Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition (2014) Review

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You’ll hardly know Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition (2014) is present on your system, unless it quashes a problem. Its tiny main window and unobtrusive style are great if you want a strong, silent, and free antivirus solution.

4 stars
(4 out of 5)

Pros

  • Extremely unobtrusive
  • Can work entirely in the background
  • No configuration settings
  • Good results in PCMag’s malware blocking and removal tests
  • Excellent results from independent testing labs
  • Excellent phishing protection
  • Free!

Cons

  • Tough installation on malware-infested systems
  • Tech support via email only

An antivirus utility that removes and defends against viruses, Trojans, rootkits, spyware, and all types of malicious software is totally doing its job. Yes, some vendors pack all sorts of goodies into their nominally stand-alone antivirus tools, but those goodies aren’t required. The relatively new Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition (2014) sticks with the essentials, and does quite a good job.

Bitdefender Free is clearly meant to be as unobtrusive as possible. There’s no configuration required, none at all. The most you can do is turn off real-time protection and turn off the background automatic scan—but why would you do that? The main window is tiny, and it vanishes any time you click on another window. If the real-time protection or the background scanner find and fix any problems, you’ll get a transient balloon notification near the product’s system tray icon. This makes it a great choice for those who want an antivirus that just quietly does its job.

Like Norton, Kaspersky, and some others, Bitdefender no longer applies a version number or year number to the antivirus or other security products. I’ve appended (2014) to the name, so we can distinguish this edition from future number-free editions.

Some Installation Woes
Bitdefender Free’s installer runs a quick scan that’s intended to wipe out any active malware that might interfere with the installation process. The pre-installs scan did find problems on several test systems. I got the product up and running on eight of my twelve malware-infested test systems with no trouble.

Ransomware made installation impossible on one system, and malware actively killed the installer on another. On advice from tech support, I downloaded and burned a copy of Bitdefender’s impressive Rescue CD. A Rescue CD scan solved both of these problems.

I worked with tech support through email, since that’s the only way users of the free edition get support. I will confess that I got super-expedited email service, to speed the completion of my testing.

On one test system the system repeatedly hung during Bitdefender’s installation. After a scan with the Rescue CD, I managed to install the product. However, the system had totally lost connectivity. A good bit of email back and forth with tech support got this system’s connectivity restored.

Another test system suffers a ton of visibly active malware processes including what I had thought to be a fake antivirus. Bitdefender Free identified it as a real antivirus from China and asked to have it removed to avoid a conflict. It would appear that this antivirus was installed as a kind of smokescreen by a malware program that it doesn’t detect; very tricky!

On this system the pre-install scan requested a reboot to finish its cleanup not once by twice. Unfortunately, after the second reboot the system got stuck in an endless loop of logging off and logging on; it would not start. The tech support team requested logs generated in the Rescue CD environment. Cleaning up this system using the Rescue CD took over 24 hours! Tech support sent scripts to perform fixes and gather more data. Over a period of several days they managed to get the collateral damage to this system repaired.

The free Malwarebytes Anti-Malware 1.70 installed on all my test systems without any problem. Admittedly, these were test systems infested with my previous malware collection, and Malwarebytes is strictly a cleanup tool, with no ongoing protection. Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 10.5 also installed with little or no trouble, and it did the job on the same systems that gave Bitdefender Free so much trouble.

Very Good Malware Cleanup
As an ordinary user, you don’t actually have to run a full malware scan. There isn’t even a button for it in the minimal user interface. If you simply install the program and ignore it, you’ll find that it runs a quick scan in the background, during idle time. If the quick scan finds any traces of malware, it switches to running a deep scan in the background.

For testing purposes, I chose the Full scan option from the antivirus’s tray menu. Keeping consistent with its unobtrusive style, Bitdefender Free doesn’t display a big progress bar, or a percentage-complete indicator, or the name of the file currently being checked. It does use the border of the Manual Scan panel as a very subtle progress bar, and turns the border red or green on completion, depending on whether malware was or wasn’t found.

Bitdefender Free detected 81 percent of my malware samples and scored 6.2 points for malware removal. Ad-Aware detected more, 83 percent, but it only earned 5.8 points due to less thorough cleanup. The top detection rate and overall score among products tested with my current malware collection both go to the unusual removal-only tool Jumpshot, which detected 86 percent of the samples and scored 6.5 points.

Tested with my previous malware collection, AVG Anti-Virus FREE 2013 took 6.5 points. Comodo Internet Security Complete 2013, Norton AntiVirus (2013), and Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus 2013 all got 6.6 points, and Malwarebytes topped out this group with 7.1 points.

For a full explanation of my malware blocking test methodology, see How We Test Malware Removal.

