Best scores from five labs. Excellent antiphishing score. Firewall with powerful application control. Protection for macOS and Android devices. Automated security patching. Webcam protection. Many bonus features.
Mediocre scores in our hands-on malware protection tests.
- Bottom Line
Kaspersky Internet Security gets the very best antivirus lab scores. It comes with everything you'd expect in a suite, plus more, and its components are consistently effective.
Sure, antivirus is the necessary minimum security protection for your computers, but upgrading to a full security suite gives you so much more. Firewall, spam filter, parental control, these are typical features that a suite adds beyond antivirus. Kaspersky Internet Security includes all of these, along with other useful security features, and all of its components do their jobs well.
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Pricing and Licenses
This suite costs $79.99 per year for three licenses, $89.99 for five, the same as Bitdefender. And you can use your licenses to install protection on Windows, macOS, or Android devices, also the same as Bitdefender. Yes, Bitdefender supports iOS, but installing its limited iOS protection doesn't use up a license. Kaspersky follows a pretty standard pricing scheme, but there are variations. For example, with McAfee Internet Security that same $79.99 gets you unlimited licenses to install on all of your Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices.
If you've seen the new Kaspersky Free, you've had a preview of this suite's main window. Both products feature a security status banner across the top, with six icons below: Scan, Database Update, Safe Money, Privacy Protection, Parental Control, and Protection for all devices. The difference is, in the free edition all but the first two are unavailable. Clicking the More Tools button at the bottom reveals a collection of additional tools; I'll cover those later on.
Antivirus Shared Features
Clearly, this suite includes all of the security protection found in Kaspersky Anti-Virus; they wouldn't take any of it out, after all! Read my review of the antivirus for a complete rundown of its features, which I'll summarize here.
The independent antivirus testing labs are crazy about Kaspersky. In almost every test, it gets the very highest possible score, even eking out a better score than Bitdefender Internet Security in one test. My aggregate score for Kaspersky's antivirus technology, drawn from tests by five labs, is 9.8 of 10 possible points; Bitdefender also gets 9.8 points.
In my hands-on malware protection tests, Kaspersky didn't do as well. However, any time there's a discrepancy I give more weight to the labs, especially when the lab results are uniformly excellent, as they are here.
Phishing websites don't try to plant malware on your computer, so antivirus scans don't detect their chicanery. These frauds trick their victims into giving away credentials for secure websites. Kaspersky scored extremely well in my antiphishing test, beating long-time phishing champ Symantec Norton Security Premium by four percentage points. Hardly any products outperform Norton in this test; many can't even beat the phishing protection built into Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.
Other Shared Features
Some of this suite's features even show up in the new Kaspersky Free. All products in the current Kaspersky product line include an on-screen keyboard, so you can enter passwords with no chance of capture by a keylogger. And all of them mark up dangerous links in search results.
All of the Kaspersky products also include Kaspersky Secure Connection VPN. However, even in the suite products what you get isn't the same as an actual subscription. Rather, it's the equivalent of a free installation, meaning you're limited to 200MB of VPN-protected traffic per day.
One feature not shared with Kaspersky Free is System Watcher. This component backs up the many layers of antivirus protection with a behavior-based detection system that aims to detect unknown malware and even roll back any mischief it may have accomplished before detection. While it targets all types of malware, not just ransomware, it proved effective at stopping ransomware attacks. When I turned off all other protection layers and released real-world ransomware samples, it detected them all as malware and eliminated them.
This suite shares several other components with the antivirus. You can create a Rescue Disk to clean out malware even when Windows won't boot. The Privacy Cleaner wipes traces of your web surfing and computer activity, and a Browser Configuration scan checks for insecure settings in Internet Explorer. Kaspersky can scan the system for Windows settings that malware may have tweaked. And the vulnerability scan finds missing security patches and insecure Windows settings.
Firewall and Application Control
The earliest personal firewalls developed a reputation for bombarding the user with incomprehensible queries. Foobar.exe wants to connect to such an IP address using such a port—should I allow it? Most users lack the knowledge to answer that question with confidence. Fear not, Kaspersky handles application control itself, without popping up confusing queries.
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 that you didn't request. As part of its job, Application Manager automatically clears checkboxes offering additional software and suppresses application steps that include ads or bundled items. It works something like the Bundle Protection feature in Reason Core Security. You can turn off that feature in Settings, and you can also enable the System Changes Control feature.
System Changes Control alerts you when a program installation attempts to make changes to important system areas. I ran a sanity check on this feature by installing 20 old PCMag utilities, little-known tools that dig deep into Windows. When I tested Emsisoft with these, it identified three as PUAs, or potentially unwanted apps, and Trend Micro Internet Security actually flagged one as malware. Kaspersky correctly left almost all of these programs alone. It did pop up to warn about a password management tool installing a browser plugin, which is reasonable.
Of course, a firewall also must protect your system against attack from the internet. To check that feature, I hit the test system with 30 exploits generated by the CORE Impact penetration tool. Kaspersky detected and blocked 73 percent of the exploits, more than any other recently tested program. Norton came in second, with 63 percent. 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.
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. My attempts to kill its three core processes ended in Access Denied, as did my attempts to manipulate its essential Windows service. And of course, a malicious program couldn't even try these attacks without getting past every other layer of protection.
Trusted Application Mode
You will probably find that Kaspersky puts all or most of your active applications in the Trusted category. Trusted Applications mode kicks the concept up a notch by denying execution to any application that it can't verify as trusted. To start, it scans all your files and identifies the trusted ones. After it's done, it doesn't allow any untrusted programs to run. This mode is especially useful on a computer that doesn't see a lot of new software installations.
This mode's whitelist-based functionality 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.
It does warn that the initial scan can take a long time, and indeed, on my test system it ran for nearly two hours. When it finishes, pay attention! If it finds unknown system files, carefully review what it found. In my case, it found two newly updated system files, one pending-deletion file, and a fake ransomware utility that I wrote myself. There's no per-file vetting at this point, so I allowed all of them.
There's one more important step, and that's reviewing all the unknown files that Trusted Applications mode will block. On my test system, this group included all my hand-coded testing and evaluation utilities, which makes perfect sense. It also included 20 files related to VMware Tools. Allowing it to block those would have been a big mistake.
With Trusted Applications mode active, it should be impossible for malware to run on your system, even malware so new that no antivirus researcher in the world has seen it. It may also block new programs that you're attempting to install. Don't worry; the blocking notification includes a link that lets you mark an unknown program as trusted.
The vulnerability scan that comes with Kaspersky Anti-Virus notifies you of missing security patches, but it doesn't do anything beyond pointing out the problem. 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 warns you if it discovers any missing patches. Just review its findings, click Update All, and let it do the work. Keeping your operating system and applications updated with all security patches is another way to defend against exploit attacks. Avast Premier 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.
Have you ever looked at a product online and then found ads for that product infesting your browsing experience? Creepy, right? Kaspersky's Private Browsing feature can help, blocking ad agencies, web analytics, and other trackers, but by default it just watches and reports tracking attempts.
Click Privacy Protection, click Settings in the Private Browsing area, 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. 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. Looking at the same page with and without Anti-Banner, I could easily see holes where the ads weren't. Remember, however, that your favorite sites rely on ad revenue to bring you the pages you like. Use Anti-Banner responsibly.
For a completely 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 a process attempts to access the webcam. Were you setting up a video conference? No problem; 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.
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 you're probably spared from most spam. 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 lasso 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. If you dare to open the Advanced Settings page, you'll find a few more options, but not an overwhelming number. You can change the subject line label it uses to flag spam. You can configure a list of blocked phrases, meaning any message containing that phrase should be considered spam. Finally, you can manage lists of allowed and blocked senders.
If you're a Microsoft Outlook user, you get a bonus; Kaspersky installs a toolbar that helps you manage your messages. Buttons let you correct any errors, whether spam in the inbox or valid mail tossed out with the spam. It also diverts spam and possible spam messages into their own folders, but you must edit the configuration to tell it which folders. Those using another email client must create these message-sorting rules manually.
Sturdy Parental Control
Like spam filtering, parental control is a feature that many people don't need. When you activate parental control, it advises you to create a password, so the kids can't just turn off protection. Next it lists each Windows user account, giving you the opportunity to turn on parental control for those that need it. And of course, once you've enabled parental control, you must dig in to configure it to suit your needs.
Kaspersky offers several different ways to put limits on computer use. You can define a time span, separately for weekdays and weekends, when the child can't use the computer, and also set a limit on total computer time. If you prefer, you can switch to a full-week schedule of when computer use is and isn't permitted. Either way, you can also add enforced breaks, for example, requiring the child to spend 15 minutes of every hour away from the computer.
On the Applications page, you can set a maximum ESRB rating, for example, limiting your child to games rated no more than Teen (13+). Those in Europe can choose the PEGI rating system. Control freaks can dig in to block specific game rating categories such as Crude Humor and Fantasy Violence. Also under Applications, you can block use of programs or program categories, or set time restrictions.
Many parental control systems put web content filtering front and center. With Kaspersky, this feature is hidden on the Internet page. This page also lets you put a limit on Internet time (separate from the computer time limit), enforce Safe Search, and block downloading of several file types.
On the content filtering page, you can accept the product's default blocking suggestions or make your own choices from the 14 categories. In testing, I found that Kaspersky blocked inappropriate sites both common browsers and even in a very off-brand browser, one that I wrote myself. It also correctly blocked access to secure anonymizing proxy sites, since access to such a site would permit unfiltered access to the internet. And its heuristic analysis meant it could allow access to a short-story website, but block erotica.
Parents can also configure Kaspersky to block transmission of too-personal data, such as your home address or phone number. A related feature allows detection of specific keywords in messages and web forms. The keyword feature simply logs the message, search term, or other entry.
Finally, when your child connects to others on social media (Facebook or Twitter), Kaspersky logs the contact. You can review the list and ban unwanted contacts, or set Kaspersky to permit messaging only with preapproved contacts.
In addition to all of the control features I've mentioned, Kaspersky offers detailed activity reporting for each child. The main report summarizes activity, including time on the computer, application use, websites visited, social media communication, and more. For each topic you can dig in for detail, or click to jump straight to the corresponding settings.
Parental control in this suite is significantly more extensive than in most. It doesn't come up to the feature set of a full-fledged, dedicated parental control utility like Net Nanny or Kaspersky Safe Kids, but it's definitely a contender. Perhaps the biggest feature you don't get is the ability to apply a child's profile to multiple devices, on multiple platforms.
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 the particular site in the protected browser. Bitdefender's Safepay feature works in much the same way.
A green border around the browser 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. Interestingly, on my virtual machine test system it correctly reported that it could not prevent screen capture.
Kaspersky's Mac Protection
In a cross-platform security service, it's very common for Mac users to get the short end of the stick. Installed on Windows, such a product manifests as a security suite exploding with features; installed on a Mac, it's a simple 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 of 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 of them put Kaspersky up on the rack for testing. Like Bitdefender, Kaspersky detected 100 percent of the Mac malware that the researchers hit it with. Both also earned the top score in a test using Windows malware. Tested with Mac-centered PUAs, Kaspersky scored a bit lower than Bitdefender, but its lab results are still among the best.
Phishing sites, those frauds that try to steal your secure login credentials, aren't specific to any platform, but protection against phishing does differ on different operating systems. Tested under Windows, Kaspersky beat Norton (my antiphishing touchstone) by four percentage points. The Mac edition came in one percentage point behind Norton, which is still good. Very few products come close to Norton's antiphishing accuracy.
