With the latest updates, security suite maker ESET shook up its product line a bit. ESET Smart Security Premium 10 takes the top spot as ESET’s security mega-suite, while the new ESET Internet Security 10 serves as the company’s entry-level suite. This new suite adds a full-featured password manager and an encryption system for protecting sensitive files. These premium features do add value, but you also pay a premium.
Pricing for this product is a bit unusual. A $79.99 per year subscription lets you install it on exactly one PC, and there are no multi-license options. For that same price you can install Bitdefender or Kaspersky on three Internet-connected gadgets; Norton on five PCs, phones, and tablets; or McAfee Internet Security on every device in your household. I suspect this pricing scheme won’t last.
Like ESET NOD32 Antivirus 10 and the entry-level suite, Smart Security’s main window features the serene countenance of ESET’s cyborg mascot. A simple menu runs down the left side, and three large panels provide quick access to the password manager, the encryption system, and the home network map.
The installer runs a check for incompatible software and a quick scan for active malware. Once installation is complete, it offers you the opportunity to install four additional tools, Password Manager, Secure Data (encryption), Parental Control, and Anti-Theft. For testing purposes, I installed all four.
Shared Antivirus Features
Naturally this mega-suite includes every feature found in ESET’s NOD32 antivirus. I’ll summarize my analysis of that product here, briefly. For full details, read my review of the antivirus, linked above.
All the independent testing labs that I follow include NOD32 in their tests, and most give it good marks. It did fail two tests by MRG-Effitas, but in those tests, anything short of perfection is failure; most products fail. NOD32’s aggregate lab score of 8.8 points is better than most, though Norton rated 9.7 and Kaspersky managed a perfect 10.
In my hands-on malware blocking test, NOD32 detected 97 percent of the samples in my collection and earned 9.5 of 10 available points. Tested against the same samples, F-Secure Internet Security managed 9.8 points, and Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Complete took a perfect 10.
My malicious URL blocking test challenges a security product to prevent the download of malware from recently discovered malware-hosting URLs, either by diverting the browser away from the dangerous URL or by eliminating the malware during download. NOD32’s 89 percent detection rate was almost evenly split between blocking at the URL level and wiping out downloads. Symantec Norton Security Deluxe owns the top score in this test, with 98 percent protection.
NOD32 didn’t do as well when tested against phishing websites. Its detection rate lagged 33 percent behind that of consistent antiphishing champ Norton.
A Host Intrusion Prevention System (HIPS) is something more commonly associated with a firewall than antivirus, but ESET makes it available in the standalone antivirus. In testing, it wiped out the malicious payload for 60 percent of the exploits I used to test it. That’s quite good, though Norton fended off 66 percent of the exploits, stopping them at the network level, before they could even attempt to drop a malicious payload.
The Device Control feature lets you block the use of many kinds of external devices, but allows exceptions for specific devices. You could keep the kids from mounting random USB drives by blocking use of such drives but specifically allowing any that you’re sure are safe. G Data and TrustPort offer a similar feature. However, it’s a complex component, and better suited to a business-level product than to a consumer product like this one.
Shared Suite Features
This year saw the introduction of ESET Internet Security 10, an entry-level security suite with almost all of the features previously reserved for ESET Smart Security. If you want all the nitty-gritty details, read my review of that product. I’ll summarize here.
ESET’s firewall handles basic tasks like fending off port attacks and putting all ports in stealth mode. By default, its program control system does nothing but allow all outbound traffic and block unsolicited inbound traffic. In the optional interactive mode, every time it sees a new program attempting network access it pops up a complex query dialog asking you what to do about it. Kaspersky Internet Security and Norton automatically configure access for known good programs, deep-six known bad ones, and make their own decisions about unknowns. That’s better than leaving security decisions to the user. On the plus side, I couldn’t find any way that a malware coder could disable ESET programmatically.
Launching Home Network Protection displays a well-conceived network map showing all devices on your local network. Your device and router appear in the center, with concentric circles of other devices organized by how recently they connected. Clicking the Scan Router button checks your router’s security and offers help to fix any security problems.
Like Kaspersky’s Safe Money, ESET’s Banking and Payment Protection kicks in automatically when you try to visit a financial site. It offers to load the site in its secured browser instead, with an option to always open that site in the secured browser.
You configure ESET’s parental control system separately for each Windows user account. Based on the child’s age, it selects which of three dozen website categories to block. You can, of course, make your own selection of categories. By default, it blocks the Criminal and Malicious categories even for parent accounts. It worked well in testing. However, it doesn’t do anything beyond content filtering and logging blocked websites.
The spam filter handles both POP3 and IMAP email accounts, and integrates with popular email clients. If you’re using a supported client, you can reclassify messages erroneously tagged as spam or not spam. Your contacts automatically feed into the whitelist of never-blocked addresses. An always-blocked blacklist is also available.
Who’s peeking at you through your webcam? If you’re at all worried about webcam spying, ESET can help. You can set it to simply disable the webcam when you’re not using it, allow access for specific programs, or always ask you before letting a program use the webcam.
I figured that the additional features in the full Smart Security might make it more of a drag on performance than the entry-level suite. However, when I ran my performance tests again, the results were quite close. ESET slightly slowed the boot process, and my file move/copy test ran a bit slower. But I didn’t experience any noticeable slowdown.
See How We Test Security Software
Comprehensive Password Manager
Smart Security’s password manager is based on Editors’ Choice Sticky Password Premium, though it doesn’t quite have all of Sticky Password’s features. For example, you can sync passwords between multiple PCs and Macs, but ESET doesn’t offer mobile support yet. And Sticky Password’s cloud-free Wi-Fi sync option is absent.
As expected, you start by creating a master password. A balloon tip states that the password must include uppercase letters, lowercase letters, and digits, and must be at least eight characters long. These criteria get marked off as you attain them. You can optionally enter the master password, or any password, by clicking keys on a virtual keyboard. Worried about shoulder-surfers? Checking the Anti-spy box generates a flock of cursors that move around at random, so no onlooker can tell what characters you clicked.
You can also set the password manager to unlock based on the presence of a specific USB or Bluetooth device. This isn’t two-factor authentication, though, as the device-based authentication replaces the master password.
The password manager integrates with Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and a laundry list of less familiar browsers including Pale Moon, Comodo Dragon, and SeaMonkey. ESET imports any passwords it finds stored insecurely in the browser, but unlike Sticky Password it doesn’t also import bookmarks. It can also import data from RoboForm, KeePass, LastPass, Dashlane 4, Kaspersky Password Manager, and 1Password.
ESET captures credentials when you log in to secure sites. At capture time, you can specify a friendly name for the entry and assign it to a group. You can’t create a new group at capture time, the way you can with LastPass 4.0 Premium, but in the full password manager window you can create all the groups you want, even nesting groups inside each other. These groups become menus and submenus, reached by clicking the browser extension’s toolbar button.
When you revisit a site, ESET offers to fill in your credentials. It handles password change events with aplomb. However, if you encounter a site with totally nonstandard login configuration, you can’t just save all entered data the way you can with LastPass or Sticky Password.
ESET also captures credentials while you’re creating a new account. Its password generator helps to ensure that your new account has a strong password. By default, it generates 15-character passwords containing uppercase letters, lowercase letters, and digits. I advise adding special characters to the mix.
Like RoboForm, LastPass, and a few others, ESET can capture and replay application passwords, not just website passwords. You drag a crosshair-shaped cursor onto the password entry window, enter your credentials, and save the entry. Thereafter, ESET takes care of filling in the password.
You can create any number of identities, collections of personal data for filling Web forms. For each identity, you enter personal, contact, Internet, and business information. You can also add one or more credit cards or bank accounts. When you navigate to a Web form, ESET puts a red border around the fields it can fill. Just click the toolbar button and choose the desired identity to fill them in. Like most competing products, it didn’t fill every single field, but it did well enough. RoboForm Everywhere 7 is the granddaddy of form-fillers, offering more field types than most, and allowing multiple entries of each field type.
ESET doesn’t offer an actionable, detailed analysis of your passwords like what you get with LastPass, Dashlane, or LogMeOnce Password Management Suite Ultimate. Rather, its Warnings page lists only passwords rated as having Low or Weak strength. You can’t rely on this list to root out all weak passwords, though, as even a six-letter password is rated Normal, as long as it contains two character types. The lame password “Monkey” wouldn’t appear on the warning list.
There are a few more Sticky Password features that didn’t make it into ESET. Sticky Password offers an online console from which you can manage your devices. For example, you can disable the product on a lost device, or set it to not accept any new devices. A Secure Memos feature lets you store various types of important data that sync across devices. And you can create a portable edition of Sticky Password that runs entirely from a USB drive. Even without these features, ESET’s password manager is a worthy effort, better than many standalone password managers.
Secure Data Encryption
There are a lot of ways your sensitive files could leak out. Some Trojans steal private data and send it back to cyber-crooks. A lost laptop could mean lost files. And what if a snoopy cousin wanders away from the family gathering to peer at your computer documents? Your best bet for protecting those sensitive files is to use an encryption tool, and ESET’s Secure Data feature is an easy-to-use one.
Like the similar feature in Bitdefender Internet Security 2017 and Kaspersky, Secure Data lets you create any number of encrypted virtual drives. You start by setting the name and location for the file that will hold the virtual drive’s data. You can choose a drive capacity of 500MB, 1GB, 5GB, 10GB, or 100GB, or you can specify a custom capacity. Add a password and you’re done.
The password-entry page states that if you lose the password, you can’t access your files, and ESET can’t help you. But it also has a checkbox to automatically decrypt the drive for the current Windows user account. I suggest you leave the automatic decryption turned off, unless you protect your account with a very strong password, and always lock the account when you step away from the computer.
When open, the virtual drive looks and acts just like any other drive. You can move files into and out of it, edit files directly, and generally do anything you’d do with an actual drive. Unlike most similar components in other suites, there’s no way to lock an unlocked virtual drive. That happens automatically when you log out or restart the computer.
There’s no point in copying a sensitive file to your encrypted virtual drive if you leave the original lying around. Most security suites pair encryption with a secure deletion utility that cleans up the original beyond the possibility of forensic recovery. Kaspersky even adds secure deletion of originals as a step in the vault creation process. Alas, ESET doesn’t include such a utility, so the most you can do is hold down Shift while deleting the file. Doing so deletes it without sending it to the Recycle Bin, but doesn’t protect it against forensic recovery.
You can also create a portable virtual drive on any USB storage device. The process is much the same, except that you don’t specify a filename or capacity. A new folder named Encrypted holds your files, and ESET automatically prompts for the password when you mount the drive. Here, too, you can configure ESET to decrypt without a password for the current user account.
Anti-theft is a common feature in mobile security products; anti-theft for PC-centered products is less common. Bitdefender is among the very few that can locate, lock, and wipe Windows devices. ESET’s anti-theft feature doesn’t include remote wipe, but it can locate the device, lock it down, and snap screenshots and webcam pictures.
You manage anti-theft through the My ESET online portal. Initially, it will recommend one or more optimization steps. If you’ve configured your device to log in automatically, without asking for a password, it will ask permission to restore the password prompt. In addition, it will create a “phantom” user account; more about that shortly.
ESET checks in every 10 minutes when it’s online, to see if you’ve marked the device as missing. When it detects that you’ve done so, several things happen. ESET reboots the system, automatically logging in to the phantom account and denying access to other accounts. It starts collecting location information and snapping screenshots. If you choose to, you can set a message to display on the missing device. Monitoring continues for 14 days. ESET notifies you by email toward the end of this time.
I marked my test system as missing, and sure enough, after a little while it rebooted, logging in to the phantom account. I tried to log into another account, but the other accounts didn’t show up. I tried to access folders belonging to those accounts, but couldn’t. The system proved thoroughly locked down.
Every ten minutes, ESET snapped a screenshot that I could view in the online console. It would snap webcam photos too, had a webcam been available.
ESET analyzes Wi-Fi signals to determine the device’s location. Naturally it couldn’t locate my desktop test systems, which connect via Ethernet. The help system points out that in a situation like this you can check the list of IP addresses to which the device has connected, and use an online IP geolocation service to get a rough idea of the location. I do mean rough; IP geolocation put my device in a pond in a nature area about eight miles from here.
In the real world, anti-theft is most useful on a laptop. You’re more likely to lose a portable device, or have it stolen. It certainly has Wi-Fi, meaning you’ll be able to track it. If you do install ESET on a laptop, make sure to follow the optimization steps, just in case you need the anti-theft features.
Nice Suite, Strange Pricing
ESET Smart Security Premium 10 merits the “premium” in its name two ways. It adds useful features beyond ESET’s entry-level suite, including a licensed version of a password manager that’s a PC Mag Editors’ Choice. But you also pay a serious premium, because ESET doesn’t offer a multi-license bundle. Your cost is the full price times the number of PCs you want to protect, which adds up fast.
Bitdefender Internet Security and Kaspersky Internet Security, our mega-suite Editors’ Choice picks, both give you three licenses for the same price as a single ESET license. At the cross-platform multi-device suite level, $10 more gets you ten licenses for Symantec Norton Security Premium and unlimited licenses for McAfee LiveSafe. One of these Editors’ Choice products will suit most users’ needs.
Note: These sub-ratings contribute to a product’s overall star rating, as do other factors, including ease of use in real-world testing, bonus features, and overall integration of features.