BullGuard Premium Protection (2014) review

On top of basic security suite features, BullGuard Premium Protection (2014) adds a social media protection, identity protection, and a ton more hosted online backup. It's definitely a better deal than BullGuard's entry-level suite.
Photo of BullGuard Premium Protection (2014)

Rather than offer just an antivirus and a security suite, many security vendors add backup, system tuneup, and other features to create a “mega-suite.” However, BullGuard’s entry-level suite already includes backup and tuneup. BullGuard Premium Protection (2014) ($99.95 direct for three licenses) quintuples the amount of online backup storage, which is nice. It also adds identity protection and a Facebook privacy tool that you can use for the whole family.

I’ve commented on the somewhat odd appearance of BullGuard’s entry-level suite. Its main window has seven panels, in two rows, representing seven major security components, but the one farthest to the right is only halfway visible. A slider along the bottom lets you bring that final panel fully into view. My BullGuard contact explained that the half-visible button helps the user realize it’s possible to slide the window back and forth.

That explanation makes a lot more sense in the Premium suite, which has nine buttons. If the main window displayed, say, two rows of three whole panels, you might not realize there are three more panels waiting to slide into view.

Antivirus, firewall, spam filter, parental control—all of the basic suite features are exactly the same as what you get in BullGuard Internet Security (2014). Please read that review for a full run-down on those features. I’ll summarize my findings here.

Antivirus Liked by Labs
BullGuard participates in testing by most of the labs that I follow, and gets good marks overall. AV-Comparatives in particular rated it ADVANCED+ (the top rating) in two malware detection tests and ADVANCED in a dynamic whole-product test. For a full explanation of how I boil down many tests into the categories shown in the chart below, see How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests.

BullGuard Premium Protection (2014) lab tests chart

In my own hands-on testing, BullGuard’s score was a decent 8.9, but others have done much better. In fact, five products are tied for top score, with 9.4 points each. With perfect cleanup of the malware it found, BullGuard could have joined them, as it detected 94 percent of the samples.

I tested the product’s ability to block malware downloads using extremely new URLs supplied by MRG-Effitas. Out of 100 URLs leading to malicious executables, BullGuard blocked 10 percent at the URL level and quarantined another 20 percent during download. Top score of the seven products that have gone through this test goes to avast! Premier 2014 with a blocking rate of 79 percent. For more about my hands-on testing, see How We Test Malware Blocking.

BullGuard Premium Protection (2014) malware blocking chart

Antiphishing and Antispam
Because phishing websites are so ephemeral, I can never use the same collection twice. For scoring purposes, I compare each product’s detection rate with that of Norton 360 (2014) in simultaneous testing. Most product come in way, way below Norton. Lagging Norton by just 12 percentage points means BullGuard did pretty well. The article How We Test Antiphishing explains how I perform and score this test.

BullGuard Premium Protection (2014) antiphishing chart

BullGuard’s spam filter can’t keep up with incoming email, so it keeps working after the email download finishes. Counting both the time to download and the time to finish scanning for spam, downloading mail under BullGuard’s protection took over four times as long as with no spam filter. In addition, the majority of legitimate bulk mail (along with a fair amount of spam) went into a somewhat confusing “bulk mail folder.”

BullGuard caught all but 4.3 percent of undeniable spam, which is good, but it also threw away 1.2 percent of valid personal mail. The best spam filters do their job without accidentally tossing any valid mail. To learn how I rate antispam accuracy, see How We Test Antispam.

BullGuard Premium Protection (2014) antispam chart

Old-School Firewall
Program control in BullGuard’s firewall puts the onus of security on you, the user. When it sees an unknown program attempting Internet access, it asks you what to do. That’s not good, in my book. Better firewalls like Norton, avast!, and Kaspersky PURE 3.0 Total Security handle all program control decisions internally.

Giving the wrong answer can be dangerous. BullGuard did catch one of a dozen leak test programs I tried, but when I clicked Block it instead blocked all access for the leak test’s victim—Internet Explorer. Ouch!

With some help from the antivirus, the firewall did a decent job of blocking exploit attacks. It also managed to resist several types of direct attack. It’s tough, anyway, but not as smart as the best firewalls.

Parental Control and Other Shared Features
Parental control in this suite goes a bit beyond the minimum of Web content filtering and Internet time scheduling. BullGuard’s parental control system can block a dozen chat-related programs and also block Tor network access to prevent anonymous surfing. Parents can add any program to the blocking list.

Kids won’t fool the application-blocker by copying or renaming a banned program. However, a child with an Administrator-level Windows account can evade both content filtering and time scheduling. The product can prevent the kids from transmitting sensitive, private information, but the information you choose to protect gets stored in the Registry as plain text.

The Premier suite shares a number of other features with BullGuard’s entry-level suite. A vulnerability scanner searches for unpatched security holes and offers a link for each to download the necessary update. It doesn’t include the automatic update feature found in avast! Premium, though. PC Tune Up wipes out useless files and Registry entries, defragments the Registry, and more. It even includes a startup manager to reversibly disable any item that launches at startup, or set it to launch after a delay.

More Backup Storage
The backup system in the Premier suite is no different from what’s in the entry-level suite. You can create any number of profiles to backup specific files, folders, and even email folders. Backups can go to your BullGuard Online Drive, or to any local, remote, or removable drive. And you can use the online backup system to share files with friends.

The big difference with Premier is that you get 25GB of hosted online backup rather than 5GB. Since Premier costs just $10 more, that’s a good deal. Norton 360 comes with 2GB of online backup, and its Premier edition, with 25GB, costs $20 more.

Social Media Protection
BullGuard Social Media Protection can serve as a parental monitor on your children’s Facebook activity; you can also use it to watch for dangerous links on your own profile. However, I found it to be seriously over-sensitive.

Unless you have access to your child’s Facebook password, getting the BullGuard app requires cooperation. BullGuard can send your child an email with a link that installs the Facebook app automatically. The encouraging email message tells the child that the app “makes sure you are safe on Facebook, by helping you to know when a friend posts bad or infected links, or tags you in a photo or post you might not approve of.” What it doesn’t say is that Mom and Dad can also see all suspect activity. You can add Social Media Protection on up to ten Facebook accounts, either by sending that email or by logging in to the account directly and installing the app.

I installed it on my own account, to get a feel for what it does. The social media app displays potential problems with Friends, Messages, and Links, as well as an Overview page that aggregates them all. Each alert gets marked as high, moderate, or low risk.

The app flagged almost all of my Facebook friends as potentially risky, citing reasons like “previously generated alerts,” “no mutual friends,” or “friend didn’t share his / her age.” This page also links to each friend’s profile, and lists mutual friends. For each friend, the page reports the number of messages, links, and photos. However, all of those numbers displayed as zeroes, even for friends with whom I had recently interacted.

The Messages page listed tons of alerts, but offered no information about them beyond “New message appeared on the home feed.” To see more detail, I had to open each message. One that mentioned Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s use of crack cocaine was deemed high risk. A recipe using white wine got flagged as medium risk, as did one that used the word “gay.”  

The Messages page lists recent messages that generated an alert. Awkwardly, the main list just reports generic information like “New message appeared.” Opening each message revealed the reason for the alert. For example, a recipe post that mentioned white wine was flagged, as was one that used the word “gay.”

I expected almost nothing on the Links page, as my Facebook friends almost never get scammed into posting malicious links. Instead, it was loaded with entries, each one blandly announcing “Malicious link detected on the home feed” over and over. It turns out BullGuard has a different idea of what’s malicious. It flagged a recipe site for “drugs or drinking abuse,” identified TheSmokingGun as a source of “sexually explicit materials,” and identified several other posts as malicious links due to phrases like “the tit for tat game” and “a pot of soup.”

This was all within the BullGuard app on my Facebook page. I found all of the same information available when I logged into the BullGuard online console. A new Photos tab displayed several photos deemed inappropriate due to words in the description, one of Peter O’Toole and one of Chief Sitting Bull (the latter mentioned that he had been killed).

I really can’t see how a parent would sort out an actual malicious link or inappropriate contact from all the noise. And of course, once your children realize that you can see everything they see in the app, they’re likely to shut it down. But go ahead—give it a try. Maybe it will work better when applied to a Facebook profile that really does belong to a child.

Identity Protection
You manage the suite’s Identity Protection component from the same online console that provides your view into Social Media Protection. This isn’t precisely a BullGuard service; rather, it’s provided through a partnership with Experian. You’re encouraged to read two lengthy documents before enabling this feature, one laying out Experian’s terms and conditions and another describing their privacy policy.

Notably absent at this point is any clue as to just what Identity Protection will do for you. I found that just a little odd. At the next step you create a passcode to protect your private information. Make it a good one, because the service asks for a lot of information.

The personal data entry is divided into pages for personal, financial, and contact details, plus a summary page. Among the personal details requested are your date of birth, SSN, passport number, and driver’s license. The financial details page accepts as many bank account and credit card numbers as you care to enter. For contact details, you simply enter your address, email, and phone number.

Once you’ve filled in all this data, the identity protection service starts monitoring public websites and databases, looking for spots where two or more of your details appear. It also monitors black-market data trading sites, watching out for your data. At the first sign of trouble it notifies you by email and text message. On receiving an alert you log in to see the full details.

I didn’t actually sign up for the service, as I have a parallel service already, from another vendor that partners with Experian. I’ve seen that it works; when I bought a car earlier this year, the various financing inquiries did generate alerts. It looks like you’d pay $2.99 each month to get the service directly, so getting it through BullGuard is a good value.

Little Impact on System Performance
This suite’s scores in my performance test weren’t appreciably different from the entry-level suite’s scores. Both had no measurable impact in my file move/copy test, and their impacts on my zip/unzip test and boot time tests were both well below average. The added features that go into the mega-suite didn’t translate to additional performance impact. For a full explanation of my performance testing process, see How We Test Security Suites for Performance.

BullGuard Premium Protection (2014) performance chart

Good Value Indeed
At just $10 more, BullGuard Premium Protection (2014) is definitely a better value than the company’s entry-level suite, BullGuard Internet Security (2014). To start, you get 25GB of hosted online backup, up from 5GB. And you get identity protection that would normally cost $2.99 per month.

You’ll notice this suite’s star sub-ratings are a bit higher, too. The addition of Identity Protection raised its Privacy sub-rating, and Social Media Protection gave it a boost in Parental Control. Choosing only between these two, I’d definitely opt for Premium.

Even so, our Editors’ Choice mega-suites are still better. Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Complete (2014) packs an amazing amount of features into a ridiculously small package, and its sharing and file sync features go deeper than BullGuard’s. Bitdefender Total Security (2014) is loaded with features, everything but the kitchen sink. Norton 360 (2014) falls somewhere between, with all top-quality components.

Parental Control:

On top of basic security suite features, BullGuard Premium Protection (2014) adds a social media protection, identity protection, and a ton more hosted online backup. It's definitely a better deal than BullGuard's entry-level suite.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc