Battle Bitdefender vs ESET

Software comparison
Bitdefender Total Security 2021 vs ESET Smart Security Premium 14.0.22
Feature comparison
  1. Ease of use
  2. Impact on hardware performance
  3. Most available features
  4. Core protection (malware and heuristic engine)
  5. Internet protection (web filtering, anti-phishing, anti-spam, browser extension)
  6. Network protection (firewall, anti-botnet)
  7. Ransomware protection
  8. Banking and payments protection
  9. Machine learning and A.I. capabilities
  10. Privacy protections (VPN, anti-tracking)

McMcbrad

Level 20
Oct 16, 2020
967
vs



Introduction

Amongst all players on the Windows malware protection field, there are three that really stand out and make a bold statement of being the best.
Independent tests, whilst being with a questionable reliability, consistently point out three contenders - Kaspersky, ESET and Bitdefender.
These products have been widely recognised for their accurate protection with low number of false positives and all that, whilst maintaining low system impact.

Each one of them has a huge user base, with Kaspersky's engine also powering all Check Point + ZoneAlarm products and Bitdefender's engine powering products such as Bullguard, GData, Qihoo 360, Total Defence, paid versions of Immunet and perhaps many other I don't even know of. ESET is already behind Google Chrome's Safe Browsing Platform.

I have not given Kaspersky the proper try it deserves, so I will not include it in a comparison for now, but how Bitdefender and ESET stack up to each other?
Let's explore some key differences between two of the best products on the market.

Protection

Both Bitdefender and ESET achieve great level of protection against many of today's dangers, such as ransomware, phishing and sophisticated threats.
They do it in a very similar way - through an infusion of top-quality standard antivirus (definitions, heuristics, static machine learning and emulation) combined with accurate web blocking. Web blocking, apart from stopping threats in the browser, blocks suspicious connections in all apps, thus blocking malware from downloading additional nastiness and bots from receiving their scripts.

ESET's 0-day protection however, is really centred around the presence of HIPS. The company's focus falls on false positives reduction and performance keeping, so features such as Ransomware Remediation (file journaling) are not implemented. HIPS comes in few modes - automatic, smart, policy-based, interactive and learning mode.
In my experience with the products all of these modes have proven to be useless.
The automatic mode, with all the malware I tested it against, was like no HIPS whatsoever and I never saw it in action.
Smart mode was more or less the same.
Interactive mode was a hell - hover your mouse pointer over a program and it will give you n number of prompts whether Synaptics Pointing Device is allowed to access an app. Close that prompt and there are many more to come about various Windows services. This is not an experience users seek and deserve in this day and age. It was the Panda way of doing it in 2006.
Policy-based might have been great, had the company put the effort to develop "policy packages" that users could deploy. The company expects you to either sit down and start configuring rules, or use learning mode. This mode will automatically generate policies for given number of time, assuming your system is totally clean. Any deviation from the set standard will be considered malicious and blocked.
This is not a great way of doing it either, as it might result in all kinds of software breakages or failures.
HIPS contains several extensions, such as Ransomware Shield, Deep Behavioural Inspection and Memory Scanner, but none of them managed to prove effective on my tests.

Bitdefender's 0-day protection is centred around Advanced Threat Defence. This system was first released with the 2009 edition of Bitdefender and was named Active Virus Control.
It stepped on the solid foundation of B-Have - Bitdefender Heuristic Analyses in Virtual Environment. Upon its release, Bitdefender saw an immediate bump in their detection rates on tests.

It used to be complemented by Intrusion Detection System (exploit blocking) and both components had sliders users could use to adjust the aggressiveness. Active Virus Control was then renamed to Active Threat Control and today both IDS and ATC have been combined in ATD.
The system now includes an extension - ransomware remediation that copies files prior to being encrypted. On my tests, whilst this has not always been 100% effective, it was far more effective than ESET's anti-ransomware capabilities. ATD is a far more effective and automated approach than HIPS and overall, Bitdefender feels far more intelligent.
In my tests, it has been almost impossible to bypass ATD and even if you do, it won't take long before it kicks in and starts remediation.

Bitdefender offers far better IPS capabilities than ESET. The product blocks websites with expired certificates and common network attacks. I never saw ESET's alleged Intrusion Detection System in action.

In the light of the above, I believe Bitdefender is the clear winner here.

Malware Removal/Remediation

I was looking for a stop/djvu ransomware decryptor recently and ESET recognised the ransomware note, which was copied on the page for demonstration purposes. It detected ransomware in the Google cache and deleted it. I then copied the note in a simple txt file and ESET removed that too.
Bitdefender doesn't always go as far as removing ransomware notes. however when I did registry entries pointing to malware files or containing PowerShell code, fake services and scheduled tasks, Bitdefender always removed the threats entirely. ESET blocks the malware from running, but the roots, if I can call them that way, still remain. This causes an infinite loop of malware attempts to run and blocking. It's not a great experience.
Bitdefender has apparently listened to my feedback about scheduled tasks - product was not deleting those until I contacted support with a complaint once.
ESET's engine however, feels a lot faster. Extracting a threat from an archive takes 1-2 seconds before the file is visually gone and a popup informs me it is malicious. Bitdefender's remediation process feels a bit slower.

In terms of malware removal, it's hard to tell who's winner, but from my experience, I am more inclined to crown Bitdefender a winner here.

Performance

I believe we all know the winner here, without even discussing it.
Neither Bitdefender, nor ESET have caused any slowdowns in day-to-day usage, but ESET's engine is a lot lighter - Bitdefender definitions are almost a GB of space, update frequently (and slowly). ESET's memory usage is lower, the interface feels a lot more snappier, detecting and deleting threats is a lot faster, though as we discussed earlier, not that deep. Updates are super fast to install.
Browsing the web also feels one idea faster, due to the lack of extensions. Scanning speed is similar across both products.
Both products maintain very low CPU and disk usage.

The clear winner here is ESET, though Bitdefender still comes very close.

Graphical User Interface and General User Experience

When we spoke about protection, we already outlined the fact ESET still relies on technologies already ditched by most of the AV industry. ESET's user interface feels rather dated and complicated for novice users. Advanced users however will enjoy the level of control they have over the product. F5 over the product brings advanced settings and F1 brings help files where beginners can learn more. ESET's help files are much more comprehensive and the company provides greater details over every feature than Bitdefender.
Bitdefender's interface feels more oriented towards novice users a'la McAfee way. Visuals feels far more modern than ESET, but configuration is minimalistic and advanced users may want more. Auto-pilot however, provides recommendations about tools and profiles optimise both product and system to your current activity.
Popups are rare and minimal in both cases, free of complicated terms.

User experience is relative, but in the light of the above, we can say that
ESET's UX is better choice for advanced users
Bitdefender's UX is clearly a better for choice for beginners or people who just want the job done, without too much muss and fuss.

Additional Features

From my observation of the industry, Bitdefender's direct rival seems to be Kaspersky, which is quite rich on features.
Bitdefender offers more or less the same features - Secure Browser, TuneUp utility, vulnerability scanner, password manager, VPN, Central platform for in-cloud product monitoring and management.
ESET doesn't offer any of the above, apart from a password manager that feels rather limited and dated and a secure browser.

Based on a number of features, Bitdefender is a winner here.

Conclusion

Due to what's mentioned in the protection category, Bitdefender feels a lot more intelligent and automated, whilst ESET leaves a feeling of relying on dated approaches. Approaches known as Panda TruPrevent or Kaspersky's HIPS in 2006.
Though ESET's performance is great and it doesn't lack any essential features, I would say Bitdefender puts much more effort in staying on top of their game. ESET still has some work to do, if they are looking to share the throne with the other 2 kings.
 
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SeriousHoax

Level 34
Verified
Mar 16, 2019
2,344
ESET's 0-day protection however, is really centred around the presence of HIPS. The company's focus falls on false positives reduction and performance keeping, so features such as Ransomware Remediation (file journaling) are not implemented.
Actually, I think HIPS doesn't do much for ESET for 0-day malwares. HIPS is also not a standalone module, it needs Real time protection to perform its task. ESET's advantage is its static scanner, the signatures and heuristics. ESET's signatures are really good and they are known to detect new variants of malwares of known families very effectively compared to other AV and all of it happens on the system, not on cloud. So, most of the time new malwares are detected by ESET using already available older signatures. I still think they are still the best on the market when it comes to signatures while Bitdefender's detection of new malwares through available signatures has been quite poor for the past 2 years now almost. But there's only so much you can do with signatures and ESET don't have a behavior blocker. They have a Deep Behavioral Inspection module embedded in HIPS but you would be very lucky to ever see that in action. I haven't in person but saw twice on their forum detecting very old cracked games.
Where Bitdefender first of all shine is its web protection. It's one of the best in the industry so most of the times the malware won't even reach the system because Bitdefender will block the source. Then unlike ESET they have an excellent behavior blocker who does a great job detecting all types of threats. Also like you said, Bitdefender's removal process is also very good while ESET I believe don't even touch registry while cleaning malwares so the removal process is super fast.
Anyway, this two are great product but in many sense are completely different from each other in their philosophy, technology, mechanism, system resource usage, etc.
If someone prefers something with lightning fast engine, very low resource usage in day to day activities with best in class signatures with handful of customizability then go for ESET. But if you prefer something light in practice with even better web protection module, a solid behavior blocker, roll back feature, don't mind the lack of customization then go for the mighty Bitdefender.
Now personally I most of the time prefer the first one because I love signatures and signatures are still the most stable, best and easiest way to block malwares before any behavior blockers needs to come in action.
 

McMcbrad

Level 20
Oct 16, 2020
967
Actually, I think HIPS doesn't do much for ESET for 0-day malwares. HIPS is also not a standalone module, it needs Real time protection to perform its task. ESET's advantage is its static scanner, the signatures and heuristics. ESET's signatures are really good and they are known to detect new variants of malwares of known families very effectively compared to other AV and all of it happens on the system, not on cloud. So, most of the time new malwares are detected by ESET using already available older signatures. I still think they are still the best on the market when it comes to signatures while Bitdefender's detection of new malwares through available signatures has been quite poor for the past 2 years now almost. But there's only so much you can do with signatures and ESET don't have a behavior blocker. They have a Deep Behavioral Inspection module embedded in HIPS but you would be very lucky to ever see that in action. I haven't in person but saw twice on their forum detecting very old cracked games.
Where Bitdefender first of all shine is its web protection. It's one of the best in the industry so most of the times the malware won't even reach the system because Bitdefender will block the source. Then unlike ESET they have an excellent behavior blocker who does a great job detecting all types of threats. Also like you said, Bitdefender's removal process is also very good while ESET I believe don't even touch registry while cleaning malwares so the removal process is super fast.
Anyway, this two are great product but in many sense are completely different from each other in their philosophy, technology, mechanism, system resource usage, etc.
If someone prefers something with lightning fast engine, very low resource usage in day to day activities with best in class signatures with handful of customizability then go for ESET. But if you prefer something light in practice with even better web protection module, a solid behavior blocker, roll back feature, don't mind the lack of customization then go for the mighty Bitdefender.
Now personally I most of the time prefer the first one because I love signatures and signatures are still the most stable, best and easiest way to block malwares before any behavior blockers needs to come in action.
Whilst all that is true, Bitdefender's signatures are not too much weaker that ESET. Bitdefender employs the same technologies in their scanner and in my long experience, most of the malware has been blocked by either a generic signature, or another form of heuristic. ESET's engine provides much better classification for informational purposes however.
 

