Today, our guest is the latest incarnation of the BitDefender Internet Security suite. Its previous version was somewhat of a disappointment, failing to exploit the potential of its solid foundation. It gave the distinct impression of bloatware and was unbearably slow. Softwin did promise they will address these issues; let's see if they managed to in version 2010. In the meantime, if you want to test BitDefender Internet Security 2010 yourself, you can download the trial version from its homepage.
I was very impressed with the way BitDefender is presented to the user. The website is cleanly designed, the download link is clearly visible, there is no data to fill in before downloading and even after that, you can delay the trial version's activation process if you are only evaluating.
The installation process is fast and simple. It does not install any unwanted software, the only complaint being the nag screen it shows at login until you buy the program. However, there is nothing intrusive and if it were not for the icon in the system tray, you wouldn't even know there's an antivirus installed.
When running BitDefender Internet Security 2010 for the first time, you will be greeted by two windows. The first one will ask you to choose the type of connection you have: trusted (such as a home or office network) or untrusted (such as a public or campus network).
The second one is a wizard that will ask for details such as: the computer configuration, the default interface profile to use and allows the user to schedule automatic scanning and updating. Based on these options, BitDefender Internet Security 2010 can optimize its use of resources and the level of protection it offers. For instance, it will automatically disable some power-intensive, non-essential tasks on laptops so as not to have too large an impact over battery life.
What is remarkable about the first run is that the default configuration of BitDefender Internet Security 2010 is excellent. This is the first time in our series of tests when I literally did not have to tweak any setting in order to get good performance. This is a significant aspect because, as you will see shortly, a novice user who is not happy with BitDefender Internet Security 2010's default settings will have a few issues trying to tweak them.
Ease of use and configuration
If you are familiar with our series, you probably already know that I am trying to focus on usability issues and especially trying to evaluate how useful a program is for novice users. As a consequence, when asked about an interface profile, I selected the Novice profile. Unfortunately, this has leaded me to a dilemma: how do you talk about ease of use and configuration, when you cannot configure anything?
That's right: the Novice profile does not allow for any configuration. OK, so there is some configuration: you can enable or disable various modules, you can password-protect settings and enable or disable some alerts. But nothing that you would usually expect from a Settings pane. There is no way to schedule scans, no way to check the virus signatures, no way to enable or disable IM protection. Nothing!
My first thought (after I checked the default settings in Expert mode) was that this is perfect and that the whole article will be a long list of reasons for the "Buy for Grandma!" award. But then it occurred to me: what happens if you mistakenly blacklist a program and want to add a firewall exception?
In that case you are stuck. The Novice interface profile offers no way to add firewall exceptions. Actually, it offers no way to even view anything remotely related to firewall settings. Want to scan a particular folder, other than the default ones? You are stuck again. There is no way to do that in the Novice interface profile.
I think this approach is not useful. The whole point of a Novice mode would be to separate all advanced features and leave the user only those options which he will surely understand and use frequently. Completely leaving them out is bad because it will end up confusing users: mistakenly blacklisting a program is only one example (you cannot even view the blacklist, so the firewall will quietly block the program and the user has no way of knowing it). What is even worse is that these options (basic or not) are only available in Expert mode. The Intermediate mode does offer access to some actions which are not available otherwise (e.g. custom scans) but again, no access to some basic configuration options that any user, novice or not, will require.
In BitDefender Internet Security 2010's defense, I have to point out that the user interface in Expert mode has a clean design. Options are easy to find and they are correctly separated for the most part. Unfortunately, the sheer range of options will intimidate novice users. Since you need to switch to Expert mode to tweak any option, all the other ones are probably going to be left out by almost everyone, including novice users. As a consequence, I think their utility is negligible.
Another aspect that also needs to be mentioned is that the default list of known programs is very large and probably includes everything that someone who selected the Novice interface profile will want to use. There is also a well-placed and well-documented Game Mode (which allows all connections), so many users are unlikely to be hindered by the lack of firewall configuration options. However, there are other cases when there is no way to circumvent BitDefender's cleverness (such as when it decides to terminate and blacklist a process it evaluates as malicious).
BitDefender Internet Security 2010's firewall is the only somewhat weaker link in what eventually proved to be a technically solid release. The firewall offers good protection against attacks: it did not leak any information to scanners and cleanly dealt with anything in your average script kiddie's arsenal. It is also very bulletproof: I could not kill its process, disable it or otherwise circumvent its watch on connections.
Unfortunately, the firewall is very vulnerable to more subtle approaches. For instance, it allowed malware for which connections were otherwise blocked to attempt the installation of a few "friends" it managed to bring aboard. Granted, this is not exactly a firewall issue: it is rather a system issue, showing that the integration of BitDefender Internet Security 2010's modules could have been better. But it also shows that development was not as fast-paced as I had hoped, because the culprit was the somewhat famous Total Security, a malware program disguised as a security suite.
Nevertheless, these are not cases of "fatal" breaches: Total Security did install fully but the next scan wiped it out. As a consequence, all that the lack of integration brings is a handful of minor nuisances, not a major security threat. I think that the firewall is adequate for home use.
Antivirus and antispyware features
BitDefender Internet Security 2010's anti-malware features proved to be the best surprise of our test. This area shows a great deal of improvement compared to the last version in terms of speed, efficiency and integration. The first thing I was happy to notice is that BitDefender Internet Security 2010 found all the malware I had on the test computer and the list was by no means small. Even the newer troublemakers were quickly dealt with.
This came as no major surprise. The detection system is very strong: it is based on a large list of signatures, helped by a feature called Active Virus Control (AVC) which monitors the behavior of all running programs and scores its actions. The higher the score, the more likely is for a program to be reported as malicious. Unfortunately, this feature is also plagued by the Novice interface profile, in which no option of intervention is given: the program is simply terminated and if the user actually trusts it and wants to run it, he is out of luck until he switches to Expert mode.
What did come as a major & appreciated surprise was the improvement in terms of speed. A full-system scan took almost two hours the first time, but then the scan time quickly got down to minutes due to a smart way of caching results. While the initial scan was slow, subsequent scans were faster than those of Norton Internet Security 2010, our series' only "Buy for Grandma!" winner so far.
Another improvement is that of resource use. BitDefender Internet Security's latest version is noticeably slimmer than its previous incarnation, and while there is some impact over the system's performance, it is tolerable. There were no inconveniences while running usual applications and only a handful of barely-noticeable lags when opening Control Panel or folders with many executable files.
If there is one award that BitDefender Internet Security 2010 should get besides the "Buy for Geeks" award, it is probably that of "Biggest missed opportunity of buying for grandmothers".
BitDefender Internet Security 2010 is at least technologically equal to Norton Internet Security 2010. The only reproach I have is that of its confusing user interface profiles. The Novice and Intermediate mode are not adequate because they limit the users' choices to the point where they are unable to repair their mistakes without resorting to the full-blown Expert mode. The Expert mode of the user interface is neatly designed and is perfect for geeks, but the range of options is hopelessly intimidating and difficult to cope with for many users. As a consequence, even simple tasks such as whitelisting a program, which was blacklisted by the firewall or anti-malware modules, will require users to switch to Expert mode and, most likely, read the documentation.
This is even more unfortunate because, except for this issue, the user interface design is otherwise very good. All the three modes adhere to the most common usability standards, the settings are clearly explained and all security aspects can be adjusted not only through individual options, but also through the use pre-defined levels of protection that offer a more coarsely-grained adjustment.
However, unlike last week's contestant from AhnLabs, BitDefender Internet Security 2010 offers more than a solid foundation: it offers a rock-solid security solution that only requires a handful of usability improvements. Softwin's efforts have been very fruitful and I can only hope that they will put as much efforts into usability issues as they have put in technical issues during the last year.
You can get the trial for free from here. If you have used BitDefender Internet Security 2010, don't hesitate to share your experience with our readers.