Going without antivirus protection is just asking for trouble. You could pick up a nasty virus, have your bank accounts hacked by a trojan, or find your important documents locked by ransomware. Setting up antivirus protection is a must, but you don’t have to stop there. A full-scale security suite offers protection on many other levels. Kaspersky Internet Security takes an award-winning antivirus and adds firewall, spam filtering, parental control, a VPN, and more. Furthermore, all these security components do their jobs well.
This suite lists at $79.99 per year for three licenses or $89.99 for five licenses. First-time users can often get a significant discount. You can use your licenses to protect Windows, macOS, or Android devices. Norton 360 Deluxe costs $99.99 per year for five cross-platform licenses, but that also includes five no-limits VPN licenses. With Kaspersky, you pay $4.99 per month or $29.99 per year to remove the VPN’s limitations.
At $119.99 per year, McAfee Total Protection looks quite expensive by comparison. However, that subscription lets you install McAfee security on every Android, iOS, macOS, and Windows device in your household.
Kaspersky’s spacious main window features a big status banner across the top. If there’s a configuration problem it offers a link to set things right; if not, it may still have some recommendations. There are six big button panels labeled Scan, Database Update, Safe Money, Privacy Protection, Protection for kids, and My Kaspersky. Below these is a button to bring up a menu of more tools, and a gear icon at bottom left to open Settings.
Features Shared With Free Protection
This suite overlaps most security features found in Kaspersky Security Cloud Free, though the free product models itself on Kaspersky Security Cloud, not on this suite or on the commercial Kaspersky Anti-Virus. I’ll summarize the security features shared with Kaspersky Free here. Please read that review for full details.
All four of the independent antivirus testing labs I follow include Kaspersky in their regular reports. In the latest set of reports, Kaspersky earned perfect or near-perfect scores in every test. My aggregate score algorithm gives Kaspersky an overall lab rating of 9.7, with 10 being the maximum possible. Bitdefender Internet Security did even better, with 9.9 points, though only three of the four labs included it in their latest reports.
The System Watcher behavioral detection component aims to catch malware, including ransomware, that gets past other protective layers. For testing, I turned off the regular antivirus protection and hit the test system with a dozen real-world ransomware samples. System Watcher only missed one, a simple screen-locker ransomware, and that sample caved to Kaspersky’s dedicated lock-breaker keystroke.
Kaspersky took 9.3 of 10 possible points in my hands-on malware protection test, a score that’s good, but not great. However, when my results don’t jibe with the labs, I defer to the work of the dozens of dedicated researchers in the labs. Webroot detected 100 percent of these samples and scored a perfect 10 points.
G Data Internet Security took second place among products tested with my current malware collection, earning 9.8 points. Tested with my previous malware collection, Malwarebytes, Sophos, and Windows Defender also took 9.8 points.
When I challenged Kaspersky to protect against malware downloads from a hundred recently discovered malware-hosting URLs, it either blocked access to the URL or eliminated the download 81 percent of the time. That’s a so-so score; it did better last time around. In their own latest tests, McAfee, Sophos, and Vipre all managed 100 percent protection, while Bitdefender, Trend Micro Internet Security, and several others managed 99 percent protection.
In my last review, Kaspersky’s Web Anti-Virus component proved adept at detecting phishing frauds. It managed 100 percent detection in my hands-on antiphishing test, and the macOS product matched that score. This time around, the score was markedly lower, with different detections by the Windows and macOS products. That was enough of an anomaly that I ran the test again, yielding a better score for Windows, 96 percent detection. Trend Micro scored 100 percent in its last phishing test, and a half-dozen others did better than Kaspersky.
All of Kaspersky’s security products come with a free, bandwidth-limited edition of the Kaspersky Secure Connection VPN. You can use 200MB of bandwidth per day on each device, or 300MB if you’re logged in to My Kaspersky. At the free level, you don’t get to choose the server location—the VPN make that choice for you.
Bitdefender’s products offer a limited VPN that’s extremely similar. And no wonder, as both are powered by Hotspot Shield, our current winner for fastest VPN. If you want to lift the bandwidth cap and take control of which VPN server you use, you must pay Kaspersky an extra $4.99 per month.
Other bonus features include an on-screen keyboard to foil keyloggers and a markup system to flag dangerous links in search results. Clicking More Tools brings up pages of additional tools, many of which are not available to users of the free edition. Among the tools that don’t require a premium purchase are a file shredder, a rescue disk, a simple vulnerability scan, and several tools designed to clean and optimize your PC.