SeriousHoax

Level 34
Verified
Mar 16, 2019
2,344
Whilst all that is true, Bitdefender's signatures are not too much weaker that ESET. Bitdefender employs the same technologies in their scanner and in my long experience, most of the malware has been blocked by either a generic signature, or another form of heuristic. ESET's engine provides much better classification for informational purposes however.
Bitdefender's signatures are not weak by any means, what I mean is their signature's quality to detect new malwares has dropped and not what it used to be. ESET detects a lot more new threats with their signatures alone. But Bitdefender still probably makes the most in the end. If it's not detecting a malware via signatures today, it will have signature for it the next day or a day after. I should add, the chance of a user getting infected by a brand new malware is quite rare and also most AV block threats on their cloud before making signatures so in the end it doesn't matter much.
 

MacDefender

Level 14
Verified
Oct 13, 2019
644
Bitdefender's signatures are not weak by any means, what I mean is their signature's quality to detect new malwares has dropped and not what it used to be. ESET detects a lot more new threats with their signatures alone. But Bitdefender still probably makes the most in the end. If it's not detecting a malware via signatures today, it will have signature for it the next day or a day after. I should add, the chance of a user getting infected by a brand new malware is quite rare and also most AV block threats on their cloud before making signatures so in the end it doesn't matter much.

I do think Bitdefender’s signatures have been a little sluggish the last 1-2 years, but yeah I think “quality” is a better term for the biggest reason I think ESET’s signatures are better. These days just about everything is a Trojan.GenericKD.(bunch of letters). Everything from legitimate/borderline software to new variants of Emotet.

Antivirus on the bleeding edge of threats is more than just a thumbs-up thumbs-down indicator. If you cannot clearly explain to a user what the threat is, you run a much higher risk that a user will think they’re smarter than the AV and attempt to run the payload anyway.

ESET’s signatures have always been clear, and rarely do real threats get detected under nondescript generic names.
 

McMcbrad

Level 20
Oct 16, 2020
967
I do think Bitdefender’s signatures have been a little sluggish the last 1-2 years, but yeah I think “quality” is a better term for the biggest reason I think ESET’s signatures are better. These days just about everything is a Trojan.GenericKD.(bunch of letters). Everything from legitimate/borderline software to new variants of Emotet.

Antivirus on the bleeding edge of threats is more than just a thumbs-up thumbs-down indicator. If you cannot clearly explain to a user what the threat is, you run a much higher risk that a user will think they’re smarter than the AV and attempt to run the payload anyway.

ESET’s signatures have always been clear, and rarely do real threats get detected under nondescript generic names.
Yes, classification is a lot better in ESET, but not always. Most of the ransomware is w32/filecoder.3 letters and there is no threat writeup on anything they detect. They also have a detection simply named "Suspicious". Classification has gone downhill for all AVs lately, so it's not a major bummer.
 

MacDefender

Level 14
Verified
Oct 13, 2019
644
Yes, classification is a lot better in ESET, but not always. Most of the ransomware is w32/filecoder.3 letters and there is no threat writeup on anything they detect. They also have a detection simply named "Suspicious". Classification has gone downhill for all AVs lately, so it's not a major bummer.
Yeah I suspect this trend will get worse. So far, ESET and Kaspersky are my favorites in terms of having descriptive signature names more consistently than others.

Symantec’s gotten pretty bad with AdvML.X AI based signatures too, and Windows Defender’s similar with generic machine learning detections.

The part that bugs me the most is I think protection comes first for zero-day heuristic detections, but some engines take the time to go back and add descriptive signature names while others don’t see to care. Heck there’s years-old malware that are still Trojan.GenericKD.
 

McMcbrad

Level 20
Oct 16, 2020
967
Yeah I suspect this trend will get worse. So far, ESET and Kaspersky are my favorites in terms of having descriptive signature names more consistently than others.

Symantec’s gotten pretty bad with AdvML.X AI based signatures too, and Windows Defender’s similar with generic machine learning detections.

The part that bugs me the most is I think protection comes first for zero-day heuristic detections, but some engines take the time to go back and add descriptive signature names while others don’t see to care. Heck there’s years-old malware that are still Trojan.GenericKD.
That's absolutely true, but they focus on dealing with the unknown, describing what's already known is not a priority. I also like Eset's clear names, as they remind me of Norton/Symantec before their fall... however, I would not overlook the fact that in 2020 they still haven't developed an effective behavioural blocker and expect me to use HIPS. Signatures are great, but we all know the issues that come when you rely too much on them.
 