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 is also simpler on the Mac. The content filter blocks nine categories, and the time-scheduling feature is less fine-grained. Social media contact control exists, but it's harder to manage. You do get private data protection, just as on Windows.
Webcam protection on the Mac is a simple on/off switch, without the system of trusted applications that always get access. Browser tracker blocking works, but doesn't give you quite as much detail. Other features include a network attack blocker, search results markup, and an on-screen keyboard. This is definitely much more than a simple Mac antivirus.
Kaspersky's Android Protection
Kaspersky's Android edition has evolved since our review of Kaspersky Mobile Security (for Android). Anybody can download and use the free edition, but by logging in to My Kaspersky and adding the device to your license, you get the full set of 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 web protection, you reach serene green status. In addition to this on-demand scan, Kaspersky offers real-time protection, checking all new apps and processes.
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 just slightly different from Bitdefender and others. You can't just locate the device willy-nilly. A single click (or SMS command) 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.
New since that earlier review, Kaspersky lets you put selected apps behind a PIN 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.
The name of the software cleaner component might suggest that it's designed to clean up junk files, or remove traces of your computer activities. Both of those are common bonus features. But in fact, that's not what it does at all.
This scan looks for programs that aren't malware, and aren't even in the low-risk PUA category. It aims to find programs that you might want to remove, for many reasons. These include non-standard installations, programs you rarely use, and programs that may be adware.
As always, I launched this feature to see just how it works. The scan didn't take long. However, it came up with nothing to report both on my virtual machine test system and on the physical test system I use for performance testing and such. I assume it does what it aims to do, but I couldn't see it in action.
Tiny Performance Hit
Few modern security suites put a drag on system performance. Security companies know that if the suite gets in the way, users will disable it or drop it entirely. I do still run my simple performance tests, mostly to catch the rare application that does drag down performance, and to celebrate those that have the very least impact. Kaspersky is, like most suites, in between those extremes.
In my boot time test, Kaspersky didn't exhibit any drag at all. When I averages multiple runs of my boot time script with and without Kaspersky installed, I found no appreciable slowdown. The same thing happened with my zip/unzip test, which times a script moves a big collection of files into and out of zip archives.
Security products that include real-time protection, checking files on access, could potentially slow day-to-day file operations. To test for that possibility, I time a script that moves and copies a large collection of wildly varied files between drives. Averaging multiple runs both with and without Kaspersky, I found that the script took 40 percent longer under Kaspersky's care.
The average of Kaspersky's three scores is 13 percent, which puts it right in the middle of current products. At the top, adaware and Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Plus both had no measurable effect on any of the three tests. But during my testing, I didn't notice any performance impact from Kaspersky.
A Feature-Packed Suite
The point of installing a security suite is to get all necessary security features working together in a single, integrated package. Kaspersky Internet Security is an excellent example, with features well beyond what you get with many suites. Along with Bitdefender Internet Security, it's our Editors' Choice for entry-level security suite.
It's true that Kaspersky Internet Security is also a cross-platform multi-device suite, but in that realm, it's not our top choice. McAfee LiveSafe protected every Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS device in your household on a single license. Symantec Norton Security Premium offers 10 licenses for the same price, but it scores better than McAfee with the labs and in our own testing, and comes with 25GB of hosted online backup. These two are our multi-device Editors' Choice suites.
Note: These sub-ratings contribute to a product's overall star rating, as do other factors, including ease of use in real-world testing, bonus features, and overall integration of features.
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Neil Rubenking served as vice president and president of the San Francisco PC User Group for three years when the IBM PC was brand new. He was present at the formation of the Association of Shareware Professionals, and served on its board of directors. In 1986, PC Magazine brought Neil on board to handle the torrent of Turbo Pascal tips submitted by readers. By 1990, he had become PC Magazine's technical editor, and a coast-to-coast telecommuter. His "User to User" column supplied readers with tips… More »