The 2013 updates to the Kaspersky protection suites bring to consumers some of the most advanced security technology currently available. It involves introducing an exploit prevention engine as part of the security suite, but also a Safe Money banking protection tool that you can interact directly with. The suite's scans aren't the fastest, but it definitely will protect you.
Installing Kaspersky has been dramatically simplified over the past two years. Following on 2012's fuss-free install, the installer for 2013 will remove conflicting security programs and any detected malware automatically.
You're still on the hook for a reboot, but not when running only the trial. The install procedure was only three screens long, and it took under 2 minutes to complete. You can also register and purchase a license key from the program itself, no need to jump to your browser. Overall, this is one of the best installation processes for a security suite, if by best you mean, "short, fast, and painless."
Kaspersky's followed up last year's overhauled interface with only minor tweaks this year to accommodate new features. The number of windows you must go through to initiate a scan, or to solve a problem warning, has been reduced.
Based on a mobile app-drawer design, the interface presents your security status at the top and stashes the four major security features of scanning, updating, the new Safe Money, and parental controls, at the bottom. The app drawer layout puts key security status information up front, and keeps your tools organized yet easily accessible below. You can slide the features sideways to see more options, or click the arrow at the bottom to pull up, drawer-style, the full list of options. Settings and Reports live in the upper right corner, and both use terminology repeated throughout the interface. This creates a solid level of consistency, and ought to appeal to basic security consumers and power users alike.
A Cloud Protection button at the top of the interface opens a screen that explains Kaspersky's cloud technology that debuted in the 2012 version. Like its competitors that have already incorporated cloud-based detection, you can opt out of anonymously contributing your data without making yourself less safe.
Kaspersky's opt-out is a bit tricky to get to, though. Hit Settings, the annoyingly unlabeled Advanced Settings tab (hint: it's the cardboard box), Feedback, and then uncheck the box to opt out.
Unlike some competitors, which allow you to reorder the tool buttons so you can have the ones you use most often at the ready, Kaspersky's tool layout is locked down. This is one of the few drawbacks to the design. Another is that in the Settings window, the tabs on the left are unlabeled and their icons are not necessarily as obvious to understand as possible. In order, they are Protection Center, Scan, Update, and Advanced Settings.
Labeling aside, the settings themselves were remarkably easy to navigate and comprehend -- even the advanced ones. Meanwhile, jumping from feature to feature was a zippy experience, and we encountered absolutely no lag when skipping between screens.
Features and support
Kaspersky 2013's newest and best features come in the form of some very forward-thinking security improvements.
The most important of them is the exploit blocking engine called Automatic Exploit Prevention. It's a response to the increase in the number of phishing attacks and includes an antiphishing engine -- similar to the antivirus and anti-malware engines -- that updates daily.
It's hard to overstate how critical stopping exploits can be to stopping large-quantity cash thefts from online banks. Experts have estimated recent successful banking breaches at scoring from $3 million to more than $220 million, and Kaspersky says that the exploit prevention engine stops the vast majority of exploit kits.
A major component of the exploit prevention engine is Address Space Layout Randomization, or ASLR. It's a proven security technology, used in Apple OS X and iOS, in Google's Android, and by Microsoft in Windows 8. It's not foolproof, but it is one of the more effective security technologies currently available. The inclusion of ASLR in Kaspersky means that the technology will be available to Windows 7 and earlier versions, making Kaspersky unique in the security realm for that reason.
The suite now blocks Duqu and other malware specifically designed to surreptitiously install on your computer before the antivirus program loads during boot.
Safe Money revamps the Safe Run feature from previous years and is only in Kaspersky Internet Security 2013, not Kaspersky Anti-Virus. It basically streamlines the process of accessing banking sites securely. Simply go to your banking site, and as long as you have Kaspersky's browser add-ons installed, it will ask you if you want to open the site in a sandboxed mode, isolated from other browser and PC processes. You can also manually add other sites to Safe Money in Kaspersky's interface, but it's no longer a requirement because of Safe Money's new auto-detection. You can tell it's running because of a thin green line around your browser window.
