Kaspersky's range of antivirus software for Windows offers an enviable blend of fast scans and comprehensive protection, without missing out on additional applications, although extras are a bit scarce on the cheapest program paid for.

The flagship product, Kaspersky Total Security, has an unlimited password manager, robust parental controls and backup software. The mid-range product, Kaspersky Internet Security, offers fewer extras but includes webcam protection, enhanced web browser and limited parental controls and is our first choice for the best antivirus software.

If you are looking to save money, Kaspersky entry-level antivirus cannot compete in terms of functionality with the similarly priced Bitdefender Plus antivirus.

We are pleased to see Kaspersky leading the consumer antivirus industry with the first implementation of two-factor authentication for online accounts. On the other hand, Kaspersky's comprehensive scans have slowed our system down significantly, and none of its packages include unlimited access to the company's VPN service.

The costs of Kaspersky 2020 and what's covered

Kaspersky's antivirus programs for Windows share the same excellent malware scanner, starting with Kaspersky Security Cloud Free (formerly known as Kaspersky Free Antivirus) for those who just want the essentials.

These bases, however, now include the Kaspersky Password Manager and the client software for the Kaspersky Secure Connection VPN Service.

The password manager is limited to 15 login credentials, unless you pay 15 $ per year or purchase a Kaspersky Total Security license.

Free VPN service is limited to 200MB per day, or 300MB per day with a My Kaspersky online account - unlimited data costs 30$ per year (inexpensive compared to other VPN services) even for Total Security subscribers (Bitdefender Premium Security competitor service offers unlimited VPN usage).

Kaspersky Anti-Virus, starting at 60 $ per year, can protect from three to ten PCs and adds protection against phishing and spyware. (Tom's Guide readers get half off all these prices.) The software can also scan email attachments and look for vulnerabilities.

However, the program is minimalist compared to Bitdefender's Antivirus Plus, which offers many more features for the same price.

Starting at $80 to protect three to ten computers, Kaspersky Internet Security includes software for Macs, Android devices, iPhones and iPads, protects against unwanted applications and webcam hijacking, and includes the Kaspersky Safe Money hardened browser and limited parental controls.

Kaspersky Total Security is at the top of the pyramid and starts at 90 $ per year for three computers; that's 100 $ for five machines and 150 $ for ten. Total Security can back up, encrypt and "shred" files, and it can protect against an attack by ransom software. Parental controls on the Internet are also part of the package.

Kaspersky Security Cloud is an Internet-based security package that costs 90 $ per year for three devices, or 100 $ for five, and comes with an unlimited password manager, up to 500 MB of VPN data per day and some identity protection features. A family package costs 150 $ for up to 20 devices and adds better parental control.

Kaspersky's prices are often massively discounted, so take a look around the market and be aware that some prices are introductory and increase at the time of subscription renewal.

Kaspersky security software works with Windows 7 to 10, MacOS 10.12 to 10.14, Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and higher, and iOS 11 or higher. However, there is no Kaspersky Linux antivirus software for home computers, and iOS protection software only filters out malicious websites and helps find lost devices.

In recent years, there have been allegations that the Moscow-based Kaspersky company is working with Russian intelligence services to spy on its customers. US federal government departments and subcontractors are not allowed to use the company's software.

To counter these accusations, Kaspersky has moved its data farms to Switzerland and other neutral locations. We have seen no indication that Kaspersky's products are dangerous or contain security breaches or deliberate backdoors.

Antivirus protection

Kaspersky's products combine scans for known malware, "heuristic" monitoring to quickly identify suspicious behavior and code, and artificial intelligence analysis in Kaspersky's security network labs. The company sends malware definition updates to its 400 million users several times a day.

Kaspersky has numerous dedicated defenses against specific threats, including file-less malware and attacks on the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) boot system.

Kaspersky's Application Monitoring Service can set restrictions so that only trusted programs are executed. Meanwhile, almost all items have three levels of analysis intensity. Gaming mode works with games, movies and even large Excel spreadsheets. The System Monitor monitors the first signs of an attack by ransom software.

If all else fails, the Kaspersky Rescue Disk can reboot the system from a USB stick and remove any residual infection, but you will need to download the software to build it separately.

Antivirus performance

Kaspersky's malware has passed the most recent tests of the three labs whose results we use, providing excellent protection without false positives.

Kaspersky achieved a perfect detection score of 100 % in the "zero-day" (unknown) and "widespread" (known) malware categories that the German AV-Test lab studied in May and June 2019. Norton, Trend Micro and Microsoft Defender achieved the same results, although Norton recorded three false positives while the others had none.

In all bimonthly AV-Test evaluations dating back to January 2017, Kaspersky scored perfect only once out of 60 tests.

Kaspersky was also perfect in the Austrian AV-Comparatives lab tests of February-May 2019, detecting 100 % of online malware with no false positives.

Finally, London-based SE Labs gave Kaspersky (along with ESET, Microsoft and Norton) its highest score in tests conducted from April to June 2019, each of which detected 100 % of malware without false positives, although Microsoft gained by a hair's breadth because the other three neutralized rather than blocked 1 % of malware.

Security and privacy

Kaspersky desktop antivirus applications offer an increasing number of features at an ever-increasing price. While Kaspersky Anti-Virus is a basic antivirus, it can now block phishing sites that use shortened URLs.

Kaspersky Internet Security protects phones, tablets and Macs and adds basic parental controls, a two-way firewall and protection against hijacking webcams, but surreptitious audio recordings are blocked separately.

With the private browsing setting, you can block sites that follow your online movements. Safe Money, Kaspersky's enhanced browser, enforces the use of HTTPS encryption and blocks common web attacks and (with its on-screen virtual keyboard) keyloggers. Kaspersky browser extensions are available for Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome, but not for Microsoft Edge.

Kaspersky Total Security adds an unlimited version of the password manager. It also has enhanced parental controls with Safe Kids Premium, which allows parents to monitor Facebook activities, block objectionable content and locate their children (or at least their phones). Screen time can be limited on phones, tablets and PCs.

Total Security's backup and restore feature keeps copies of your most valuable files safe from ransom software attacks. By default, it backs up My Documents, Photos, Videos and Music, and you can add more to the list, although entire hard drives cannot be archived.

If you have files that shouldn't see the light of day, Total Security can shred or encrypt them.

Total Security includes a good assortment of system optimizers to remove unwanted programs, reclaim storage space, remove traces of your online activity, and even a troubleshooting routine for Windows problems.

Finally, with the company's My Kaspersky online accounts, you can monitor all covered computers, and you can now use two-factor authentication (2FA) for additional account protection. The server sends a text message to your phone containing a one-time code needed to log in. We hope other antivirus software manufacturers will follow Kaspersky's example on 2FA.

Performance and impact on the system

Kaspersky Total Security offers excellent protection, but it can require a lot of system resources. To measure the impact of the program, we used our custom benchmark test, which measures the time it takes for the CPU to match 20,000 names and addresses in an Excel spreadsheet.

Our Lenovo ThinkPad T470 testbed was equipped with a 2.5 GHz Core i5-7200U processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state memory containing 43.3GB of files.

Before we installed the Kaspersky software, the T470 recorded a basic task execution time of 7.8 seconds on our Excel testbed. This time dropped to 9.2 seconds after installing Kaspersky Total Security, a loss of 18% of performance potential, which is slightly more than the 15% drop in Bitdefender Total Security.

The Kaspersky software scanned through the system files in 10 minutes and 31 seconds on the first full scan run, examining 339,537 items, about a third of what Bitdefender saw. After Kaspersky indexed the system, the third full scan of the software dropped to 5:17, examining 297,403 files. The fast scans were completed in an average of 52 seconds, half the time required by Bitdefender.

A Quick Scan slowed the benchmark only slightly, from 9.2 to 9.6 seconds (a drop of 4 % from background CPU consumption, but 23 % from baseline). In contrast, a full scan slowed the Excel spreadsheet completion task to 13 seconds. This drop in performance of 41 % from background consumption and 67 % from baseline is one of the worst we've seen in antivirus programs.

Kaspersky Total Security scored 7.9 on the AV-Comparatives Performance Impact Test, which is slightly better than Bitdefender's 8.3, but not as good as McAfee's 0.8.

Interface

Kaspersky's main screen features a green checkmark and eight main tasks, with the current security recommendations at the top. Most of the items you will need are here, including scanning, database update, safe, password manager, privacy, backup and restore, parental control and access to my Kaspersky online account.

Other tools allow you to access security (cloud protection, quarantine and disk backup), my network (LAN and VPN scanner), application management (updates, vulnerability scanning and trusted app mode), data protection (encryption and file shredding), and cleanup and optimization (software optimization and troubleshooting). A report generator shows which updates, scans and threats have been neutralized.

It's easy to schedule scans for daily, weekly, or monthly runs with settings for full, fast, or vulnerability scans, and you can schedule scans to run only when the system is locked down or its screen saver is enabled.

The Kaspersky System Tray icon shows you the virus definitions if you hover over it, but a left click opens the Safe Money browser, parental controls or a software update.

Installation and assistance

It took us 10 minutes and 30 seconds, a bit long but not expensive, to install Kaspersky Total Security. You start by creating a My Kaspersky online account by entering your activation code.

You then download the 2.5 MB installer (a link can be sent by email), which in turn downloads the 152 MB main installer, performs a quick scan and installs the entire product. At this point, you can refuse to allow Kaspersky to collect data about malware and threats on your system.

Kaspersky has technicians on call for North American customers from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. (Eastern Time), seven days a week, who can be reached by phone, email or chat, and they promise a response the next day.

Outside of office hours, the Kaspersky website, accessible from the program interface, offers practical videos and FAQs, articles and warnings about the latest threats.

In summary

Kaspersky Total Security remains the top security suite to beat, with protection and fast scans that no other program can offer. The password manager, enhanced parental control and two-factor authentication are the closest thing to hermetic protection.

But it's not quite perfect. Total security could be improved by offering unlimited access to Kaspersky's VPN service; Bitdefender Premium Security offers a VPN service at a lower price per system. Kaspersky also creates too much performance load during full scans.

If you don't need parental controls, backup software or a password manager, then consider Kaspersky Internet Security, but at an entry-level price, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is a better buy than Kaspersky Antivirus.

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