Editors’ Note: PCMag rates and evaluates all products, including Kaspersky’s, based on their merits and effectiveness, not on any political or other considerations. However, based on the increasing censure and criticism of Kaspersky by US government agencies, foreign agencies, and informed third parties, we can no longer recommendno longer recommend Kaspersky’s products. Because we have not found any hard evidence of misdeeds on the part of Kaspersky, however, we continue to evaluate and report on Kaspersky’s products for those who wish to decide for themselves.
Security companies update their products all the time in unseen ways, tuning them to fight the latest malware. It’s uncommon for an antivirus or security suite to get a new look, and even less common for a company to completely change its product line. But that’s just what Kaspersky has done. Its new line includes the Kaspersky Free antivirus and three levels of security suite—Standard, Plus, and Premium. Kaspersky Plus, reviewed here, is brimming with security, privacy, and performance features. However, its new layout of long-scrolling pages can make finding the feature you’re looking for tough.
It’s true that the US government flags Kaspersky as a Russian security risk, but that designation has no bearing on Kaspersky’s product line makeover. The new products were almost ready for release when the war in Ukraine began in February. Now that the release has arrived, Kaspersky will roll out these new products gradually, so the old and new products will coexist for a few months.
Kaspersky the company and its eponymous founder Eugene Kaspersky contend that the US is wrong and that Kaspersky software is in no way a security risk. They point out that the company, while originally Russian, is now wholly international, with data centers based in Switzerland. In this and coming reviews, I’ll stick to evaluating the products on their merits, though we at PCMag have determined not to award Kaspersky products our Editors’ Choice honor.
Much of the benefit of Kaspersky Plus lies in the fact that it can protect multiple devices on multiple platforms. A single-license subscription doesn’t reach that potential, so Kaspersky Plus starts at three licenses for $66.99. You get five licenses for $75.99. At $97.99 for 10 licenses, you’re paying less than $10 per Kaspersky-protected device, which is a good deal.
Avast, AVG, and Bitdefender all cost less than Kaspersky, $89.99 for 10 licenses, but pretty much every other suite goes for more than Kaspersky’s price, some of them quite a bit more. For example, to get 10 Norton licenses, you must choose the Advantage tier of Norton 360 with LifeLock, which costs $249.99 per year.
Norton’s Ultimate level costs $349.99 per year, but that gets you unlimited security and VPN licenses. McAfee Total Protection offers unlimited protection for $159.99. Kaspersky doesn’t offer an unlimited subscription, but then, few users truly need more than 10 licenses.
Kaspersky’s installer runs quickly and offers to launch a background scan when it’s done. As with the other products in the new Kaspersky line, it runs through a scrolling onboarding system that briefly explains the Data Leak Checker, Stalkerware Detection, Private Browsing, Webcam and Mic Protection, and VPN features. You can optionally scan a QR code at the end to install it on your mobile devices. And you can skip the whole onboarding process if you’re impatient.
The main window is hardly distinguishable from that of Kaspersky Standard. A left-side menu lets you choose Home, Security, Performance, or Privacy, each of which has its own scrolling page of features. There’s also a menu choice to manage your subscription.
Below the Home page’s security status banner, you’ll find tips and recommendations, much like you get from AutoPilot in Bitdefender Total Security. Below those tips are panels to launch a quick scan or speed up your PC. Kaspersky Standard has those two panels as well; Kaspersky Plus adds a third panel for the VPN. Scrolling down, you find a button to view a list of devices on your network, another feature not found in Standard.
Naturally, every feature found in Kaspersky Standard also comes as part of Kaspersky Plus. I’ll run down those features here briefly, but you really should read my review for a detailed look at Kaspersky Standard.
Antivirus protection is the same throughout the Kaspersky line, and the antivirus testing labs heap praises on Kaspersky’s technology. Its 18-point total from AV-Test Institute is the best possible score, as is its AAA certification from SE Labs. It reached perfection in two of three tests by AV-Comparatives and came close in the third. With an aggregate lab score of 9.8 out of 10 points, it’s in the winners’ circle.
Kaspersky and Bitdefender both routinely score high with the labs, but lower in my hands-on tests. Kaspersky’s 9.3 point score in my malware protection test is just middling. That score beats Bitdefender, but Norton 360 Deluxe earned 9.9 of 10 possible points against the same collection of samples.
