Internet Security Suites – Reviews and Comparisons
The most important facts
- Internet security software is more than just a virus scanner. It is a total package for maximum security and often also includes a firewall, e-mail protection, child protection and a secured browser for online banking
- Internet security software protects against known and future threats from the Internet
- In addition to virus protection, an Internet security suite also provides increased security for sensitive activities on the Internet such as online banking or online shopping
- Internet security suites are often offered as multi-device licenses and include smartphone and tablet protection
In our comparison, the programs Kaspersky Internet Security, Bitdefender Internet Security and McAfee Internet Security prevailed. The fourth-placed Norton Security Premium also convinces with an excellent overall package and is just behind the winning trio.
Kaspersky offers a wide range of features, one of the best virus scanners and high compatibility. This is how Kaspersky Internet Security works with Windows, MacOS, Android and iOS. The Romanian security software manufacturer Bitdefender also deserved to place itself in the top three of the comparison. In addition to excellent protection, Bitdefender scores with the best performance among the programs. The user interface is also very well thought-out and the autopilot, which relieves the user of all decisions, is able to convince.
Both Norton and McAfee combine excellent protection performance with ease of use. The two are the most expensive products in our test, but they are also designed for multi-device use. They can be installed on up to ten (Norton) or unlimited (McAfee) devices, including not only Windows PCs and laptops, but also smartphones and Macs. Other manufacturers’ products cost a similar amount of money if you want to use them on more than one or three devices at the same time, but not all of them are compatible with such a wide range of different operating systems.
1. Why does the PC need virus protection?
Anyone who follows the news from the technology industry closely knows that cyber criminals are increasingly targeting customer and access data. In particular, well-known companies are particularly affected by data theft. Blackmail software such as Locky, TeslaCrypt or the infamous Federal Police Trojan have also appeared more and more frequently in recent years. Our chart shows the most dangerous viruses. Efficient protection of personal data on the hard disk is therefore particularly important.
This is especially true for computers running the Windows operating system. Although Microsoft gave away its Windows 10 some time ago and provided a free update, Windows 7 is still running on most desktops worldwide, and old systems, as well as outdated versions of the program, offer a gateway to malicious software because the protection effect is lower.
What damage can malware cause?
The damage caused to a computer without an Internet security suite is manifold. The damage spectrum ranges from an increasing slowdown of the computing processes to a total network failure. The following problems and damages typically occur when a PC without a security program is infected with a virus:
- Modification of user settings, e. g. the browser start page
- Aggressive Spam
- Gradual increase in outgoing data volume
- Significant slowdown of the computer and work processes
- Total system failure due to destruction of relevant system components
- Loss or encryption of important data
- Data theft
Hackers can also remotely control the computer from unsuspecting individuals and use it as part of a bot network to send spam, usually even without the owner of the computer knowing anything. Reliable virus protection also prevents these cyber attacks.
2. What are the benefits of an Internet Security Suite?
An Internet Security is a software package that combines several programs that protect your computer from Internet threats.
Secure WiFi connections
An Internet security suite also provides security on the move. When logging into a foreign Wi-Fi network, it checks whether the connection is secure or hides a danger for the computer.
Protection of privacy
With clever anti-phishing tools, Internet security software protects the privacy and personal data of the user. In addition to a virtual keyboard, it also includes effective protection against Ransomware to provide excellent security packages.
Secure online banking
Online banking and online shopping are a matter of course for most internet users. In such transactions, the user sends sensitive data via the network. Merchants use security procedures such as SSL encryption to protect this data. But a hundred percent protection is also not attainable. So users would do well to ensure the highest possible level of security themselves. Internet security suites shield the data entries in a protected browser area so that they are safe from unwanted fellow readers.
Children also want to use computers and the Internet. After all, the World Wide Web offers many games and learning opportunities for the little ones – but not only. An Internet security suite with various child protection settings ensures that content for adults is blocked. In addition, the software can keep track of the offspring’s online activities and block the inadvertent disclosure of personal data.
Constantly high performance
Professional Internet security works inconspicuously in the background. It provides security without the PC user noticing it. Some programs even offer optimization tools or use the cloud to scan and scan suspicious applications, saving local system resources.
3. Features of an Internet security software
A security suite includes a virus scanner with various scan modes, browser protection for safe surfing and a vulnerability scan that detects gaps in the security of the system. In addition, many security programs have special applications that monitor personal e-mail traffic or provide parental controls for private Internet access. In this way, parents can secure Internet access for their children so that young computer users can only find child-friendly Internet sites. The danger of the child unintentionally downloading malicious software onto the computer is also contained.
However, every Internet security suite should have the essential protection features of an extended virus protection. These include the following components, among others:
This virus protection is constantly active and monitors all files, application activity and memory in the background. If a suspicious action or malicious program is detected during this process, the real-time scanner reports this to the user and the Security Suite asks for further action. Depending on the settings, this process can also run automatically – the program then deletes the pest without prompting you or moves it to a secured quarantine area.
Spam protection and anti-phishing feature
Email protection monitors incoming and outgoing electronic mail. In the process, the attachments of an e-mail and links contained in a message are also checked by Internet security. If the malware guard finds something suspicious, the user receives a warning and a recommendation not to open the e-mail. In addition to this, many security suites also include a phishing protection feature that prevents malicious and unauthorized access to sensitive data – such as passwords, user names or account data – by means of dubious e-mails or fake web presences.
A firewall is a protection system that monitors the traffic between your computer and the Internet. Internet security blocks access to the system in case of suspicious actions. The user must give his consent to the execution if necessary.
The child protection function secures the computer so that children can use the Internet without the presence of an adult. Internet security then functions as a virtual supervisor. It ensures that young PC users surfing the Internet only land on child-friendly websites. As a rule, this is done via blacklists and whitelists, on which parents enter the web addresses that are blocked or allowed. To simplify matters, child protection uses databases that catalog websites by category. Parents then only have to indicate that they want to block the category “violence” or “gambling”, for example. It is also sometimes possible to block certain keywords and restrict the use of social networks – especially communication with third parties and disclosure of confidential information.
Online banking protection
Online banking protection creates an environment isolated from the rest of the browser so that users can conduct all their financial transactions in a secure area. The security suites often also allow password input via on-screen keyboard to make it difficult for keyloggers (programs that log keystrokes) to access information without authorization.
Ransomware blocks and encrypts private, personal files on the hard disk and asks for a ransom for sharing from the user. This extortion software has recently enjoyed growing popularity among cybercriminals. Ransomware protection is therefore a must for any modern PC security software. This allows the user to protect certain areas and folders on the hard disk by the security software in such a way that unauthorized access and encryption are no longer possible.
4. Additional features of an Internet security software
In addition to this basic equipment, security suites offer many useful extensions that promise additional protection.
A password manager should be part of every Internet security. It manages and protects all active passwords of the user. In addition, many security suites contain a password generator that creates secure logins. Due to their character length and the random selection of letters, numbers and special characters, these are extremely crunch-proof.
Encrypting data is an important part of the data security provided by Internet security. Different algorithms make data illegible. In this way, sensitive data is excellently protected against unauthorized access by third parties. Only those who have the correct decoding key can view the documents.
Simple deletion is no guarantee that data has really disappeared irretrievably from the hard disk. This does not really delete them, but only the entry in the partition table of the hard disk, which describes where the file is located. With the right tools, deleted files can be recovered in no time at all.
When selling hardware, it is therefore advisable to overwrite the storage media as completely as possible so that no personal data, documents or photos get into the hands of others. For this reason, Internet security suites are often equipped with a data shredder. It overwrites the deleted files several times with random data. This eliminates the possibility of unauthorized data recovery.
Security software works permanently in the background. Ideally so inconspicuous that the user notices no jerking or other performance problems when working on the PC. After all, security should not be at the expense of PC speed. Some Internet security suites therefore support the performance of the computer. Internet security analyzes installed add-ons or toolbars and recommends disabling them if any of these enhancements noticeably slow down system performance or jeopardise computer security. The PC tuning function also speeds up the computer by turning off unnecessary processes and optimizing disk space.
5. Internet Security vs. Antivirus
Internet security programs are security packages whose protection performance, unlike antivirus programs, goes beyond the detection and removal of malicious software. In comparison, an antivirus program mainly provides virus protection for the PC and the home network.
What is the added value of Internet security?
With an Internet security suite, the user receives extended protection, which also includes online security, privacy protection when surfing the Internet and classic virus protection. Internet security software has several more features than antivirus software for securing personal data during online banking or online shopping. The exact scope of functions varies from program to program.
6. Freeware or purchase version?
A simple Internet search is all it takes to know that virus protection for your PC is free of charge. Well-known security software manufacturers such as Kaspersky, Bitdefender or Avast also offer their virus scanners as free versions. These are in no way inferior in their detection performance to the tools from the purchase versions. However, consumers should not be deceived by the real performance of free offers.
Freeware from well-known vendors or test versions are perfect if users want to test a new security program before making a binding purchase. In the long run, however, the freeware of a security program does not provide sufficient protection against current cyber threats.
Consumers don’t necessarily have to dig deep into their pockets for reliable protection against malware and surfing. A comparison of the best Internet security programs shows that even in the lower price segment, some powerful Internet security is available.
7. Security suites for alternative operating systems
In April 2017, antivirus experts from ESET announced a new malware targeting computers running the Linux operating system. The Linux/Shishiga malware spreads over four different protocols (SSH, Telnet, HTTP and BitTorrent) and attempts to enter the computer with a password list. The discovery makes it clear that, in addition to Windows, other systems such as Linux are becoming the focus of cybercriminals.
Linux web server targeted
Linux web servers are also attractive to criminal hackers because they can be misused as a botnet for longer. The viruses do not cause noticeable damage to Linux. Therefore, infestation is often noticed late. But without virus protection, the Linux computer unintentionally turns into a virus spinner.
Linux-based web servers are often used in companies. If a virus lands in a corporate network, it can be expensive. It is not the hardware that causes the company costs, but the failure of the network. In addition, there is the cost of removing the harmful programs.
Does Mac OS need internet security?
Malware attacks on computers running Mac OS have been very rare in 2016. In addition, Apple is equipping its operating system with multiple security components. These include gatekeepers, sandboxes and the Xprotect download protection unit.
This security package is supplemented by the file quarantine, which is part of programs that download files from the Internet. This includes the Safari browser and the e-mail program.
Many Mac users believe that Mac OS does not require an external security program. However, IT security experts call for precaution. As more and more consumers move to Mac OS, the system becomes an increasingly attractive target for hackers.
According to industry magazines, the Apple system is more affected by aggressive adware, especially in the USA. Ransomware could also be developed so that it poses a serious threat to OS X.
Some companies insist on an additional protection program for Mac. Just like Linux, a Mac in an enterprise network can turn out to be a spinner of malware for Windows viruses. In order to ensure the highest level of protection for business numbers, customer data and logins, Mac users who use their computers for both business and personal purposes should provide them with their own Internet security software.
9. How we compare
If you are looking for reliable protection against the various threats from the Internet for your computer, you are well advised to use an Internet security program. These security software packages offer the ideal features in terms of functionality. But what is really important when choosing the right security software?
By comparing the best Internet security programs, we want to help undecided users make the right decision to buy. Five test criteria were defined for the test, on the basis of which we thoroughly scrutinized each individual security software product. The test takes into account the following criteria: equipment, safety, performance, operation and documentation & support.
A security product can reach a maximum of 5.00 points per criterion. The average of the individual evaluations finally results in a total score. A short summary at the end of the detailed test report highlights the essentials of the four test criteria and again compares the relevant positive and negative aspects of the respective security solution.
The performance range of Internet security suites can be very different. Some products shine with a very comprehensive range of functions that leaves nothing to be desired. Others, on the other hand, give the impression that the marketing department quickly requested a few more features in order to be able to sell the virus scanner as Internet security.
It is not always easy to find out from the manufacturer’s specifications what is actually behind a feature. For example, online banking protection can be nothing more than a minimally enhanced phishing protection, but it can also conceal a specially secured desktop environment with its own browser (usually a modified version of the open source browser Chromium), which isolates the connection to the bank server, blocks secret screenshots and protects against keyloggers with a virtual keyboard.
We have therefore installed every program and looked at what it actually does. However, it would go beyond the scope of a detailed test to give equal attention to every single function. Therefore, our test reports focus on core functions. Things that distinguish the tested program from other Internet security suites were also of particular interest to us.
Important and less important components
The firewall and child protection software are particularly interesting. Both features can be important reasons for customers to choose an Internet security suite instead of a virus scanner. The presence of a password manager is also important, as this software closes one of the biggest security holes on any computer connected to the World Wide Web. This is created by users who use insecure passwords for convenience. Unfortunately, password managers are not part of the standard features of Internet security suites, they are not even included in half of the tested packages. They are particularly successful in F-Secure Internet Security, Bitdefender Internet Security and McAfee Internet Security.
We also attached great importance to the phishing protection and security rating of websites, which fortunately belongs to the standard equipment of all providers. These components are implemented by the manufacturers in different ways: Many of them already show small icons with a security rating in the results list of search engines such as Google or Bing. Often a browser plug-in also informs about the security of the current website and displays a warning in the browser when trying to visit an unsafe website.
Spam filters are an elementary part of Internet security software, but they rarely play a role for private users today, as they usually have accounts with webmail providers that filter spam on the server side anyway. In addition, the vast majority of spam filters only work together with email clients such as Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird. Anyone who accidentally uses an incompatible e-mail client or accesses their e-mails via a web interface has nothing to gain. Therefore, we did not deal with them further in the test.
Nice to have, but not essential
Some packages also include a backup solution, including Panda Internet Security, Norton Security Premium, G-Data Internet Security and Bullguard Internet Security. This is a plus point and certainly contributes to data security. However, we do not consider a backup function to be an elementary component of Internet security software – which is primarily concerned with preventing attacks from the network and protecting against malware.
Many other functions can be considered nice additions. Tools that extend the feature list, are often not particularly time-consuming to implement and certainly do no harm, but whose absence does not significantly impair the core functionality of an Internet security suite. These include tools for secure deletion, sandboxes (which are simply not useful for most users), virtual keyboards (as well as a part of Windows 10) and system optimizers (nice, useful, but only marginally related to Internet security).
The main task of an Internet Security Suite is to ensure maximum security on the PC system and in the files. For this reason, we check which components of the Internet security software benefit security. Of course, features such as anti-phishing and spyware protection should be as important as email protection or a powerful firewall. There are plus points for security programs that can also come up with extras such as a password manager.
For the evaluation of anti-malware modules, we also base our evaluations on the ratings of independent test laboratories. These recognized testing institutes regularly check different antivirus programs. In doing so, they subject the software to comprehensive tests with various sets of malware samples.
Test laboratories from the German-speaking countries are world leaders in this field. Perhaps the most important of them is AV Test based in Magdeburg. AV-Comparatives from Austria also tests a large number of relevant programs. The British test laboratory SE Labs is also located in Europe, but only eight different programs are examined in the consumer sector.
Minimal differences at a high level
In general, none of the Internet security suites has significant weaknesses in the security of their anti-malware components. Even a comparatively poor rating in AV Test with only four out of six points means a malware detection rate of nearly one hundred percent.
In the safety category, the focus is therefore on small nuances at a high level. This is where Kaspersky Internet Security comes out on top. AV Test’s security software from Russia was rated the best in both Windows and Mac versions. Kaspersky also achieved top performances in tests conducted by SE Labs and AV Comparatives. Symantec is almost as good with its Norton Internet Security product, which is not quite as good as Kaspersky on the Mac at AV Test. The Romanian competitor Bitdefender is also the absolute leader in malware detection, but with 97 percent of SE Labs’ Total Accuracy rating, it did slightly worse than Kaspersky and Norton.
Security suites are continuously active in the background for continuous protection of the PC system. However, this also results in the security software permanently consuming part of the system resources.
The Performance checkpoint is dedicated to the question of how Internet security affects computing performance. Could a complete system scan of the security software be noticeable due to delays or jerks? A virus guard, which remains inconspicuous in this point and is always up to date and reports all dangers, can score best in the test. In this context, we also take a critical look at the system requirements of each security software.
To do this, we look at the effects on the boot time of the computer. We also measure how much time it takes to install the free office suite LibreOffice with an active security program. In the broadest sense, performance also includes the actual hard disk usage of the programs, in contrast to the value specified by the manufacturer under the system requirements. We are also interested in the respective scan duration, where there are significant differences, both in the complete system scan as well as in the most common quick scan.
Performance is almost always in tune
As with the topic of safety, the following applies here too: A lot of light, little shade. While in the past, real-time scanners running in the background often felt as though the computer was proverbially driving with the handbrake applied, modern Internet security suites do not have a significant effect on computer performance. Apparently, the manufacturers have learned something new. Of course, the computers have also become faster.
On our test computer, a full virus scan usually took about ten minutes. On a work computer on which the virus scanner has to scan more files and which is equipped with a normal hard disk instead of a fast SSD, the scanning process obviously takes more time.
When it comes to scanning speed, F-Secure Internet Security stands out from the test field. The program from the far north of Europe does the quick scan in no more than a moment, and even the complete scan was faster than the quick scan of many other products. Equally outstanding is the fast scan of Bitdefender Internet Security. The full scan of the program is also decently fast, but still slower than F-Secure’s full scan. If you don’t have enough hard disk space, consider Bullguard Internet Security. The software has a storage capacity of 116 megabyte and is also a successful product in all other respects.
If a security program comes with different features and tools, this sounds good for the consumer. However, the added value of the functions and extras also depends on the design of the user interface and ease of use. The user interface of the security suites should be clearly structured, so that all necessary features can be seen at first glance. It is advantageous if the Internet security contains a gamer mode or the user can call up different statistics for the security of his computer system. This section of the test therefore examines whether the developers have succeeded in implementing an intuitive, practicable and clear program guidance that is easy to learn, even for non-professionals.
The user interface designers are always faced with the challenge of finding a balance between complexity and ease of use, made difficult by the fact that computer security is a very abstract topic. Most programs tend to be either one way or the other. Panda Internet Security, for example, shines with an inviting, simple user interface, but often lacks advanced configuration options. There are clear differences in the quality of the German translation: While some terms in the Japanese software Trend Micro Internet Security seem bumpy and awkward, the user notices in the Finnish product F-Secure Internet Security that much care has been taken to find coherent words for the functions and buttons of the software.
Different approaches lead to good user interfaces
Bullguard and Bitdefender both use compact design with small buttons, which is very comfortable to use. It gives the user the feeling of having everything under control without overtaxing him. Bitdefender even has an autopilot mode built in. At the push of a button, all settings are reset to their default values and the program completes its task without any user interaction.
Most programs, such as Kaspersky Internet Security and McAfee Internet Security, rely on the user’s hands-on experience with clearly designed screens that are by no means overloaded. Buttons with complete sentences are often explained, small interactive tours guide you through the most important functions of the program and extended setting options are only displayed after explicit selection by the user. Norton Internet Security and Avast Internet Security are also included in this category.
Even the best security software can cause problems and raise questions. In such cases, customers need fast and professional help. In this section of the test, we focus on the customer service that security software manufacturers offer their customers. We are interested in how to reach the service staff of the various security manufacturers. The research also focuses on tips, instructions and FAQ listings. Kaspersky and McAfee have a particularly complete support offering.
It goes without saying that a company that provides telephone support around the clock scores highly. Well, that’s rare. Only Bullguard, Comodo and G-Data offer this service. Bitdefender has international support available 24 hours a day, but the regular telephone support in Germany only works during normal office hours.
Clearly arranged service center websites are also rewarded with rating points. The average number of points in this category is lower than in other areas, which is simply because many manufacturers have focused on a specific contact opportunity. Hardly any manufacturer support is available by phone, email or chat.