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review

Sophos Home Free (for Mac)

For many years, Mac owners scoffed at the idea of installing antivirus[1] protection. Viruses? Malware?

Those are Windows problems, right? Wrong. While it’s true that Windows is a much more popular target for malware coders, macOS devices aren’t as invulnerable as some might think.

If you don’t want to spend money on antivirus protection for your Mac, consider installing the free Sophos Home Free (for Mac). It’s extraordinarily simple, and it does well in testing. To get started with Sophos, you register for an online account.

Once you’ve confirmed your email, you can install and manage protection on three devices, macOS or Windows, and your subscription never expires. When I reviewed the previous version of this product, it offered 10 licenses. With the current version, if you want 10 licenses you must spring for the new Sophos Home Premium (for Mac).

Note, though, that users of the free product get premium features for the first 30 days. Installation on my test Apple MacBook Air 13-Inch[2] went very quickly. Within a minute or two, the product was ready to use, including all the latest antivirus signature updates.

As with Sophos Home Free on Windows[3], all configuration takes place in the online dashboard. Since my last review of this product, its user interface has gotten even simpler. Its icon appears in the menu bar at the top of the screen.

Clicking it brings up a tiny window that reports your protection status, with a menu that lets you launch a scan, manage your devices, check for updates, and set preferences. Choosing device management or preferences sends you to the online dashboard.

Unlike the Windows product, on the Mac version clicking for a scan defaults to a fast scan, with an option to perform a full scan if the product alerts you to a problem. The fast scan finished in less than a minute, reporting no problems.

That’s it. The main window that I saw in the previous version is gone. This version is impressively streamlined and low-key.

Pricing and OS Support

Mac users often justify skipping antivirus protection on the basis that there just isn’t a lot of Mac malware.

Why spend money on something you might not need? But Mac malware is on the rise, and you can install Sophos at no charge, as long as you’re not using it in a commercial setting. Avira Free Antivirus for Mac[4] is also free, with no restrictions, and no requirement to even register. Commercial Mac antivirus pricing is generally just under £40 per year for a single license.

Half of the current products fit that model, and most of those give you three licenses for £59.99 per year. With McAfee AntiVirus Plus (for Mac)[5], that £59.99 subscription price gets you not three licenses but unlimited licenses. You can install it on all the macOS, Windows, Android, and iOS devices in your household.

My experience has been that Mac users are more likely to keep their operating systems fully updated than their Windows-loving counterparts. Even so, not everyone has the very latest macOS Sierra installed. Like Malwarebytes for Mac Premium[6], Sophos supports older versions back to Yosemite (10.10).

That’s a change since the previous edition, which went all the way back to Mountain Lion (10.8). Avira, also free, requires at least El Capitan (10.11), the toughest OS requirement of my current collection of Mac antivirus products.

Online Dashboard and Content Filter

As noted, clicking Manage Devices or Preferences from the Sophos widget’s menu takes you to the online dashboard. You can also just log in directly from any browser.

The main page lists your protected devices. If you haven’t used up all three licenses, you can click Add Device to either install on the device you’re using or send a link by email. If you’ve replaced one of your computers, you can remove it from the dashboard, freeing up that license for reuse.

The dashboards for Windows and macOS devices are nearly identical. The Status page displays panels for Antivirus Protection and Web Protection (enabled) plus Ransomware Protection, Privacy Protection, and Malicious Traffic Detection (for paying customers only). Clicking the Configure link in the two available panels opens the Protection page, with the proper sub-page selected.

Configuration is simple. On the General sub-page you can turn PUA (Potentially Unwanted Application) detection or all real-time protection on and off. On the Web sub-page you can turn off blacklisting of known malware-hosting sites.

Here’s one of the few many PCs get more than Macs. On a PC, you get Download Reputation checking, a feature that proved useful in my testing under Windows. Safe Online Banking is also Windows-only, but that’s a premium feature.

Here’s something I didn’t expect–there’s a simple parental control component built into the dashboard.

For each device, you can configure how Sophos will handle almost 30 categories of website content. By default, they’re all set to allow access, but you can set it to block matching sites, or to give the child a warning before allowing access. I tried to access several dozen inappropriate sites, and found that the content filter blocked all of them.

However, it appears that the content filter can’t handle secure (HTTPS) websites. By logging in to a secure anonymizing proxy site, I completely evaded the content filter. The same was true of the similar feature in Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac[7].

Kaspersky offers a full parental control component, with content filtering, internet time scheduling, and more, but it, too, fell victim to a secure anonymizing proxy. The fact that Sophos focuses mainly on businesses makes this dashboard-based configuration system totally logical. In a business, the IT security admin handles antivirus configuration, not the security-ignorant employees.

It can also be great for tech-savvy consumers. Instead of having to drive across town to help Uncle Albert with his antivirus, you can handle it all remotely.

Good Malware Protection Test Scores

If you’re looking for a new car, you read about all sorts of safety tests which ones rated best. In the security realm, the independent testing labs are the place to go for such information.

Much more test data is available for Windows antivirus[8] utilities, but two of the labs do release test results for Mac on a regular basis. It’s a good thing, from my point of view, because few of my own testing techniques carry over to macOS. Previously, Sophos received Mac malware certification from AV-Comparatives[9], with 100 percent detection in the main Mac malware test.

However, in the most recent test report from this lab, Sophos didn’t appear. Scores overall were down slightly, with only Bitdefender and Kaspersky managing 100 percent detection of Mac malware.

The researchers at AV-Test Institute[10] perform several different tests to rate Mac antivirus. The most important, of course, is a test of Mac malware protection.

Like ESET Cyber Security (for Mac)[11] and several others, Sophos scored 100 percent on this test. PUAs aren’t necessarily malware, but as the name implies, you probably don’t want them around. When challenged with a collection of PUAs, Sophos protected against more than 95 percent.

Only Avast, Bitdefender, ESET, and Trend Micro scored higher. As for detecting Windows malware, AV-Test gave Sophos (and several other products) the top score.

Scanning and Scheduling

As noted, Sophos advises just using the fast malware scan unless the real-time protection system detects malware. Even so, I suggest running one full scan right after installation, to make sure there’s nothing lurking.

Running that scan with Sophos on my test Mac took 20 minutes, about half the current average and much better than the previous edition. Trend Micro’s full scan ran for more than three hours. At the other end of the spectrum, running a full scan with Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus (for Mac)[12] took just two minutes.

Not only that, the full scan by Sophos detected some malware lurking in the trash and in cache folders. There’s clearly value in that initial full scan. Like Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac[13] and Kaspersky, Sophos doesn’t run scans on a schedule.

The logic here is that that real-time protection should take care of any nasties that crop up after the initial full scan.

Most of the Mac antivirus products I’ve reviewed also check for Windows malware, to make sure that your Mac doesn’t act as a conduit to other devices on the network. I copied my current collection of Windows malware to a USB drive and opened the folder of samples. Sophos started cleaning up right away, stacking up ranks of slide-in notifications.

It removed high-risk items immediately, but left lower-risk PUAs for my review. In each case, I clicked a button to clean up the PUA. I would have liked an option to clean them all at once rather than having to go through the process one at a time.

The tiny pull-down window got a lot bigger at this point, filled with reports of malware removed and PUA cleanups in progress. For a few items, Sophos recommended manual cleanup, with a button to get instructions. The instructions thoroughly covered situations including malware found in backups, in caches, and in email attachments.

In my case, all I needed to do was delete the offending files. Sophos doesn’t bother with storing detected malware in quarantine. It strips virus code from infected files and simply deletes other types of malware.

You can Control-Click any drive or folder and choose Scan with Sophos Home. Note, though, that at the moment this feature is not working with mounted drives such as USB thumb drives. A fix is expected by the first of March.

Excellent Phishing Protection

Creating a drive-by download or other web-based malware attack isn’t easy, and the payload is almost always platform-specific.

Creating a phishing website, on the other hand, is a total breeze. Just build a page that looks exactly like, say, the PayPal login page, and broadcast links to that page in a spam campaign. Each unwitting dupe who logs in to your fake page is another PayPal account you own.

And phishing works on any platform, in any browser. Unlike many of the Mac antivirus products I’ve looked at, Sophos doesn’t need to install a browser add-in for protection against malicious and fraudulent URLs. Filtering happens below the browser level, which is certainly convenient.

I always use the very newest real-world fraudulent sites in my antiphishing test, gathering several hundred from websites that track such things. A tiny utility that I wrote makes it easy to launch each URL in four browsers at once. Three of those rely on the protection built into Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer, while Norton protects the fourth.

As for Mac testing, my utility is no help, so I simply copy each URL to the clipboard and paste it into the browser.

The fraudsters who create phishing pages are always coming up with new dirty tricks, so rather than report detection rates as hard numbers, I report the difference between the product under testing and the other four. Very few products, whether running on Windows or macOS, can beat Norton. When last tested, Sophos came in just three percentage points behind Norton.

This time it was seven points behind, but retained its position in the chart. All three browsers had an unusually good day. Sophos beat Internet Explorer by 10 percentage points, but only tied Chrome and Firefox.

Avira, by contrast, fared worse in this test than the three browsers, and much worse than Norton, a full 47 percentage points behind. Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac[14] did better than Sophos in this test, lagging Norton by a single percentage point, and Bitdefender actually beat Norton by five points. The Norton product I use as my touchstone is the long-standing Windows edition; Symantec Norton Security Deluxe (for Mac)[15] fell behind in this test.

Tested with the exact same sample set, it scored 14 percentage points below its Windows cousin’s detection rate.

Free and Easy

Sophos Home (for Mac) has pared down antivirus protection to the essential minimum. It does the job, with next to no configuration settings. One of the two independent labs that I follow certifies its protection; the other certified it in a previous test.

It did well in my antiphishing test, and detected every single Windows malware sample I threw at it. You can even use it for a simple kind of parental control. Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac and Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac took certification from both labs, however, with top scores across the board.

Bitdefender also beat the pack in my antiphishing test. It marks up dangerous links in search results, and defends your documents against ransomware. Kaspersky is a full suite, with network protection, privacy protection, parental control, and more.

These two are our Editors’ Choice products for Mac antivirus[16], but if you can’t afford them, Sophos Home Free is a reasonable choice.

Sophos Home Free (for Mac)

Bottom Line: Sophos Home Free (for Mac) keeps configuration to a minimum and gets good scores both in independent lab tests and our own hands-on tests.

It’s a fine choice for protecting your Macs without spending your hard-earned cash.

References

  1. ^ antivirus (uk.pcmag.com)
  2. ^ Apple MacBook Air 13-Inch (uk.pcmag.com)
  3. ^ Sophos Home Free on Windows (uk.pcmag.com)
  4. ^ Avira Free Antivirus for Mac (uk.pcmag.com)
  5. ^ McAfee AntiVirus Plus (for Mac) (uk.pcmag.com)
  6. ^ Malwarebytes for Mac Premium (uk.pcmag.com)
  7. ^ Trend Micro Antivirus for Mac (uk.pcmag.com)
  8. ^ Windows antivirus (uk.pcmag.com)
  9. ^ AV-Comparatives (www.av-comparatives.org)
  10. ^ AV-Test Institute (www.av-test.org)
  11. ^ ESET Cyber Security (for Mac) (uk.pcmag.com)
  12. ^ Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus (for Mac) (www.pcmag.com)
  13. ^ Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac (uk.pcmag.com)
  14. ^ Kaspersky Internet Security for Mac (uk.pcmag.com)
  15. ^ Symantec Norton Security Deluxe (for Mac) (uk.pcmag.com)
  16. ^ Mac antivirus (uk.pcmag.com)

Netflix

In the beginning, Netflix delivered movies on discs mailed to your house. Its fledgling streaming service only came later as a niche offering. Now, it’s hard to imagine life without immediate access to Netflix’s library of on-demand TV shows and movies.

True, its collection of content changes like the weather, but that doesn’t alter the fact that it has a reliably solid core catalog–including critically acclaimed original programming–all available at a reasonable monthly price. Now, you can even download content for offline viewing on mobile platforms. For those reasons, Netflix is our Editors’ Choice for video streaming services[1].

What’s in the Catalog?

Netflix has an extremely broad catalog, but it changes all the time.