I also test each product’s ability to block malware downloads. In this test, Kaspersky’s Safe Browsing blocked all access to some pages, flagging them as dangerous or untrustworthy. In other cases, the download began, but Kaspersky wiped it out. Its total score of 86% protection is far from the best. McAfee, TrendMicro, and ZoneAlarm Extreme Security NextGen, among others, scored 100% in this test.
Safe Browsing also does its best to steer you away from phishing pages, fraudulent sites that try to trick you into giving up your security credentials. When first tested, Kaspersky scored 93% detection in this test, a mediocre score and one not in line with Kaspersky’s past performance. A new test with Kaspersky Plus brought that score up to 99%, matching my expectations. Even so, six products, among them Bitdefender, Norton, and Trend Micro Maximum Security, aced the test with 100% detection.
Challenged to defend against ransomware with no help from the regular antivirus, Kaspersky’s System Watcher detected all the real-world samples I threw at it. One managed to encrypt some ancillary files before its demise, but the rest did no damage at all. The Network Attack Blocker also scored well in a test using exploits generated by the Core Impact penetration tool.
Both Kaspersky Free and Kaspersky Standard include Data Leak Checker, a component that checks email addresses for breaches and exposures. However, these two only check the email associated with your Kaspersky account. Kaspersky Plus will check any emails you like, even ones that aren’t yours.
Other shared antivirus features include a component to fix weak security settings; the option to create a bootable Kaspersky antivirus for rooting out malware that was there before Kaspersky; a scan that fixes Windows settings often damaged by malware; and an on-screen keyboard to foil keyloggers.
As noted, Kaspersky Standard is itself a security suite, just not as full featured as Kaspersky Plus. Both products divide their features into three categories, Security, Performance, and Privacy.
Kaspersky’s firewall doesn’t pester you with queries about network permissions for the programs you use. Rather, it uses its massive online database to rate each application’s trust level and set appropriate permissions. The firewall is just crawling with complicated lists of processes and permissions, things that no normal user would ever need to tweak. At least the firewall is thoroughly hardened against tampering.
Many security suites offer a vulnerability scan that seeks out and applies missing security patches for your apps. Kaspersky’s vulnerability scan literally identifies apps with known security vulnerabilities and prompts you to fix them. Of course, the fix usually involves getting the latest update. There’s a separate App Updater that finds and applies missing updates, but it falls in the Performance category.
Kaspersky Standard’s Performance page presents a handful of features to enhance your PCs performance. Quick Startup lets you reversibly disable programs that launch at startup, something you could do just as easily using Task Manager. The PC Speedup Scan runs in the background and identifies junk files and Registry errors. Also running in the background, the App Updater identifies missing updates and, with your permission, installs them.
The suite offers several ways to recover wasted disk space. It locates files with identical contents, regardless of the filename, and helps you delete all but one. It flags the biggest files on your system, so you can consider whether you really need them. And it lists apps you haven’t used in a while, apps you might want to uninstall.
For a real-time view of resource consumption, the Application Activity viewer lists all active processes in much the same way Task Manager does. Finally, Do Not Disturb Mode, Game Mode, and Battery Saver Mode shut down various Kaspersky activities as appropriate.
Of course, keeping spyware apps out of your PC protects your privacy, but Kaspersky does more than that. I’ve already mentioned the Data Leak Checker that scans known breaches and exposures for the presence of any email address you specify.
When you enable Private Browsing and turn on its blocking mode, it actively prevents ad trackers and other embedded website trackers from profiling you on the web. You can dig in for details and fine-tune its behavior, if desired. This component also offers banner ad blocking.
A malware program that got past the antivirus could peek at you through your webcam or listen in over your device’s microphone. Talk about spyware! Kaspersky can watch for use of the webcam and mic by untrusted programs and give you a chance to trust or block it. Security suites from Bitdefender, ESET, and Norton include a similar style of webcam protection.
Stalkerware Detection just ensures that the antivirus warns about any stalkerware programs it detects. And Adware Remover automates the process of stripping out unwanted programs bundled with programs you chose to download.
Kaspersky’s new user interface design involves picking from the left-side menu and then scrolling down and down in the page that appears. You can’t see very much at once, which makes it hard to locate specific features, and it also makes it hard to see just what Kaspersky Plus offers that’s not in Kaspersky Standard.
To get an idea, I opened Kaspersky Standard and Kaspersky Plus, each in its own virtual machine. I lined up the windows, selected Security in the menu of each, and carefully scrolled down to see what got added in Plus. And it turned out to be…nothing! All the enhancements to Plus appear in the Performance and Privacy areas. This makes total sense. Even at the Standard level, you get all of Kaspersky’s security features. The company doesn’t hold anything back in this essential category.
When your PCs hard drive fails, sometimes your first clue is that the device just won’t boot. If only you had some warning, a chance to top off your backups and prepare for the problem. Kaspersky’s Hard Drive Health Monitor gives you exactly that. Enabled by default, it periodically checks the temperature and status of all your drives. If it detects a downward trend, it gives you a warning. You can also see when the drive temperature starts to rise, possibly indicating a need to dust the PC’s innards.
Buried in the list of performance features is Kaspersky’s simple Backup and Restore facility. As with any backup system, you start by choosing what to back up. By default, Kaspersky backs up the contents of My Documents and the Desktop. You can optionally select all pictures, videos, or audio files. For more control, you can choose to back up the files in specific folders, with an option to only back up files of specific types.
Next, you choose where to store your backups. You can choose any local, removable, or network drive, or store backups online. Where Norton gives you anywhere from 50GB to 500GB of hosted online storage, depending on the tier you chose, Kaspersky just lets you put backups in your own Dropbox account. Webroot also provides hosted online storage, but it’s just 25GB, and the option to add more storage (for a price) is no longer present.
By default, backups run when you manually trigger them, but you can schedule them to run monthly, weekly, or several variations on daily. Name the backup set and you’re done. Unless you choose otherwise, it runs at this point. You can go through the process again to create different backup sets with different choices of what to back up, where to store it, and when to run.
Restoring files from backup is a simple matter. To start, you choose the backup set and optionally select specific files. Then you opt to restore files to their original locations or to a new location. If you’re restoring to the original location, you can choose what happens if a version of the file already exists. Simple! You can also dig in to restore a previous version of a specific file, if necessary.
Backup systems in some suites offer tons of options. G Data Total Security, for example, lets the user choose varying levels of compression for backups; select full, incremental, or differential backup; split the backup into multiple files for storage on optical media; and more. In truth, I think users are likely to be put off by so many options. Kaspersky’s simple system is more likely to be used.
The Privacy page gets the biggest boost going from Kaspersky Standard to Plus. Possibly the most significant is the addition of Kaspersky VPN. At first glance, I saw a limit of 200MB bandwidth per day, but when I clicked to activate, I got a notification that those limits were removed. After a very colorful tour of features, I had full access.
PCMag’s VPN maven Max Eddy has performed a deep dive into the features, functionality, and speed of Kaspersky Secure Connection VPN, rating it 3.5 out of 5 stars. Please read Max’s review for a full breakdown of this product’s abilities. Briefly, it has an attractive, easy-to-use interface, but comes up short on advanced features and server locations. You can install it on your Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices, with a limit of five simultaneous connections.
In a similar fashion, your Plus subscription gives you access to Kaspersky Password Manager. Like the VPN, this is a separate program, activated by your subscription. Do read our review to learn all about it. Briefly, we awarded it 3 stars because, while it totally handles the basics of password management, it doesn’t include advanced features such as secure password sharing and password inheritance. Also like the VPN, the password manager works on your Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices.
The remaining privacy additions at the Plus level are internal, not separate programs like the VPN and password manager. Devices on My Network scans your network and lists all the found devices. You may be surprised at how many there are. It displays the device name and type, when available. You can dig in to view more details such as the manufacturer, the IP address, and the MAC address.
The detail view includes a link about blocking access for an unwanted device. Clicking it gets you a technical description of how to use your router’s configuration dashboard to block access based on a device’s MAC address. It’s definitely not a walk in the park.
Some of your devices are bound to come up with no name, and possibly an unknown type. If you’re persistent, you may be able to match these up with actual devices based on the MAC or IP address. Supposing you suss out a match and edit the entry to reflect your findings, Kaspersky will remember the name and type you chose.
Once you’ve perused the device list and perhaps named some of the unknowns, Kaspersky continues to monitor your network. When a new device connects, you get a notification. If the device looks suspicious, it may be time to study up on the instructions for blocking access at the router level.
The remaining features, Secret Vault and File Shredder, work hand in hand to protect your most sensitive files. To create a vault, you start by dragging the files in question into the vault. Next, you name the vault, confirm or change a location for the file representing the vault, and determine the desired size. As the warning states, you won’t be able to change the vault size after creation. You can let Kaspersky create a desktop shortcut to the vault, or go cloak and dagger, omitting the shortcut and giving the vault a misleading name and location.
A password unlocks the secret vault. If you lose the password, you lose access to your files. You’d be well-advised to store the vault password as a secure note within the password manager. Finally, Kaspersky offers to securely delete the unsecured originals—a very important step.
ESET Smart Security Premium is one of the other suites that offer similar encrypted storage systems, though Kaspersky is the only one I’ve seen that incorporates secure deletion of original files. Trend Micro stands out in that its single vault grows to fit its contents and can be sealed remotely, so even a stolen password won’t open it.
When you delete a file, it simply goes to the Recycle Bin. That means you can easily recover it, but it also leaves the file available for recovery by spies or law enforcement. Even if you bypass the Recycle Bin, your file’s data remains on disk, accessible through forensic recovery software. The File Shredder component solves this problem by overwriting a file’s data before deletion, so there’s nothing to recover. You can accept the default Quick Delete, which overwrites file data twice or choose from a half-dozen algorithms, mostly government-backed, that perform from three to seven overwrites.
Gone are the days when installing a security suite would bring your PC’s performance to a crawl. Security companies learned their lesson—a suite that causes problems gets turned off, leaving no security at all. Few modern suites impact performance to any appreciable degree, but I continue to run some simple tests, just to be sure.
Getting all the components of a suite running at Windows startup could, in theory, slow the boot process. Nobody wants to wait around while antivirus components initialize. To check a suite’s effect on boot time, I use a script that launches at boot and checks CPU usage every second. After 10 seconds in a row with no more than 5% CPU usage, I call the system ready. Subtracting the start of the boot process (as reported by Windows) yields the boot time. I average a dozen runs, then install the suite and average a dozen more.
As with quite a few modern suites, I found that the boot process finished faster after I installed Kaspersky. In the chart below, I record that result as a zero, meaning no slowdown at all.
While you probably reboot no more than once a day, you’re likely working with files all day long. If a security suite’s monitoring efforts interfered with ordinary file operations, that could be a problem. I test this in the same way, averaging script execution times before and after installing the suite. One script moves and copies a large collection of files between drives, the other zips and unzips that same collection repeatedly. The move and copy test took 5% longer with Kaspersky active and the zip test took 3% longer.
Kaspersky’s average impact of 3% isn’t anything you’ll notice. Even so, K7 Ultimate Security and Webroot scored zero impact in all three tests, and ESET’s impact averaged out to zero.
The big visual makeover of Kaspersky’s user interface didn’t make the jump from Windows to macOS. On macOS, the product still looks like the previous generation. I took a thorough look at Kaspersky Standard for Mac, and most of what I found is also true of Kaspersky Plus. Please read that review for background.
In the old Kaspersky product line, the main protection for Macs didn’t change going from the entry-level suite to the top-tier suite. That’s no longer true with the current product line. On the Mac, the main window for Kaspersky Plus goes beyond Standard with the addition of icons titled HD Health and Home Network.
HD Health corresponds to the Hard Drive Health Monitor on Windows and works just like it. The hard drive monitor reports the stability and temperature of your Mac’s drives and warns you if any drive starts to degrade.
Home Network corresponds to the Windows edition’s Devices on My Network component. It lists all the devices connected to your network with an option to dig in for details such as manufacturer, IP Address, and MAC Address. You can edit the name and type of found devices, if necessary. Most importantly, Kaspersky pops up a notification if a new device joins the network.
Your Plus subscription lets you install the password manager on your Mac as well. You should find that it works just as it does under Windows. Plus users can also install and use Kaspersky’s VPN with no limits on bandwidth or server choices.
