Bitdefender Antivirus Plus (2014) review

Core antivirus protection in Bitdefender Antivirus Plus (2014) gets good scores in my tests and great scores from the independent labs. The "Plus" in the name refers to an impressive collection of effective, relevant, security tools. It's a great choice.
Photo of Bitdefender Antivirus Plus (2014)

If you give away your antivirus protection for free, how will you convince people to pony up for the paid edition? Well, one way is to make it do more than the free edition does, preferably much, much more. That’s the approach taken by Bitdefender Antivirus Plus (2014). For $39.95 each year you get antivirus protection that’s more advanced than the free edition plus enough additional, relevant, effective security features to make your head spin.

Bitdefender’s latest premium antivirus incorporates a new technology that the company calls Photon. According to the Bitdefender website, Photon is “an innovative technology that visibly improves speed and performance in a matter of hours by gradually molding to your PC.” In testing, it proved better at malware cleanup than Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition (2014), which doesn’t include Photon technology, but not vastly better.

This edition looks much the same as the previous. Its main window displays a green, yellow, or red banner reflecting current security status, and six big panels offer access to six major security components. You can arrange these panels so that your four favorites appear at startup. In its default Autopilot mode, Bitdefender doesn’t pester you with popups. If something happens that might need your attention, it notes the event on the Events page and displays the current number of unread event items, which you can review at your own convenience.

A handy desktop Widget gives you a quick view of security status, antivirus activity, the number of unread notification events, and more. You can use it for quick access to the full event list, or to the online My Bitdefender portal. Still using XP? Don’t worry; the Widget works with all Windows versions from XP to 8.

Some Installation Difficulty
Documentation for Photon includes the statement, “Now, more than ever, installing Bitdefender on your machine will avoid slowdowns and freezes, and will imply a seamless and secure experience.” That’s probably true, once you get it installed. However, installing the product on eight of my twelve malware-infested test systems took some extra work.

As with Bitdefender Free, a scan using the Bitdefender Rescue CD handled one test system taken over by ransomware, another infested with malware that actively fought back against the Bitdefender installer, and a third system that repeatedly crashed during installation. The Rescue CD proved effective, though its malware cleanup can be extremely slow.

Bitdefender’s preinstall scan damaged critical files on one test system, making it unbootable. It turns out the Rescue CD is a full-scale operating system environment with a file manager, browser, and Linux console. I used it to gather logs for tech support, and to run fix-up scripts they supplied after analyzing the logs. It took a while, but we got this one working again.

A product that installs with little or no difficulty gets five stars for ease of installation. If the problem can be solved using a rescue CD or other ancillary tool, that’s still good, so it’s worth four stars. Bitdefender gets three stars for ease of installation; I managed to get it working, but it took a good bit of back-and-forth with tech support. Bitdefender Free required even more of my time working with tech support, enough more that it rated just two stars in this area.

Very Good Malware Cleanup
With the installation difficulties behind me, I ran a full scan on each test system. Bitdefender handled every malware trace found by the scan on most of the systems. In a few cases, it asked what to do about one or more specific traces. I’m not generally in favor of asking the user what to do, but this case is slightly different. You don’t have to choose specific actions. Rather, you can apply “proper actions” or no action.

Bitdefender detected 83 percent of the malware samples and scored 6.6 points for malware removal, the best score among the 14 products tested using my current collection of malware. Next-highest was the oddball cleanup-only antivirus Jumpshot, with 6.5 points. In third place, Bitdefender Free earned 6.2 points. It’s worth noting that Bitdefender Free and Bitdefender handled over three quarters of the samples in exactly the same way.

Challenged to clean up my previous malware collection, Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus 2013 and Norton AntiVirus (2013) both earned 6.6 points, the same as Bitdefender’s score. With 7.1 points, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware 1.70 beat all other products tested with the old or new malware collection.

For a full rundown on how I conduct this malware removal test, see How We Test Malware Removal.

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus (2014) malware removal chart

Same Good Malware Blocking
Bitdefender’s defense against malware attack starts with its unobtrusive browser toolbar. If you’re about to visit a known malicious site, Bitdefender diverts your browser to a warning page, explaining that the site is dangerous. When I tried downloading my current malware collection again, Bitidefender blocked 91 percent of the still-valid URLs, the same as Bitdefender Free.

