Can’t set individual app time limits using parental controls
Identity protection included only in most expensive package
Bitdefender Premium Security offers impressive protection from malware, phishing and scams. Some of the additional features, such as the VPN and password manager are good, but others such as parental controls are far from best-in-class. You need to pay more for ID protection, but it’s a good service overall.
In recent years, Bitdefender Total Security has felt like a misnomer because – unlike some rivals – it doesn’t include any protection for your identity.
It’s a naming problem more than anything, because Bitdefender did offer ID protection, albeit as a separate, standalone service.
If you’d rather pay a single subscription fee then Norton, McAfee and others will give you everything in one package.
But now, Bitdefender has rolled this protection into its top security suite and calls it Premium Security Plus – in the UK at least. In the US it’s called Bitdefender Ultimate Security. There are reasons for this, which we’ll get into later where we’ll explain how that protection works.
To keep things simple, though, this is primarily a review of Bitdefender Premium Security which doesn’t include ID protection. It’s the same whether you’re in the UK, US or elsewhere and offers protection for 10 devices whether they’re running Windows, macOS, iOS or Android.
Since Premium Security is essentially Bitdefender Total Security but with the 200MB per day VPN limit removed, you can also treat this as a Total Security review – just bear this rather annoying limit in mind.
Mega-suites such as Premium Security include so many features it’s hard to get your head around them all.
So, here’s a handy list of the main features. But, just to complicate matters, features vary across operating systems, with Windows and Android getting the lion’s share, and iOS and macOS having fewer of them.
Malware protection – including ransomware
Web attack prevention
Anti-phishing, anti-fraud, anti-spam
Game, movie and work modes
Microphone + webcam monitor
Online banking protection (Safepay browser)
Wi-Fi Security Advisor
Social network protection
That’s just Total Security. With Premium Security (which covers 10 devices instead of 5) you also get:
If you opt for Premium Security Plus, then you get digital ID Protection. (Again, in the US, you’d need Ultimate Security but there are three tiers for that, the lowest of which comes with the same ID protection. Go for the more expensive tiers and you get ID Theft Protection which includes an ID restoration service and insurance to cover any losses. These are not available if you’re in the UK.)
It can be hard to spot what’s missing from a list like this, but the most obvious one – especially if you’re also considering Norton 360 – is cloud backup. Norton’s the only company that offers this, though. Norton also includes an updater which checks and automatically updates any out of date software but this and the cloud storage are Windows-only features.
A list of features is helpful only to a limited extent: it’s whether the features are any good that’s important. And that’s what the rest of this review will explain.
Apps and interface
When you sign up for your chosen package, you’ll get an activation code. You can enter this in the Bitdefender Central website (or mobile app) where you create an account and then use the code to redeem your subscription.
The Central website is an important portal where you can manage your subscription, see an overview of how many licences you’ve used and send links to devices (or family members) so they can install Bitdefender on their devices.
Jim Martin / Foundry
The links include login details, which makes it really easy for everyone to install the app and get protected.
Install Bitdefender on Windows and you’ll be presented with an clean-looking interface that tells you ‘You are safe’. For non-technical users, the default shortcuts to Quick Scan, System Scan, Vulnerability Scan aren’t particularly easy to understand.
Jim Martin / Foundry
The eagle-eyed will notice that it says Bitdefender Total Security at the top even if you subscribe to Premium or Ultimate. This again goes back to the naming convention: you’re effectively getting Total Security with a few extras bolted on.
Getting back to the app itself, Quick Scan does what it says, as does the second – a full system scan. The the third – vulnerability – checks your device for things like out of date apps, system settings that have been changed from defaults and weak passwords. There’s also a dedicated Wi-Fi scan that checks you’re not using weak encryption or authentication protocols.
You can edit these six shortcuts and replace them with the features you want to see. And above them is the oddly named ‘Autopilot’ which offers recommendations for actions you need to, or might want to take – the opposite of autopilot. The first is to turn on ransomware protection, which is simply a case of clicking Enable.
On the left-hand side are tabs for Protection, Privacy and Utilities. Notifications is a log of what Bitdefender has been doing or noticing on your system, and Settings lets you pick dark or light mode, the language and a host of other things, including turning off special offer notifications which are on by default.
The Protection tab is a lot less intimidating than it once was and is much easier to understand. Ransomware Remediation, for example, backs up important files as an extra safeguard so they can be restored if the worst happens and Bitdefender is unable to stop a ransomware attack in the first place. Though, as you’ll see, all the major antivirus testing labs found Bitdefender exceptionally good at blocking all types of malware.
The anti-spam module allows you to explicitly whitelist friends and blacklist real spammers. However, with so many people using web-based email services (along with their mobile apps), this won’t be any use as it only works with Outlook and Thunderbird desktop email apps.
Web browsing is protected by the Online Threat Prevention module. This uses machine learning and a global website reputation database to judge whether any site you visit should be considered malicious. Like the Safe Browsing service used in Chrome and other browsers, this is constantly updated, meaning that you’re technically getting global real-time protection. (This is also available on iOS and Android.)
There are also a selection of tools under the Utilities menu. OneClick Optimizer looks for disk space that can be freed up, Registry entries that can be deleted (improving Windows’ performance) and does a Privacy Cleanup, which wants to delete your browsing history, temporary internet files and cookies.
Fortunately, after analysing what can be deleted, there’s a warning to check the items before doing the optimisation. And you can uncheck cookies and other items that you don’t want to be deleted.
Another utility is Profiles. These kick in automatically when you’re watching a movie, or playing a game, for example. The different modes prevent popups, or put off housekeeping events until the software detects that they’re appropriate. Now, these profiles can be enabled automatically – once you’ve enabled that particular setting, and each can be configured to your liking.
Jim Martin / Foundry
In the most recent tests from AV-Test, Bitdefender’s performance is outstanding. It achieved perfect scores for protection, performance and usability. Similarly it was given the top rating for performance and malware protection by AV-Comparatives, and came top in SE Labs’ latest tests covering January to March 2023.
As mentioned at the start, Bitdefender has an enviable track record, too: these results have been repeated month after month, year after year.
As well as the webcam and microphone monitoring already mentioned, Anti-Tracker blocks data collection from websites. It’s ‘enabled’ by default but this misleading because that default is to only apply this protection to Internet Explorer. Who still uses Internet Explorer?
You have to click on the settings to install and enable it in Chrome, Firefox and Edge – the only other supported browsers.
As mentioned, the VPN service – powered by Hotspot Shield – is also part of Total Security and Premium Security. This is such an important feature that we’ve covered it in a full, separate review of Bitdefender Premium VPN.
Jim Martin / Foundry
If you go for Total Security, it’s very limited because you get only 200MB of data per day. But with Bitdefender Premium Security it’s a ‘proper’ service with unlimited data and the ability to pick from 30 or so countries and stream video from Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max and others.
However, it wouldn’t unblock UK-based streaming services including BBC iPlayer and ITVX. Still, given that the best standalone VPN services cost almost as much as Premium Security (at least for the first discounted year) it is a real boon having a half-decent VPN service that you can use on 10 devices at the same time.
There has been plenty of criticism of Bitdefender’s password manager in the past – specifically in its ‘Wallet’ incarnation – but the company is retiring that and replacing it with a totally new one called Bitdefender Password Manager. Of course, the Wallet extension for web browsers still exists, so you need to avoid that (if you don’t use it already) and instead install the correct add-on in your web browsers. Firefox, Chrome and Edge.
It’s very confusing for new users that the password manager within the Total Security Windows app is still the Wallet version. Plus, even though the new Password Manager has a Bitdefender Wallet import option (along with 1Password and other popular apps) it will only accept them as a .csv file. But Wallet exports as .db – a problem Bitdefender obviously hasn’t noticed this.
A representative told us there was a tool for seamlessly switching from Wallet to Password Manager, but there’s no reference to this in Total Security or indeed the new browser extension.
Jim Martin / Foundry
Password Manager doesn’t allow you to create multiple wallets (which always felt unnecessary) but does let you store identity info (name, address, email, phone numbers) to quickly enter this on web forms, credit / debit card details, website logins and there’s also a section for notes that you want to keep private. It’ll generate strong passwords, too, with options to include or exclude certain types of characters.
Plus, there’s a handy Security Report that shows at a glance how many duplicate, weak and old passwords you have.
The sign-in process on the web is more painful than it could be because the extension redirects you to the Bitdefender Central website which makes you click on Captcha images before you can log in. However, you only have to do this the first time.
Jim Martin / Foundry
After setting up your password vault – which handily has a recovery key – it’ll ask only for your master password every time you close your web browser, which is standard practice. And once logged in, it works well, and the mobile apps are good, too.
Jim Martin / Foundry
A bigger issue is that using a password manager bundled with a security suite means you’ll lose access to it if you stop your subscription. So, instead, we recommend using a dedicated service – some of the best password managers are free, too.
Bitdefender’s parental controls allow you to control your kids’ screen time across all supported devices, as well as decide when they can and can’t use their devices.
The main limitation is that you can’t set time limits for specific apps. So if you allow them, for example, six hours of screen time, they could choose to spend all of that on TikTok, which you probably don’t want.
The only option is to block specific apps, but this approach won’t be acceptable to your kids.
There’s also content filtering which helps to prevent them seeing inappropriate things online.
Filtering works fairly well, but there’s no way for a child to request access to a specific website that they think they should be allowed to use. If your child has an iPhone, Bitdefender can’t tell you what they’re using the device for, so you’re better off (if you also have an iPhone or iPad) using Apple’s built-in Screen Time controls.
There’s one other key feature: the ability to set up geo-fenced locations so you can get alerts when your child arrives at or leaves a specific place.
As usual with security apps, the Android version has a lot more features than the iPhone one.
Several useful features are included on Android. There’s Anti-Theft which gives you various options in the event that your phone is lost or stolen such as being able to track it, lock it and remotely wipe the data. App Lock lets you put a PIN on any apps you don’t want anyone else opening if they’re borrowing your phone – or find it lying around unlocked.
It also allows you to automatically take a picture when someone fails to unlock the device three times in a row. This is all controlled from Bitdefender Central.
App Lock is another handy feature that stops anyone from using apps you choose by requesting a PIN before the app will launch.
Web Protection is on by default and protects you from dangerous web pages. Scam alert warns you of any dangerous links found in messages – not just SMS but also WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and others.
You still have that same limit of 200MB of free data per day via the VPN if you subscribe to Total Security, but it’s unlimited on a Premium one.
Of course, there’s also a proper antivirus component which will protect Android devices from a similar variety of threats to the Windows version. As with the Windows version, the Android app scored top marks in both AV-Test’s Android showdown and AV-Comparatives’ Android tests.
On an iPhone you don’t get that, but you do get anti-theft features, the VPN and basic web protection which also works by using a VPN.
Dominik Tomaszewski / Foundry
There’s also an audit which warns you if security features such as Face ID are disabled, and if there is an operating system update available.
Digital ID Protection
Bitdefender’s Digital ID Protection service has always been a standalone service that you could subscribe to separately from antivirus. Now, you get it if you opt for Bitdefender’s most expensive package: Premium Security Plus, which costs £149.99 per year in the UK.
In the US, things are different because Digital ID Protection is the lowest rung on the ladder with ID Theft Protection above it and ID Theft Protection Premium above that.
It’s also why Bitdefender’s top security suite is called Ultimate Security ($179.99 per year), because it includes IT Theft Protection.
With Digital ID Protection you get instant alerts when Bitdefender thinks your data is at risk, such as your email address or phone number being included in a data breach. It can also help you spot ‘impersonation’ attempts by people creating social media profiles using your details.
What it doesn’t offer is any kind of ID restoration service, credit monitoring or insurance to cover ID theft. Just to be clear, if you’re in the US, you do get those features when you buy Ultimate Security, or subscribe to Identity Theft Protection Standard separately.
The Digital ID Protection features are core to both packages, though and work the same.
That’s to say that it is a standalone service which isn’t integrated into the desktop or mobile apps at all.
Instead, it’s managed from the Bitdefender Central website. Despite the existence of a Bitdefender Central app for mobile devices, you can’t access any of the ID Protection information or settings in it, which is a shame.
The website, however, is good. There’s a dashboard where you can see an overall score (indicating how well your data is protected), a risk map (so you can see where data is most at risk and what its impact could be), data breaches involving your information, your digital footprint, and an impersonation check.
Jim Martin / Foundry
Most of these are also accessible using links across the top. To start with, only the email address you signed up with is monitored. But you can add nine more, plus up to five phone numbers.
Data Brokers is another area where you can see eight of the top brokers, and links to search each one to see what – if any – data it holds on you.
This is a manual process where you have to do the work. Other ID monitoring services such as DeleteMe and Incogni – which cost considerably more – do it for you. However, in most cases, data brokers will only accept data removal requests from the person whose data it is, meaning you’d still have to do that part anyway.
Jim Martin / Foundry
In order to monitor your data, Bitdefender asks only for your email address and a phone number, then uses those to trawl the web to see what it can find. It doesn’t take long to find a lot more, and shows you everything in the Digital Footprint section which you can view as a type of spider diagram.
You can then check each piece of information and tell Bitdefender if it’s correct or not. This is worth doing to remove all the stuff that isn’t about you, so you don’t get alerts when it’s discovered somewhere else or in a new data breach.
Jim Martin / Foundry
In the list view, you can see what each item is, when or where it was first seen, and a link to ‘Manage your data’.
Some are blurred out until you verify that they belong to you. The only issue here is that you can’t verify some things – phone numbers and email addresses, for example – if you no longer have access to them as the process for those involves receiving a code to prove it’s yours. For old numbers and email addresses, there’s basically nothing you can do.
Jim Martin / Foundry
Apart from going to the websites (such as Facebook and Twitter) where this information has been found and removing it from your profile, or adjusting privacy settings so it isn’t public, there isn’t much you can do to shrink your digital footprint.
Requesting that data brokers remove your information may not help either. That’s because they tend to get it from social media and other places, so you need to request the deletion with each broker as well as trying to remove it from the original source.
Brokers will often ask you to pay a fee to see what information they hold on you, but you can still request removal of any data without paying to see it. Removal typically takes 15-45 working days according to Bitdefender, but brokers are notorious for ignoring these requests.
We didn’t recognise any of the eight brokers that Bitdefender lists, and well known ones such as Experian and Equifax weren’t in it. Bitdefender says it will add more to the list “soon”.
Price & Availability
Bitdefender Premium Security costs £49.99/US$49.99, but that’s a first-year discount. After that, it’s £119.99/$159.99. Don’t forget, that is for 10 devices. If you haven’t got 10 to protect, it isn’t as good value.
If you’re in the US, get Bitdefender here.
To get ID protection as well, Premium Security Plus costs £59.99 for the first year and £149.99 after that.
Ultimate Security for US customers costs $179.99 per year ($79.99 for the first year) – more expensive because it includes IT Theft Protection. You can also go for Ultimate Security Plus on the same page. This doubles insurance coverage from $1m to $2m and also comes with 401(k) plan & Investment Monitoring. That’s considerably more at $109.99 the first year and $239.99 per year thereafter.
You can see how alternatives, including McAfee Total Protection and Norton 360 Deluxe compare in our roundup of the best antivirus software.
Bitdefender’s track record for malware protection is absolutely excellent, so is easy to recommend on that basis. In fact, if the cost is a concern and you can do without all the extra features then you could just subscribe to Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, which protects up to three devices. In fact – as crazy as it seems – Bitdefender gives away basic antivirus completely free and you can install it on as many devices as you like.
Total Security is a good step up from Antivirus Plus (and a big step up in terms of protection) from the free offering. However, with a daily limit on the VPN, it’s difficult to recommend. This is the main reason why we’ve reviewed Premium Security instead: it’s the sweet spot. And if you want ID protection on top, subscribe to Premium Security Plus (UK) or Ultimate Security (US).
Is is the absolute best out there? It’s certainly close. No security mega suite is perfect, and if you don’t really need parental controls and don’t mind the lack of cloud storage and the software updater that you get with Norton 360, Bitdefender is a fine choice.