Microsoft includes free antivirus protection with recent versions of Windows, and it works pretty well, especially in Windows 10. However, you can get even better protection against malware with a third-party antivirus, and you don’t necessarily have to pay for it. Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition includes the core malware-fighting components of Bitdefender’s commercial edition, but without the vast collection of additional security features, and without some advanced layers of malware protection.
Installing Bitdefender Free is quick and easy. During the process, it downloads the latest version and scans for active malware. You need to sign up for a Bitdefender account to activate it (or sign in if you already have one). The premium edition’s main window isn’t especially busy, but the free edition is simplicity itself. There’s a button to run the full system scan, a drag/drop spot to scan specific files or folders, and a timeline of recent activity. That’s it.
When you launch a scan, the scan’s progress appears in the events timeline, unless you click it to see the full scan window. A full scan took an hour and a half, a bit over the current average of an hour and a quarter. However, that scan clearly performed some optimization, as a repeat scan finished in not quite 13 minutes. As always, you should run a full scan right after installation, to root out any nasties that invaded the system before you installed antivirus.
Excellent Lab Results
While Bitdefender Free doesn’t include every feature of the commercial edition, its core antivirus engine is the same as what the independent labs test. However, the independent labs test the commercial product, not the free one. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus did slightly better in my hands on tests, so chances are good the free antivirus wouldn’t reach the same level in lab tests. Results discussed below are for the commercial edition.
Three of the four labs that I follow include Bitdefender in their testing. In the three-part test regularly reported by AV-Test Institute, Bitdefender earned 6 of 6 possible points in all three categories, for a perfect 18 points. F-Secure, Kaspersky, McAfee, and Norton also earned the maximum points.
The researchers at AV-Comparatives perform a wide variety of tests; I follow four of them. Products that pass a test earn Standard certification, while those that do significantly better receive Advanced or even Advanced+ certification. Bitdefender took Advanced+ in all four tests. Kaspersky did nearly as well, with three Advanced+ and one Advanced.
The tests performed by MRG-Effitas are a bit different from the rest. To pass this lab’s banking Trojans test, a product needs a perfect score; anything less is failure. Another test using a wide variety of malware offers two passing levels. If a product absolutely blocks every installation attempt, it passes at Level 1. If some malware gets through, but is eliminated within 24 hours, that earns Level 2. Anything else is a fail. Bitdefender passed the banking test, along with Avira, ESET, and Kaspersky. It also received Level 1 certification in the broad-spectrum test, along with Kasperky, Microsoft Windows Defender Security Center, and seven others.
SE Labs attempts to simulate the real world of malware as closely as possible for testing purposes, using a capture/replay system to present each product with a real-world Web-based attack. Certification from this lab comes at five levels, AAA, AA, A, B, and C. Alas, Bitdefender doesn’t appear in the latest report from SE Labs. When last tested, it took AA certification.
I have contrived an algorithm that maps all the test results onto a 10-point scale and returns an aggregate lab score, as long as the product has results from at…