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Bitdefender Total Security Review
Technology should make our lives easier
• Includes protection for Windows, Mac OS & Android devices.
• Excellent scores in the latest independent lab tests.
• Powerful ransomware protection.
• No fuss Autopilot for silent security.
• Powerful parental controls.
• No backup facilities that traditionally come with total security software suites.
• No tooltips to help explain each feature.
This is an excellent security package that offers a staggering range of protection features for all your digital devices. The anti-virus achieves top marks in the industry lab tests, firewall unobtrusive yet effective and the parental controls are intuitive and powerful. There are huge number of other features including disk cleanup, password management, ransomware protection, Wi-Fi adviser - the list goes on and on.
Total Security is Bitdefender's most comprehensive security suite available in it's latest range. This years solution takes it's reputation for comprehension to a new level by offering protection for your Windows PC, Mac OS and Android smartphone. The standard license allows you to use it on up to five different devices, but you can upgrade to ten devices if you wish.
Your devices are now all managed from the "Central" web portal. Bitdefender definitely appear to be putting more and of their services online in recent years - "Parental controls" for example can now only be managed online. Within the "Central" web portal you can see which devices you have enabled, manage parental controls, view your subscriptions and get hold of help and advice. If you click on a device you can see it's status and it will notify you if there are any issues to deal with. You can also run scans on the devices remotely, which is a nice feature but not you are likely to use that often.
I next installed the Windows version of Bitdefender on my test laptop (with Microsoft Windows 10 installed) using the "Install Bitdefender" button in the devices area. The installation process took a number of minutes while it downloaded both the software and latest malware signatures. Aswell as installing the main program it installs a number of components including browser extensions and a browser partition. No reboot was needed after the installation.
Like previous versions of Bitdefenders this years user interface is slick and on trend with that flat looking design Windows have thrust us - seriously thought it looks nice on the eye. However newly this year is a left hand navigation to the different sections that make up the software. The sections are logically grouped and never really struggled to find anything while using the software. I've always liked the way that Bitdefender has modularised its features and allowed you to individually switch on/off. This is particularly useful if one of them appears to have a negative effect on your computers performance.
In the top right hand corner of the home screen is the "Autopilot" feature that lets Bitdefender handle everything for you. It's designed for users who don't want to be constantly notified of any issues, updates or messages. Instead Autopilot makes those decisions for you, working silently in the background. So for example if it detects an known network or discovers malware it will deal with the issue itself.
I next headed to the "Settings" section at the bottom of the menu. There is "Paranoid mode" within the general settings which appears to turn off autopilot if enabled. I still can't quite understand why its any different to turning off autopilot, I can only assume it proves more notifications on what Bitdefender is doing. There is an option to on the security widget which has appeared in recent years. There are a set of profiles that optimize the performance of the software based on your current activity. There are work, movie and game profiles. For example the work profile adjusts settings to enhance email protection, while the Movie and Game profile removes interruptions and background tasks.
The anti-virus module offers the standard quick, system and manage scans. A quick scan took less than half a minute, while a full system scan took just over one hour. The good news is that upon future scans it will mark the files and ignore files that have not been accessed since the last scan making system scan speeds much quicker. Manage scans allows you to customize your own scan while also allowing you to schedule quick and full scans. I was struggling at first to figure out how I could scan a single file/folder, but you can do so by dragging and dropping the file/folder on the security widget. You can also right hand click on the file/folder to initiate a scan.
Included is a "Rescue mode" - a secure and isolated environment outside of Windows, that allows you to scan for malware on drive partitions should you not be able to start Windows. It's something I have never had to use, but I can see it could be very handy should you not be able to startup Windows.
"Active Threat Control" is essentially Bitdefender's heuristic malware detection technology. It monitors applications and processes as they are run and then uses it's heuristic scanning engine to look for suspicious behavior. This does sound somewhat performance heavy, however there is the option to whitelist known processes so that they can be excluded. You can set the level of detection to Aggressive, Normal or Permissive. "Aggressive" is likely to show a high number of alerts and false positive rates, whereas "Permissive" will show a decrease.
The latest malware signatures are downloaded every hour, but they are triggered sporadically so that you won't experience any performance slowdown. You can always adjust and turn off the automatic updates in the settings area. For Windows 10 users there is a somewhat mysterious new option available called "Antimalware Scan Service". After a bit of digging around, I discovered that this is Microsoft's new API that allows other Windows applications to utilize Bitdefender's anti-malware service.
Bitdefender's USB immunizer looks out for USB storage devices trying to attach themselves and disables any autorun-related malware before asking you if you'd like to scan the contents for any threats.
In terms of general performance, the only time I noticed a significant slow down was during a full system scan where the CPU was maxed out for long periods.
You can whitelist your friends email address and blacklist spammers. You also have the option to block emails written in Asian and Cyrillic characters.I use Mozilla Thunderbird as my email client. I am using the "Bitdefender Antispam Toolbar 7.0" extension (remember to enable it, unlike myself). This will appear as a toolbar with a settings option, whitelist and blacklist email addresses. Simple, but effective spam monitoring. I couldn't really test this feature as the spam filter provided by the ISP is very good.
Vulnerability Scan - There is a vulnerability scanner that looks for any missing Windows updates, old versions of software or plugins that contain security vulnerabilities, weak passwords and Wi-Fi issues.
Wi-Fi Security Advisor - New to this years release of Total Security is "Wi-Fi Security Advisor". Internet access via a Wi-Fi network has become an integral part of our digital lives and if your like me it can sometimes be the sole reason to visit a cafe. However many of us aren't aware of the potential security risk of using such networks. "Wi-Fi Security Advisor" checks any shared network that you might be connected to and analyses its security credentials. It will look for unprotected networks and weak passwords. If it discovers a vulnerability it will immediately involve fraud and phishing protection (if disabled) and turn on SSL scans and Active Threat Control.
Bitdefender's firewall module is fairly low key if you have autopilot enabled. Behind the scenes it will automatically configure network permissions for known programs and adds unknown programs, but will continue to monitor it's behavior for any irregularities. If you have autopilot disabled, it will form you and request confirmation before adding a new network. The firewall did actually block access to my LAN connected printer, however I was able to overcome this problem by heading to Firewall > Adapters tab and setting the network type to Home/Office.
I ran severals tests on my computers ports using a well known vulnerability scanner and it was able to fended off any attempted port scans. The attempted port scans were then subsequently reported as blocked in the events log.
Search advisor - The search advisor provides a traffic light warning system against search engine results. A green tick means its safe to click on a link, amber proceed with caution and red cross means don't click on that link. I've always liked the search advisor feature and was initially disappointed to see it removed. Then I noticed that it still appeared. It worked in Firefox, just not Google Chrome. I then had a good look around the online Bitdefender forums which are very handy and discovered there was a conflict within Google Chrome stopping the feature from working. I then used the recommended fix and it worked instantly.
The world of internet security threats continues to evolve and they're is no greater threat than ransomware at this point in time. If you are not too familiar ransomware it's malware that intercepts and controls part of a computer through a number of means and demands for money its release back to the user. Recently times saw the introduction of the ransomware protection module. The module protects files and folders from being compromised. It will select the usual personal folders such as your Documents and Pictures folders, but you can also choose to select your own. While I am a huge fan of the module, there is still no better way to protect yourself against ransomware than regularly backing up your data.
Ransomware protection feature is switched off by default, so one the first things to do is switch it on.
File encryption - "File Vaults" as Bitdefender calls it enables you to encrypt your sensitive files and folders in a single location. You can create as many as you like. For each file vault you need to specify the name, location for where you want the vault to be stored, vault size (in MegaBytes) and secure password. In the future you can add and remove as many files as you wish as long as it doesn't exceed your specified vault size.
SafePay - is a virtual web browser with a separate and secure environment. It's designed for online shopping and banking activities to provide another level of protection against phishing and man-in-the-browser type attacks. SafePay is based on Chromium which is the base for Google Chrome. It's benefit is that it can still use many of the inbuilt security features. SafePay also comes with a virtual keyboard to help prevent keylogging activities.
Password Manager - Bitdefender Wallet comes available as an extension in Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge. Wallet (while sounding financial related) is essentially a simple password manager. There is no two factor authentication. You can sync the wallet against other devices with Bitdefender installed.
Parental advisor - Parental controls are now all managed online. You begin by creating a profile for each child. It's pretty simple, you simply start by adding their profile name, gender and date of birth. You can also add a picture if you wish. You then have a number of different protection features available to you. Under the tab "Interests" you can see a list of 50 different genres such as games, entertainment and online dating that Bitdefender can provide protection for. A set of genres are selected by default but you can select/de-select as many as you feel appropriate for you child. You can also white or blacklist any website URLs they attempt to visit.
The protection for Android devices is impressive. You can see a list of all your childs contacts and limit their interaction if needed. For example you block text messaging. There was one really neat feature included in last years version that they have chosen to remove - the ability to block specific keywords.
There are two features specifically for children with Android devices. The "Friends" tab shows list of the contacts on the mobile phone. You can then select any contact and apply either call or text message restrictions. The "Places" tab is very interesting feature. You are asked to select different areas on a map that you can designate as either safe or restricted.
Once you have configured your child's settings you then select which devices you want to pair your childs profile with. This means that the restrictions can apply to both their PC and smartphone.
One feature that is quiet difficult to find (and would be great to see added to the main navigation) is the time restrictions tools. You can set how much time your child can spend on each device.
OneClick Optimizer - The one click optimizer looks for temporary files, cache, recycle bin items and web browser data including the cache. It then removes it from your computer to free up hard drive space. During tests, it removed over 100 MB of unused data from my computer.
StartUp Optimizer - This is a nice addition to the tools section this year. It calculates how long it takes for your computer to bootup and then determines how much of that time is allocated to your system and how much is allocated to startup programs. It then shows you a list of all the programs and how long they take to load, with the biggest offenders listed at the top. You can then choose whether you want to delay or disable the item. With slow startup times being one of the most common PC annoyances it's a useful tool.
Anti-theft - One of the most powerful tools (therefore tread carefully), is the ability to locate, lock or wipe any Windows or Android device. The device will take a photo whenever someone incorrectly enters the pin number and the photo is sent to your email account.
Disk Cleanup - Identifies files and folders that you do not use anymore. Once it has identified those files it will give you a breakdown of the items it has found. You can select any data that you want to remove by dragging it to the lower window panel. Then you can permanently delete the data to free up drive space.
Bitdefender has consistently achieved high scores in the independent lab tests. In my opinion the most thorough of all such tests are the AV TEST and AV Comparatives.
To install Total Security for Android devices, you will need to visit the Google Play Store. Once installed you'll notice the user interface is slick and highly intuitive with all the sections logically grouped and displayed in an easy to use left hand navigation. Once you've accepted all of the requests to allow Bitdefender to read SMS messages, view incoming calls and access all data (which all stills very intrusive, but necessary for the key features to work) you can get to work.
The malware scanner is quick, very quick which is good to see. This almost certainly down to Bitdefenders use of cloud based scanning. In the recent AV-TEST for "best antivirus software for Android" Bitdefender scored a maximum points in both protection and usability in September 2020.
The privacy advisor lists all of the apps on your phone. It automatically scans apps for malware as soon as they are added. If you try to download an app containing malware it will alert you immediately.
Web security highlights phishing websites, detecting threats with it's cloud based scans.
It is at this point, I start to realize that the mobile app is far more sophisticated than I had expected. The anti-theft features are particularly impressive. If you fail to enter the pincode to device on three occasions it will take a photo using the camera. If you lose or have your phone stolen at any time, you can use the wipe command to remotely wipe all the data on the phone.
App Lock allows you to add a pincode to specific mobile apps. There are plans to soon add finger print recognition to the App Lock.
With smartphone battery drainage being a somewhat every day annoyance, it was impressive to see that this app had very like impact on its usage. I've had the app on my Google Nexus for a few weeks now and I haven't seen any noticeable change.
The Mac version for Total Security is nowhere near as comprehensive as the Windows version, although this is fairly typical for Mac security suites. Your essentially getting a basic anti-virus suite that gives you the ability to run quick and system scans (like the Windows Anti-Virus module) and to schedule those scans. You also have web protection including the anti-ransomware technology. Auto pilot also makes its way to the Mac version.
Help & support
Bitdefender's technical support has always been a somewhat confusing and dis-jointed experience. This year it appears to follow that trend again.
The Support section for the Windows version looks like it was the last thing considered in the development process, judging by the lack luster design. The first option is to view the Product Documentation which takes you to an online resource containing a search box and sections for you to browse such as "Troubleshooting", "How To" and "Contact Us" (again). The articles are well written, but appear in last years design. But then heading back to the Support section there is a small link beneath that says "Find help online". This link takes you to a support area within the website with random articles about the product such as "My device is not showing up in Bitdefender Central".
Then there is an option to contact support directly by sending them a message. It's well ordered and organised, but it didn't provide me with a receipt of my query. So when I hadn't received a response several days later, I wasn't sure that they had received it. They did eventually get in touch, but they point I had figured out the issue myself.
So far the experience seemed somewhat confusing and disappointing, particularly as I had been so impressed with the product. I then headed to the Central web portal to see if the support there was any better. Under "Support" there are five random recommended articles and that's it - nothing else. But then I noticed a blue speech bubble in the left hand corner which was barely noticeable. It's a very basic, unstyled live chat with a customer support representative. The response I received to my query was excellent and I have used it several times since with equally helpful responses. It's such a shame it isn't made clear for all customers. If you are some skeptical (like me), you'll probably think they purposely keep it hidden, but if you can find it make sure that you use it.
Another hidden gem are the Bitdefender forums, which have always been excellent. Bitdefender employees can be seen visibly updating queries regularly. Again I couldn't see any links to let people know they existed.
A quick tidy up and centralization of the support articles, with clearer links to the live chat and forums would make a big difference to the quality of support that users receive.
There is plenty to really like about Bitdefender Total Security. It's protection for Microsoft Windows, Mac OS and Android devices is ambitious, yet secure and comprehensive. The protection modules including the anti-virus, anti-spam, web protection, ransomware protection and firewall are all first rate with the independent lab backing that claim up by continuing to award Bitdefender top marks in it's tests. Add on the privacy and optimization features with parental controls, anti-theft, password manager, file encryption plus more - it's loaded with genuinely useful goodies. Bitdefender Total Security is the center piece of Bitdefender 's security series and easily deserves our Best Buy Award for 2021.
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