As the company behind one of the most effective antivirus engines around, you might expect Bitdefender to charge a premium price. But you’d be wrong: Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition gives you all the core functions you need, completely unrestricted, for no charge at all.
Your Windows, Mac or Android device gets real-time protection to find and block known threats as they appear, while behavior monitoring technologies can identify even brand-new and undiscovered threats.
Web filtering isn’t forgotten, or (as with Avira) mostly left to browser extensions. Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition monitors your browsing and blocks access to malicious, phishing and fraudulent websites.
Understanding what you don’t get with a free product is also important, and the key omission here is probably support. You can browse Bitdefender’s website for help with issues, but otherwise you’re on your own.
You’re also missing out on extra layers of ransomware protection which enable controlling access to your key documents. This isn’t a critical problem – Bitdefender Free should still detect and block ransomware, either by its signature or general behavior – but it may leave you a little more exposed to new threats.
If this is a problem then Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2018 restores tech support, adds the anti-ransomware tools and throws in online banking protection, wireless network scanning, a password manager, file shredder, and more. A one-year, one computer licence costs £19.99 ($28).
Bitdefender Antivirus Free is designed to be as simple as possible to use, and that’s clear from the moment the installer launches. Click Install, the package runs a quick scan and sets the program up in under a minute.
There’s just one small hassle: Bitdefender asks you to create an account to activate the program. This is easy and free – just hand over your name and email address – but Avast and Avira’s free antivirus make it clear that signing up is entirely optional.
Considering it’s trimmed down, Bitdefender Free still manages to grab a fair chunk of your system resources, taking more than 1GB of hard drive space and adding four new background processes.
The total lack of settings and configuration options ensures the program is very easy to set up, though, and even a total PC and antivirus novice will have it up and running in no time at all.
Just about every antivirus company around claims their software is simple and straightforward, but Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition pushes this to the extreme with an interface which has barely any options at all.
The main console, for instance, has a button to launch a full system scan, an area to drop a file or folder to be scanned, and a Settings button, and that’s it.
Could there be any complexity to the settings, we wondered? Nope. An Events tab acts as a program log. A Quarantine section lists quarantined files. An Exclusions tab allows excluding falsely flagged files from detection. Finally, a Protection tab enables antivirus protection to be temporarily turned off. You’ll understand what’s on offer in under a minute, and many users may never check the Settings area at all.
Even Bitdefender’s system tray icon keeps options to a minimum. Right-click some antivirus icons and you’ll get nested menus of handy shortcuts – Bitdefender’s menu has a single item: ‘Show’.
While this seems feeble at first glance, use the program for a while and it begins to make sense.
Run scans, for instance, and Bitdefender displays a status line and (eventually) its results on the main console. Run other scans and their results are also added to the list, recent threat detections are added as you go, and over time the console gives you a convenient at-a-glance view of recent actions. You can click a currently running action to view its status or cancel it, and clicking a previous scan will show you any files it detected and what happened to them.
This is a very basic interface, but it works.
Bitdefender’s web filtering also worked well in our testing. Visit a malicious URL from any browser, and you’re warned of the danger then given an option to continue. It’s simple, but enough to keep you safe, and Bitdefender doesn’t weigh your browser down with extra add-ons to make this happen.
If there is an issue here, it’s the lack of any form of configuration. You can’t define custom scan types, schedule scans to run automatically, or change how the detection engine works other than turning it off and on again. Novices may appreciate the lack of on-screen clutter, but more experienced users are likely to be frustrated by the lack of fine-tuning available.
Bitdefender products are generally loved by the independent testing labs, where they almost always appear at or near the top of the rankings.
AV-Comparatives’ Real-World Protection Test is a tough benchmark for assessing how top antivirus products will perform in real life. Bitdefender managed a perfect first place (100% protection, zero false alarms) in March 2018, and the four summary reports covering 2016 and 2017 placed Bitdefender second out of 21 in three cases, and third in the other. That’s a consistency you’ll rarely see elsewhere.
These results need to be interpreted with a little care as they’re based on Bitdefender Internet Security rather than Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition. The core protection engine is the same in both packages, though, and overall the free product should do a great job of keeping you safe.
An accurate and reliable ‘set and forget’ antivirus, perfect for anyone who doesn’t want to spend time and effort managing security themselves.