Kaspersky Anti-Virus also overlaps the free edition’s features. The big plus to paying for it is that you get full-scale tech support, via phone or live chat. Users of the free edition must rely on FAQs and forums. If you ever run into trouble, that live chat support can be a lifesaver.
See How We Test Security Software
Kaspersky’s free utility marks quite a few features with a shield icon, indicating that these are reserved for paying customers. Among these is Safe Money. When you navigate to a banking site or other sensitive website, Kaspersky offers to open that site in the Safe Money protected browser. By default, once you’ve accepted that offer, it always opens that site in the protected browser. Bitdefender’s Safepay feature works in much the same way.
A green border around the browser, along with a semi-transparent overlay notice, reminds you that you’re in this special, protected mode, in a browser that’s isolated from other processes. It even foils screen-scraping spy programs. You can open the notification area icon’s menu and choose from a list of sites you’ve visited with Safe Money, to quickly revisit any of them.
Firewall and Application Control
The earliest personal firewalls developed (and deserved) a reputation for bombarding the user with incomprehensible queries. “NatashaFatale.exe wants to connect to IP address 2606:4700::6811:6563 using port 8080. Allow / Block? Once / Always?” Most users lack the knowledge to answer that question with confidence. Some users always click Allow. Others always click Block, until doing so causes a problem, at which point they switch to Allow. Kaspersky cuts the uninformed user out of that interaction, handling application control internally.
Using data from the Kaspersky Security Network database, the application control system flags each application as Trusted, Low Restricted, High Restricted, or Untrusted. Untrusted apps simply don’t get to run. Others that aren’t in the Trusted category can run, but with limited access to sensitive system areas.
It’s not uncommon for application installers to bundle additional products, items you didn’t request. As part of its job, Application Manager automatically clears checkboxes offering additional software and suppresses installation steps that include ads or bundled items. It works something like the Bundle Protection feature in Reason Core Security.
Of course, a firewall also must protect your system against attack from the internet. To check that feature, I hit the test system with about 30 exploits generated by the CORE Impact penetration tool. Kaspersky detected and blocked 84 percent of the exploits, identifying about a quarter of those using the official CVE tracking number. Even the missed exploits didn’t breach security, since the test system has all security patches, but it’s good to see that Kaspersky is on the alert for such attacks.
In its own recent test, Bitdefender detected 74 percent of the exploits, which is still better than almost all competitors. Norton 360 Deluxe routinely scores in the mid-80s, but Kaspersky seems to be catching up. I did observe that in every case the Web Anti-Virus component took credit for the catch, not the Network Attack Blocker.
Your security protection is worthless if a malicious program or script can turn it off. Kaspersky’s self-defense proved effective when I attacked it using potential malware code techniques. There’s nothing significant exposed in the Registry. I couldn’t just set Security Enabled to False. I couldn’t kill its two core processes, nor the two Safe Kids processes. I did succeed in terminating the VPN, but it came right back.
Digging into Kaspersky’s essential Windows services, I managed to disable the password manager and VPN. However, trying to do the same to the antivirus and other protective services just got an Access Denied message. Of course, a malicious program couldn’t even try these attacks without getting past every other layer of protection.
While not precisely part of firewall protection, the Network Monitor component gives tech-savvy users insight into just what applications are using bandwidth. A live graph charts overall inbound and outbound traffic, and a list of actively connected programs breaks down that usage, showing who’s using what. If you turn it on and find it baffling, don’t worry. You can safely ignore it.
Some Features Removed
Kaspersky’s security products have been around for many, many years. Over the years they accrete new security features. And from time to time, Kaspersky removes dated and little-used technologies.
One such is Trusted Application Mode, which used to show up in the Manage Applications page of Tools. I mentioned that Kaspersky flags applications by trust level and puts limits on those that are anything but fully trusted. In Trusted Applications Mode, any app with a less-than-perfect trust level can’t run at all. This whitelist-based protection is similar in some ways to that of VoodooSoft VoodooShield. The main difference with VoodooShield is it applies its rules only when the computer is at risk, such as when it’s connected to the internet.
The thing is, enabling Trusted Application Mode was complicated. It involved an hours-long scan and analysis, followed by the user’s careful review of its findings. With this mode active, it should be impossible for malware to run on your system, even brand-new zero-day attacks. But it could also block perfectly valid programs. And probably not one consumer in a thousand actually used it.
A few other features also departed with the release of the current product line. The IM Anti-Virus scanned all files arriving via instant messaging, but the proliferation of IM types made upkeep difficult. In any case, the regular real-time protection system would catch a malicious file before it could do any harm. And the backup system in Kaspersky’s top-level suites no longer invites users to store backups on their personal FTP servers.
Bitdefender performed a similar purge in its latest product line. Few consumers made use of the elaborate system for timing startup programs and adjusting when they’d start, so the developers simply removed it. The Disk Cleanup component, which simply listed huge files that you might want to delete, is also gone. And Bitdefender no longer offers its extra-cost AI-based Premium Parental Control.
Optional Spam Filter
If you use a web-based email system like Yahoo or Gmail, you probably don’t see a lot of spam, because it gets filtered out by the provider. Likewise, if your email comes through your workplace most spam gets filtered out at the mail server. Kaspersky’s spam filtering is turned off by default, but you can turn it on by clicking the Settings gear, clicking Protection at left, and scrolling down to Anti-Spam.
Kaspersky checks email coming from both POP3 and IMAP accounts, marking up spam and possible spam by modifying the subject line. Its filter has three modes, Recommended, High, and Low. As you might expect, setting it to High blocks more spam but might also discard valid mail. Changing the setting to Low goes the other way, possibly allowing more spam but avoiding the possibility that you’ll lose an important message to the spam filter.
That’s it for basic settings. Advanced Settings come with a warning that they’re meant only for advanced users. If you dare to open them, you get a few more options, but not the overwhelming number of pages that come with spam filtering in Check Point ZoneAlarm Extreme Security. You can change the subject line label it uses to flag spam. You can configure a list of blocked phrases or obscene words, meaning any message containing them should be considered spam. Finally, you can manage lists of allowed and blocked senders. For most users, the default settings should be fine.
Like spam filtering, parental control is a feature that many people don’t need. In years past, Kaspersky offered a somewhat dated but full-featured parental control system in this suite. It had content filtering, time scheduling, personal data protection, and even game control based on ESRB ratings. More recently, Kaspersky Safe Kids takes over the parental control job.
What you get, though, is the free, feature-limited version of Safe Kids. Don’t dismiss it too quickly; this free edition does more than the limited parental control found in some suites.
As with Kaspersky Security Cloud Free, a shield icon identifies features that require a premium upgrade. You get a content filter that lets you either block access to specified categories or display a warning before the child visits a matching site. Likewise, you can set a daily limit on device usage and either warn when time’s up or block further usage. (Setting a weekly schedule for usage is a premium feature). Finally, you can ban or time-limit specific apps.
In testing, we discovered that the content filter needs help from its browser extension to handle HTTPS sites. A porn site that uses an HTTPS connection will slip right through an off-brand browser, as will a secure anonymizing proxy. Connecting through such a proxy cuts the content filter out of the loop, defeating parental control. If this becomes a problem, you can use application control to disable the off-brand browser.
Premium features include the ability to locate the child’s device, get a geofencing notification when the child enters or leaves a location, monitor social network activity, get a warning if the battery is low on the child’s device, and get real-time alerts on risky activity. You also need to upgrade if you want to see detailed reports on the child’s online activity. Do read our review of Kaspersky Safe Kids if these features sound interesting. You may decide that an extra $14.99 per year for unlimited kids and unlimited devices is a bargain.
The macOS equivalent of this product also gets the free version of Safe Kids. Only at the top tier, with Kaspersky Total Security or Kaspersky Security Cloud, do you get premium features built in.
Webcam and Privacy Protection
Have you ever looked up a product online and then found the websites you visit crawling with ads for that product? Creepy, right? Kaspersky’s Private Browsing feature can help by blocking ad agencies, web analytics, and other trackers, but by default it just watches and reports tracking attempts. If you want it to do more than just watch, click Privacy Protection and check the option to block data collection. By default, Kaspersky exempts websites belonging to itself and its partners, but you can put them on the chopping block, too. Just click the Private Browsing link to bring up settings. It also refrains from blocking ads when doing so might disable the website.
The Kaspersky toolbar icon in your browser displays the number of trackers blocked on the current page. You can click for a breakdown of the tracking types, and dig in further to see the exact trackers. A related feature, Anti-Banner, suppresses banner ads from the sites you visit. Remember, however, that many of your favorite sites rely on ad revenue to bring you the pages you like. Use Anti-Banner responsibly.
For a different take on privacy, Kaspersky offers spyware protection in the form of a webcam control tool. If you set it to deny access, it warns you any time an untrusted process attempts to access the webcam. Were you setting up a video conference? No problem. You can add the conferencing program to the trusted list. But if the warning comes without any relation to what you’re doing, thank Kaspersky for blocking some creep from peeking through your webcam. You can also set it to block webcam access for all processes.
When I launched Skype, Kaspersky placed a floating notification at the top of the screen letting me know that it allowed webcam access. From that notification I could pull down a menu to hide the notification, block access, or open the corresponding settings page. When I tweaked the settings to block all access, Skype couldn’t find the camera, and Kaspersky slid in a transient notification at bottom right indicating that it blocked an attempt to use the webcam.
Bitdefender offers a very similar feature, with the additional fillip that it separately protects against misuse of your microphone as a listening device.
The vulnerability scan that comes with Kaspersky Anti-Virus notifies you of missing security patches, but it doesn’t do anything beyond pointing out problems. In the suite, you get the Software Updater, which handles the whole process for you.
You don’t even have to launch the updater. It runs automatically in the background, and it notifies you if it discovers any available updates. Just review its findings, click Update All, and let it do the work. If the update doesn’t require acceptance of a license agreement, it can handle the entire update process automatically. In testing this time around, I didn’t even see the updater, as it did its work in the background.
Keeping your operating system and applications updated with all security patches is another way to defend against exploit attacks. Avast Premium Security and Avira Total Security Suite also offer automatic patching, but these two are the top of their respective product lines, while Kaspersky Internet Security is just the entry-level Kaspersky suite, with Kaspersky Total Security and Kaspersky Security Cloud above it.
The name PC Cleaner might suggest that this is a component designed to clean up junk files, or to remove traces of your computer activities. Both of those are common bonus features in security suites. In fact, components shared with the antivirus handle both those tasks. The PC Cleaner’s purpose is completely different.
This scan looks for programs that aren’t malware, and aren’t even in the low-risk potentially unwanted program category. It aims to find programs that you might want to remove, for many reasons. These include nonstandard installations, programs you rarely use, and programs that may be adware. Like the software updater, this scan ran in the background and reported no problems.
If it does flag a potentially unwanted program, you can uninstall it, or grant it a reprieve by removing it from the results list. You can also report an annoying program to Kaspersky by pointing it out with a crosshair-shaped cursor.
On the same page as PC Cleaner you’ll find Privacy Cleaner, Browser Configuration, and Microsoft Windows Troubleshooting. I discuss these three in detail in my review of Kaspersky Security Cloud Free. Briefly, they don’t do a lot, and might be better combined into a single multi-faceted scan.
Kaspersky’s Mac Protection
Kaspersky Internet Security is a cross-platform security service, with support for Windows, macOS, and Android. In such a service, it’s common for Mac users to get the short end of the stick. Where Windows users get a glorious cornucopia of security suite features, Mac enthusiasts just receive a basic antivirus. It’s refreshing to see that Kaspersky doesn’t follow this trend. Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac offers a full suite of protective features but (as a standalone) costs no more than most Mac antivirus products. Please read my review for a full report on my findings; the digest that follows sums them up.
Two of the independent antivirus labs that I follow test Mac antivirus as well as Windows, and both put Kaspersky through testing. Like Bitdefender, Kaspersky detected 100 percent of the Mac malware that researchers at AV-Comparatives hit it with. Both also earned the top score in a test using Windows malware. Along with Bitdefender, Norton, and several others, Kaspersky earned the best possible score from AV-Test Institute.
Phishing sites, those frauds that try to steal your secure login credentials, aren’t specific to any platform, but protection against phishing can differ on different operating systems. Last year, Kaspersky managed 100 percent detection on both macOS and Windows. This time around, the Mac edition came in quite a bit lower.
Safe Money exists on the Mac, but it’s different. Rather than actively protecting the browser, it verifies that you’re visiting a legitimate financial website, not a clever fraud. Parental control uses the same free-level installation of Kaspersky Safe Kids.
Webcam protection on the Mac is a simple on/off switch, without the system of trusted applications that always get access. It can block browser tracking, though it doesn’t display the number of trackers for the current site. Other features include a network attack blocker, search results markup, and an on-screen keyboard. You can also install Kaspersky Secure Connect and Kaspersky Password Manager. This is a full security suite, not just a simple Mac antivirus.
