BitDefender Total Security's strong, but not strong enough

Depending on your security requirements, BitDefender Total Security 2011's massive selection of features and options will either float it to the top or weigh it down, but there's no doubt that mixed testing results make it a hard sell when compared agains

The bottom line:

Depending on your security requirements, BitDefender Total Security 2011's massive selection of features and options will either float it to the top or weigh it down, but there's no doubt that mixed testing results make it a hard sell when compared against better-performing competitors.

Review: BitDefender Total Security 2011 provides users with a convincing argument when looking for an alternative to its better-known competitors. It's a strong program, with all the major tools that users expect.

Installation:

BitDefender's installation will aggressively detect other security programs you have installed. It does gives users the chance, though, to leave them installed. BitDefender might not function entirely properly, but the choice does remain in the user's hands. Many other security programs will not install at all unless competing programs have been removed.

BitDefender also differs from many competitors by offering users a detailed and highly customizable installation experience. You can choose to run the basic setup, which is recommended for users who are uninterested in fiddling with various security components, or run the customizable option which allows for deeper control over which features land on your system.

You can choose from one of three interfaces that BitDefender offers: Basic, Intermediate, and Expert. These can be switched easily and at will once the program is running, although the users who would opt for one of the more complicated, advanced options would be able to switch to Intermediate or Expert on their own. The extra step could be eliminated.

You can opt out of the cloud-based virus scan that the program runs as part of the installation. There's no doubt that it's important to clean out any threats as soon as possible, but our experience with the scan was that it took nearly 4.5 minutes to complete during each of three separate installations. For users with older computers or low-resources, or unprepared to take a coffee break, this could be a frustrating start to the suite.

Users will then encounter numerous choices about how to configure the installation. Even if you're an advanced user, our recommendation is to choose the Basic interface to speed up the installation process, then go adjust settings and choose the Advanced interface later. After the installation is complete, BitDefender will open a Web site in your default browser asking you to rate the installation experience. Although the desire for user feedback is understandable, we're not sure that this is the best way to go about eliciting it. In all, this is not a low-input installation and requires more babysitting than we'd like to see.

At the end of the installation, users can schedule regular antivirus scans. Uninstallation was a fast and painless process, and the program even allows users to choose whether to reactivate Windows Defender and Windows firewall. A few Reigstry entries were left behind, though.

Interface:

Users will either love or hate BitDefender's new tripartite approach to its interface. Users get a drastically different way to manage and interact with the program's settings, depending on whether they want to use the Basic, Intermediate, or Expert views. This can be helpful for streamlining the interface to suit a particular user's needs, but can also make it far more confusing than necessary to access deeper features by creating multiple paths to get to the same spot.

The views can be toggled from the Options menu near the minimize and close buttons in the upper right corner. Hot key combos for switching between them would've been useful to have. The Basic View offers a large, colored security status indicator on the left, and equally large buttons to the right of it for accessing Security, Tune Up, and My Tools. Clicking each one opens a drop-down menu of choices, including the ability to customize the list of visible extras.

We found the Basic view to be restrictive. Accessing features not shown by default in the drop-downs on the main page required several steps. You can choose More Options and add the feature to the list, or switch views to one of the other interface designs. While the search bar is exceptionally useful for quickly locating help articles, it doesn't offer fast jumps to features.

The Intermediate View sits adds several levels of complexity to the Basic interface. Here, more options are called out in the main UI, with top-level tabs and a row of configurable tools below it for quick access to your most commonly-used features. Confused? Don't worry, we were, too. The Intermediate interface just doesn't make much sense, with an uncomfortable balance struck between shortcut icons and text links.

The Advanced View is much more usable than the intermediate view, and the one that should appeal to anybody who wants even slightly more than just "set-it-and-forget-it" control. The column of 14 tabs on the left makes it easy to find the security category you're looking for, while a row of tabs on top changes to keep each category's options organized.

Our advice for BitDefender users is to pick either the Basic or the Advanced interface and stick with it. If you choose the Basic view, you'll probably have to customize it at least slightly unless you loathe looking at your security settings. While it's important to give users a lot of features, especially in the premium version of a suite, users generally aren't crying for more than one interface. Keeping it simple and organized would be more appreciated than having such radically different designs.

Features and Support:

As the premium suite from BitDefender, Total Security 2011 gives users a competitive selection of tools and options. Along with antivirus and anti-malware detection and removal engines, the suite has phishing protection, a spam guard, chat encryption, multiple scan levels, firewall, parental controls, system performance optimizer, file encryption, and online backup.

BitDefender improved Total Security 2011's scanning technology by moving most of the scan to the cloud. This follows the trend of most major security suites, where behavioral detection has proven to be more effective at stopping threats than the traditional virus definition files (VDF). However, traditional VDF is still a component in how BitDefender protects you. The reputation engine in BitDefender doesn't fully ignore file that it's identified as safe. Based on a geometric progression algorithm that looks at when the file was last accessed, BitDefender will occasionally look at safe files to ensure that they haven't been turned into sleeper agents.

In addition to the changes made to its antivirus and anti-malware engine, other improvements in BitDefender 2011 focused on the premium features. Home Network Management, the tool that allows you to control your network's security from one dashboard, will autodetect other computers with BitDefender installed and add them to the network for you. The Search Advisor is also new to BitDefender this year. It warns you not only when you're attempt to access risky Web sites, but will also tell you when a previously safe Web site, such as your bank's, has been rendered unsafe by third-party code injections.

The Vulnerability scan is extremely useful, despite the somewhat generalized name. What it does is analyze which programs you've installed that have unpatched vulnerabilities. This includes software like Adobe Flash Player, which has a reputation for being slow to issue security updates. In separate checks, BitDefender looks at your Windows patches and installed programs. It also checks your system password to let you know if it's strong enough. It noticed 36 Windows 7 language packs were "missing" from our test computer, which is both good and bad. It scans deep enough to find the noncritical updates and mark them as such, but also doesn't know the difference between a language pack and other noncritical but important updates.

Parental controls have been enhanced in BitDefender 2011. Parents can now monitor a child's computer activity remotely, including programs used, instant messaging activity, and Web sites visited. BitDefender still has some controls reserved for the Web site, which can be slightly annoying for users looking for a unified dashboard.

The scan scheduler has been tweaked so that it recognizes when it will affect system performance during inopportune times, like when watching a movie or playing a game. But BitDefender will also prevent itself from hogging resources when other resource-intensive tasks are under way, not just media ones.

There's also a new Smart Tips feature that lets you know when you're missing out on essential security or performance tasks. For example, it will notify users when a recently created file hasn't been backed up.

BitDefender is polite about its firewall, and will ask you when you install if you want to keep the default Windows firewall active. It lacks the aggressive "intelligence" found in several free and paid firewalls, though, and so users shouldn't be surprised if they encounter firewall pop-ups for new programs.

One area where BitDefender definitely shines is its in-program support. Video tutorials are included with the program, and when it launches, it offers to play them to help get you started. The aforementioned search bar in the Basic interface sits in the center of the interface, and search results open in a new window, making it easy to use the Help tool without interfering with ongoing tasks.

The customer support number is buried in the BitDefender Web site, as is the link to the live chat support. Access from the program's interface would be useful, especially if the Internet connection isn't working. Sadly, burying the support number is nothing new in the security suite business.

Performance:

BitDefender Total Security 2011 shares the same detection engine as its less feature-laden siblings, BitDefender Internet Security 2011 and BitDefender AntiVirus Pro 2011, so all are discussed here.

BitDefender's not the best-known name in security, but name recognition doesn't equal efficacy. In a real-world test, BitDefender completed its initial scan during installation in 4 minutes, 23 seconds. During two subsequent uninstalls and reinstalls, that installation scan consistently took more than four minutes. After the installation scan, the suite averaged Quick scan completion in 1 minute, 17 seconds, over three runs. The Deep scan averaged 54 minutes, 12 seconds over three installs, although take note that BitDefender's estimated times for scan completion were wildly off-base from the actual amount of time it took. In general, on a real-world computer, BitDefender's Quick scans tended to be a bit slower, while its Deep scans were often faster by 5 to 10 minutes.

CNET Labs' benchmarks found that BitDefender had fast but not stunning scan times, with Total Security 2011 scoring 775 seconds, AntiVirus Pro 2011 hitting 791 seconds, and Internet Security 2011 completing in 798 seconds. The suites' impact on boot time was about the same, with Total Security and AntiVirus Pro adding about 5 seconds to the boot cycle, while Internet Security added an average of 7 seconds. The impact on shutdown time was more impressive, with each version of the suite slowing down the computer shutdown by between 2 seconds and 2.5 seconds.

Also in our tests, BitDefender was found to have a more substantial impact on Microsoft Office performance, an average impact on iTunes decoding and media multitasking performance. All three versions did well in our Cinebench test, with BitDefender Internet Security 2011 tying with both Norton 2011 suites and Trend Micro Titanium AntiVirus+ 2011 for the best Cinebench score at the time of writing.

Security Program Boot time Shutdown time Scan time MS Office performance iTunes decoding Media multitasking Cinebench
Unprotected system 42.5 11.28 n/a 917 180 780 4795
BitDefender AntiVirus Pro 2011 47.69 13.28 791 1038 199 825 4766
BitDefender Internet Security 2011 49 13.4 798 1039 201 848 4780
BitDefender Total Security 2011 47.84 13.82 775 1032 200 825 4769

*All tests measures in seconds, except for Cinebench. On the Cinebench test, the higher number is better.

While CNET's performance impact benchmarks of BitDefender 2011 showed the suites to be pretty decent about system resource impact, independent threat detection and removal tests indicate that BitDefender has a long way to go. Dennis Technology Labs, a member of the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organisation (AMTSO), found in August 2010 that BitDefender Internet Security 2010 earned an overall protection score of 78 percent (PDF) fourth from the bottom of the list of 12 programs tested. In the accuracy test, BitDefender defended against 29 threats, neutralized two, and was compromised by nine threats. Each was worth two points, for a final score of 42 out of 80. (Defended means that the threat was unable to breach the system. Neutralized means that the threat breached the system but was subsequently removed, and compromised means that the threat was able to breach and infect the system.)

In the AV-Test.org test on Windows 7 from the second quarter of 2010, BitDefender Internet Security 2010 scored 14 out of 18, with a 4.5 out of 6 rating in Protection, a 4.0 out of 6 rating in Repair, and a 5.5 out of 6 rating in Usability. This score was lower than multiple competitors, including Norton, Kaspersky, AVG, and Panda, although AV-Test.org did award certification to BitDefender.

The most recent AV-Comparatives.org tests showed a stronger finish for BitDefender 2010 than other tests. In the On-Demand Detection test from August 2010, BitDefender AntiVirus Pro 2010 earned the highest rating of Advanced+, tied with nine competitors. This means that BitDefender scored well in all tested categories: 99.3 percent in detection, few false positives, and an average scanning speed. In the Retrospective/Proactive test from May 2010, BitDefender AntiVirus Pro 2010 scored similarly, with very few false alarms. AV-Comparatives.org considers the 50 percent detection rate good, although it was tied at sixth of 20 products tested.

It's worth noting that there's some debate as to how useful the Retrospective/Proactive test is in a world where virus definition files become outdated hourly.

It's fair to conclude that according to third-party tests, BitDefender is effective, but it's not the most effective and has plenty of room for improvement.

Conclusion

BitDefender Total Security 2011 has a great range of features, and capably handles itself against the competition in that regard. However strong the benefits that come with BitDefender are, though, they're not worth its average level of effectiveness and love-it-or-hate-it interface.

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