Bitdefender 2013: Excellent security for your bits and bytes

Bitdefender 2013 provides top-notch security and solid features, although it's a bit heavy-handed on your system performance.

The bottom line: Bitdefender Total Security 2013 remains one of the best high-end security suites around. This update gives you a fully isolated Web browser for secure financial transactions.

Review:
Bitdefender Total Security 2013 presents a convincing alternative to its better-known competitors. It's a strong program, with all the major tools that users expect, and some additional useful tricks in its arsenal. When it comes to efficacy, Bitdefender isn't the best in every area, but it's definitely competitive.

Editors' note: Portions of this review are based on CNET's review of Bitdefender Total Security 2012.

Installation
Bitdefender continues to offer a highly customizable installation experience, but it's no longer the default. Now, installation will pause in the middle so you can register, and then zip along. It finished in around 2 minutes, which the company says is half the time the 2011 version takes. At the end of the installation, the program notifies you that it has completed a preliminary virus scan to ensure that it wasn't installing on an infected machine.

In previous years, we have had problems with Bitdefender aborting its installation when it detected even trace remnants of other security programs. That was not the case this year, but it's still something to be cautious about. If you encounter problems, use an uninstaller tool like Revo Uninstaller to keep program detritus from causing conflicts.

Uninstallation was a fast and painless process, and the program even allows you to choose whether to reactivate Windows Defender and Windows Firewall. A few registry entries were left behind, though.

Interface
While the previous two years have seen big changes in Bitdefender's interface, this year the company appears to have decided it likes the 2012 suite design. The changes in 2013 are minimal. You'll see a continuation of last year's modularity and "dark" theme. A big notification status ring at the top of the interface warns you of your security status, with green for secure, yellow for problems that "require attention," and red for immediate security issues. Generally, we think that in the world of complex security threats, a simplified, two-status system of red and green works better than one with an intermediate status. Nevertheless, this year's interface is definitely easier to use than last year's.

Next to the colored status ring are links to Events, Settings, and AutoPilot. Events takes you to a log of recent security events, and it cleverly uses a Facebook-style red-circle notification pop-up to tell you when something has happened requiring attention.

By clicking the arrow to the right of the main four tools or clicking the row of gray dots, you can scroll through a variety of features and click and drag to reorder them. Leaving them in their default locations will suit most users, however. Antivirus, Firewall, Antispam, and Update are the first four that you'll see; they have a unified look, each with an icon at the top and manage or update toggles at the bottom. This has been tweaked here and there, but is essentially identical to last year.

The Settings window is remarkably easy to use, with tabs that repeat the options presented in the main window. Each tab on the left reveals related tabs on top when you click on it, such as Advanced settings under General, or Quarantine under Antivirus. Sliders make it easy to toggle settings, so you can quickly change the antivirus scan, for example, from Aggressive to Normal to Permissive.

This is an interface that doesn't get in the way of you access its features. The modularity is a bit atypical, but the accessible layout lets you keep your favorite features at hand.

Features and support
The Safepay browser is the keystone new feature in this year's edition. The browser takes existing sandboxing technology and closes off the rest of your operating system as it creates a safe space for you to browse the Web. The focus here is on virtualization, not speed or features.

You can set it to launch when you open a specific bookmark, or jump directly into it. It offers a virtual keyboard and Wi-Fi hot-spot protection, as well.

There's new remote control for managing virus definitions, adding social network protection, and accessing your secure cloud storage. Parental controls have been beefed up, the Safebox cloud storage now allows file sharing, the interface is more customizable, and a new antitheft option lets you track the whereabouts of a missing device or laptop.

Total Security 2013 selection of tools and options remains competitive. Along with antivirus and anti-malware detection and removal engines, the suite has phishing protection, a spam guard, chat encryption, multiple scan levels, a firewall, parental controls, a system performance optimizer, file encryption, and online backup.

While most but not all of Bitdefender's scanning has been moved to the cloud, traditional, locally based virus definition scans are still a component of how the suite protects you. The reputation engine in Bitdefender doesn't fully ignore files that it's identified as safe. Based on a geometric progression algorithm that looks at when a file was last accessed, Bitdefender will occasionally look at safe files to ensure that they haven't been turned into sleeper agents. The virus detection engine looks at processes while they are running, while Bitdefender's own processes live in the kernel to make it more difficult for threats to circumvent the suite. In turn, this reduces the suite's impact on system resources.

The AutoPilot system that sets most notifications to silent, automatically deals with most threats encountered, and basically ensures that your security is running but not bothering you. Similar to Bitdefender's competitors' "silent" or "gaming" modes, it's on by default, so you could conceivably install Bitdefender and never look at it again. The toggle for it sits at the top right of the main interface, so people who want more control over their security can easily deactivate it. Bitdefender 2013 also has a gaming mode that only silences notifications.