We were skeptical about Safe Money working as advertised, but it really does detect banking Web sites as you visit them and reopen them in sandboxed browsers. It detected both major banks like Chase, and our own local credit union's site without fail.
Other changes have been made, as well. The secure keyboard for protecting personal data when entered by a physical keyboard works with more sites than before; there is expanded browser compatibility so it now works with Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Opera; and better battery management has been implemented for laptops. (We did not test the battery life, however, due to time constraints.)
There are older features worth calling out, too. One is the File Advisor, which is a Windows Explorer context menu option for checking out a file's reputation without having to go through the main Kaspersky program itself. It creates a pipeline from the Kaspersky Security Network, the Kaspersky cloud protection, to the files on your desktop. We found it to pull down reputation data quickly, although its speed also depends on your Internet connection.
The Roll Back feature can easily undo damage caused by any malware that does slip through, and the Network Monitor feature shows you real-time traffic to and from your computer. Among the better ancillary tools are an Internet Explorer security analyzer, which is a good idea if you're stuck on Windows XP with IE8 or earlier -- but it's weird that it doesn't support any other browsers.
The virtual keyboard, different from the physical keyboard protection, has been improved so that it's more responsive than previously. It's mostly an older feature to use if you're worried about keyloggers that Kaspersky keeps around for bragging rights. It's highly unlikely that you'd have Kaspersky running and be infected by a keylogger.
Unchanged from last year, online support is decent, with the standard offerings of forums, live chat, knowledge base articles, and telephone support. Live chat isn't as robust as with some competitors, only available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday. The telephone support is similarly restricted from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Eastern time, Monday through Friday. The tech-support number is buried fairly deep on the Kaspersky site, probably to discourage calls. They can be reached at 781-503-1820 or 1-866-525-9094.
As far as threat detection and removal go, there are no numbers available yet for Kaspersky 2013. But the most recent tests with Kaspersky 2012 show that the Russians know a thing or two about keeping your computer safe. Independent testing agency AV-Test.org has marked consistently high scores for Kaspersky Internet Security 2012 during the first two quarters of 2012.
On a Windows 7 computer, Kaspersky scored 5.5 out of 6 on Protection, 6 out of 6 on Repair, and 5 out of 6 on Usability, for an overall score of 16.5 out of 18, clearing the minimum of 11 for an AV-Test.org certificate. This is a marked improvement from a total score of 14 last year at this time.
Note that AV-Test.org defines its categories as follows: "The 'Protection' covers static and dynamic malware detection, including real-world zero-day attack testing. In case of 'Repair,' we check the system disinfection and rootkit removal in detail. The 'Usability' testing includes the system slowdown caused by the tools and the number of false positives."
The most recent AV-Comparatives.org Whole Product test, which looks at on-demand scanning, retroactive tests, and "real-world" guards including cloud-based protections, puts Kaspersky Internet Security 2012 in the top three suites tested from January to May, 2012, and in the top five suites of May 2012.
The May 2012 test found that it blocked 99.1 percent of attacks and threats thrown at it, an improvement from 98.3 percent last year at this time. Meanwhile, looking at Whole Product test results cumulatively from January 2012 to May 2012 found that Kaspersky 2012 blocking 99.3 percent of threats, and could be 0.1 percent safer depending on user adjustments.
It's fair to conclude that according to third-party tests, Kaspersky has been highly effective over the past year since two out of the three tests we looked at gave it solid marks. Kaspersky has definitely improved its protection rates over the past year, but it still could do better when it comes to its impact on your system.
Kaspersky's 2013 suites pack a lot in, but aside from the way they will cause some performance lags on your computer, there's one other drawback to them. Kaspersky's hard sell comes from the smooth-functioning advanced security it offers, even at the Anti-Virus, fewer-featured level. Offering the exploit protection in the entry-level suite shows that Kaspersky places your safety above the upsell -- otherwise it'd only be in the Internet Security suite. Both will protect you, but unless you want the parental controls or the Safe Money features, we lean toward Kaspersky Anti-Virus.