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Bitdefender Total Security review: Great, easy to use protection

Bitdefender Total Security 2024Image: PCWorld / Foundry

At a Glance

Expert’s Rating

Pros

Superb antivirus and malware protectionStrong online threat protectionCustomizable dashboard

Cons

VPN limited to 200MB per day, per deviceCan have notable performance impact on some PCsAnti-theft tools aren’t effective

Our Verdict

Bitdefender Total Security packs superb antivirus defenses into an easy-to-use app, giving it a strong edge despite a couple of features falling flat. In particular, its safe payment environment is a unique protection for sensitive online accounts — something that makes up for this suite’s lack of an included password manager.

Best Prices Today: Total Security

RetailerPricePCWorld Software Store$29.99View DealBitdefender$69.99View DealPrice comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwideProductPricePrice comparison from Backmarket

When you pay for software, the last thing you want are limits. And yet, Bitdefender Total Security imposes a rather surprising one on users: VPN use, commonly a part of mid-range antivirus suites, is restricted to a 200MB per-day limit per device.

It’s an odd ploy, given that rival services offer full, unrestricted VPN access, and sometimes a password manager subscription, too. But Bitdefender’s ace in the hole is its stellar protection, along with its easy-to-understand, yet still customizable interface. If you can forgive Total Security its occasional half-baked parts, it provides among the best defense against malware and online threats.

Further reading: See our roundup of the best antivirus software for Windows PCs to learn about competing products.

What does Bitdefender Total Security include?

Bitdefender Total Security offers broad protection against online threats, starting with antivirus, firewall, and ransomware. It also safeguards against network, web, and email issues like brute force attacks, malicious links, and dangerous attachments, as well as screens your local inbox for spam if you use Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird. It controls access to your webcam and microphone to prevent remote spying, too.

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For additional security and privacy, Total Security includes a secure browser, access to its VPN service (albeit limited), tracker blocking, parental controls, and a scanner that checks for system vulnerabilities. It also has anti-theft software tools to recover, lock down, or wipe an associated device. Rounding out the suite are set of utilities: a system optimizer, file shredder for secure deletion, and usage profiles.

You can install Bitdefender on Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices, though not all features are supported on all platforms.

How much does Bitdefender Total Security cost?

The price of Bitdefender Total Security varies depending on the number of devices covered — though not by much. You can choose between a five-device plan and 10-device plan, which all let you install the software on Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices.

5-device plan

$70 for the first year$100 per year thereafter

10-device plan

$73 for the first year$110 per year thereafter

Bitdefender enrolls users into auto-renewal by default, though refunds are allowed up to 30 days after the automatic renewal date. The company also offers refunds within 30 days of the initial purchase of a subscription.

To save more money on Bitdefender, you can purchase a license through retailers like Newegg, B&H, and Amazon, often at a sizable discount. For example, a 10-device, one-year plan was just $50 on Newegg at the time of this article’s publishing.

Key features of Bitdefender Total Security

Installation and user interface

Getting started with Bitdefender Total Security is simple and straightforward — the installation window even shows short explanations of different features as you wait. However, be careful when setting up your Bitdefender account, as you’re only asked to type in your password once. If you don’t use a password manager, that leaves you open to misremembering (or mistyping) it.

The Bitdefender app has a clean, simple interface, with big tiles for each feature. A shield icon in the upper-left corner serves as a status indicator; it’ll turn red when something requires attention. Along the left side of the window is access to the dashboard, features sorted by category (Protection, Privacy, and Utilities), notifications, and settings. The app works in conjunction with the Bitdefender Central website portal, where you’ll handle device management (which includes remote commands you can send to associated devices, like malware scans) and parental controls.

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In the dashboard, you’ll find six customizable shortcuts to different features, along with suggested action items at the top. The defaults are Quick Scan, System Scan, Vulnerability Scan, VPN, and Safepay, along with a blank tile.

Under Protection, you get access to the antivirus scanner, vulnerability scanner (which checks for weaknesses in your apps and network), and settings for online and advanced threat protections, firewall, spam screening, and ransomware safeguards.

From Privacy, you can start up the Safepay virtual environment or VPN, jump into parental controls (which are handled through the Bitdefender Central website), install the anti-tracker extension for supported browsers, and manage your webcam and microphone protection settings. You can also access Bitdefender’s password manager, but it’s a separate paid service and not included with the Total Security suite.

Within Utilities, you’ll find a link to Bitdefender’s anti-theft tools (managed through the Bitdefender Central website), the optimizer scanner that hunts for temporary and other disposable files, activity profiles (which let you easily change Bitdefender’s behavior to align with how you’re using the computer — e.g., gaming vs. work), and a file shredder for securely deleting files from hard-disk drives (HDD).

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Notifications show a running log of Bitdefender’s findings as it monitors your system, organized by urgency level. These differ from the pop-up notifications Bitdefender shows within Windows, which appear at the bottom right of your screen and typically promote other Bitdefender services. One such alert even went as far as to warn me about a LinkedIn data leak from two years ago, in order to suggest signing up for Bitdefender’s Digital Identity Protection service. Fortunately, you can turn off “special offers” in the app settings.)

Overall, Bitdefender errs on the side of ease-of-use, giving users a moderate number of settings for the app and per feature. The descriptions of features are also generalized and not very technical.

Virus, malware, and threat protection

Real-time protection

Bitdefender stays on constant alert for potential threats to your PC. On the computer itself, it scans opened or added files, monitors apps for suspicious activity, and screens downloaded email for spam, sketchy links, and dangerous attachments. It specifically looks out for apps that try to encrypt your files, too — when not initiated by you, such behavior is likely ransomware trying to hold your data hostage.

Meanwhile, whenever you’re browsing online, Bitdefender screens for malicious downloads, phishing and fraud attempts, encrypted websites with invalid or bogus certificates, and bad search results. It also blocks unauthorized incoming access to your PC, unauthorized use of your webcam and microphone, and online web trackers (when you install the company’s anti-tracking browser extension). You can additionally pair the program with the company’s free TrafficLight browser extension, which adds icons to search results marking them safe or risky.

Scheduled and manual scans

In an unusual move, Bitdefender does not automatically perform regular scans. To run a Quick Scan and/or System Scan at a scheduled time, you must edit those default scans — or instead create a custom scan. The process is not intuitive, either. You must open the edit screen and click the Next button before the option to Choose when to schedule this task appears. 

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You can then choose between four intervals — daily, weekly, monthly, or at system startup. Daily lets you set a time; Monthly lets you set which day of the month and a time; and Weekly lets you choose a day of the week and a time.

For manual scans, you can run Quick Scan, which focuses on critical files and processes; System Scan, which combs through your entire system; or a custom scan you’ve created. Quick Scan and System Scan can also be initiated through the Bitdefender Central website — though you won’t see signs of activity on the device. For this reason, I preferred starting my scans directly on the PC I was using.

Running System Scan can be slow during its first run, as Bitdefender takes stock of everything on your PC, but it speeds up afterward. (By default, the app scans only new and changed files.) You can also right-click on individual folders and files, and then choose Bitdefender > Scan with Bitdefender to check them out.

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Bitdefender allows you to adjust settings for scans — for example, you can choose to have the software always screen all files, even if they haven’t been changed since your last scan. You don’t get a ton of tweaks, but it’s more than competitors like McAfee and Norton (which go for an ultra-simplified vibe) offer.

Vulnerability scanner

In addition to scanning for viruses, malware, ransomware, and online threats, Bitdefender can check your PC’s app, system files, and network settings for exploitable weaknesses. (Attackers use these openings to compromise your device and/or data.) Found under Protection > Vulnerability, the tool hunts for weak Windows user passwords, critical Windows updates not yet installed, changes to Windows and network settings that could let malicious behavior slip past, outdated apps, Wi-Fi network and router settings that could be strengthened, and more.

Like the antivirus scans, you can remotely initiate a vulnerability scan through the Bitdefender Central website.

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Firewall

Bitdefender takes over firewall duties completely for Windows — and though most people are best off leaving it alone with default settings, you can customize how stringent the rules are and whether those rules change based on the type of connection you’re on. Bitdefender sends users a notification whenever a potentially malicious app tries to access the internet. I didn’t notice any overzealousness on Bitdefender’s part while using my test PC, and the settings are nicely streamlined without being too simplified.

Scam protection

Bitdefender recently released a free service called Scamio, an AI-driven chatbot designed to help verify the legitimacy of email, text messages, instant messages, links, and QR codes. To get started, you must head to scamio.bitdefender.com (login required) or Meta’s Messenger app. Then you’ll upload a screenshot, copy/paste into the chat, or simply describe the situation to the bot.

As a very basic second opinion, Scamio isn’t bad, though its analysis can take longer than expected. I liked that it can easily extract links from screenshot — a much safer method, since trying to copy/paste can lead to an accidental click. It also seems to err on the side of caution, dismissing my attempt at sweet nothings as a potential scam.

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That said, if you want hands-off help for text messages, you should also install Bitdefender on your mobile phone. So long as you’re comfortable with the permissions it requests (which go pretty deep), it will automatically screen your chat messages and notifications for potential scams.

VPN

Bitdefender Total Security includes access to its VPN for multiple devices, but there’s one huge catch — each piece of gear is allotted a paltry 200MB of bandwidth per day. (You can burn through that by browsing just a few websites.) You’re only allowed to connect to the nearest server, too.

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In Bitdefender’s favor is a sleek, easily navigated interface — I particularly like how important information and stats are laid out clearly. But with free, reputable VPN services offering much more bandwidth and letting you choose a location when connecting, paying for Bitdefender Premium VPN to get unlimited bandwidth and access to servers in all 55 supported countries just doesn’t feel worth it. Not when the cost is $40 for the first year and $70 per year thereafter.

Parental controls 

Bitdefender Total Security includes parental controls, which are managed through the Bitdefender Central website. On PC, you can limit screen time, apps used, and websites visited. Android and iOS devices also allow guardians to see location and phone contacts.

To begin on a PC, you’ll first install Bitdefender on it. For mobile devices, you’ll need to install the dedicated Bitdefender Parental Control app. Then on Bitdefender Central, you’ll create a profile for your child and assign the computer, phone, or tablet to the profile.

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From there, you can add time limits and create schedules for blocked use, as well as manage which applications and websites can be accessed. For apps, you can only limit apps your child has already used. However, for websites, you can block or allow by categories, which are predetermined by Bitdefender. By default, children can visit sites within just 13 of the 43 presets, such as “search engines,” “webmail,” “computers and software,” and “travel.” News is forbidden, which put PCWorld.com on the ban list. (Guess we’re not enough about computers and software.)

As your kid spends time on their device, you’ll see their usage statistics appear in the dashboard’s charts. The dashboard also shows location tracking, which works quite well — the phone used for testing appeared with close accuracy to the physical location. (The suggested addresses were not correct, however.) Phone contacts display here as well, and automatically update whenever a new contact is added.

Additional features

Anti-Theft

Bitdefender Total Security’s anti-theft tools are fantastic in theory, letting you remotely locate, lock, or wipe your device. For a smartphone, you can also remotely trigger an alarm and/or send a push notification with a message to whomever has it.

But in practice, I found this feature to fall flat. For example, my test laptop’s location wasn’t precisely accurate — not surprising, since it was based off of the IP address. Meanwhile, my smartphone’s whereabouts never showed up. Locking the devices also didn’t work particularly well, either. If the person holding your phone knows your PIN, you’re out of luck. The PIN you set via Bitdefender Central doesn’t override that.

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The only part that worked as advertised was the remote alert sound, along with the push notification. That only helps with smartphones, though, and you’ll have to trust that you can annoy someone into doing the right thing.

Browser extensions

Bitdefender has two browser extensions worth calling out, though neither are locked to the Total Security suite. The Anti-Tracker extension is automatically installed along with the Bitdefender app, where you can also manage its installation if you install another browser on your PC later on. (Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Internet Explorer are supported — though if you’re on an operating system that can still run Internet Explorer, it’s time to upgrade). It keeps trackers from collecting data on you, and lets you manage this type of information for websites you visit.

Bitdefender TrafficLight checks websites for phishing attempts and malware, blocks potentially dangerous elements on websites, and adds visual cues to search results labeling them as safe or risky. Available as a Chrome and Firefox extension, this add-on isn’t necessary, but its search-result visual warnings can be helpful.

File Shredder

Bitdefender’s secure delete feature lets you permanently remove files from your PC — provided they’re stored on a hard-disk drive (HDD). Total Security’s File Shredder feature uses the Department of Defense 5520.22-M three-pass method to “shred” your data, which works on HDDs but isn’t as effective on solid-state drives (SSDs). In fact, this way of deleting data can shorten the life of an SSD.

With most laptops now using SSDs, this feature will only be useful if you have an external HDD you store sensitive documents on. But Bitdefender is equal to rival antivirus software in this regard.

OneClick Optimizer

This utility hunts for Windows files, registry items, and internet files it can nuke — all in the name of tuning up your PC. But while OneClick Optimizer can quickly wipe away seemingly unnecessary data, it shares little detail about what gets tossed. That’s a big problem for anything related to your registry — a place where even seasoned PC users tread cautiously. (And in general, you should always know what you’re deleting.)

If OneClick Optimizer listed what it gets rid of, perhaps I would have ended up less wary of it. But it only names three categories (Software Locations, Shared DLLs, and Help files) and how many “issues” found in each.

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Given how vague the tool is overall, I still recommend Windows’ built-in Disk Cleanup app and purging browsing data in the app itself. This method leaves the registry alone and lets you have much more control, while only being slightly more cumbersome.

Safepay

Safepay is a sandboxed browser — that is, a secure environment for accessing sensitive websites, kept separate from everything else running in Windows. Bitdefender promotes this feature as meant for bank websites, and if you navigate to a known banking site, you’ll see a pop-up asking if you want to load it in Safepay.

Within this isolated desktop is a browser with a similar feel as Chrome, but far more bare-bones. You get no extensions and few settings. However, it offers a virtual keyboard, which is a bit cumbersome but useful for those concerned about keyloggers.

You can use Safepay with most websites, though videos don’t play. Also, Bitdefender doesn’t react to all common financial or sensitive websites — for example, I didn’t see the pop up for irs.gov nor less common banks in the U.S. You’ll have to open Safepay and navigate there yourself.

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Customer support

Should you ever need assistance with Bitdefender, the app contains a help page, which you can access by clicking the life-preserver icon in the upper top-right of the window. It offers direct links to Bitdefender’s support website (which includes video tutorials), community forums, and even a full user guide. You can also contact the company by email, chat, or phone.

Updates and maintenance 

You can change update frequency in general app settings.

By default, updates run automatically in the background once per hour. You can stretch this frequency to once every 24 hours (with adjustments available in hourly increments). If for some reason you’re on a limited internet connect, you can turn off automatic updates, but your PC will be better protected if you leave it on.

Bitdefender also allows you to run updates in the foreground, so that you see when they happen. However, it does not let users perform manual checks for updates.

Performance

Bitdefender takes top marks in independent tests performed by security research institutes. In AV-Test’s protection tests for September and October 2023 (the most current as of this article’s publishing), Bitdefender caught 100 percent of the zero-day attack and malware threats.

Meanwhile in AV-Comparatives’ real-world protection test for July through October 2023, Bitdefender detected 99.6 percent of the 512 test cases, with three false positives. (A false positive is when the antivirus software blocks a legitimate download or website.) 

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Similarly, Bitdefender ranked well in AV-Comparatives’ September 2023 malware protection test. Of the 16 antivirus programs tested, Bitdefender scored a 98.2 percent online detection rate, 99.98 percent online protection rate, and 98.2 offline detection rate, with four false positives. Even when you don’t have an active internet connection, you’re well-protected. Only two other antivirus programs had similarly high marks across the board.

In AV-Comparatives’ November 2023 Advanced Threat Protection Test, Bitdefender detected 14 of the 15 threats, putting it in the lead ahead of the six other companies that participated in the evaluation. This test checks to see how well an antivirus suite handles more sophisticated, targeted threats like malicious scripts and fileless attacks.

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When idle in the background, Bitdefender generally has a light impact on system performance. Its effect was minimal when our test laptop encoded a large video into a smaller 1080p30 file (our Handbrake benchmark), and during PCMark 10’s simulation of video conferencing, web browsing, and editing in open-source image and document programs. However, Bitdefender’s impact crept up when document editing in Microsoft Office apps like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, with UL Procyon test scores falling by about 9.5 percent.

When running a heavy scan, Bitdefender can notably affect performance on mid-range and budget PCs — even when set to “low” impact in its settings. Blasting a continuous full scan while running each benchmark dropped PCMark 10 scores by almost 20 percent and UL Procyon results by a sizable 35 percent. Handbrake encodes were less affected, with a 10 percent increase in time needed.

However, while these performance decreases sound scary, they’re a reflection of the hardest strain on your PC. I forced Bitdefender to scan the files as if they’d never been checked before, in order to see how hard it would hit our test laptop. But by default, the app only scans new and changed files (as common among antivirus software these days), which reduces the effort needed to check over your PC. For many people, your experience likely will be closer to the idle performance (as outlined above), unless you often work with large batches of fresh or altered files.

Is Bitdefender Total Security worth it?

Bitdefender Total Security offers top-notch protection in an easy-to-use app. Its main weaknesses are the limitations of a couple of features, like VPN access and Anti-Theft tools, and the questionable usefulness of its OneClick Optimizer utility. But even though rivals like Norton give more bang for the buck, this antivirus software delivers on what matters most, which is keeping your PC (and other devices) safe. Just don’t pay for the 5-device license when you can get the 10-device one for only a few dollars more.

Best Prices Today: Total Security

RetailerPricePCWorld Software Store$29.99View DealBitdefender$69.99View DealPrice comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwideProductPricePrice comparison from Backmarket

Alaina Yee is PCWorld’s resident bargain hunter—when she’s not covering software, PC building, and more, she’s scouring for the best tech deals. Previously her work has appeared in PC Gamer, IGN, Maximum PC, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @morphingball.

Recent stories by Alaina Yee:

Best antivirus software 2024: Keep your PC safe from malware, spyware, and moreMicrosoft says you should always ask this one security question to avoid scamsAVG Internet Security review: Reliable, budget-friendly antivirus software

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