Bitdefender Total Security (2014) review

With Bitdefender Total Security (2014) you get all the standard security suite features plus file backup and sync, file and folder encryption, system tune-up, and even anti-theft protection. All of the components work well; it's a winner.
Photo of Bitdefender Total Security (2014)

The phrase “security suite” covers a lot of ground. Antivirus and firewall are essential components, and some suites don’t go much beyond those basics. Others add just about every security feature you might want, and then some. Bitdefender Total Security (2014) ($79.95 per year for three licenses) falls into the latter category, the kind of product I call a “mega-suite,” and its many components all do their jobs well.

At first glance, this product hardly looks different from the less feature-rich Bitdefender Internet Security, or even from the standalone Bitdefender Antivirus Plus. All three reflect current security status with a green, yellow, or red banner, and all three display four panels at a time, representing four security components; a slider lets you bring the other components into view. The antivirus has a total of six component panels, the basic suite brings that number up to nine, and Total Security maxes out with a dozen panels. You can rearrange the order of the panels so that your four favorites are the ones that appear at startup.

Like Norton, Kaspersky, and others, Bitdefender has stopped using a version number or year in the product title. To help distinguish this review from later no-number reviews, I’ve appended “(2014)” to the name.

Shared Antivirus Protection
Bitdefender Total Security’s antivirus protection is exactly the same as what you get from Bitdefender Antivirus Plus (2014). For full details on the shared features, please read that review. Here, I’ll just summarize.

Getting Bitdefender installed on twelve systems crawling with malware required some help from tech support, especially for one system that was temporarily disabled by the install-time scan. A product that installs hassle-free gets five stars for ease of installation; Bitdefender earned three stars.

In my malware removal test, Bitdefender scored 6.6 points, the best of any product tested using my current collection of malware samples. Tested using my previous collection, Norton 360 (2013) and Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete 2013 also scored 6.6, as did Comodo Internet Security Complete 2013.

For a full explanation of my malware blocking test, see How We Test Malware Removal.

Bitdefender Total Security (2014) malware removal chart

Bitdefender’s Web-based scanner detected 91 percent of the malicious URLs I tried to visit, which is very good. In my full malware-blocking test it earned 9.0 points. Of products tested with the same malware samples, only Ad-Aware Pro Security 10.5 did better, with 9.4 of 10 possible points. Webroot beat all products tested with the previous malware collection, scoring an impressive 9.9 points. The article How We Test Malware Blocking explains my testing methodology.

Bitdefender Total Security (2014) malware blocking chart

In tests by the independent antivirus labs, Bitdefender outscores all other vendors. The chart below summarizes recent lab test results. For more information about the labs and their tests, see How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests.

Bitdefender Total Security (2014) lab tests chart

Features Shared with the Antivirus
You may have noticed “Plus” in the name of Bitdefender’s antivirus. There are plenty of reasons for it. To start, the same Web-based scan that did such a good job blocking malicious URLs also blocks phishing websites very effectively. Even when challenged with the very newest fraudulent websites, Bitdefender’s detection rate was 3 percentage points higher than Norton’s. Only McAfee Total Protection 2013 has done better in recent antiphishing tests.

The article How We Test Antiphishing explains exactly how I locate brand-new phishing sites and calculate these scores.

Bitdefender Total Security (2014) antiphishing chart

To further protect your privacy, Bitdefender can restrict transmission of user-defined private information from the computer, whether via email or Web forms. The product includes a limited form of identity theft monitoring, with an option to upgrade to a much more comprehensive Premium level of monitoring.

The new Bitdefender Wallet serves as a very basic password manager, one that only handles sites that use standard login formats. It can also save a variety of personal and technical information, but unlike many password managers it won’t use that data to fill Web forms.

When you visit a known financial site, Bitdefender offers to launch it in the Safepay browser. This hardened Web browser is isolated from all other processes, and automatically pops up a virtual keyboard for password entry. Conveniently, Wallet is accessible within SafePay.

In Autopilot mode, Bitdefender handles your security with no popups queries or notifications. The new weekly Security Report lets you know all the good things Bitdefender has done for you lately.

Among the other features that Total Security shares with Antivrius Plus are: Safego, a Facebook profile scanner; a vulnerability scanner that flags things like weak passwords and missing Windows hotfixes; a File Shredder for secure deletion of sensitive data; and encryption of instant messages sent via Yahoo Messenger between you and other Bitdefender users.

Shared with Internet Security
Bitdefender Internet Security (2014) naturally includes all the features of the standalone antivirus, and adds quite a few more. All of the suite features are also part of Total Security. Do read my review of Internet Security for full details; I’ll summarize here.

Bitdefender’s spam filter proved more accurate than any other recent suite. It didn’t appreciably slow the process of downloading mail, and it missed just 2.6 percent of undeniable spam. I found that it did discard 1 percent of valid personal mail, but all of the messages involved had to do with “suspicious” topics like making anonymous phone calls or evading NSA surveillance.

The chart below shows how Bitdefender stacks up against the competition. The only products with better scores are dedicated antispam utilities. For full details on how I run this test, please read How We Test Antispam.