Also like Bitdefender Free, it wiped out over 80 percent of my already-downloaded malware collection. Because I chose Autopilot mode, I didn’t get any popup notifications as it wiped out the samples. I just observed them vanishing from the folder while the number of pending events displayed by the desktop Widget.

When I launched the handful of samples that weren’t wiped out on sight, the results were exactly the same as when I tested Bitdefender Free. Bitdefender detected 92 percent of the samples and scored 9.0 points for malware blocking. TrustPort Antivirus 2013 and G Data AntiVirus 2014 also scored 9.0. Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 10.5 earned 9.4 points, beating all the other free or paid products tested with my current malware collection.

Looking at products tested with my previous malware collection, Webroot is the hands-down winner, with a near-perfect 9.9 points. SecureIT (2013) and BullGuard Antivirus 2013 came next, with 9.7 and 9.6 points respectively. To learn how I conduct this malware blocking test, please see How We Test Malware Blocking.

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus (2014) malware blocking chart

Labs Love It
Whenever possible, I supplement my own testing by perusing a product’s ratings from the independent testing labs. Bitdefender generally takes top honors across the board. It’s worth noting that the lab results are often a version behind the product I’m actually reviewing. As far as I know, Bitdefender earned its high scores without help from the new Photon technology.

With support from the Austrian government and a nearby university, Austrian lab AV-Comparatives runs an arduous weeks-long test that challenges antivirus products to resist attacks just as they would have to in the real world. Bitdefender took the highest rating in this test, ADVANCED+. It also rated ADVANCED+ in the on-demand scanning test and in the retrospective test, which simulates handling of zero-day threats by forcing the tested products to use old malware definitions.

AV-Test rates products on Protection, Performance, and Usability, assigning each product up to six points in each category. With 17 of 18 possible points, Bitdefender scored higher than any other product in this test. It earned VB100 certification in all of the latest ten tests by Virus Bulletin, and both ICSA Labs and West Coast Labs certify Bitdefender technology for both detection and removal of malware. The labs just love Bitdefender!

See the article How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests for more detail on the labs and their tests.

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus (2014) lab tests chart

Privacy and Phishing Protection
The best antivirus in the world can’t help you if you hand over your secrets to a scammer, so Bitdefender offers protection against phishing websites. Many vendors attempt phishing protection, but very few of their products are effective against the very freshest phishing websites. In fact, a good two-thirds of them aren’t even as effective as the SmartScreen Filter built into Internet Explorer 8.

Norton’s phishing protection is consistently effective, so I use it as a touchstone, rating other products by comparing their detection rate with Norton’s. Bitdefender is among the very few products that beat Norton, with a detection rate three percentage points higher. Bitdefender Free beat Norton by one percentage point. Top scorer in this area is McAfee AntiVirus Plus 2013, with a detection rate four percentage points higher than Norton’s.

See the article How We Test Antiphishing for full details on how I find possible phishing URLs and derive these scores.

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus (2014) antiphishing chart

To further protect your privacy, Bitdefender offers private data protection. You start by entering private data in categories like credit card, bank account number, or social security number. Each item gets a name and description, and the private portion is stored in encrypted form.

For each item, you can specify whether Bitdefender will block transmission via Web forms, email, or both. More importantly, you can identify which user accounts will be blocked. On a shared family computer, you might set it to block sending of too-personal information like home address and phone number by anyone with a Limited account. Your other choices are to block transmission for all users, or just for yourself.

With your Bitdefender subscription you automatically get limited protection against identity theft. At the basic level, the service will track your credit information with a single credit bureau and notify you if a change occurs. To learn the details of a reported change, you’ll have to dig deeper by yourself or sign up for the $14.99/month Premium protection. Premium protection also gets you a much wider range of identity monitoring, as well as guaranteed identity restoration by Bitdefender’s experts in the event your identity becomes compromised.

Bitdefender Wallet
New in this edition, Bitdefender Wallet functions as a very simple password manager and as secure storage for important personal and financial information. It captures your credentials when you log in to a secure site, popping up a notification of the capture. When you revisit a site, it automatically fills in the saved credentials. And if you’ve saved more than one set, it offers a choice. Got a site that uses a multi-page login, or a non-standard login? Wallet won’t capture it.

