For 19 years, Bitdefender has occupied a leading position within the antivirus industry. It was founded in Romania in 2001, and quickly rose to prominence thanks to a high-quality antivirus product, and the range of bonuses it includes with the software.
Despite being decades younger than competitors like McAfee and Norton, Bitdefender boasts similarly impressive statistics, claiming to protect over 500 million systems worldwide in over 150 countries.
Another selling point of Bitdefender is its workforce, 1,600 strong with over half of these being engineering or research staff. This perhaps explains its constant innovation in antivirus and computer protection, and why it is reportedly used in over 38% of global cybersecurity solutions.
However, industry prestige is not the central concern for the average consumer. The important question is, as always: How well does it protect my system for its price?
There’s a lot of close competition in this sector, and I am interested in seeing how well the 2020 offering from Bitdefender fares.
I aim to find out several things about Bitdefender here, including:
- How much do the programs affect computer performance?
- How effective are the products in stopping malware when compared to other industry leaders?
- Can it be easily installed and used?
- Of all the many plans offered by Bitdefender, which is the best for the average consumer?
I considered all of these factors, and more besides, when looking at Bitdefender to find out if it is worth the cost of entry.
Before we get into the main review, here’s a short summary of the pros and cons I found when investigating the antivirus software.
- Very low system impact when running intensive scans
- Consistent high efficacy at blocking malware when compared to other software
- Large range of extra tools and functions, including a useful VPN with a few of the higher-end suites
- More expensive than other industry peers
- Extra functionalities not as effective as other standalone products
- Additional features have some recent security concerns
What versions of the software are available?
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus
Antivirus Plus is the cheapest of the AV packages Bitdefender offers on this list. It is their lightweight antivirus solution, offering a basic level of protection for your PC.
It includes the real-time virus and malware protection that this review tests out later on, and offers some functionality to keep you safe while shopping and browsing. Like the Internet Security option also on this list, AV Plus includes access to the 200MB data-capped Bitdefender Basic VPN.
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus only works for Windows OS and does not include a device optimiser or parental controls.
Bitdefender Internet Security
This Bitdefender suite focuses on threats to your device from the internet, including webcam and microphone protection and a firewall that filters network traffic in its feature list.
It does not offer the same level of protection as more expensive Bitdefender products, and notably does not include features like a device optimizer or any support for macOS or iOS – only working on Windows computers.
It does add parental controls that let you monitor and restrict your kids’ online activities.
Bitdefender Total Security 2020
Total Security is the most expensive of the three flagship AV solutions that Bitdefender promotes on its website.
Again, this includes their Basic VPN as standard, which covers all the devices you have included in your subscription.
It also offers full, advanced parental controls and a device optimizer. It packs a fuller set of AV features as a well, being a much more well-rounded suite for protection against a wider array of malware threats.
It includes real-time data protection, multilayered ransomware protection, and options to secure your important documents and files. Total Security includes Windows, Mac and iOS compatibility. Read our full review of Bitdefender Total Security.
Bitdefender Premium Security 2020
Bitdefender Premium Security packs an extensive suite of features compared to other multi-device antivirus software bundles, including an unlimited traffic premium VPN, real-time behavioral monitoring of apps, performance optimization, and Bitdefender SafeFiles among many others. It also comes with priority support.
Like Total Security, Premium Security is compatible with Windows, Mac and iOS systems.
One of the excellent elements of Bitdefender’s array of products is how easy they make it for consumers to customize how many devices they want their security solution to cover.
For their Antivirus Plus and Internet Security plans, Bitdefender offers different subscription rates for one, three, and five devices.
Total Security can be customized to support either 5 or 10 devices. Premium Security covers 10 devices as standard and does not go lower.
Is Bitdefender antivirus effective against malware?
Eicar sample tests
The central question to any antivirus review is which software will protect my PC best against threats to my cybersecurity?
Threats include viruses, malware, worms and trojans, and you want a program that can quickly and effectively halt any of these attacks.
To test Bitdefender’s AV programs, I will first examine how they perform against several anti-malware test files. These samples come from the European Institute for Computer Anti-Virus Research. There are four of these sample files, designed to simulate various malware scenarios.
We are looking to see if the programs detect and block the samples, and how they do that. They will also be put up against some live malware samples, including adware and trojan attacks.
|Test File||Eicar Sample 1||Eicar Sample 2||Eicar Sample 3||Eicar Sample 4||Live Sample 1 (Adware)||Live Sample 2 (Trojan)||Live Sample 3 (Trojan)|
Bitdefender successfully detected and deleted all the files in real-time – as the marketing of their multi-layered protection promises. It performed well, also quickly blocking and deleting the live samples (adware and trojan) in real-time. It also blocked the download pages for the EICAR sample files wholesale, displaying this message:
Next, to test the scanning features of the programs, I ran a quick-scan to try and see how Bitdefender performed.
The quick-scans are shorter than the full scan, and have less depth and breadth. They function by doing scans of areas of the device that are more likely to be infected than others, rather than the whole system. Bitdefender’s software did not detect any of the samples while scanning on the quick mode.
How effective are its scans?
In this section, I will briefly look at how long Bitdefender’s full scans take, and how much of a system they examine in that time.
A full scan is an intensive, active process run by an AV suite to scour your computer to find any suspicious programs or files. The quick scan alternative simply investigates common areas of malware infection and scans those, whereas the full scan, as the name might suggest, delivers a deeper probe into your machine to check for issues.
Bitdefender’s full scan is a relatively quick one compared to other competitors.
|Test Type||Full Scan Time (minutes)||Full Scan # Items Scanned|
In a scant 110 minutes, it delves much deeper than other consumer-grade AV software. The following table shows how the others fared:
|Test Type||Full Scan Time (minutes)||Full Scan # Items Scanned|
Bitdefender’s scan is not the quickest software, but it has by far the most depth, investigating over 4,200,000 items on the machine.
Its closest contender is Russian provider Kaspersky, clocking in at 2100000 items scanned. However, Bitdefender is able to complete its scan in under half the time, and deliver double the level of depth.
Next, I turned to some industry standard independent benchmark investigations of the products. AV-Comparatives is a leader in these tests. It has two testing styles of particular note.
Their Malware Protection Test examines how the programs deal with virus samples plugged in from USBs and network drivers. The Real World Protection Test examines how the programs cope with online threats, testing the effectiveness of the entire suite, not just the antivirus tools.
Against the Malware Test, Bitdefender scored 99.98%, placing it in the upper scoring cluster among those tested. The malware only compromised a system on two occasions compared to the 10,247 cases it blocked.
When put to the May 2020 Real World Protection Test, Bitdefender scored a 99.3% success rate, identifying and blocking 749 cases, clocking in at a lower number of compromised systems as a result relative to other competitors such as McAfee or AVG.
Overall, AV-Comparatives considers Bitdefender in the top tier of the products it tested, awarding it three stars in both the Malware Protection and Real World tests.
What other special features does Bitdefender offer?
According to the Bitdefender Support Centre page on the topic, “Bitdefender Safepay is a protected browser, a sealed environment that is designed to keep your online banking, e-shopping and any other type of online transaction private and secure”.
It essentially acts as a dedicated web browser, like a special window of Chrome or Firefox that is designed specifically by Bitdefender to be extra safe when attempting to manage your finances online.
The tool offers the following features that a normal browser doesn’t offer for online banking:
- Blocking access to your desktop and any attempt to take snapshots of your screen.
- Protecting passwords while browsing online with Password Manager.
- Independence from your other browsers.
- A virtual keyboard which, when used, renders it impossible for hackers to track your keystrokes
- Hotspot protection, activated when your computer is connected to unsecured Wi-fi networks.
It is worth noting a very recent security concern that emerged with Bitdefender’s Safepay — since fixed, but nevertheless worth discussion.
One of the central functions of Safepay is its use as a “Man-in-the-Middle” tool to inspect potentially suspicious HTTP and HTTPS connections before you access them – in theory making your browsing, especially with online banking, much more secure.
As the tool creates a unique browser instance to access websites, it also has its own customized version of an “unusual activity” warning page common among browsers like Chrome. The page is pictured below.
The “suspicious page” prompt in Bitdefender Safepay’s browser.
However, Wladimir Palant, security blogger and original developer of Adblock Plus, noticed a central cybersecurity flaw in this page.
The URL address that this temporary webpage uses always stayed the same. According to Palant in his report:
“The URL in the browser’s address bar doesn’t change. So as far as the browser is concerned, this error page originated at the web server and there is no reason why other web pages from the same server shouldn’t be able to access it. Whatever security tokens are contained within it, websites can read them out – an issue we’ve seen in Kaspersky products before”.
What this meant is that potentially malicious websites could exploit some unused code in Safepay’s virtual browsing environment to download a copy of the SSL error page, giving them access to all the code in the page.
This would allow malicious websites to do a number of things, among the most worrying being able to compromise all other banking sites that the browser “isolates” for the user.
Even more concerning is the potential for an attacker to be able to inject their own code into the browser. This would allow an attacker to remotely execute arbitrary commands and code on the Safepay user’s machine using the hijacked browser.
Palant’s report goes into more detail about this, but the central takeaways are that although this concern was resolved by Bitdefender, there are always large risks involved when allowing third parties to meddle with encrypted connections like those involved in online banking.
This issue was not unique to Bitdefender, with online banking tools offered by Kaspersky and Avast also having had very similar security problems. Palant’s report encourages users to never unconditionally trust claims to unilaterally improve one’s cybersecurity with apps like Safepay, especially when it comes to the protection of incredibly vital information like bank details.
Bitdefender Premium VPN
A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is a tool that encrypts all of the data going in and out of your machine. This helps you stay private online, and also makes it much harder for your data to be stolen or tracked by attackers.
Bitdefender’s VPN comes in several different forms, allowing a level of flexibility despite being an add-on as part of a larger suite.
Bitdefender sells this feature as “a service that grants you complete online anonymity by encrypting all incoming and outgoing traffic on your PC, Mac or mobile devices.”
Their basic VPN is included in its Total Security package, but this version of the tool is limited in various aspects.
Compared to quality standalone VPN services, it can only provide up to 200MB of encrypted traffic per day, contains less extensive location coverage, and cannot be used to unlock media from all over the world (for example, streaming sites like Prime Video or Netflix).
The central caveat is that in order to use Bitdefender’s Premium VPN, you are required to own one of Bitdefender’s large gallery of products. It is sold through Bitdefender’s online store as an add-on for other suites.
As pictured above, you can see that Bitdefender Premium VPN is offered either yearly as a $39.99 add on, or billed monthly at $6.99. The yearly subscription price would save you $43.89 over the course of the year, but is of course a less flexible plan for the service.
VPNs are generally fairly expensive, with industry leaders like ExpressVPN charging $12.95 a month for their services (discounted to $6.67 for the first 15th months if you sign up to be billed yearly).
So Bitdefender clocks in at a much lower price-point if you are already subscribed to one of their antivirus suites. But how does the tool compare?
Their Premium VPN is useful in that it can be used on many devices as are included in your Bitdefender security solution (which can be up to ten devices) – this stands competitively against other VPNs that tend to offer around 5 simultaneous connections as standard.
It also offers unlimited bandwidth, another positive, alongside 256-AES encryption, torrenting support and the option on Windows to automatically activate when an unsecured WiFi network
However, despite these positives, the VPN feature of Bitdefender’s suite of features does not appear to stack up competitively against higher-end VPN products.
It does not support split tunneling, and the streaming services it is able to access is severely limited when compared to other products like Nord or ExpressVPN. It also does not include options to specify trusted WiFi networks, has no VPN killswitch, and has a lack of flexibility with regards to changing VPN protocols.
Overall, whilst the simplicity and availability of Bitdefender’s VPN is useful when included in packages such as the basic version in Total Security or the premium version in Premium Security, it does not stack up in a meaningful way against industry mainstay VPNs.
In short – if you are looking for the basic functionalities a VPN provides, Bitdefender does offer these at a discounted rate, but its lack of features leaves it somewhat lacking.
How much will it impact your machine’s performance?
Impact on PC performance
To assess how much the antivirus affected PC performance, I ran each scan and recorded how long they took. For the full scan, I noted the duration and how many discrete items were scanned in that time. For the quick scan, I also recorded how much of the CPU it utilized during the scan.
|Test Type||Full Scan Time (minutes)||Full Scan # Items Scanned||Quick Scan CPU Utilization %||Quick Scan Memory Utilization %||Quick Scan Disk Utilization (seconds)||Quick Scan Time (seconds)|
Bitdefender’s quick scan performance usage is slightly more taxing than some of its peers, but takes a relatively shorter amount of time to process. What this means is that while a heavier performance impact may be initially felt, users will experience this impact a shorter time.
There’s a lot to note within the full scan results. As previously discussed in this review, Bitdefender took 110 minutes to complete its full scan, delving through 4,200,000 items. I also recorded data to examine the impact that a full scan had on PC performance. The results are included in the following table.
|Test Type||Control CPU Utilization % (no scan)||Control Memory Utilization % (no scan)||Control Disk Utilization (seconds) (no scan)||Full Scan CPU Utilization %||Full Scan Memory Utilization %||Full Scan Disk Utilization (seconds)|
The control CPU and Memory Utilization show us the percentage of computer resources used before we initiated the scan as an active process. As we can see here, the Bitdefender full scan impacted this performance with a 24% increase in CPU utilization and a 7% increase in Memory utilization. Here’s how this performance impact compares with other market leaders in the AV industry.
|Software||% increase in CPU Utilization||% increase in Memory Utilization|
As we can see, Bitdefender has much less of a performance impact than some of its peers on CPU usage and sits on the lower end of memory utilization alongside peers like Kaspersky.
What this means is that Bitdefender has less of an impact on system performance and functionality relative to competitors when the user is doing other things on their computer while scanning.
This, when considered with the high rating from independent AV comparison websites and the depth of its scans, put Bitdefender in an excellent position as an effective premium antivirus solution.
Is the interface easy to use?
Bitdefender may not have the prettiest interface, but it is still clear and concise. The most commonly used tools in the suite are easily available, with an icon to access video tutorial content about the usage of the app at the top right.
The overview of the suite’s functionalities appears along the left-hand side. They also helpfully include a banner of suggestions to manage your potential cybersecurity risks.
Bitdefender’s customer support
Bitdefender’s support is accessible from a drop-down menu on its website. The support page never more than two clicks away.
It offers comprehensive contact options, including email, phone lines, a live chat service and access to the Bitdefender community forums. They also offer a set of FAQs alongside videos to cover similar topics.
The company offers specific support pages for each of their different products, available on the top of the support homepage.
|Products||Windows 10||Windows 8||Windows 7||Windows Vista||Mac||Mobile||PC hard disk space required|
|Bitdefender Antivirus Plus||Yes||Yes||Yes*||No||Not available||Not available||2.5GB|
|Bitdefender Internet Security||Yes||Yes||Yes*||No||Not available||Not available||2.5GB|
|Bitdefender Total Security||Yes||Yes||Yes*||No||macOS 10.1 or later||iOS 11.2 or later / Android 4.1 or later||2.5GB|
|Bitdefender Premium Security||Yes||Yes||Yes*||No||macOS 10.1 or later||iOS 11.2 or later / Android 4.1 or later||2.5GB|
*Requires Service Pack 1
Bitdefender Internet Security
Bitdefender Internet Security 2020 retails for $79.99 a year for up to three devices. As of the time of writing, the first-year price of this program is discounted on Bitdefender’s website to $32 a year.
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2020 retails for $59.99 a year for protection across three devices. As of the time of writing, the first-year price of this program is discounted on Bitdefender’s website to $23.99 a year.
Bitdefender Total Security 2020
Bitdefender Total Security 2020 costs $89.99 a year to protect up to five devices. As of the time of writing, the first-year price of this program comes with a $54 discount at $36.
Bitdefender Premium Security 2020
At the time of writing, the first year of Bitdefender’s Premium Security costs $89.99 at a $60 discount. Normally, it would cost consumers $149.99 per year with multi-device coverage of 10 systems. The suite’s larger price tag is due to the inclusion of a litany of features like the unlimited encrypted VPN (mentioned earlier in this review) as standard.
In this review, I have given an overview of all the consumer-grade products offered by Bitdefender, and some of the extra features they provide.
When all of the aspects are considered, my recommendation would be Bitdefender’s Total Security 2020. Some of the extra features that come as part of the higher end packs like Premium Security have been shown to be somewhat lacking in security capabilities, and the lower tier of AV packages do not include some of the more powerful antivirus tools. The significantly higher retail price of Premium Security also cannot be ignored, and it lacks the flexibility in coverage plans that Total Security provides.
Overall Bitdefender Total Security strikes a good balance for consumers, a lower price-point complemented with a range of potent malware protection tools that impress industry comparison reviews and perform well against active security tests.