal.

Covering up to 10 devices still only costs $50 in year one, $100 on renewal, and you can save more money by adding years to the license.

There may be better deals around, depending on the features you need. Avira Prime is priced similarly to Bitdefender Total Security, for instance, and although it doesn't have as many security tools, you do get unlimited access to Avira's Phantom VPN, a very valuable extra.

If you're looking purely at antivirus and security, though, Bitdefender Total Security 2020 is an impressive package which is crammed with valuable features and functionality. If you're looking for a new all-platform antivirus, it's a must-see.

  • Want to compare Bitdefender to its rivals? Check out our best antivirus guide
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