That’s about the extent of the password management offered by Wallet. You can view your list of saved logins, but you can’t organize the list into groups, put it in alphabetic order, or search for a particular entry.

On the My Info page you can enter fairly limited contact information, just name, address, email, and phone number. The Online Banking page stores details credit cards and bank accounts. You can record full details for your email accounts; not just username and password, but details like server addresses and ports. Application details and WiFi networks round out this eclectic collection of personal data.

You can’t use the info stored in Wallet to fill form fields, and you can’t sync stored data between multiple Bitdefender installations (though you can backup from one system and restore to another). Wallet is just a secure place to store information that you might need. If you actually need a password manager with the ability to fill Web forms too, choose one of the excellent free products like LastPass 2.0 or Dashlane 2.0.

SafePay for Online Finances
Banking online is extremely convenient, but online transactions are a prime target for hackers. There’s a whole category of Trojans designed for the sole purpose of capturing your login credentials, or even injecting fund transfers into your existing banking session. When it comes to securing your online finances, you need every weapon in the arsenal.

Bitdefender Safepay is a hardened browser that’s isolated from other processes running on your computer. Even if a banking Trojan got past Bitdefender’s antivirus, it couldn’t snoop your connection, snap a screenshot, or capture your passwords. In fact, when you start to enter a password, Safepay automatically displays a virtual keyboard.

Safepay kicks in when you start to launch a known financial website in your unsecured browser. It offers to open that site in Safepay this time, or every time. You can also launch Safepay from its desktop icon and browse to any site directly. If necessary, you can switch back and forth between Safepay and your regular desktop.

Wallet integrates right into Safepay, giving you quick access to those financial details. You’ll have to type it in, though; I didn’t find any way to copy and paste things like account numbers and PINs. 

Security Report
The whole point of Bitdefender’s Autopilot mode is to insulate you from pointless alerts and notifications. That approach can backfire, though, because you might get the impression Bitdefender isn’t doing anything at all. That’s where the new Security Report comes in.

Starting after you’ve been running Bitdefender for a week, you’ll get a weekly Security Report that goes into detail about just what Bitdefender did for you. If there are any outstanding issues, the report will include a link to go resolve those issues. It’s definitely a nice feature.

Facebook Protection, Vulnerability Scan, and more
Also available as a free Facebook add-on, Bitdefender Safego thoroughly checks your Facebook profile and flags any dangerous links in posts made by you or your friends. With your permission, it will automatically post a warning when it finds a dangerous link.

Safego also checks your profile for privacy issues and, if it finds any, explains how to fix your privacy settings. If you wish, you can set it to publish a weekly security summary on your wall. Me, I’m not enthused about letting any apps post for me, but I do like the scan. During my testing, it actually found a just-posted dangerous link from one of my friends.

Bitdefender doesn’t go as far as a dedicated patch manager like Secunia Personal Software Inspector 3.0, but its vulnerability scan will warn you if it detects missing Windows Update patches or security patches to significant third-party applications. It will also flag weak Windows account passwords and warn if you’ve failed to turn off removable media autorun.

Bitdefender will encrypt your IM conversations, but only if you use Yahoo! Instant Messenger and your correspondents also have Bitdefender installed. You can securely delete files and folders using the File Shredder.

A Definite Plus
The “Plus” in Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is definitely merited. While not quite a full security suite, this product goes way, way beyond a simple, standalone antivirus. Its phishing protection is top-notch, it offers a hardened browser for your financial transactions, it even scans your Facebook profile. Best of all, its core antivirus functionality earned good scores in my tests and great scores from the independent labs. Bitdefender remains an antivirus Editors’ Choice, sharing that honor with Norton AntiVirus (2013) and Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus 2013.

Tech Support 24/7 email, live chat, and phone support. Remote sessions as necessary.
OS Compatibility Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 7, Windows 8
Type Business, Personal, Professional

Core antivirus protection in Bitdefender Antivirus Plus (2014) gets good scores in my tests and great scores from the independent labs. The "Plus" in the name refers to an impressive collection of effective, relevant, security tools. It's a great choice.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc