Bitdefender Total Security 2021 full review
Bitdefender may not be as well known as Kaspersky, McAfee and Norton, but it really does deserve to be.
Total Security has long been a security suite we could recommend without hesitation and things haven’t changed in 2021.
Well, not in terms of our recommendation, but Total Security itself has changed. Some components have gone (those which people just never used) and some have been improved, like the VPN which now has a kill switch and unblocks Netflix. More on that later.
Just like rivals including Norton 360, McAfee Total Security and Kaspersky Security Cloud, Bitdefender offers multiple layers of protection.
At its core is a competent antivirus component which has an enviable track record for its ability to detect and block all sorts of malware.
This is the same whichever Bitdefender product you buy. What Total Security adds is features such as anti-spam, microphone and webcam protection, a firewall, parental controls, anti-theft and a useful OneClick Optimizer.
And it isn’t just for your Windows laptops and PCs: it will also protect Macs, Android phones and – in a very limited way – iPhones.
There’s also a password manager, the Safepay browser for protecting online transactions (such as making payments), an anti-tracker utility to stop web tracking and various other things including a file shredder.
It sounds comprehensive, but take a look at rival security products and there’s no ID protection (included with packages from Norton and McAfee among others), no cloud storage (a bonus with Norton 360) and the VPN and parental controls are very basic and not comparable with fully fledged products. (Find out more about the VPN and its upgraded version in our Bitdefender Premium VPN review.)
To be clear, Bitdefender does offer Digital Identity Protection which you’ll find in Bitdefender Central (the online management website) but it’s just a link to sign up for the service which costs a few dollars / pounds per month.
In the most recent tests from AV-Test and AV Comparatives, Bitdefender scores very well. In AV-Test’s report, it only lost marks for false positives: identifying legitimate apps as malware. AV Comparatives consistently awarded Bitdefender its top honour, Advanced+ throughout 2020.
Apps and interface
To start with, you’ll get an activation code and you begin at the Bitdefender Central website (or mobile app) where you create an account and then use the code to redeem your subscription. This is a handy portal where you can manage your subscription and send links to devices (or family members) so they can install Bitdefender on their devices.
The links include login details, which makes it really easy for everyone to install the app and get protected.
Install it on Windows and you’ll be presented with an clean-looking interface that tells you ‘You are safe’. For non-technical users, the default shortcuts to Quick Scan, System Scan, Vulnerability Scan aren’t particularly easy to understand.
The first does what it says, the second is a full system scan, while the third – vulnerability – checks your device for things like out of date apps, system settings that have been changed from defaults and weak passwords. There's also a dedicated Wi-Fi scan that checks you're not using weak encryption or authentication protocols.
If you do a vulnerability scan you’ll see a list of identified risks, along with their severity. My test PC had an out of date version of Firefox and was set to automatically log in after Windows performed an update. Those along with three others were deemed LOW risk, but in each case you can click Fix issue to take care of it.
You can, of course, edit these six shortcuts and replace them with the features you want to see. And above them is the ever-useful Autopilot which offers recommendations for actions you need to, or might want to take. The first is to turn on ransomware protection, which is simply a case of clicking Enable.
On the left-hand side are tabs for Protection, Privacy and Utilities. Notifications is a log of what Bitdefender has been doing or noticing on your system, and Settings lets you pick dark or light mode, the language and a host of other things, including turning off special offer notifications which are on by default.
The Protection tab has been seriously pared back. It's now a lot less intimidating and much easier to understand.
Some features that existing Bitdefender users might expect to see are gone. These include Safe Files, File Vault, Rescue CD, Startup Optimizer and Disk Cleanup. If you’re already using these, you can continue until July 2021.
You might not notice changes to how ransomware protection works. Safe Files has gone, replaced by Ransomware Remediation. It works by making a backup of any files targeted by ransomware and restores them once the malware has been blocked. Those are Bitdefender’s words which don't do much to reassure you about the product’s ability to stop ransomware in the first place.
Nevertheless, as you’ll see, all the major antivirus testing labs found Bitdefender exceptionally good at blocking all types of malware.
One of the features exclusive to Total Security (and Premium Security which sits above Total Security) is OneClick Optimizer. This looks for disk space that can be freed up, Registry entries that can be deleted (improving Windows’ performance) and does a Privacy Cleanup, which wants to delete your browsing history, temporary internet files and cookies.
Fortunately, after analysing what can be deleted, there's a warning to check the items before doing the optimisation. And you can uncheck cookies and other items that you don't want to be deleted.
Another utility is Profiles. These kick in automatically when you're watching a movie, or playing a game, for example. The different modes prevent popups, or put off housekeeping events until the software detects that they're appropriate. All you have to do is click the Enable button if you like the sound of it.
The anti-spam module allows you to explicitly whitelist friends and blacklist real spammers and works with Outlook and Thunderbird email apps. You also have the option of automatically banning any spam written with Asian or Cyrillic character sets, and of submitting any unknown samples to the Bitdefender cloud for analysis before opening them.
Web browsing is protected by the Online Threat Prevention module. This uses machine learning and a global website reputation database to judge whether any site you visit should be considered malicious. Like the Safe Browsing service used in Chrome and other browsers, this is constantly updated, meaning that you're technically getting global real-time protection.
This is also now available on iOS and Android.
As well as the webcam and microphone monitoring already mentioned, the Anti-Tracker which was new in the 2020 version, blocks data collection from websites. It’s ‘enabled’ by default but this misleading because that default is to only apply this protection to Internet Explorer. Who still uses Internet Explorer?
You have to click on the settings to enable it in Chrome and install it on Firefox.
The VPN is now installed as part of Total Security, but still opens as a separate window. What you get is a cut down version of Bitdefender Premium VPN which is no use for streaming region-locked content, but it will hide your data from prying eyes while using public Wi-Fi.
The reason it’s no good for streaming is that there’s a daily data limit of 200MB per device per day and you can’t choose which server to connect to: selection is automatic.
Bitdefender Premium Security is what you need if you want unlimited VPN data and the ability to pick from the 30 or so countries. This suite also gives you Premium technical support.
A bundled password manager allows you to set up multiple wallets, each protected by its own master password. Simply enter this master password to have logins entered automatically for websites and services.
The Parental Advisor opens a web page at Bitdefender that allows you to install the tracking module on your children's mobile devices that are already protected by Bitdefender. The Premium parental controls are no more: what you’re left with are basic screen time limits, the ability to block apps and filter web content by category.
While it works across platforms, so the three hours, say, of screen time you allocate to a child will apply no matter which device they’re using, you can’t prevent them using it at specific times of day unless you manually pause their device from Bitdefender Central.
You also have to install the separate Bitdefender Parental Control app on Android and iOS, and its ratings are extremely poor on the two app stores. One useful feature is the ability to see where your child is on the map, and get alerts if they enter a restricted area.
Android and iOS protection
As usual with security apps, the Android version has a lot more features than the iPhone one.
Several useful features are included on Android. For example, Account Privacy allows you to enter an email address and have Bitdefender test it to see if the credentials have been harvested or otherwise leaked online. You must have access to the address as it sends a verification code to it.
Web Protection is on by default and protects you from dangerous web pages and supports a lot of browsers. Anti-Theft has all the usual features (remote locate, lock, wipe, and play a noise), and also allows you to automatically take a picture when someone fails to unlock the device three times in a row. This is all controlled from Bitdefender Central.
App Lock is another handy feature that stops anyone from using apps you choose by requesting a PIN before the app will launch.
The basic VPN is also built in, offering that 200MB of free data per day.
Of course, there’s also a proper antivirus component which will protect Android devices from a similar variety of threats to the Windows version.
On an iPhone you don’t get that, but you do get anti-theft features, the VPN and basic web protection which works based on a website’s main address, not specific pages.
Price & Availability
Bitdefender Total Security has an RRP of £69.99/$US$89.99, but there’s a first-year discount which brings it down to half those prices. This gives you five licences, but if you need 10 you’ll have to get Premium Security which normally costs £119.99/$149.99 per year but is discounted to £59.99/$64.99 for the first year.
You can see alternatives, including McAfee Total Protection, Kaspersky Security Cloud and Norton 360 Deluxe, and how they compare in our roundup of the best antivirus software.
Like any antivirus software, Bitdefender's performance does vary from month to month. But its track record is absolutely excellent, offering reassurance for its performance during your subscription.
There are various improvements in this latest version and, overall, it's not difficult to recommend.
Just bear in mind that some components such as the VPN are really trials that want you to upgrade to the full, paid-for versions. Similarly, ID protection isn’t included.
Related articles for further reading
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- Do you really need antivirus on Android?
- How to remove a virus from Windows
- Best antivirus software for Windows (plus free options)
- Bitdefender vs Norton
- Best antivirus software for Android
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