Malware coders focus on Windows both because it’s widespread and because it doesn’t have the locked-down security that Apple’s platforms do. Android is likewise widespread, and it, too, lacks the baked-in security of iOS. You need malware protection for your Android devices, but you also need to deal with the problem of loss and theft. Kaspersky Plus on Android handles those important tasks, and much, much more. I should note that Kaspersky Standard also covers mobile devices, with many of the same features, though VPN and password manager are absent.
The easiest way to install Kaspersky Plus is to bring up the add device window and snap the QR code with your Android. Once you log in to your My Kaspersky account, you get all the features of Kaspersky Plus. Take a moment to examine the array of feature icons. You’ll find some marked with an overlay icon indicating that they need configuration. A note above the icons lets you know how many remain unconfigured. As with any Android security product, you’ll grant a boatload of permissions, some during the initial configuration and others the first time you use a particular feature.
I follow four independent testing labs that evaluate Windows antivirus products. Three of them also test security defenses on Android, and Kaspersky earned perfect scores from two.
Researchers at AV-Test Institute put Android security utilities to the test regularly, rating them on Protection, Performance, and Usability. Products can earn six points in each category, for a maximum of 18. Kaspersky, along with all but one of the other tested products, earned a perfect 18 points.
AV-Comparatives also publishes regular reports on Android security effectiveness. Along with Avira, Bitdefender, G Data, and Trend Micro, Kaspersky scored 100% in this test.
Kaspersky Plus on Android presents the user with no fewer than 17 distinct feature icons, in no discernable order. I’ve taken the liberty of dividing these icons into groups, starting with those directly related to the product’s antivirus functionality: Automatic Anti-Virus, Safe Browsing, Scan, and Update.
You can tap any time for a quick scan or a full scan (both are quick) or to check for updates, but you really don’t have to. By default, Automatic Anti-Virus settings call for scanning all new apps, and for running a scan after any antivirus update. You can schedule a daily or weekly scan or turn off scheduled scanning (but don’t turn it off!)
Safe Browsing keeps protected browsers away from dangerous and fraudulent websites, just as it does in the Windows edition. I configured it as instructed and verified that Chrome has protection. I was pleased to see that the app has a button to demonstrate Safe Browsing using a test page on the Anti-Malware Standards Testing Organization’s website. It worked.
There’s only one anti-theft feature, but it’s a doozy. Be sure to enable Where Is My Device and give it all the permissions it needs. Once you’ve done that, you can use the My Kaspersky portal to deal with a lost or stolen device.
The most benign mobile problem is that you’ve simply misplaced it around your domicile. Android anti-theft systems typically include an option to just make a big noise, so you can find the device. Kaspersky’s Alarm mode actively locks the device, though it does provide a special unlock code. That alarm is loud, and I had some difficulty turning it off, but I managed.
Locating a lost device also locks it, just as the alarm does. You get the device’s position on a map, as expected, but Kaspersky also sends the coordinates by email. Other options let you snap a mugshot of whoever is holding the phone, and (as a last resort) wipe the device back to factory settings. I didn’t try that last one.
Quite a few of the Android app’s features also appear on other platforms. The password manager is a separate app, installed when you first request it. Naturally it needs its own set of permissions. There’s a separate icon to directly invoke the Password Check feature.
VPN protection is integrated with Kaspersky Plus. It has the same unlimited bandwidth and full access to servers as you get on Windows. However, its configuration settings are limited to a kill switch that cuts off unprotected traffic if the VPN connection goes down and a system to automatically engage the VPN when you connect to unsecured hotspots. It lacks the split tunneling and notification control found in the Windows version.
As for Data Leak Checker, it works just the same as on Windows. You can check any email address to see if it’s shown up in a breach or data exposure. Devices on My Network also works the same, though naturally the display must adjust to the mobile screen.
Some security issues just don’t come up in a desktop installation. Kaspersky’s mobile-specific features include App Lock, Call Filter, My Apps, Safe Messaging, and Secure QR Scanner. My test Android isn’t provisioned for cellular calling, so I couldn’t test the call filtering component, but it looks easy enough to use.
Two features involve apps, one protecting apps from misuse, and one protecting you from the apps. App Lock is a feature found in many Android security products. It lets you put sensitive apps behind a secondary PIN, so you can let your tot watch kid vids on the phone without worrying they’ll accidentally buy a horsie online. My Apps, on the other hand, lists possibly risky access permissions and lets you see which apps have each. Look for oddities, like a flashlight app that has permission to view your contacts. This tool can also list apps you haven’t used in a long time, so you can consider uninstalling them.
These days more and more spam and phishing attacks come through texts or private messaging. When you enable Safe Messaging, Kaspersky checks all texts for phishing links and displays a warning if it finds trouble. Judging from the icons displayed, it also handles WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram, and…Google Hangouts?
That leaves the Secure QR Scanner. Many security experts disparage QR codes because you can’t see in advance what you’re getting. The code could hold a URL, product information, even contact data. When it invokes a URL, you typically don’t see the whole thing, so you really don’t know where it goes. The Secure QR Scanner simply adds another step. Kaspersky scans the URL for danger and, if it’s safe, displays the whole address so you can choose to visit or not.
I was surprised to find that the Android app boasts a feature not found in the Windows or macOS editions, Social Privacy. This feature goes into much more detail than the Social Media Privacy Scanner found in Trend Micro’s antivirus and suites. For Google, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, it surfaces a useful collection of privacy settings. I gave it a whirl on three of the four (I don’t use Instagram much).
For each social site, you must log in from within Kaspersky to give it access. It displayed my latest browsing, search, and location history in Google, with easy links to delete any or all of them. Of course, those lists will just grow again, unless you also accept Kaspersky’s help to turn tracking off.
Facebook choices are more about who can see your personal info, posts, friends, and so on. Another collection of settings controls things other people do, like post on your profile, or tag you in a picture. Settings for friend requests and advertising options round out the collection.
LinkedIn is all about making and maintaining connections, and the choices Kaspersky offers reflect that fact. You almost certainly want your connections to be able to see your connection list, for example, but you may or may not want other apps and partners to find information from your profile.
These settings are all things you could manage by logging in to each service and digging into its privacy configuration. I appreciate the thought that went into pulling everything into one place where you can manager your social privacy easily. I just wonder why Kaspersky didn’t make this feature available on the desktop.
As with most cross-platform suites, Kaspersky offers a lot less on iOS. The Android edition boasts 17 icons leading to useful features, all in one integrated (but not organized) display. Confusingly, iOS displays its features on two pages, Home and All Features, with significant overlap. VPN, Anti-Phishing, Data Leak Checker, Social Privacy, and Wi-Fi Security Check appear on both pages. The Home page adds Password Safety and Protect All Devices, while the All Features page adds Password Manager and Secure QR Scanner.
Just like in the Android edition, the VPN is integrated, with fewer configuration choices than the desktop standalone VPN, while the Password Manager is a separate app, installed at first use. Anti-Phishing corresponds to Safe Browsing on Android. As for Data Leak Checker, Social Privacy, and Secure QR Scanner, they work just as they do on Android.
Trend Micro’s iOS app includes anti-theft features; Kaspersky’s does not. Neither app scans for iOS malware; the same security precautions that drastically hobble malware activities also get in the way of antivirus scanners. However, Trend Micro’s iOS features include scanning for fraudulent URLs in instant messages, checking images for dangerous URLs, basic parental control, and more. Kaspersky could do more for iOS users.
You get all the basic antivirus components in Kaspersky Standard, but Kaspersky Plus adds an impressive collection of features in the performance and privacy realms. They include a backup system to protect your files, a hard drive health watcher, a no-limits VPN, a basic password manager, a network monitor that warns you when new devices connect, and more. On a Mac, upgrading to Plus adds hard drive health and network monitors, as well as VPN and password manager apps. Kaspersky Plus on Android is loaded with useful features, though it doesn’t do nearly as much for iOS devices. The main reason we haven’t named it an Editors’ Choice is our decision not to recommend products from a company deemed dangerous by the US government. If that stigma doesn’t bother you, Kaspersky Plus is a fine pick.
Like Kaspersky, Bitdefender Internet Security earns great scores from the independent labs. It too is brimming with useful features, among them a password manager, a parental control system, and a feature-limited VPN. As such, it remains our Editors’ Choice winner for entry-level security suites.
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