Kaspersky’s Android Protection
Your desktop PCs need protection, but you should also install antivirus on your Android devices. Android devices are everywhere, and the operating system doesn’t have the level of security that’s baked into Apple’s mobile devices, so it’s a prime target for malware coders.
Anybody can download and use the free edition of Kaspersky Mobile Security. It’s also part of Kaspersky Security Cloud Free, managed by the Kaspersky Security Cloud mobile app. By logging in to My Kaspersky and adding the device to your license, you get the full set of features. The main window reflects your security status; when all’s well it shows a big green shield. You can select other features from an expandable panel of icons. A left-rail menu offers another way to access features.
Immediately after installation, it runs an update and a scan. Even after that first scan, the app’s main window remains yellow, meaning you’ve got work to do. Once you actively turn on internet protection, you reach serene green status. In addition to this on-demand scan, Kaspersky offers real-time protection, checking all new apps and processes. A recommendations page walks you through setup choices, including enabling anti-theft and setting up privacy protection.
The Android device I use for testing isn’t provisioned for cellular calling, so I couldn’t test the Call Filter. This feature promises to block calls from any numbers on a user-defined blacklist. It can optionally prompt you after each all from an unknown number, asking whether to blacklist that number. Blocked callers just get a busy signal. I couldn’t test Text Anti-Phishing for the same reason.
Kaspersky’s anti-theft features include the expected remote locate, lock, and wipe, as well as the ability to sound a noisy alarm (handy when you can’t remember where you left the device). The implementation is a bit different from that of Bitdefender and most others. You can’t just locate the device willy-nilly. A single action in My Kaspersky online both locks the device and reports its location. On the plus side, this means that even if your My Kaspersky account is compromised, the hacker can’t track your location without your knowledge.
Likewise, if you want to get mug shots of the person who’s using your device, you must also lock it. Whether you’re just locking the device or requesting mug shots, you can include a message. And if someone swaps out the SIM, Kaspersky sends you the new number.
Kaspersky also lets you put selected apps behind a PIN or fingerprint lock. Even if someone picks up your phone or tablet while it’s unlocked, this could prevent access to your email, or social media. The similar feature in Bitdefender goes farther than the simple lock, with options like automatically unlocking when on trusted networks, and allowing a brief hiatus before requiring the lock code again.
Small Performance Hit
If users think a security suite slows down system performance, even if it really doesn’t, they’re likely to shut it down. Security companies know that, and few modern security suites slow performance enough that you’d notice, but I still run some simple tests to check each product’s impact.
Loading up all a suite’s set of security components at startup could slow down the boot process, lengthening the wait until the computer is ready to use. My boot-time measurement script checks CPU usage once per second, deeming the system to be ready after 10 consecutive seconds with CPU usage under five percent. Subtracting the start of the boot process (as reported by Windows) yields the boot time. I average multiple runs with no security installed and compare the result with the average after installing the suite. Kaspersky added 43 percent to the boot time, which sounds bad until you learn that this represents less than 10 seconds. It’s a bigger hit percentage-wise than the last time I tested this product, but actually less time added.
There’s a possibility that your suite’s real-time antivirus monitoring could put a drag on everyday file manipulation activities. I use a script that moves and copies a large and eclectic collection of files between drives, averaging multiple runs before and after installing the suite. This script took just 31 percent longer with Kaspersky active. Another script that zips and unzips the same file collection repeatedly took 6 percent longer.
With an average impact of 27 percent, Kaspersky is in the bottom half. Even so, I didn’t notice any apparent slowdown. Note, though, that ESET, K7, and Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Plus exhibited no impact in any of the three tests.
A Feature-Rich Suite
By installing a security suite rather than a collection of individual security programs, you ensure a smooth, integrated experience. Kaspersky Internet Security is an excellent example, with a feature collection well beyond what you get in most suites. It could even qualify as a cross-platform suite, given its support for macOS and Android, but Kaspersky Security Cloud is a better fit for that category.
Bitdefender Internet Security, like Kaspersky, routinely gets perfect or near-perfect scores from the testing labs. Also like Kaspersky, it offers features way beyond the basics. We’ve designated these two our Editors’ Choice products for entry-level security suites.
Kaspersky Internet Security Specs
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