ESET Smart Security 6 review

ESET Smart Security 6 includes all the expected elements of a security suite, but adds an anti-theft component to help you recover a lost or stolen computer. Its test scores are consistently good, but not at the top. Consider it if anti-theft is a prime concern for you.
Photo of ESET Smart Security 6

A full-scale security suite includes antivirus protection, firewall, spam filter, parental control, and some form of privacy protection. However, none of those features will do you a bit of good if the entire computer is stolen. The most exciting addition in ESET Smart Security 6 ($59.99 per year direct; $79.99 for three licenses) is a full-featured anti-theft system that will help you recover a lost or stolen computer.

On the surface, ESET Smart Security looks almost the same as ESET’s standalone NOD32 antivirus. However, you’ll notice some important differences as soon as you install it. In particular, the suite encourages you to immediately configure the online console from which you manage anti-theft features. The firewall also pops up right away asking what sort of network you’re connected to: home, work, or public.

Good Antivirus Protection
Like ESET NOD32 Antivirus 6, this suite offers antivirus protection that’s good, not great. You’ll want to read the antivirus product’s review for full details; I’ll provide a summary here.

Malware on four of my 12 test systems gave ESET serious problems either with installation or with completing a scan. Tech support unleashed a whole arsenal of diagnostic and remedial tools, but in the end I spent almost five hours on the phone with a support technician who provided manual remote-control repair.

Between the scanner itself, the threat-specific cleanup tools, and tech support, ESET detected 76 percent of my malware samples and scored 5.6 points for malware cleanup. That’s a fraction above the average, but well below the 6.6 points earned by Norton Internet Security (2013) and Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete 2013. Over a third of current products detected all rootkits; ESET caught 80 percent. See How We Test Malware Removal for an explanation of my malware removal test.

ESET Smart Security 6 malware removal chart

ESET did a good job keeping malware out of my clean test system, blocking many downloads at the URL level. When presented with an already-downloaded collection, it wiped out most threats on sight and detected others during installation. Overall it detected 89 percent of the samples and scored 8.9 points for malware blocking. This score is also slightly above average, but just slightly. Webroot owned this test, with a near-perfect 9.9 of 10 possible points. For a full run-down on how I test malware blocking, see How We Test Malware Blocking.

ESET Smart Security 6 malware blocking chart

As in my hands-on tests, ESET gets good marks from the independent testing labs. However, it didn’t take the top rating in dynamic testing by AV-Comparatives, and it achieved AV-Test certification by a relatively small margin. Bitdefender Internet Security 2013 and other top products get high marks across the board. The chart below summarizes recent test results. For more about the independent labs, see How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests.

ESET Smart Security 6 lab tests chart

Shared Phishing Protection
The new editions of both the full security suite and the standalone antivirus now offer phishing protection. If you accidentally click a link that goes to a fraudulent site, they’ll steer you to a safe warning page. In testing, I found that ESET’s detection rate lagged 48 percentage points behind that of Norton (the consistent antiphishing champ) and 8 points behind unaided Internet Explorer 8. To be fair, only a third of current antiphishing products can beat IE in my test. Still, ESET’s phishing protection could use a little work.

The article How We Test Antiphishing spells out the details of my antiphishing test.

ESET Smart Security 6 antiphishing chart

No Ham with Spam
ESET’s antispam component filters spam out of incoming POP3 or IMAP email accounts, where many filter POP3 only. It integrates with Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail, and Thunderbird. Those using a different email client must define a message rule to sort the marked spam messages into its own folder.

By default, the spam filter automatically whitelists any contacts in your address book, as well as recipients of outgoing messages and senders of messages you mark as not spam. The aim is to avoid throwing away any valid mail (“ham”) with the spam.

My antispam testing regimen doesn’t make use of the whitelist, as my test account doesn’t have a local address book and doesn’t send mail. Even so, ESET discarded just 0.1 percent of valid personal mail and didn’t toss a single valid bulk email message. Whitelisting definitely would have avoided even that handful of mismarked valid mail.

ESET did let almost 22 percent of undeniable spam into the Inbox, but dealing with some spam messages is much less of a problem than losing valid mail to the spam filter. On the other hand, Norton and Bitdefender respectively let just 5.3 and 6.8 percent of spam slip through, and neither blocked a single valid message.

In addition, it hardly slowed the mail download process at all, where some products seriously impact downloading. For example, both Trend Micro Titanium Internet Security 2013 and Avira Internet Security 2013 slowed email download time by a factor of four.

For a full explanation of my antispam accuracy test, read How We Test Antispam.

ESET Smart Security 6 antispam chart

Very Basic Parental Control
ESET’s parental control system does just one thing, but does it well. For each Windows user account on the system, it can block access to websites in 31 distinct categories. By default it preselects categories based on the child’s age. That, plus logging blocked sites, is all it does.

Content filtering is browser independent, and unlike most suite-based parental control systems, ESET can filter out inappropriate HTTPS sites. In particular it will block secure anonymizing proxy sites, which can give a wily teenager unfiltered Internet access. SecureIT Plus (2013) and F-Secure Internet Security 2013 are among the few others with this ability.

If you enable parental control for an Administrator account, ESET warns that the user may be able to disable content filtering. Even so, it resisted an Administrator-level network command that serves to disable some parental control systems.

Every attempt to visit a blocked URL gets logged, so sometimes a single page visit will result in multiple log events. The log identifies the user, the date/time, and the reason for blocking. It can be a bit overwhelming. I prefer the filtered style that Norton and others use, where each blocked site gets reported just once.

Other suites offer much more comprehensive parental control. For example, parental control in BullGuard Internet Security 2013 includes content filtering, scheduling of Internet and computer time, program control, and instant messaging control. At least ESET’s one-feature system is effective.

Impressive Anti-Theft
New in version 6, and quite impressive, ESET’s anti-theft system works hard to help you recover a lost or stolen computer. Immediately on installation, ESET prompts you to configure the online console that manages anti-theft protection. If it detects security problems with your system’s configuration it will nag you until you correct them.

The Anti-Theft Audit reported a number of problems with my test systems. One was set to log in automatically, without entering a password. The main account on another didn’t even have a password. And neither had ESET’s Phantom Account enabled.

The Phantom Account is a special user account created to help ESET track your lost or stolen computer. To the thief, it looks like any user account, but while active it periodically uploads screenshots and webcam photos to the online anti-theft console. It also reports the computer’s location using WiFi triangulation.

When you report your computer stolen, ESET reboots into the Phantom Account and hides all other user accounts. From the online console, you can view the uploaded screenshots and webcam photos, or check the device’s location. If it seems your computer may be merely lost, not stolen, you can enable a message on the desktop informing the finder how to contact you and arrange for the device’s return.

Anti-theft is a common feature in mobile security suites, but rarely integrated into suites aimed at Windows PCs and laptops. It’s something I’d like to see more of. Anti-theft is the reason I gave ESET a 4 star rating for privacy protection.

Low Impact on System Resources
ESET manages to do all the work of a full-featured security suite without putting a drain on system performance. Its impact in each of my performance tests was well below the current average.

Averaging the results of booting a test system 100 times with ESET installed and with no suite, I found it took just 7 percent longer to boot. That’s hardly noticeable. Repeated runs of a script that times how long it takes to fully load 100 websites didn’t take measurably longer under ESET’s protection. Webroot and a few others also had no measurable effect on the browsing test.

Another of my test scripts moves and copies a huge collection of huge files between drives, to evaluate a suite’s effect on common file-management operations. This script took 9 percent longer with ESET watching; 22 percent is the average. A script that zips and unzips that same collection of files took 11 percent longer. And, as noted earlier, ESET’s spam filter hardly slowed email downloading at all.

In a performance test by AV-Comparatives last year, the previous edition of ESET Smart Security was one of a dozen products rated ADVANCED+, the highest rating. You’re just not going to see a system slowed by ESET.

Much to Like
ESET Smart Security 6 is a complete security suite, with all the expected features plus a bonus anti-theft component. Its individual components consistently earned good scores in my tests and on independent lab tests. And it won’t put a drag on your system performance.

Even so, I’d still recommend one of our Editors’ Choice suites, especially to protect a desktop PC where theft is less likely. Try Norton Internet Security (2013) for a full-fledged traditional suite, or Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete 2013 for a ridiculously tiny suite that uses cloud-based behavioral detection. You won’t pay more for Webroot than for ESET, and Norton is $10 cheaper.

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

More Security suite reviews:

Specifications
Tech Support Free US-based customer care and ESET Knowledgebase for comprehensive tips and how-to solutions.
OS Compatibility Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 7
Type Personal

Verdict
ESET Smart Security 6 includes all the expected elements of a security suite, but adds an anti-theft component to help you recover a lost or stolen computer. Its test scores are consistently good, but not at the top. Consider it if anti-theft is a prime concern for you.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc