Veteran Romanian-based security vendor Bitdefender has been developing antivirus products since 2001. The company now has a wide range of consumer and business offerings, and its technology is also regularly licenced for use by other providers (it's one of the engines used by IObit Malware Fighter, for example).
Bitdefender's baseline antivirus product is Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017. A one-year subscription costs £25 ($31) and covers up to three computers – many competitors cost more for a single device. You can buy a three-year subscription for up to ten devices for a very low £110 ($138). McAfee's unlimited licence may be better in some situations (it covers as many Windows, Mac, iOS and Android devices as you need for $40 – £32 – a year), but Bitdefender still offers one of the best multi-system deals around.
A polished feature set covers all the basics, with real-time scanning and behaviour monitoring, cloud integration to improve performance, and a URL filter to block malicious sites. Bitdefender's smart Autopilot mode means all this happens automatically – threats are blocked and removed without the user being hassled at all.
Ransomware blocking goes beyond signature matching and simple behaviour monitoring. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017 can also block unauthorised access to your personal files – documents, music, pictures, and more – to keep even brand-new undiscovered ransomware at bay.
There are valuable extras which you'll usually only find in full security suites. A password manager that can fill in forms, as well as logins; a secure browser to protect your online banking transactions; a vulnerability scanner to spot missing software updates, poorly configured settings and more; and a file shredder to wipe any traces of confidential files.
Put it all together and the package offers a great deal for not very much money at all. Bitdefender is one of the biggest antivirus names around, but you don't seem to pay any kind of a premium for its products.
Bitdefender offers a 30-day free trial for most of its products. You must create a free Bitdefender account to install most of them, though, and you don't always quite get the version you expect. Clicking the Trial link for Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017 actually installs a copy of Bitdefender Internet Security, for instance.
This isn't a major issue – the core engine and interface are identical – but it does mean you'll get antispam, a firewall and a few other extras which aren't in the standard Antivirus build. (These can be turned off if they're a problem.)
Setup starts with the installer checking for incompatible security products on the system. In our case, it demanded we uninstall the password manager Norton Identity Safe before it could continue. There's no ‘skip’ option to carry on regardless, a hassle if you need whatever program it wants you to remove. But on the plus side, conflicts between security packages are extremely common, and Bitdefender's approach of forcing you to remove the most likely offenders could prevent encountering potential problems later on.
The rest of the installation process was straightforward. The setup program downloaded and installed the full package, ran a quick scan on our system, downloaded an update and was ready to go.
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus doesn't ask you to make any configuration decisions. By default the program installs in Autopilot mode, where it handles most security alerts itself – most of the time you won't even know it's there. That works for us, but if you prefer a more hands-on approach, you can turn off Autopilot and make more decisions yourself. Alternatively, you can view Activity reports in the Bitdefender console which record what the program has done, and when. It's a good mix of options and whatever your security experience, you should find an approach which works for you.
We did encounter one significant post-installation issue. For some reason Firefox refused to connect to any HTTPS site, complaining that our connection was not secure. It turned out we had to disable Bitdefender's Scan SSL feature to get it working again. This wasn't difficult to diagnose and fix, but it's hard to see why the issue is there in the first place, and it doesn't quite fit with the ‘set and forget’ image Bitdefender wants to portray.
Bitdefender's main console opens with a handy summary of your security status, and enables launching a quick scan with one click. This scan was really fast – typically 15 to 60 seconds on our test PC – and found our malware samples without any issue.
The program organises its other features across multiple categories, including Protection, Privacy, Activity, Notifications and more. There's a lot to explore, and beginners won't immediately understand what every option does, but the answer is generally only a click away. Clicking Privacy displays a link to ‘Create Wallet’, for instance – what's that? Simply clicking the link opens a dialog explaining that this is the Bitdefender Password Manager, and sums up what it can do.
Bitdefender's antiphishing and site blocking abilities don't need any experience or knowledge to operate. They just work, and in our tests they mostly worked very well. Genuine malicious sites were mostly blocked, legitimate expert-level sites were not (malware sample sites), and even if a site is falsely flagged, there's an option to accept the risk and visit anyway.
The bundled password manager is easy to use. It can't import credentials from other password managers, but it successfully imported logins stored in our Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome installations, getting us off to a quick start. As well as logins, it enables saving credit card details, email account information (server names, ports), licence keys, Wi-Fi network passwords and personal information like names, addresses, phone numbers and more.
Stored data can be automatically entered into forms, which can save you a lot of hassle when, for instance, you're creating a new account online. This didn't always deliver for us – a few forms were ignored completely for some unknown reason – but we've had similar experiences with other password managers, and overall the module worked very well.
Ransomware protection is simple. Browse to a key user folder after installing Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017 and you're prompted to turn it on. If you agree, the system prevents suspect processes from accessing documents in your selected folders. We found this could raise false alarms occasionally, but once you've added an app to a Trusted whitelist, it won't provoke alerts again. That's not too significant a penalty for a system which could block even brand-new, undiscovered ransomware.
SafePay is another highlight, a secure browser which runs isolated from the rest of the system. Use this to carry out your online banking or shopping, and the module's protection from keyloggers, screen capture tools and other snooping techniques help to keep your details safe.
Elsewhere, a Vulnerability Scanner highlights missing software updates. It covers the basics – Windows, Java, Adobe Reader and so on – but can't match the best-of-breed freeware. And it's a similar story with the File Shredder. The module does what you'd expect, overwriting confidential files so they can't be undeleted, but it's really just a convenience. If you need this feature specifically, you'll find better free tools elsewhere.
While there's a lot to explore here, the program does its best to point you to appropriate features. When we visited a banking site, for instance, Bitdefender displayed an alert suggesting we open it in SafePay. And when we first opened our Documents folder, post-installation, a message suggested enabling Bitdefender's ransomware protection. It's a neat way to let novice users find out about key modules, and experts can easily dismiss the messages and hide them in future.
It's difficult to assess how effective any antivirus tool may be for you, not least because everyone has their own individual requirements and needs. Still, if you check out the verdicts of the independent testing labs you can get a good general idea of how they perform.
AV Comparatives carries out monthly real-world protection tests which measure the effectiveness of more than 20 top antivirus engines. Bitdefender is usually ranked at or very close to the top for any individual month, and the company has also received AV Comparatives' top Advanced+ rating every year since 2014.
AV-Test doesn't run tests as often, but its April 2017 ‘best antivirus software for Windows Home User’ report also rated Bitdefender as offering great protection, blocking 100% of the sample threats.
SE Labs – founded by Simon Edwards, the ex-technical director of Dennis Technology, and Chairman of the Board of the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization (AMTSO) – uses multiple techniques to assess antivirus accuracy. Bitdefender didn't do quite so well in these, and was marginally outperformed by Kaspersky, Norton and ESET, although not by enough to make any real difference (Bitdefender still achieved SE Labs' highest AAA rating).
We've noticed that Bitdefender grabs more resources than some of the competition. PassMark's Consumer Security Products Performance Benchmarks 2017 report seems to agree, ranking the company 11th out of 15, and placing Norton Security and ESET Smart Security top of the list. We don't see that as a major concern – the tests aren't all very relevant, and the differences are marginal anyway – but if you need antivirus for an underpowered system, it's something to bear in mind.
Put it all together and there's strong agreement that Bitdefender products offer above-average protection, and have done so for a very long time. Factor in the surprisingly low cost, particularly for multiple users, and Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017 looks like a very good deal.
It can take some time to set up, but overall Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017 delivers excellent all-round protection for a low price, especially when covering multiple systems.