Shows available one day may be gone the next. It’s difficult to state authoritatively what is in Netflix’s catalog at any given moment, but that’s all part of the fun, right? Innumerable third-party websites, including this one, offer articles with titles like Everything Coming to Netflix This Month[2], so that’s one way to stay in the know.

The TV shows available on Netflix are season-complete, which isn’t always the case for competitors. Hulu, for example, sometimes only has the most recent few episodes of a show, making it impossible to catch up if you fall too far behind. On the other hand, Netflix only adds shows a season at a time.

This is great for binge-watching, but it also means that episodes can be as much as a year old by the time they reach the service. Amazon Video[3] and Hulu both offer at least some of their shows within a day or two of broadcast, so you can at least be within striking distance of the cultural zeitgeist if you’re a cable-cutter. Notably, Amazon Video also started streaming live NFL games this past season. However, if you want a streaming service dedicated to streaming sports, fuboTV[4] is your best option.

The growing library of original Netflix programming has quickly become a pop culture phenomenon in its own right. This impressive list includes shows like Altered Carbon, Black Mirror, Bojack Horseman, Narcos, Orange is the New Black, and Stranger Things, as well as Marvel’s miniseries, such as Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. Netflix also produces feature films, comedy specials, and documentaries, for those who are looking for something more self-contained.

For example, Netflix recently premiered its original film, Bright, and was the first to stream Cloverfield: Paradox.

Being able to join the conversation about these programs, especially in the binge-watching media landscape Netflix helped foster, makes a subscription even more tempting. Hulu may have a stronger broadcast television lineup, but right now Netflix’s exclusives are untouchable, and competitors are scrambling to keep up. Amazon Video and Hulu have had some successes of their own, however, with Transparent and The Handmaid’s Tale, respectively, receiving considerable acclaim.

Even CBS All Access[5] has a lineup of original shows including Star Trek Discovery and The Good Fight. But you may not be able to watch some Netflix shows at all, depending on which country you live in. In fact, the available catalog varies greatly by your locale.

We’re looking at you Blue Planet II. If you travel abroad, you may suddenly find that you can’t continue your binge. In some cases, you can rectify this with a virtual private network (VPN) service[6].

Netflix has been working hard to block this method though, because of international content licensing.

Plans, Prices, and Perceived Value

Netflix recently raised its prices, but they are still reasonable. Right now, a £7.99 per month subscription to Netflix lets you watch unlimited hours of whatever movies and TV show you can find on the platform on one screen at a time in SD quality. The middle-tier plan costs £10.99 per month (up from £9.99), and it allows HD streaming to two screens simultaneously.

For families or groups of friends looking to share accounts, the £13.99 (up from £11.99) four-screen plan might be a more feasible option. This highest tier also offers HD streaming and unlocks Ultra HD (4K) where available. On another note, Netflix presents all of its content ad-free.

Note that Hulu’s[7] paid plans include commercials–even, in some cases, if you pay extra for supposedly commercial-free viewing. For comparison, Hulu charges £7.99 for its base plan (with ads) though you can pay £11.99 per month for virtually no ads. Amazon Video costs £8.99 per month with no ads.

DVDs on Demand

Netflix began in the late 90s as a DVD-by-mail service, and the company still offers physical discs, but this is a separate subscription from what you get with regular Netflix service.

You need to head over to DVD.com (a Netflix company) for that service. Prices for DVD plans start at £4.99 per month for one disc at a time for a maximum of two discs per month (postage is included in all prices.) To get unlimited DVDs per month, but only one disc at a time, you have to pay £7.99 per month. Want more discs at a time?

The most expensive plan costs £11.99 per month and lets you have two discs at a time at home with no limits on the total number per month. For an additional fee, you can even opt to receive Blu-Ray discs.

The main reason to use Netflix’s DVD-by-mail service is that it expands its catalog immensely. When you can’t find a particular TV show or film to stream, you can often find it among the DVDs.

That said, it’s always a good idea to check whether you can buy or rent the same content through Amazon, iTunes, or the Microsoft Store on a PC or Xbox instead. That way you won’t have to wait for an envelope in the mail. It’s also worth noting that Netflix stripped this service from its main mobile apps.

Instead, DVD diehards must use the service’s dedicated app, called DVD Netflix (Android and iOS) for all their needs on the go. Subscribers can browse for content and stay on top of incoming and outgoing shipments.

Ways to Watch

With a subscription, you can stream movies and TV shows from the Netflix catalog to an ever-increasing number of devices. Nearly every mobile device, set-top box (media streamer, hub, and DVR), and smart TV supports Netflix.

Roku boxes were one of the first to come to market, and Netflix still offers an excellent experience with current devices like the Roku Ultra[8]. Even those holding on to a Windows Phone or PlayStation Vita can join the party. Other competitors in the streaming box space, like Apple TV and the Amazon Fire Stick offer Netflix as one of the central pillars alongside their own media ecosystems.

That’s how important Netflix is to consumers. You can also find excellent Netflix apps for popular gaming consoles including the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Not surprisingly, Netflix has excellent apps for Android and iOS as well. We discuss these apps in more detail later on in this review.

Netflix’s mobile presence ensures that you always have your favorite shows and movies close at hand. Keep in mind that streaming to a mobile device is best done over Wi-Fi to avoid running up a hefty data bill. We go into more detail about these apps later in this review.

For those who want to watch on a laptop or desktop, Netflix has a desktop app in the Microsoft Store for Windows 10 users that includes a download option for offline viewing of some content. There’s also an excellent web interface that closely mimics its mobile apps. Hovering over an icon on the main menu displays all the information you need to know about a movie or show without taking you to a separate page.

Instead, content appears as attractive inline images on the grid that enlarge as you hover the mouse over them.

Streaming Anime

Among its many movies and television shows, Netflix has been quietly building itself into an excellent source for streaming anime. It does a particularly good job with older series, such as Inu Yasha, Robotech, and Rurouni Kenshin. Little Witch Academia and other excellent oddball shows also find a home here among the innumerable Pokemon episodes. We really appreciate Netflix’s excellent interface really shines when it comes to watching anime since it makes it easy to customize the various audio and subtitle options.

The trouble with Netflix’s anime collection is the same as with the rest of its content: It comes and goes unpredictably. There’s a very real possibility that a series could vanish while you’re in the middle of watching it. Netflix’s recommendation engine does a good job of suggesting anime based on your viewing habits, and you can find the 50-some titles in Netflix’s collection by search.

There’s is a central collection of anime, but many titles appear in unexpected places. Note that when you simply cannot find what you’re looking for, there’s a good chance it is available for rent on physical media through Netflix’s traditional mail service.

Although Netflix’s collection of streaming anime is as stable as its other movie and TV offerings (read: not very), it has one secret strength. In addition to its prestige original programming, Netflix has also brought its considerable production clout to anime as well.

True fans will recall that Netflix rebooted the venerable Voltron series, to wide nerd acclaim. It has also introduced other anime series like Seven Deadly Sins. These forays are few, and may not continue, but Netflix has shown that it can be a force to be reckoned with in terms of original content.

Crunchyroll’s[9] interface is a nightmare, but it simulcasts new shows, which more than makes up for that. Its massive collection of 950 anime series–nearly 20 times the size of Netflix’s catalog–helps quite a bit, too. If you want to see the latest and greatest shows, nothing can top Crunchyroll.

It’s our Editors’ Choice for streaming anime services. Hulu, which also has a mediocre interface, has an excellent supply of over 400 classic and critically acclaimed anime shows and movies like Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell, and Revolutionary Girl Utena.

Family Content, Controls, and Extras

Netflix offers a wide range of family-friendly content in its instant catalog, as well as specific content for young children. In your account settings, you can access parental controls that restrict what content is available viewing (the options read: G and below, PG and below, and so on).

You can also create specific accounts for different users, so Netflix can better tune its recommendations for whoever is watching. Playback Settings, another feature in your account preferences, lets you choose Auto, Low, Medium, and High streaming quality. These toggles limit Netflix’s streaming to 0.3, 0.7, and 3.0GB per hour, respectively, which is good to know if you have a usage cap from your Internet service provider.

If you plan to stream Ultra HD content, that generates 7GB of data per hour.

Netflix for Android

The Netflix Android app[10] lets subscribers watch any movie or television show from their Android phone or tablet. We had no trouble installing it on a Google Pixel[11] running Android 8.1. Just download the app from the Google Play store and enter your Netflix account username and password.

The app works best with a reliable Wi-Fi signal, but it can also stream over a cellular connection. The streaming itself is well optimized for mobile devices. In testing, we experienced crisp video and clear audio while streaming content over PCMag’s Wi-Fi network, which hits download speeds of 50Mbps.

You navigate the app via a set of five menu icons at the bottom of the screen: Home, Search, Coming Soon, Downloads, and My Profile. Its black-and-white color scheme looks sleek and makes the occasional splash of color stand out.

Although Netflix’s app uses vertical space more efficiently, it’s still not as visually compelling as Hulu’s app after its latest redesign. The Home tab highlights a currently noteworthy show along with its associated category tags. Below that, it displays vertically scrolling lists of shows and movies across categories, such as New Releases, Popular on Netflix, and Trending Now.

Netflix’s recommendations are based on a thumbs up or down system, which produces mixed results. Search shows a list of content categories for finding new things to watch. Notable categories include Anime, Available for Download (more on that later), Netflix Originals, and TV Shows, along with all of the other typical genres.

Oddly, those categories only pertain to movies; either you need to know what show you are looking for (there’s a search bar at the top) or scroll through a bunch of lists to discover new ones. Thankfully, we live in the future, and Netflix includes a download option on select titles for offline viewing. The Downloads tab shows everything you have designated for offline viewing, but there’s no search function here.

The Smart Downloads option is notable in that it deletes any episodes you finish watching and replaces them with the next episode (only on Wi-Fi). That way, you can never escape its hold on your free time. When we tested download speeds over PCMag’s Wi-Fi network, it took less than two minutes to download a 50-minute episode of Planet Earth II in high quality.

That said, there are some limitations to this feature. Notably, some titles expire after 48 hours and others can only be downloaded a certain number of times. Netflix confirmed that much of its downloadable content has a predetermined lifespan.

A company representative also told us that time limits are specific to the licensing deals for each title. The My Profile tab importantly houses the App Settings, where you can control streaming quality, download behavior, and notification preferences; it even includes a useful internal storage bar at the bottom.

However, the Account link annoyingly redirects you to the web to make any changes. You can also access the Help portal or switch profiles from here.

Netflix for iPhones and iPads

Netflix also offers an app for your iPhone[12] and iPad. All you need to do is download it from the App Store and log in to your account.

We had no trouble installing the app on an iPhone 8[13] running iOS 11. Navigating the app’s interface works just as fluently as it does on Android and we had no issues streaming while connected to PCMag’s Wi-Fi network. Netflix’s iPhone app looks identical to its Android counterpart, and functions in much the same way as well, though there are some minor differences.

For example, the Coming Soon tab icon is missing on the bottom menu bar and instead of a My Profile section you get a More option. In the Downloads section, the Smart Downloads feature is nowhere to be found, which is disappointing. As with all iOS apps, you change notification settings in the device’s main Settings page, rather than within the app.

There, you can also choose whether to enable Siri search and streaming over cellular data.

Get Your Video Fix With Netflix

Netflix’s catalog may not appeal to film lovers who want to watch all the latest releases (or the classics), but it does stock an enormous array of quirky and quality TV shows, cult hits, family favorites, and trendy original programming. The addition of offline viewing for mobile devices makes it an even more valuable offering. Between its digital library and vast DVD collection, Netflix has what you’re looking for, or something close.

The fact that you can get commercial-free access to Netflix’s vast content ecosystem at a bargain price of £7.99 per month makes Netflix a clear Editors’ Choice.

Netflix

Bottom Line: If your goal is to cut the cord, Netflix is a great place to start, thanks to its reasonable price, large collection of TV shows and movies, and growing stable of critically acclaimed original content.

References

  1. ^ video streaming services (uk.pcmag.com)
  2. ^ Everything Coming to Netflix This Month (www.pcmag.com)
  3. ^ Amazon Video (uk.pcmag.com)
  4. ^ fuboTV (uk.pcmag.com)
  5. ^ CBS All Access (uk.pcmag.com)
  6. ^ virtual private network (VPN) service (uk.pcmag.com)
  7. ^ Hulu’s (uk.pcmag.com)
  8. ^ Roku Ultra (uk.pcmag.com)
  9. ^ Crunchyroll’s (uk.pcmag.com)
  10. ^ Android app (uk.pcmag.com)
  11. ^ Google Pixel (uk.pcmag.com)
  12. ^ app for your iPhone (uk.pcmag.com)
  13. ^ iPhone 8 (uk.pcmag.com)

BullGuard Premium Protection

Security companies tend to offer several tiers of protection, so users can find their desired balance between price and features. For some, antivirus is sufficient. Others want the added protection found in a full security suite[1].

And some will spring for the feature-rich security mega-suite. The key factor for the company is to achieve the right balance of features to make each tier desirable. BullGuard Premium Protection, the mega-suite in this family, adds identity protection and a network monitor to the features in BullGuard’s entry-level suite.

That’s not a lot of additional protection, but a quirk in pricing makes it a better deal than BullGuard Internet Security. For £99.95 per year, you can install BullGuard on 10 devices. Upping the subscription to £139.95 raises that limit to 15 devices.

You can use your licenses on Windows, Android, or macOS devices, but the Mac product is sub-par. The strange thing is, a 10-device subscription for BullGuard Internet Security goes for £140.95, a dollar more than you’d pay for a 15-device subscription to BullGuard Premium Protection. My company contacts verified that these prices are correct.

For comparison, you pay £99.99 per year for a 10-license subscription to Bitdefender, roughly the same as BullGuard. Norton’s top suite costs £109.99 per year for 10 licenses, but it also gives you 25GB of hosted online storage for your backups, something BullGuard doesn’t offer. Kaspersky Security Cloud[2] charges £149.99 for 20 licenses. McAfee LiveSafe goes for £99.99 per year, which gives you unlimited license to install protection on your Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices.

Like other BullGuard products, this suite’s main window features two rows of square panels with colorful icons representing security components. Panels for Identity Protection and Home Network Scanner join the seven panels present in the entry-level suite. All three products can shrink the main window’s width so that only three and a half columns are visible, with a slider to bring the hidden ones into view.

With Premium Protection, that mode can be useful.

Required Reading

My typical pattern for reviewing a security company’s product line starts with thoroughly evaluating and reviewing the antivirus. When I review the entry-level security suite, I summarize the antivirus review but focus on features specific to the suite. And if there’s a mega-suite with even more features, I summarize previous reviews and focus on those additions.

As I mentioned, this suite adds two significant features beyond what you get with BullGuard Internet Security[3], which earned a 2.5 star rating due to its uneven feature quality. Rather than give a detailed summary of that review, I’m going to send you off to read it.

When you’re done, come back here and learn about the network scanner and identity protection components. Note that the Facebook activity tracker from the previous edition is gone. That’s no loss, since it wasn’t working at the time of my review.

Identity Protection

If a data breach results in your personal data floating around the dark web, the sooner you know about it the better your chances of avoiding full-fledged identity theft.

BullGuard’s identity protection (provided by Experian) warns you the moment your personal data shows up on the internet or the dark web. Check Point ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus+[4] provides a similar service, in partnership with Identity Guard. You manage BullGuard’s identity protection service by logging into your online BullGuard account, the same place you go to manage mobile security. To start, you set up a separate passcode for the identity protection service.

Next, you fill in the information you want monitored. On the Personal Details page, you enter data including your name, SSN, date of birth, driver’s license number, and passport number. The Financial Details page takes as many bank account or credit card numbers as you care to enter.

For security purposes, you only enter the first six and last four digits of credit card numbers. Finally, on the Contact Details page you enter addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses.

With your personal data in place, it’s time to check the Summary page. If the identity protection system found any of your personal details exposed, you’ll see a big red warning image at the top.

A red warning icon flags the item or items that triggered the alert. If it was a credit card, you enter the missing four digits for final verification. I found the system overall to be sluggish, awkward, and poorly designed.

I experienced significant delays between clicking a button or link and seeing the results. Each detail item has a small info icon, but rather than offering information in a tooltip, clicking the icon slowly dims the entire window and displays a small popup with little useful data. And the summary page itself has a weird internal vertical scroll bar, totally unnecessary since the browser itself has a scroll bar.

Fortunately, you only need to set it up once. The benefit of an early warning system to head off identity theft far outweighs the minor inconvenience of awkward setup.

Home Network Scanner

The Home Network Scanner component is new in this edition of BullGuard. When you launch a scan, it starts listing every device connected to your network.

You may be surprised at the number of devices it turns up. In addition, it pops up a notification when a new device connects. Like Bitdefender Home Scanner[5], BullGuard checks all the found devices for security flaws.

If your main router also provides Wi-Fi, as many do, one scan is all you need. If, as in my own network, you have a separate Wi-Fi router, you may need to run one scan from a device with a wired connection and another from a device that connects over Wi-Fi. Of course, this would be true of any software-based network scanner.

On my test system, each scan took about 15 minutes, which is par for the course. Bitdefender Box[6], from the same company, is a hardware solution to full network security. I checked with my sources at the company and learned that with proper configuration and connections the Box should be able to secure both networks in the scenario described above.

BullGuard reports the name and type of each found device, along with the manufacturer’s name and IP address. You can click for details of any found problems, or to get the device’s MAC address. Network wizards can drill down to view open ports and other such arcana.

Some devices don’t supply a name, or supply an unintelligible name, and some don’t report the correct device type. Like Bitdefender and Glasswire[7], BullGuard lets you edit the name and change the device type. Of course, you need a certain amount of network savvy to figure out which device is which, based on the IP address and MAC address.

Avast offers a network security scanner in all products, even Avast Free Antivirus[8].

It creates a similar device list, calling out any with problems. However, it doesn’t let you assign names to unknown devices. Network scanning in Panda Antivirus Pro[9] works only on Wi-Fi networks.

In addition to warning about insecure Wi-Fi and listing all connected devices, it lets you block access for unauthorized devices. The network scanner in ESET Internet Security[10] performs a similar function as the others described here, but it reports its findings very differently. Devices appear as icons, in concentric circle around the main router.

Currently connected devices show up in the inner circle, while those that the scanner hasn’t seen for a while drift to the outer circles. Besides numerous computers, smartphones, and tablets, the modern connected home contains any number of smart devices, from remote-viewing doorbells to internet-aware toasters. You can’t install security on your connected garage door opener, so scanning everything on the system for security flaws is a very, very good idea.

A Better Deal

BullGuard Premium Protection includes the complete feature set of BullGuard Internet Security, warts and all.

It adds two very useful components, identity protection and network security scanning. Note, though, that Bitdefender Home Scanner gives you network scanning for free, and Check Point ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus+ includes identity protection. A quirk in pricing does make this product a better deal than the entry-level suite, so if you’re a die-hard BullGuard fan, choose Premium Protection.

In the realm of cross-platform multidevice security suites, Symantec Norton Security Premium[11] is our Editors’ Choice. It offers top-notch protection for Windows, macOS, and Android devices, plus limited iOS protection. Its antivirus aces our hands-on test, all of its components are top quality, and it comes with 25GB of hosted storage for your online backups, all for just £10 more than BullGuard’s 10-license price.

BullGuard Premium Protection

Bottom Line: BullGuard Premium Protection adds identity protection and network security scanning to the uneven features of BullGuard Internet Security.

The added features are worthwhile, and a quirk in pricing makes Premium Protection a better deal.

References

  1. ^ security suite (uk.pcmag.com)
  2. ^ Kaspersky Security Cloud (uk.pcmag.com)
  3. ^ BullGuard Internet Security (uk.pcmag.com)
  4. ^ Check Point ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus+ (uk.pcmag.com)
  5. ^ Bitdefender Home Scanner (uk.pcmag.com)
  6. ^ Bitdefender Box (uk.pcmag.com)
  7. ^ Glasswire (uk.pcmag.com)
  8. ^ Avast Free Antivirus (uk.pcmag.com)
  9. ^ Panda Antivirus Pro (uk.pcmag.com)
  10. ^ ESET Internet Security (uk.pcmag.com)
  11. ^ Symantec Norton Security Premium (uk.pcmag.com)

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