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition (2014) malware removal chart

Very Good Malware Blocking
Bitdefender Free’s Virus Shield component uses on-access scanning for malware, behavior-based detection, blocking malicious URLs, and a variety of other techniques to prevent new malware attacks on your protected system. In testing, it did a very good job.

Blocking malicious URLs can be the first line of defense; if you can’t even visit the dangerous URL, there’s no chance it can hit you with a drive-by download. When I attempted to re-download my current malware collection, Bitdefender Free blocked access to 91 percent of those whose URLs are still functional.

Next I opened a folder containing previously downloaded copies of those samples. It took a while, but Bitdefender Free’s on-access scanner killed off 81 percent of those. I also tried it with a folder containing hand-modified versions of the same malware samples; its detection was not affected at all by my tweaking.

After launching those samples that weren’t wiped out on sight, I tallied up Bitdefender Free’s results. It detected 92 percent of the samples and scored an impressive 9.0 points, the same figures as earned by G Data AntiVirus 2014. Note, though, that Ad-Aware detected 94 percent of these same samples and scored an impressive 9.4 points.

As for products tested with my previous collection, Webroot rules the roost, with a near-perfect 9.9 points. AVG Free took 9.4 points, better than two-thirds of the paid and free products tested with that same collection. For details on how I perform this malware blocking test, see How We Test Malware Blocking.

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition (2014) malware blocking chart

Loved by the Labs
I can’t report on how the independent antivirus testing labs rate Bitdefender Free, as they haven’t specifically tested this product. However, Bitdefender technology in general gets the very best ratings from all of the labs. To start, ICSA Labs and West Coast Labs certify Bitdefender for both virus detection and removal. Bitdefender has also earned VB100 certification in all of the last ten tests by Virus Bulletin.

German testing lab AV-Test rates products on Protection, Performance, and Usability, assigning up to six points in each category. With a maximum of 18 points possible, Bitdefender earned 17 points in both of the most recent tests, a better score than all other products tested.

Based in Innsbruck, AV-Comparatives runs a wide variety of tests on antivirus products. The File Detection test checks how well a product detects current malware, while the retrospective test attempts to measure detection of zero-day malware by forcing tested products to use old definitions. Carried out over a period of weeks, the Real-World Protection test measures how well products defend against the very latest malware. Bitdefender earned an ADVANCED+ rating, the highest rating, in all of these tests.

Once again, Bitdefender Free wasn’t specifically tested, but it does use the Bitdefender technology that rated so high. For more about the independent labs whose tests I follow, see How We Interpret Antivirus Lab Tests.

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition (2014) lab tests chart

Impressive Phishing Protection
As noted earlier, Bitdefender Free did a good job detecting and blocking malware-hosting websites. That same technology also blocks phishing sites—fraudulent sites that attempt to steal your credentials for bank sites or other sensitive sites.

I use Norton’s phishing protection as a touchstone, because it consistently does a good job detecting even the very newest phishing sites. I challenged Bitdefender Free, Norton, and Internet Explorer 8 with the exact same collection of reported (but not verified) new phishing sites. I kept at it until I had 100 verifiable phishing sites, then tallied the results.

Impressively, Bitdefender’s detection rate was a whole percentage point higher than Norton’s. The only recent antivirus that did better was McAfee AntiVirus Plus 2013, which beat Norton by four percentage points.

Bitdefender Free also beat out Internet Explorer by a wide margin. Admittedly, IE had a bit of a bad week. It averages 39 percentage points worse than Norton; this week it was 58 points behind. Note that two-third of current products that claim to detect and block phishing sites are less accurate than Internet Explorer 8′s SmartScreen filter alone.

The article How We Test Antiphishing explains exactly how I find very new phishing websites and derive these scores.

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition (2014) antiphishing chart

Smart and Silent
If you want near-invisible protection from malware attacking your virus-free PC, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition (2014) is definitely a good choice. However, in my testing I had significant difficulty getting it installed on systems where malware had already made itself at home. Unless you can guarantee your PC is virus-free, consider scanning with Malwarebytes Anti-Malware 1.70 before installing Bitdefender Free. Malwarebytes is our Editors’ Choice for free, cleanup-only antivirus.

AVG Anti-Virus FREE 2013 and Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 10.5 share the Editors’ Choice honor for full-scale free antivirus. However, if you prefer the look and style of Bitdefender Free, it’s also a good choice. Hey, they’re all free; try out several until you find your favorite.

By Neil J. Rubenking, PCMag

Specifications

  • Type: Personal
  • OS Compatibility: Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 7, Windows 8
  • Tech Support: Email support.

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