Installing Bitdefender Free
Getting Bitdefender Free running on your system is quick and easy. During the setup process, it downloads the latest version and scans for active malware. You need to sign up for a Bitdefender account to activate the product (or sign in if you already have one).
Many free antivirus products look just like their commercial equivalents, but with some features grayed out or visibly locked. Not Bitdefender. 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. That’s the whole interface.
As always, you should run a full scan right after installation, to root out any malware that infested the system before you installed antivirus. When you launch a scan, the scan’s progress simply appears in the events timeline, unless you click it to see the full scan window. A full scan took 58 minutes, quicker than the current average of 64 minutes. That scan clearly performed some optimization, as a repeat scan finished barely over a minute. Kaspersky Security Cloud Free also performed impressive optimization in its latest test, going from 70 minutes for the initial scan down to 4.5 minutes for a repeat scan.
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, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus. The labs do make it clear that their results are only validated for the actual product under testing. Still, it’s worth looking at the excellent scores the commercial edition earned.
Three of the four labs that I follow include Bitdefender in their testing. In the three-part test regularly reported by AV-Test Institute, antivirus programs can earn up to six points each for effective protection, low impact on performance, and few usability problems (meaning false positives). Bitdefender missed a perfect 18 points due to a few false positives that cost it a half-point in usability, but 17.5 points is sufficient for the lab to name it a Top Product. Avast Free Antivirus, Kaspersky, Microsoft, and Norton were among the products that managed a perfect score in the latest test.
The researchers at AV-Comparatives perform a wide variety of tests; I follow three of them. Products that pass a test earn Standard certification, while those that go significantly beyond the minimum to pass receive Advanced or even Advanced+ certification. Bitdefender is the only product that took Advanced+ in the latest instances of all three tests. Avast, AVG, McAfee, and Kaspersky came close, with two Advanced+ certifications 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 failure. Bitdefender passed the banking test, along with ESET, Kaspersky, Norton, and a few others. It reached Level 2 certification in the broad-spectrum test, along with F-Secure and Microsoft Windows Defender Security Center. Only ESET and Norton managed Level 1 certification in the latest test.
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 hasn’t appeared in results from SE Labs for many months now.
I have contrived an algorithm that maps all the test results onto a 10-point scale and returns an aggregate lab score for every product that has results from at least two labs. Avast, Avira Free Security, and Kaspersky are among the products that appear in reports from all four labs. In terms of aggregate score, Kaspersky rules that group, with 9.9 of 10 possible points. Bitdefender holds the highest score of products tested by three labs, holds the top score overall, 9.8 points.
Very Good Malware Protection
Even when lab results are plentiful, I always run my own hands-on testing, just to get a feel for the way a product handles malware. If I don’t get enough data from the labs, my hands-on malware protection test is the only way I can rate antivirus accuracy. In this case, the labs have already made it very clear that Bitdefender’s technology is top-notch.
When I opened my folder of samples, Bitdefender started picking off those it recognized. It took quite a while to get through them all, in part because it announced every removal with a separate transient popup. In the end, the results were almost identical to those of the commercial Bitdefender.
I maintain a second set of samples, each one hand-modified to be different from anything the antivirus has encountered. I change the filename, append nulls to change the size, and overwrite some non-executable bytes with random text. As in previous tests, Bitdefender missed more than a quarter of these hand-modified samples. But do remember, this test simply measures on-sight recognition, as I don’t launch the tweaked items.
I tested Bitdefender’s commercial edition, along with the rest of our Editors’ Choice-winning antivirus products, immediately after putting my latest set of malware samples in play. That was several months ago, so I expected the free edition might do better in this test. In fact, it scored exactly the same as the commercial edition, but not in exactly the same way. Each of the products missed a sample that the other caught. Both products achieved 94% detection and earned 9.2 of 10 possible points.
Given that Bitdefender Antivirus Free scored 7.7 when last reviewed, this is a big improvement. Even so, other products scored even higher. Tested with this same sample set, Malwarebytes scored a perfect 10, McAfee managed 9.9, and Webroot came close with 9.8 points.
My malicious URL blocking test takes an hour or more to run. In this test, I challenge the antivirus’s Web-based protection to keep the browser safe from about a hundred very fresh malware-hosting URLs generously supplied by MRG-Effitas. The antivirus gets full credit for either blocking all access to the dangerous URL or for eliminating the malware download.
The free Bitdefender blocks access to nasty URLs below the browser level, so it doesn’t have to install a browser extension. In testing, it sometimes diverted the browser to a warning page, and sometimes displayed a transient popup reporting that it detected a dangerous URL. Other times, I just saw an error message in the browser and had to check the event timeline to see whether Bitdefender caused that error by blocking the page.
In the same fashion, the antivirus displayed a transient popup when it blocked some malware downloads, but in other cases the browser just reported that the download failed with a network error. If you’re ever wondering whether Bitdefender’s protective actions caused an error, check the event timeline.
The uneven reporting of defensive actions doesn’t seem so important alongside the fact that Bitdefender achieved 100% protection, skewed heavily toward blocking all access to the dangerous URLs. McAfee also reached 100% protection in its latest test. Bitdefender’s commercial edition, along with Sophos Home Free and G Data, came in at 99%.
Impressive Phishing Detection
The most perfect malware-detection system in the world can’t help you if you fall for a phishing scam and give away your precious login credentials. Phishing websites masquerade as banks, online merchants, and even gaming websites, and they do their best to entice you into logging in. When you do, the fraudsters own your account. They get caught and blacklisted quickly enough, but they just grab their winnings and move on.
To test a product’s ability to keep users safe from this kind of fraud, I scrape phishing URLs from a variety of reporting sites. I try to get both verified phishing frauds and URLs so new that they haven’t been analyzed and verified. I run the test simultaneously on the product under testing and on instances of Chrome, Edge, and Firefox, relying on the phishing protection built into the three browsers.
For each suspected fraud, I launch the URL in all four browsers and record the results. If any of the four can’t load the URL, I discard it. If the page doesn’t actively attempt to capture login credentials, I discard it. After checking several hundred possible fraudulent URLs, I run the numbers.
As with the dangerous page blocking test, Bitdefender didn’t always report its protective actions. When the browser threw an error, I had to check the events timeline to distinguish a real error from one caused by antivirus protection.
Bitdefender detected 97% of the verified frauds, better than almost all its competitors. Among the few that did better, F-Secure and McAfee AntiVirus Plus own the field, with 100% detection. Bitdefender’s commercial edition, along with Norton AntiVirus Plus, and Webroot, managed 99%. Make no mistake, these are all excellent scores.
See How We Test Security Software
What’s Not Here
At this point, I’ve described the entirety of what Bitdefender Free does. The feature list of the full, premium Bitdefender Antivirus goes way, way beyond this. Please read my review (linked above) for full details on what you get by paying for the full edition. I’ll summarize those bonus features here.
The Bitdefender Wallet component is a complete, if basic, password manager. It captures and replays passwords, imports passwords from your browsers, generates strong passwords, and fills Web forms. It doesn’t try for advanced features like two-factor authentication or automatic password update.
Bitdefender SafePay is a hardened separate desktop with a secure browser designed to keep your sensitive online transactions safe. Processes running under SafePay are isolated from processes on the regular desktop. The Wi-Fi Advisor both checks your home network’s security and warns when you connect to an insecure network. If the antivirus can’t eliminate a particularly nasty malware specimen, you can reboot in Rescue Mode to handle the threat outside of Windows.
Using the File Shredder you can delete sensitive files permanently, beyond the possibility of forensic recovery. A Search Advisor add-in marks up dangerous websites in search results. And the Vulnerability Scan checks for missing security updates and for weak Windows passwords. The enhanced ransomware protection layer watches for behaviors that suggest ransomware, to protect your important documents. And none of these bonus features are present in the free edition.
The Anti-tracker browser extension aims to keep advertisers, analytics, and all other trackers from snooping on your browsing activity. When you visit a page, its toolbar icon displays the number of trackers blocked. You can click for details, including an estimate of how much blocking the trackers sped up page load time. This, too, isn’t in the free edition.
Effective Basic Protection
Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition doesn’t have the wealth of features that makes its for-pay sibling almost a suite. It does contain the same basic protection against malware, malicious websites, and fraudulent sites, though it lacks some of the premium edition’s additional protective layers. If you want every drop of the famed Bitdefender malware protection, and you can spare the cash, Editors’ Choice winner Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is worth paying for. But if the budget won’t stretch that far, the free edition is still very good.
Avast Free Antivirus offers password management, vulnerability scanning, system cleanup, and an unusual scan for network and router vulnerabilities. Kaspersky Security Cloud Free gets near-perfect scores from the independent labs and comes with suite features that include a free, feature-limited VPN. These two are our Editors’ Choice picks for free antivirus utilities. Of course, since they’re all free, you can give both of them and Bitdefender a try before settling on your favorite.