Bitdefender Total Security (2014) antispam chart

With Bitdefender’s emphasis on silent protection, it’s only natural that the firewall handles program control without peppering the user with queries. You will see popups from the firewall if you turn on Paranoid mode, or if you set the Intrusion Detection System protection level up to Aggressive from its default of Permissive. All avenues through which malware might disable firewall protection are armored behind walls of “Access Denied.” While the firewall itself didn’t block exploit attacks, Bitdefender’s Web-based scanner turned aside quite a few, identifying many by name.

You configure the parental control system through the online My Bitdefender console. The setup process involves identifying each child’s Windows user accounts (and possibly Android devices); your configuration affects all of the child’s accounts. You can choose to block websites in any of 44 possibly-unwanted categories, and Bitdefender now handles secure (HTTPS) sites too. Parents can block specific applications, control when Internet access is permitted, and cut off specific IM contacts. For installations on Android phones, parents also get control and monitoring of text message and phone calls.

This edition substantially beefs up Facebook monitoring. Once its app is installed on the child’s account, parents can view privacy issues, check out questionable posts, and see a list of possibly suspect friends—for example, those with no picture, or no friends in common. Yes, your child could uninstall the app, but you’ll get an email if that happens.

Safebox Backup and Sync
We’ve finished the long list of features shared with Bitdefender Internet Security at last. The Safebox backup and sync tool is specific to Bitdefender Total Security, and it’s quite handy.

To get started, right-click any folder and choose Add to Safebox. Bitdefender will copy it to your 2GB of hosted Safebox storage in the cloud; it’s backed up now. Next, launch Bitdefender on another computer, click the Safebox menu, and choose “Manage Folders.” You should see the folder you added, with a cloud overlaid on its icon. That means the folder is present in the backup cloud but not yet synced to the new computer. Click it, click Sync, and either accept the default local folder or make your own choice.

That first time, setting up the sync process, is necessarily a manual operation. However, if you turn on Auto Sync, every change to the synced folder will automatically sync to the cloud and to other connected computers.

Safebox isn’t limited to the computers where you’ve installed Bitdefender. You can log in from any computer to view your backed-up files, download a local copy, or create a link to securely share a file from your backup with a friend. You can even create new folders and upload files to them, though I was slightly disappointed to find you can only upload one file at a time.

Safebox isn’t quite as sophisticated as the backup and sync system found in Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete or Trend Micro Titanium Maximum Security 2013, but it totally does the job, and it’s easy to use.

File Encryption
Like McAfee Total Protection and Kaspersky PURE 3.0 Total Security, Bitdefender can create one or more encrypted “vaults” for storing sensitive files. When the vault is open, it appears as a drive in Windows Explorer. You can drag files into and out of the vault, edit them in place, and just generally treat it like any other drive. When the vault is locked, the contents are totally inaccessible.

Trend Micro automatically creates one single vault, but it has a unique ability. If your computer falls into the hands of malefactors you can remotely seal the vault so it won’t open even with the password. TrustPort Total Protection 2013 and G Data TotalSecurity 2014 take the concept further, allowing you to give different users different levels of access to the encrypted files.

To create a new vault with Bitdefender, you start by choosing a collection of files to put in the vault. I was disappointed to find no drag and drop capability at this stage. You specify the name and location for the file that represents the vault, enter a strong password, and define the vault’s size. Note that you can’t change that size later, so choose wisely.

Bitdefender keeps track of the vaults you’ve created, making it easy to re-open a specific vault. You can also browse for vault files; this can be handy when you’re transferring a vault from another Bitdefender-equipped computer. Want physical security? Keep your vault on a thumb drive in your pocket.

When you create a vault, the wizard warns that the files you put in the vault aren’t removed from their original location. That’s actually good, because it gives you a chance to securely delete the originals using the File Shredder. I’d like to see the wizard at least recommend shredding the originals after creation of the vault. Even better would be to make that step part of the process.

Multi-faceted Tune-up
Most mega-suites include some form of backup and some form of system performance tune-up. Given that security suites have a no-longer-merited bad reputation for dragging system performance, building in performance enhancement tools makes perfect sense. Bitdefender offers several different tools for optimizing performance.

Bitdefender’s PC Clean-Up tool cleans out your browser cache for Internet Explorer and Firefox. In an attempt to avoid any possible trouble, it restricts its deletion to Temporary Internet Files that are at least ten days old. It also clears out the recent documents list and temporary system files.

Modern versions of Windows do a pretty good job of defragmenting in the background, and you can always launch the Defrag applet at will. Bitdefender offers its own defrag utility in the collection of Tune-Up tools. Oddly, while Windows 7 reported my C: drive as 0 percent fragmented, Bitdefender’s analysis stated that it needs defragmenting. I don’t see this feature as especially useful in Bitdefender or in Norton 360 (which also offers defrag).

Many suites will locate and delete temp files and other junk files, but Bitdefender has the unusual ability to recover the space wasted by identical duplicate files, even if they don’t have the same filename. G Data is the only other suite I’ve found that offers this feature. It will scan any drives or folders you specify and report on all groups of duplicate files found.

In theory, you should probably eyeball the list and make sure which file of each group you want to keep. However, the list is organized so you have to flip through endless pages to see all the files. Most people will probably do what I did—cross your fingers and choose to delete all but the newest of each group.

Registry entries that are useless or erroneous take up space and slow down access to the valid contents of the Registry. Bitdefender’s Registry Cleaner wizard scans for problem entries in eight categories and presents its findings before taking any action. If you’re a Registry expert you can peruse the entire list or filter it by category; if not, just go ahead and let Bitdefender delete all the problems.

It’s always possible, if unlikely, that an automated Registry cleaner might remove something it shouldn’t, thereby causing a problem. Bitdefender accounts for that faint possibility by offering Registry Recovery—a simple reset to the Registry’s state before cleanup. G Data’s very thorough Tuner lets you pick and choose which items to clean up and also lets you roll back changes individually. G Data and Bitdefender are among the best I’ve found for system tune-up.

Performance Optimizer
You have to dig a bit to find Bitdefender’s Performance Optimizer. Rather than showing up with the other features in the Tune-Up menu, it’s semi-hidden in the Tune-Up system’s Setup page.

Down the right-hand side, the Performance Optimizer displays the current amount of RAM in use, the average RAM used, and the current CPU usage. That’s not so different from what you could get by looking at Task Manager, but this tool goes much farther.

For each process in the list at left, it displays the average RAM usage, average CPU usage, and a high/medium/low indication of overall resource usage. You can filter the list to, for example, show only applications, not system processes. Clicking “Close Program” will shut down non-critical processes.

Anti-Theft Features
The biggest security threat to mobile devices is loss or theft, not so much malware, so mobile security apps tend to include anti-theft and recovery features. Bitdefender and ESET Smart Security 6 are the only PC suites I’ve encountered  that include anti-theft.

From the My Bitdefender console, you can check the location of any Bitdefender-equipped Android device and any laptop or PC that has GPS built in. ESET uses WiFi triangulation which, while less accurate, is more likely to work on your laptop.

If you’ve lost or misplaced your Android device, you can trigger a loud alarm from the online console. For any Android device or PC, you can remotely trigger a lockdown or completely wipe the device. When you engage the remote lock, you define a PIN code. On receiving the lock command, the laptop reboots to a lock screen that can only be unlocked with that code; handy if you recover the device. The remote wipe fully wipes the hard drive, so you’d use it only in emergency, to keep a thief from getting access to the stolen computer’s data.

ESET audits your system for security problems that would expose your system’s data to a thief, for example, having a user account with no password. When you report your computer stolen, it reboots into a special “Phantom Account,” hides all other user accounts, and starts periodically uploading screenshots and webcam photos. The two products handle anti-theft and recovery differently, but in both cases it’s a valuable feature.

Minor Performance Hit
I ran my performance tests for Bitdefender Internet Security, then re-imaged the test system and ran them for Bitdefender Total Security. None of the results differed by more than a percent or two, and the overall average came out the same. Both are large packages; Internet Security occupies 1.6GB on disk, while Total Security takes 1.7 GB.

My boot-time test waits for ten seconds in a row with five percent (or lower) CPU usage, defining that as “system ready.” It subtracts from that the beginning of the boot process, as reported by Windows. Averaging 100 runs with no suite and 100 with Bitdefender, I found that Bitdefender added 25 percent to the boot time, just a hair above the current suite average and nothing I’d worry about.

Possibly aided by the new PhotON technology, which “learns” to ignore known safe files, my file move/copy test took just 14 percent longer under Bitdefender’s protection, well below the current suite average of 23 percent. Another script that zips and unzips the same large collection of files took 27 percent longer, a good bit above the average of 16 percent.

That leaves the browsing test, which measures the time required to fully load 100 websites. Averaging multiple runs with and without Bitdefender, I observed an increase of 28 percent in the total time. Given Bitdefender’s effective protection against malicious sites, phishing sites, and Web-based exploits, I’m happy to wait a fraction longer for pages to load.

For full details on how I measure security suite performance see How We Test Security Suites for Performance.

Bitdefender Total Security (2014) performance chart

This Suite Has It All
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus (2014) is one of our Editors’ Choice products for antivirus protection. Bitdefender Total Security (2014) has the exact same antivirus protection, along with all the expected suite features: accurate antispam and antiphishing, no-hassle firewall, full-scale parental control, and more. On top of that, it adds file backup and sync, encrypted file storage, a powerful set of system tune-up tools, and antitheft protection for laptops and Android devices.

If you want a mega-suite that does just about everything conceivable in the realm of security, Bitdefender will suit you perfectly. It joins Norton 360 (2013) as co-Editors’ Choice for mega-suite.

Sub-ratings:
Firewall:
Virus removal:
Virus blocking:
Performance:
Antispam:
Privacy:
Parental Control:

Specifications
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

Verdict
With Bitdefender Total Security (2014) you get all the standard security suite features plus file backup and sync, file and folder encryption, system tune-up, and even anti-theft protection. All of the components work well; it's a winner.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc