Editors’ Note: We are aware of the allegations of Kaspersky Labs’ inappropriate ties to the Russian government. Until we see some actual proof of these allegations, we will treat them as unproven, and continue to recommend Kaspersky’s security products as long as their performance continues to merit our endorsement.
Antivirus protection for all your computers is a must, especially with ransomware on the rise. But antivirus is the minimum. 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. And all of 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, Android, or iOS devices. That same $89.99 gets you unlimited cross-platform licenses for McAfee Internet Security. At $59.99 for a three-license subscription, Webroot is a bit less expensive.
The program’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. There are six big button panels labeled Scan, Database Update, Safe Money, Privacy Protection, Parental Control, and My Kaspersky. Below these is a button to bring up a menu of more tools, and a gear icon at bottom left opens Settings. I had trouble finding desired settings a few times, because the Protection page features 15 distinct components, in no particular order. I’d like to see a Search box for settings, like you get in Settings on an iPhone.
Features Shared With Free Antivirus
This suite naturally includes all security features found in Kaspersky Free. In fact, the user interface of the free antivirus models itself on the suite, not on the commercial Kaspersky Anti-Virus. It’s just that when you’ve got the suite, all the features are enabled. I’ll summarize the security features shared with Kaspersky Free; you can read that review for full details.
Lab Test Results Chart
Malware Protection Results Chart
Phishing Protection Results Chart
All four of the independent antivirus testing labs I follow include Kaspersky in their regular reports. In the latest set of reports, Kaspersky earned the maximum possible score in every possible test. Bitdefender Internet Security almost managed the same feat, but fell just short of the maximum in one test.
In the past, Kaspersky reserved the System Watcher behavioral detection component for paid products, but with the 2019 edition that feature made it into the free antivirus. I tested this feature and found that it caught all my ransomware samples even with the regular real-time protection turned off.
Kaspersky didn’t fare quite as well in my hands-on malware protection test, scoring 8.5 of 10 possible points. However, when my results don’t jibe with the labs, I defer to the labs. Cylance and F-Secure both took 9.3 points against the same set of samples.
When I challenged Kaspersky to block malware downloads from a hundred recently discovered malware-hosting URLs, it either blocked access to the URL or eliminated the download 92 percent of the time. That’s very good, but Bitdefender recently earned 99 percent in this test, with Norton and Trend Micro Internet Security close behind, at 98 and 97 percent respectively.
When first tested, Kaspersky earned a dismal score of 44 percent in my antiphishing test. Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer all did better. My contact at the company checked with the developers and found that indeed they were working on some problems with the antiphishing servers. Once they fixed the problem, I tested again. This time Kaspersky managed 100 percent detection, edging Bitdefender (with 99 percent detection) out of the top slot for this test.
All of Kaspersky’s security products come with a free, bandwidth-limited edition of the Kaspersky Secure Connection VPN. Powered by AnchorFree Hotspot Shield Elite, the VPN lets you use 200MB of bandwidth per day on each device. Paying an extra $4.99 per month lifts the bandwidth cap and lets you specify the country for your VPN server. Bitdefender offers a very similar deal, also powered by AnchorFree. Other bonus features include an on-screen keyboard to foil keyloggers and a markup system to flag dangerous links in search results.
Features Shared With Premium Antivirus
One big plus to paying for Kaspersky Anti-Virus is that you get full-scale tech support, via phone or live chat. Users of the free edition must rely on FAQs and forums. You also get the ability to tweak some settings that are locked on in the free edition. To test System Watcher’s ransomware-protection skills, I had to use the commercial edition, because the free edition didn’t let me turn off ordinary real-time protection.
Occasionally you may encounter a persistent malware threat that prevents you from installing Kaspersky, or from running a scan. In such a case, the Rescue Disk can help. On a clean system, you download the ISO file that represents the Rescue Disk and burn it to a physical disk. Booting from this disk starts the computer in an alternate operating system, effectively neutering any Windows-based malware. Note that with Bitdefender you don’t even need to burn a disk—just reboot in Rescue Mode.
Hackers find security holes and security companies patch those holes. If you fail to apply the patches, you can have big trouble. The Vulnerability Scan reports on any missing patches for Windows and popular applications. It also reports on configuration settings that are bad for security, with an option to fix those automatically.
The Browser Configuration Check, Privacy Cleaner, and Microsoft Windows Troubleshooting scans are very similar; there’s even some overlap in their features. Each looks for security or privacy problems and reports them in three categories: those you really should fix, those you should fix, and those you don’t have to fix. And once you’ve used any of the three, you can run it again to roll back its actions.
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. New in this edition, 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.
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 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. If you dare to open the Advanced Settings page, there are 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, meaning any message containing that phrase 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. When you activate parental control, it insists that you 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 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. Separately, you can 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. That break feature is unusual; I like it.
On the Applications page, you can set a maximum ESRB rating, for example, limiting your child to PC 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, including HTTPS sites, in both common browsers and even in a very off-brand browser 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. Impressively, 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.
In addition to all the control features I’ve mentioned, Kaspersky offers detailed monitoring and 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.
Long-time Kaspersky users may notice one small change. Parental control in this suite and the corresponding macOS suite no longer attempts to track and control social media contacts. That feature is still available in the high-end Kaspersky Safe Kids, which comes with the Kaspersky Total Security mega-suite. Safe Kids also lets you apply a child’s profile across all the devices the child uses, on multiple platforms.
Webcam and Privacy Protection
Have you ever looked up 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 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 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 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.
In my testing, the webcam protection didn’t work. Even when I set it to block all access, I could still use video chat. My Kaspersky contact confirmed that developers are working on a problem “due to a new Windows RS4 update rolled out recently.”
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 it notifies you if it discovers any available updates. Just review its findings, click Update All, and let it do the work. New in this edition, you can control how often it checks for new updates. In addition, if the update doesn’t require acceptance of a license agreement, it can now handle the entire update process automatically.
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, with Kaspersky Total Security and Kaspersky Security Cloud above it.
Firewall and Application Control
The earliest personal firewalls developed a reputation for bombarding the user with incomprehensible queries. Snafu.exe wants to connect to such an IP address using such a port—allow, or block? Most users lack the knowledge to answer that question with confidence. Some folks always click Allow. Others always click Block, until they break something, at which point they switch to Allow. 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.
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 82 percent of the exploits, identifying several of them using their official exploit tracking number. That’s better than almost all the competition, but Symantec Norton Security Deluxe spotted and blocked 100 percent of the exploits. 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 two core processes ended in Access Denied, as did my attempts to manipulate its essential Windows service. 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.
Trusted Applications 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 process 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.
Kaspersky 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 five system files supplied by the laptop’s maker. They looked legit, so I continued.
There’s one more important step, and that’s reviewing all the unknown files that Trusted Applications mode will block. On my test system, the list of untrusted files included all my hand-coded testing and evaluation utilities, which makes perfect sense. Strangely, it also listed more than a dozen files related to Microsoft Office. Be sure to peruse this list carefully and unblock any important programs.
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 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. But 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.
My test scan didn’t take long. It reported that I rarely use Firefox, which is true in a way. I use it quite a bit in testing, but revert the virtual machine back to a safe state afterward. It gave me the option to uninstall Firefox or to hide it in the report. This feature also lets you report an annoying application to Kaspersky Labs by pointing it out with a crosshair-shaped cursor.
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 of Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac 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 up on the rack for 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. Bitdefender, Intego, Symantec, and Trend Micro earned the best possible score with AV-Test Institute, while Kaspersky came close, missing by one-half point.
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 earned a perfect score, with 100 percent detection. The Mac edition came in quite a bit lower, 84 percent.
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. 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. 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 definitely much more than a simple Mac antivirus.
Kaspersky’s Android Protection
Anybody can download and use the free edition of Kaspersky Mobile Security, but 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. New in this edition, 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 app’s privacy protection is a bit problematic. Its purpose is to let you maintain a list of private contacts that won’t show up in your address book or history. But as a warning note points out, this feature may not work under Android versions 4.4 or newer. You also must turn off syncing contacts in your Google account. If you uninstall the app without first unprotecting those contacts, they could be permanently deleted.
The Call and Text filter likewise probably won’t work on Android 4.4 or later—this is a problem for all products that attempt such filtering. Text Anti-Phishing, which scans links in SMS messages, doesn’t display a similar warning.
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 that of 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. And if someone swaps out the SIM, Kaspersky sends you the new number.
Kaspersky also 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.
Minuscule Performance Hit
Security companies know that if their products visibly impact performance, users will turn them off, or jump ship to a different brand. Few modern security suites slow down PCs, but I still run some simple tests to measure 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 seven percent to the boot time, a matter of four seconds. You won’t notice its impact.
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 one percent longer with Kaspersky active. For another script that zips and unzips the same file collection repeatedly, Kaspersky had no measurable effect.
With an average impact of just four percent, Kaspersky definitely has a light touch. Note, though, that adaware antivirus total, Bitdefender, Norton, and Webroot all exhibited no impact in any of the three tests.
A Feature-Rich 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 in most suites. Along with Bitdefender Internet Security, it’s our Editors’ Choice for entry-level security suite.
Sub-Ratings: 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. Firewall: Antivirus: Performance: Privacy: Parental Control: