Good scores from independent antivirus labs. Good phishing protection score. Backup and PC Tune Up. Full-featured Android security. Vulnerability scan. Antivirus for macOS. Game booster.
Antivirus allowed takeover by a ransomware sample. Poor score in hands-on malware protection test. Parental control dated and limited. Feature-limited Mac antivirus failed in testing. Some impact on performance. No hosted online backup.
- Bottom Line
BullGuard Internet Security packs a lot of features, including backup and performance tune-up, but the quality of features doesn't line up with the quantity.
Most security companies offer three tiers of products: the standalone antivirus, the entry-level security suite, and a top-tier suite with additional components such as backup and performance tune-up. Entry-level BullGuard Internet Security has all the expected components except spam filtering, as well as backup, tune-up, and more. That's a lot of features! Unfortunately, the quality of these features doesn't jibe with the quantity.
A three-device license costs $59.95 per year. If you want five licenses, the price goes to the peculiar figure $83.95 per year. And for 10 licenses, you pay $140.95 per year. And you can use these licenses on Windows, macOS, and Android devices. Award-winning Symantec Norton Security Premium gives you 10 licenses for $109.99 and also offers 25GB of storage for your online backups. With Kaspersky Security Cloud, you pay $149.99 for 20 licenses. And a $99.99 subscription to McAfee LiveSafe gives you unlimited licenses.
Like BullGuard's antivirus, this product's main window contains seven large, square panels, though for some reason the panels display in a different order. In the antivirus, only the Antivirus, Vulnerabilities, and Game Booster panels work. The Firewall, Backup, PC Tune Up, and Parental Control panels require an upgrade to this suite. I like the way the suite does as much as possible without leaving the main window. For example, the antivirus scan and vulnerability scan report progress right in their respective panels.
The previous edition displayed three additional panels, Spamfilter, Social Media Protection, and Identity Protection, with the latter two requiring an upgrade to the top-tier suite. The product line no longer includes spam filtering and social media protection, but you do get identity protection if you upgrade.
Shared Antivirus Features
This suite offers precisely the same antivirus protection found in BullGuard Antivirus which ran into some trouble in my testing. My review of the antivirus covers those features in detail. I'll summarize here.
BullGuard earns some decent scores and some excellent ones from the independent antivirus testing labs. Its aggregate score, on a 10-point scale, is 8.9 points. Others have scored significantly better. Bitdefender's aggregate score is 9.9, and Kaspersky owns a perfect 10.
In my own hands-on malware protection test, BullGuard didn't do well. It scored 8.2 points, a tenth of a point lower than the built-in Microsoft Windows Defender Security Center. Norton and Webroot scored a perfect 10 against this same set of samples.
One excellent way to protect against malware is to keep it from ever reaching the PC. In my malicious URL blocking test, I try to download 100 recent malware samples from a feed supplied by MRG-Effitas. Products get equal credit for blocking all access to the dangerous URL and for eliminating the malware during or immediately after download. With 89 percent protection, BullGuard is better than average. Note, though that Norton managed 98 percent protection, and Trend Micro came close with 97 percent.
BullGuard rolled out a new malware protection engine with this release, describing it as "a sentry who never sleeps" and promising that "any malware it detects is locked down in quarantine." Hoping to see this in action, I launched a hand-modified ransomware sample that the engine didn't detect on sight. Most unfortunately, the ransomware ran unopposed, encrypting files and displaying its ransom message.
Phishing websites mimic secure sites in hopes of tricking you into entering your login credentials. BullGuard's phishing score dropped precipitously in last year's testing, but it's back up there this time around. BullGuard's detection rate came in just 5 percentage points below Norton's, and it beat the built-in protection in Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer. That's good, but Trend Micro actually beat Norton by 3 percentage points, and Bitdefender came in 12 percent higher.
Other Shared Features
The Safe Browsing component is what steers your browser away from dangerous or fraudulent websites. It also marks up links in Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Facebook, so you can avoid clicking dangerous ones.
Many security suites, such as, seek out and apply missing security patches. BullGuard treats vulnerability scanning differently, looking for security problems with your system configuration. It warns if you've disabled automatic Windows updates, flags insecure Wi-Fi connections, lists unsigned device drivers, and more.
Most modern security products include a gaming mode that suppresses notifications, scheduled scans, and updates when you're playing a full-screen game. BullGuard takes this concept further with a Game Booster module that promises to "protect your gaming experience from framerate drops caused by other programs." Note that this feature requires at least four CPU cores.
BullGuard's firewall component correctly defended my test system against port scans and other web-based tests, hiding all ports by putting them in stealth mode. However, that's no great feat, as the built-in Windows Firewall can do the same.
The firewall's program control component automatically defines rules to allow network access for some known programs and Windows components. However, you'll have to tell it what to do about any unknowns. BullGuard's firewall popup asks whether to allow or block each unknown program's network access. The option to allow access just once, present when I last reviewed this product, is no longer present. I found it odd that clicking the link for more details displayed a window claiming that my hand-coded browser had received permission to access the network, given that it had not received any such permission.
In any case, the average user isn't qualified to make those security decisions. I prefer the more advanced program control found in Norton and Kaspersky. These products automatically configure permission for trusted programs, wipe out malicious programs, and perform their own analysis on unknowns.
Some advanced firewalls detect exploit attacks at the network level, before they can attempt to take advantage of vulnerabilities in the operating system or popular applications. When I hit BullGuard with about 30 exploits generated by the CORE Impact penetration tool, the firewall didn't react at all. However, the antivirus component detected and deleted the malicious payload for nearly 40 percent of the exploits, identifying quite a few using their official CVE identifier.
When you click to view firewall settings, initially you see nothing but an on-off switch, which is appropriate for the average user. Firewall experts can switch to Advanced view for access to more settings. You get to choose whether it sends programs to BullGuard for analysis when you click Allow or Deny, and you can turn attack detection on or off. Both of those options are enabled by default, but as noted, the firewall did not detect my exploit attacks. There's also a daunting display of all firewall rules, reached by clicking Manage Rules from the firewall's panel on the main window. If you accidentally blocked a valid program, this where you can fix that error.
A clever malware coder might get around firewall and other security protections by simply turning them off, but BullGuard defends against this sort of attack. Its full-machine Registry keys resist modification, and while I managed to delete its user-specific Registry keys, it recreated them as needed. When I tried to kill its six processes, it denied access to all six. The Stop option was completely absent from all nine of its essential Windows services, and it prevented me from setting the startup type to disabled. This firewall is basic in its functions, but it's tough.
I should point out that six processes and nine services is on the high side. Webroot and ESET both manage their tasks using two processes and one service. Kaspersky gets by with three processes and one service. I can't help but think that this more thorough integration means less drain on system resources.
Dated Parental Control
Not everyone needs parental control. Some suites, recognizing this fact, don't even install it by default. With BullGuard, it's fully available and integrated, but does nothing unless you configure settings for one or more Windows user accounts. As far as I can tell, this parental control system hasn't evolved in years. The current product looks just the same as screenshots from five years ago.
It includes a content filter that can block access to sites matching 24 categories, arranged into four groups. You can choose one of three age ranges to impose a predefined profile of categories to block, or review the categories and make your own choices.
You configure the time-scheduling feature on a tab called Access. This flexible system lets you impose limits on computer use, or just on internet use. You can define a weekly schedule of times when access is permitted, set a daily limit for each day of the week, or both. The scheduler defaults to rather strict limits; you'll want to look carefully to determine whether those limits work for your family.
On the Applications tab, you can set BullGuard to block the use of specific programs. By default, it blocks nine chat programs plus TOR and browser-based chat. This list really shows how dated the program is. There is no more AOL Instant Messenger, and I can't believe many kids use ICQ, mIRC, or Pidgin. Parents can also choose to block the use of any arbitrary program.
Maybe you're OK with letting your older kids chat online, but still want to prevent them from releasing too much personal information. The Privacy tab lets you list things like your home phone, street address, and anything else you don't want the kids noising about. BullGuard offers a choice of types: Name, Email, Phone, and Credit Card. However, it stores every item in the same way, with no special formatting for the data type.
After setting up parental control for a test Windows account, I put BullGuard through its paces. The time scheduler proved to be seriously ill-designed. During times of no internet access, the browser simply displays a big error message saying "This page can't be displayed." A one-time transient popup explains that parental control blocked access; miss it and you'd have no idea what's wrong. In addition, a child with an Administrator account could evade the scheduler by changing the system time. Sure, you're not supposed to give Administrator accounts to your kids, but people do. I turned off this feature to make continued testing possible.
I couldn't find any raunchy websites that the content filter didn't catch. It even blocked Victoria's Secret, though it allowed access to some less-racy lingerie sites. I tried doing an end-run around the filter by using several different secure anonymizing proxies, to no avail. It blocked some based on the Anonymizer category, and others because they were uncategorized. Parents can't even turn off blocking of Anonymizers and Unknowns.
The application-blocking component is tough. Kids can't get around it by moving a blocked program or creating a copy with a different name. However, it has the same visibility problem as the internet time scheduler. Trying to launch a banned program just gets a small, transient popup stating that parental control blocked it. Subsequent launch attempts just fail, with no message, which can be confusing if you missed the initial popup.
The personal information blocker does work, but it only blocks the exact text string you entered. For example, if you put in a phone number in the form 555-555-1212, the kid could still send 5555551212. If you blocked the address "1600 Penn," the kid could write "sixteen hundred." You may be better off just having a talk with the kids about what they should and shouldn't post online.
Many parental control systems handle reporting on children's activity by displaying a summary, with links to dive in for more information on, say, blocked websites, or search terms used. BullGuard just generates a HTML snapshot of activity at the time you requested the report. It scrolls on and on, and isn't interactive in any way. The list of all sites visited is tough to interpret, because BullGuard throws in advertisers, analytics, and other sites that the child did not actively choose.
Modern parental control systems like Qustodio and Net Nanny take note of the fact that modern kids use multiple devices. They let parents define a single configuration profile and apply it to all the child's devices and user accounts. BullGuard doesn't offer this cross-platform support, though the separate Android Mobile Security utility does get its configuration from an online dashboard.
BullGuard's dated parental control system does handle the basic task of filtering out icky content, I'll admit. But the time scheduler is awkward and can be defeated by a child with an Administrator account. A child who misses the tiny, one-shot, transient popup explaining that BullGuard has blocked internet access, or prevented the launch of a blocked program will wonder what's going on. The list of chat programs contains some dead services and other very dated choices. If you truly need parental control from your security suite, consider Norton, Kaspersky Security Cloud, or ZoneAlarm.
If ransomware gets past your security protection and encrypts your essential files, or if your computer simply dies, you'll be extremely happy to have a recent backup. BullGuard offers a traditional backup system, in which you can create and schedule as many backup jobs (called profiles) as you like.
Norton defines a default backup profile that sends logical things like documents and pictures to online backup. Kaspersky offers a wizard that walks you through the steps of creating a profile. With BullGuard, it's a do-it-yourself proposition. To create a new backup profile, you must specify What, When, Where, and How, each on its own tab. The What tab, up first, lists Documents, Photos, Music, Videos, and Desktop. You can edit the precise details of the ones you've chosen, or add arbitrary files and folders.
BullGuard doesn't offer hosted online storage for your backups, the way Panda, Comodo, Norton, and a few others do. However, it will use your existing online storage, if you wish. On the Where tab, you can connect it to your Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive account. Naturally, you can also direct your backups to any local, removable, or network drive.
By default, a new BullGuard backup profile just runs when you launch it, but you can schedule a daily, weekly, or monthly backup. Some backup systems offer detailed scheduling options, like backing up on the third Monday of each month. BullGuard's system is simple. You set the first scheduled backup date and time, and it runs once per day, week, or month thereafter.
There are just a few settings on the How tab. You can choose to compress the backup, trading a longer time for less bandwidth used. You can protect your backup using encryption. And you can synchronize the backup. This has nothing to do with syncing files between computers. Rather, it means that when you delete a file on your computer, BullGuard deletes it from the backup set as well. Finally, you can turn file versioning, define how long it should retain old versions, and set a file size limit for old versions.
BullGuard's backup system doesn't offer fancy features like online access, secure sharing, or file syncing. But it does the job with a minimum of fuss.
PC Tune Up
Tuning your PC's performance isn't precisely a security task, unless it prevents you from turning off security to boost performance. Cleaning up traces that could give away your browsing or computer use history more directly helps your security. System tune-up is a common component in security mega-suites, and occasionally, as with BullGuard, in entry-level suites. And BullGuard's tune-up system does more than many.
The tune-up component runs just after installation, and runs in the background as needed, but you can also invoke it manually. When you click Optimize in the main window's tune-up panel, BullGuard scans for various potential speedups. It defragments the Registry if necessary, notes any broken shortcuts, and calculates how much space you could save by clearing browser caches, Windows junk files, and application temp files. You can click for details about its Windows cleanup. Click Optimize my PC and it goes to work, quickly applying the changes you've accepted.
After that initial optimization, it offers several additional cleanup options. You should let it remove broken Registry entries, as these do you no good. You can click to manage System Restore points, which take up space on disk. If you don't need hibernation or fast boot, you can disable the hibernation file. There's also an option to change the startup mode for a bunch of Windows optional services, but I don't recommend meddling with these.
Storing identical files multiple times wastes disk space, so BullGuard can scan your system for dupes. Note that it doesn't bother checking files smaller than 10GB. Also, unlike the similar feature in Trend Micro, it includes executable programs in the duplicates scan. Be extra careful with these, as you might wind up deleting the one that's pointed to by shortcuts in the system. Trend Micro's dupe finder skips files smaller than 1MB, while Bitdefender's doesn't have a lower limit.
The Cleanup Helper looks for the files and folders that take up the most space on your disks. You get a list of the biggest folders, as well as a pie chart showing distribution. Cleanup Helper offers a list of recommended files to clean up, when appropriate, and also lists the very biggest files. In testing, it recommended cleaning up such things as Windows temp files, the browser cache, and unneeded log files. It only identified two very large files, both of which belonged to Windows itself.
The remaining items on the post-optimization screen, Startup Applications and Boot Manager, work as a team. When you click Boot Manager, it asks to reboot the system, so it can analyze the boot process. You get a detailed timeline of all boot-time activity. If you determine that some noncritical program is slowing the process, click Startup Applications to disable it from launching at boot, or set it to launch after a delay. Bitdefender Total Security offers a similar analysis of each program's effect on boot time, and presents its findings in a more usable form than BullGuard's painfully detailed timeline.
Limited Mac Antivirus
BullGuard doesn't sell the antivirus for macOS separately. It's available only as part of this suite or BullGuard's top-tier suite. To run it, you need macOS 10.11 (El Capitan) or later. But don't bother. Had I reviewed this product as a standalone Mac antivirus, it would've received a very low score.
I look to AV-Test Institute and AV-Comparatives for lab test results. The best Mac antivirus utilities take top scores from both. Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac and Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac took top marks from both labs. Alas, neither lab includes BullGuard in testing.
The main window is extremely simple. A toggle turns real-time protection on or off. You can click buttons to view files in quarantine, or launch a full or custom scan. A large panel at the left reports security status. That's it.
Settings are likewise simple. By default, BullGuard quarantines found malware, but you can set it to try disinfection first, or just delete the threat. You can turn off scanning inside archives, or set a maximum archive size for scanning. And you can decide whether or not to have it scan Time Machine backups.
Normally I would report the time required to complete a full scan. However, BullGuard's full scan simply did not work. A chat with tech support revealed that this is a known problem, and that a fix is in the works. I also can't report what percent of my Windows antimalware the scanner caught, since the scanner doesn't work.
Phishing attacks are platform-agnostic. It doesn't matter what OS or browser you're using—if the fraudulent site tricks you into giving away your login credentials, you're hosed. BullGuard's Mac antivirus doesn't include the Safe Browsing feature that protects users of the Windows product from fraudulent and malicious sites.
So, we have an antivirus that includes just two features, real-time protection and on-demand scanning, and one of them doesn't work. Don't waste a license installing BullGuard on a Mac. Look instead at our Editors' Choice products in this area, Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac and Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac.
Basic Android Protection
Like the Mac product, BullGuard's Android protection doesn't come as a standalone, only as part of one of the suites. Installation went quickly, and as soon as I logged into my BullGuard account it went to work. A system scan finished in just seconds. Consulting the logs, I found that it just scans four apps, so a speedy finish makes sense.
In the most recent Android antivirus test by AV-Comparatives, BullGuard successfully protected against 100 percent of the Android malware samples used. Android products from AVG, Bitdefender, ESET, Kaspersky, McAfee, and Symantec (among others) also achieved 100 percent success.
As with most Android security products, you must enable a few special permissions to get the antitheft component up and running. Once that's done, you manage antitheft from the Mobile Security Manager online console. Here you can click to locate the phone on a map or make it sound an alarm so you can figure out where you left it. You can also remotely locate, lock, or wipe the device. And there's an option to enable triggering these actions using coded text messages, the way you can with Android security tools from Bitdefender, ESET, Kaspersky, and others.
A thief who swaps out the SIM card can effectively take over your phone. From the online console's Settings page, you can set BullGuard to automatically lock or wipe the phone if that happens. You've still lost your phone, but the thief can't get at your apps or personal data.
With a quick click, you can back up your contacts, calendar, and messages to the cloud. The online console offers a nice view of the backed-up data.
Like most competing products, BullGuard can block unwanted calls or texts. I couldn't see this feature in action because the Android device I use for testing connects using Wi-Fi. You can view the blacklist or whitelist for calls or texts from the online console.
The app includes a parental control component, but that's a bit of a misnomer. There's filtering of nasty websites, limiting screen time, or any other kind of control. The app simply monitors activity. From the online console, you can view the child's calls and text, eye any photos that were snapped, and see which apps are installed. There's no geofencing, but you can go into settings and tell BullGuard to track the child's location for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, one hour, or 12 hours.
At first, I thought the parental monitoring didn't work. It insisted that there were no photos or apps on the test device. A chat with tech support revealed that by default, BullGuard only syncs every two hours. Once I set it for instant sync, the photos and apps appeared. Both lists have a scary button labeled Remove All. Don't worry; it doesn't remove photos or apps from the phone, just from the list, leaving you free to focus on new photos and installations.
BullGuard's Android protection hits all the right notes. It includes antivirus, antitheft, call/text blocking, backup, and even parental control. However, you can get everything except the parental monitoring features for free, so you probably won't want to expend one of your licenses on Android protection.
Some Impact on Performance
A security suite doesn't do much good if the user disables it because it impacts performance. Security companies know that, and work hard to minimize the performance impact of things like real-time antivirus protection. I run a few simple hands-on tests to measure each suite's performance impact. In last year's testing, BullGuard had hardly any effect. This time around, it didn't do as well.
I use the same low-powered PC for all performance tests, but of course Windows updates and such make changes over time. To account for those changes, I run my tests many times with no suite installed, then install the suite and run them again. Comparing the averages before and after suite installation shows me how the test times changed.
My boot time test reboots the system and then runs a script that watches for 10 seconds in a row with CPU usage no more than five percent. At that point, it considers the system ready to use. Subtracting the start of the boot process (as reported by Windows) yields a measure of boot time. This test took a surprising 32 percent longer with BullGuard installed. Fortunately, most of us don't reboot often.
One thing we do more often is work with files on disk. To check a suite's effect on file manipulation, I run a script that moves and copies a large file collection of various types between drives. This test took 23 percent longer to complete with BullGuard installed. Another script that zips and unzips the same file collection repeatedly came in 9 percent longer.
BullGuard's three-test average is 21 percent impact, which is on the high side, but it's still not something you're likely to notice. Even so, other products have done much better. In particular, the three-test averages for Norton, adaware, and Webroot all came in at zero.
Other than the absence of not-always-needed spam filtering, BullGuard Internet Security has all of the expected security suite features, plus bonuses that include backup, PC tune-up, and a scan for vulnerable system settings. The problem is, these components just aren't top-notch. The firewall relies on users to make security decisions, the parental control system is both limited and dated, and in testing the antivirus did nothing to prevent a ransomware attack. The Android edition is full-featured, but you can get almost all of its features for free. The limited Mac antivirus omits the Safe Browsing protection against fraudulent and dangerous sites, and at present, its on-demand scanner isn't working.
Bitdefender Internet Security offers a boatload of bonuses too, and gets top marks from the antivirus testing labs. Kaspersky Internet Security scores even higher with the labs, and its intelligent firewall makes its own decisions. These two are our Editors' Choice products for basic security suite.
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.
Other BullGuard Suites
About the Author
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 b… See Full Bio
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