A browser-independent module protects you across all five major browsers by scanning Web traffic before it reaches the browser. Meanwhile, a vulnerability scanner will check your computer for outdated programs, drivers, and patches, and recommend solutions.

The Bitdefender Safego tool has been integrated into the suite, too. It performs link scanning for Facebook, with plans to include Twitter support soon. On Facebook, it will scan your news and wall feeds. It's also available free to all Facebook users, and the company's Android app remains free to all as well.

Rescue mode can be extremely useful, too. If threats like rootkits can't be removed easily, the computer is rebooted into rescue mode. Bitdefender's rescue mode differs from its competitors' because it creates an encrypted, self-contained Linux OS file on your PC that the rescue mode boots into. It also adds Linux as an option to your boot BIOS.

The Safebox feature, which automatically backs up your files to a remote server when changes have been detected, syncs and now shares files across multiple computers running Bitdefender. Safebox comes with 2GB of free storage, the same as most of Bitdefender's competitors.

Reduced last year, tech support remains more anemic in Bitdefender than it used to be. Sadly, that's nothing new in the security suite business.

Performance
Bitdefender Total Security 2013 shares the same detection engine as its less feature-laden siblings, Bitdefender Internet Security 2013 and Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2013, so all three are discussed here.

Bitdefender isn't the biggest name in security, but name recognition doesn't equal efficacy. In a real-world test, Bitdefender completed its initial scan during installation in 3 minutes, 5 seconds. During two subsequent uninstalls and reinstalls, the installation scan consistently took around three and a half minutes. After the installation scan, the suite averaged Quick-scan completion in 2 minutes, 12 seconds, over three runs, about the same as last year.

The Deep scan averaged 1 hour, 25 minutes, 24 seconds over three installs, about 10 minutes faster than last year's real-world scan time average. Basically, real-world scan performance of Bitdefender 2013 is about the same as Bitdefender 2012.

CNET Labs tests on a Windows 7 x64 computer running Service Pack 1. After publishing this review, we discovered a hardware error on our test computer that affected our published system benchmarks. CNET Labs' revised benchmarks found all three Bitdefender suites to have performed about the same as before: good performance, but with room to improve.

Across the board, all three Bitdefender 2013 suites added at least 13 seconds to boot -- right on average for this year's security suites. However, on shutdown impact they were all much slower than average. Scan times were unimpressive, slower than most but not the slowest.

Our other tests of MS Office performance and iTunes decoding performance also showed little movement in either direction, and Bitdefender was generally slower on Media multitasking but faster on Cinebench.

While the suites had too big of an impact on shutdown times for our tastes, their overall impact on in-use system performance paints a picture of security suites that won't leave deep scars across your daily activities.

Security program Boot time Shutdown time Wake from sleep Scan time MS Office performance iTunes decoding Media multitasking Cinebench
Unprotected system 47.5 7.8 11.5 n/a 412 124 344 17,116
Average of all tested systems (to date) 59.2 11.8 12.1 920 414 125 345 17,147
Bitdefender Anti Virus 2013 68.1 14.4 12.7 1,227 410 125 350 17,066
Bitdefender Internet Security 2013 64.6 15.6 7.2 1,305 419 124 350 17,327
Bitdefender Total Security 2013 59.2 13.3 11.8 1,347 410 123 347 17,401

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

Although independent testing agencies AV-Test.org and AV-Comparatives.org have yet to release scores for Bitdefender 2013, they marked consistently high scores for Bitdefender 2012 during 2011 and 2012 thus far. The suites remain among of the toughest out there and are an excellent choice for security efficacy.

In October 2012, Bitdefender Internet Security 2013 scored some of the best marks possible by AV-Test.org, with a cumulative 17 out of 18, and a perfect score on Protection. During the same period, AV-Comparatives scored Bitdefender at 100 percent protection, and at 99.7 percent protection from January 2012 through October. Basically, system impact aside, this suite is highly effective at protecting you.

Conclusions
Bitdefender costs slightly less than some competitors such as Norton and Kaspersky. Antivirus Plus retails for $39.95, Internet Security runs $49.95, and Total Security lands at $69.95, so if you're inclined to pay for your computer security, these are a fairly decent value.

Bitdefender Total Security 2013 has a great and competitive range of features. It could have better system benchmarks, but the security it offers is top-notch. Throw all that together, keeping in mind the seamless AutoPilot system, the locked-down, sandboxed browser for financial transactions, and decent mobile support and you've got a top-notch suite that's looking to stay on top.

It's too early in the security suite season to say whether Bitdefender Total Security 2013 will earn an Editors' Choice award, as the 2012 version did, but if the competition doesn't step up its game, there's little doubt it's going to be on the shortlist.

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