Kaspersky, a favorite security company among geeks that hit it big among mainstream users and is earning space on the shelves of stores such as Best Buy, is lightweight enough to impress power users, and easy enough for anyone to use. Internet Security 2011 has some of the most robust parental controls, and the software shortened our test PC's originally sluggish boot time. While we wish Kaspersky would flesh out its PC optimization and backup features, the program lives up to the company's reputation for not interfering with PC performance.
Setup and User Interface
Installing Internet Security 2011 is faster and simpler than setting up nearly every other security suite on the market. The best part is that no reboot is required. The installer also scans your computer and builds a list of trusted apps, so even before you start using the software it has developed some context about your habits.
Before you even open the program, you'll notice a gadget sitting on your Windows desktop. It's a circle with a half moon of color that indicates your system's health (say, green when everything's okay). There are two virtual mouse buttons in the lower half of that circle, which you can customize as shortcuts for whatever features interest you, such as parental controls or the home network monitor. We love that you can drag and drop files onto it to scan them for viruses.
Internet Security does an excellent job of keeping things simple for low-tech users, while discreetly offering enough detailed settings options to keep geeks happy. At the top of the main screen you'll see a large color-coded circle with a single sentence (for example, a yellow circle with the caption, "Your computer security is at risk"). Next to this message we saw a single button that said, "Fix it now," a relief to users who aren't confident in their techie problem-solving abilities.
Along the left-hand side is a straightforward list of categories, including Protection Center, which provides a security overview; Safe Run, which shows an option to use a virtual keyboard and another for protecting users while using websites that handle confidential information; Scan; Update Center; Parental Controls; and Tasks, which contains various cleanup and backup options.
Even in the advanced settings menu, which you can access by clicking Settings in the upper right-hand corner of the main screen, there's a streamlined list of categories on the left-hand side, and all of the settings options have simple check boxes. In either case, we like that there are no pop-up windows in this program; the entire UI is contained within a single box. For instance, users can set the program to rename or delete attachments with certain file extensions.
Security and Performance
Like any security suite worth its salt, Internet Security's toolbox attacks threats in browsers, instant messaging clients, and on the desktop, including spam, malware, and phishing attacks. (It has a firewall, too, as do all of its competitors.) Its Proactive Defense technology girds the system against new threats even before they reach your PC by scanning pages for characteristics of phishing sites and restricting how questionable applications loaded on the system can behave. This year, users have access to a website ratings system, which shows up in search results, as well as a Geo Filter, which lets you block content from certain parts of the world (Kaspersky says that most malware originates from outside the U.S.). Users can also run websites and desktop applications in a sandbox mode that lets them operate independently from the rest of the system (a good idea for, say, people who bank online).
While independent virus testing companies have yet to try out Kasperky's 2011 offering, the 2010 version did a very good job in blocking threats. AV Comparative gave it an Advanced+ rating, as it detected 59 percent of the viruses thrown at it. While that percentage is failing in most circumstances, it's among the highest among software tested by AV Comparatives, and beats out both Bidefender (50 percent) and Norton 360 (43 percent). When tested by other companies, Kaspersky fell just behind Norton 360: Dennis Publishing gave it a combined protection score of 76 (where Norton 360 scored 80), and it blocked 97.5 percent of malware thrown at it by AV-Test.org, just half a percent below Norton 360.
Best of all, there was little impact on our system: with or without a scan running, launching Firefox on our Core i3-powered HP G62t took less than 2 seconds. Users can take further steps to minimize the performance impact by creating a gamer profile and also allowing the computer to disable scheduled scans while their laptop is unplugged.
PC Tune-Up and Backup
If there are two areas in which Internet Security is lacking, it's PC tune-up tools and backup. While many similar products offer registry cleaners and tools that will delete duplicate files, Internet Security's tools are oriented more toward preserving privacy than boosting speed. For example, Privacy Cleaner wipes your PC of recent commands, accessed files, cookies, and logs of other kinds of data. That's useful, but some tools designed to optimize a PC's performance would make Internet Security an even better product. Still, after running this search (and a system scan that focused on so-called critical areas of the system), our G62t's boot time dropped from 1:17 to a more reasonable 1:01.
Unlike other security suites, Internet Security does not come with free storage. Using the program, however, you can create a restore disc. While it's comforting that you can restore your computer in the event something goes wrong, it would be nice if the program could automatically back up the computer in real time, so there's always a current set of folders and files available.
Internet Security's parental controls are baked into the software, which isn't true of, say, Norton 360's, which are web-based. Users must create a password for the parental control features, and they can specify whether this password is necessary to configure these settings, exit the software, or remove it. As with other suites' parental controls, adults create a profile, including a picture, for their child, although we wish one could create multiple profiles for several children or user accounts.
Kaspersky's parental control feature set is thorough, second only to Norton 360, which offers even more options for tweaking settings. The categories, listed on the left-hand side, include computer usage, application usage, Internet usage, web browsing, file downloads, IM, social networking, private data, and word usage. Computer usage and Internet usage block access to the desktop and the web, respectively, letting parents allow or block access for specific hours every day of the week. Application Usage makes it easy to browse the computer to single out programs you don't want your child using.
Private Data prevents children from handing out verboten pieces of information, such as social security numbers, while Word Usage monitors the use of certain words (this feature is unique to Kasperksy). It's up to parents to add offensive words to the list.
The Instant Messaging category makes it easy to block users, although we prefer Symantec's approach, which gives parents the choice of monitoring conversations or blocking new friends until they approve them for their children. However, we like that Kaspersky's parental controls also prevent kids from downloading certain file types, such as music or applications.
The relatively expensive Kaspersky Internet Security 2011 ($79.95 per year) has enough options to keep power users happy, but is easy enough for set-and-forget types to use as well. While we prefer Symantec Norton 360 ($69.95 per year) for its lower cost, parental controls, online backup, and PC tune-up tools, those who value the ability to tweak their settings or who crave low performance impact will be well served by Kaspersky Internet Security 2011.