Freud2004

Level 6
Jun 26, 2020
294
I use ESET for many years, independent what Virus test say, the actual detection rate and cleaning performance don't match Bitdefender or Kaspersky.
It's like Ronaldo and Messi, yes there are other good players, butt none cam compare with them.
Kaspersky and Bitdefender are the top of the line, F-secure is a very good solution but without firewall cannot be compared to this two solutions.

It's my opinion based on my experience.
 

McMcbrad

Level 20
Oct 16, 2020
967
I use ESET for many years, independent what Virus test say, the actual detection rate and cleaning performance don't match Bitdefender or Kaspersky.
It's like Ronaldo and Messi, yes there are other good players, butt none cam compare with them.
Kaspersky and Bitdefender are the top of the line, F-securer is a very good solution but without firewall cannot be compared to this two solutions.

It's my opinion based on my experience.
Saying that they can't compare you are just pushing it too far. There is a reason why I am comparing these two and not Nano Antivirus with Bitdefender. They are very close, but one of them is obviously better and that's Bitdefender.
 

MacDefender

Level 14
Verified
Oct 13, 2019
644
That's absolutely true, but they focus on dealing with the unknown, describing what's already known is not a priority. I also like Eset's clear names, as they remind me of Norton/Symantec before their fall... however, I would not overlook the fact that in 2020 they still haven't developed an effective behavioural blocker and expect me to use HIPS. Signatures are great, but we all know the issues that come when you rely too much on them.
Definitely agreeing with you there. ESET’s signatures are great but in terms of what I require to feel like I have defense in depth, both a dynamic behavior blocker and IDS/IPS are must-haves unless it’s something like a Surface Pro where every little bit of CPU usage means less battery life. I think both you and @SeriousHoax did a great job describing the strengths and weaknesses of both suites as a whole.

EDIT: The other thing I’d add is that ESET works closely with Google’s safe download screening, so in some sense you could already be having all your downloads scanned by ESET. Since ESET’s main purpose is static scanning, that might be reason to choose a different engine for local protection.
 

Freud2004

Level 6
Jun 26, 2020
294
Saying that they can't compare you are just pushing it too far. There is a reason why I am comparing these two and not Nano Antivirus with Bitdefender. They are very close, but one of them is obviously better and that's Bitdefender.

I agree with you.

When I give my opinion I try to be the most impartial possible, I have ESEt online scanner install in my system for second opinion, it's a solution that I like a lot, butt not the best:


1604705400912.png
 

McMcbrad

Level 20
Oct 16, 2020
967
Definitely agreeing with you there. ESET’s signatures are great but in terms of what I require to feel like I have defense in depth, both a dynamic behavior blocker and IDS/IPS are must-haves unless it’s something like a Surface Pro where every little bit of CPU usage means less battery life. I think both you and @SeriousHoax did a great job describing the strengths and weaknesses of both suites as a whole.

EDIT: The other thing I’d add is that ESET works closely with Google’s safe download screening, so in some sense you could already be having all your downloads scanned by ESET. Since ESET’s main purpose is static scanning, that might be reason to choose a different engine for local protection.
It's worth mentioning that ESET's resource usage has now gone up, so even that's not trully a valid argument anymore. I saw memory usage of >300 megs at times and same CPU usage as Bitdefender. So you won't see too much difference in performance either and Bitdefender has a battery mode, aimed at saving "some" additional juice. You can also temporarily configure Bitdefender to scan only apps and app files for additional performance benefit.

Edit: Yes, all files are getting pre-scanned by ESET via Chrome's built-in security, so by using someone else, you are adding an additional layer. This is something I should've mentioned in the review as well.
 
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McMcbrad

Level 20
Oct 16, 2020
967
I agree with you.

When I give my opinion I try to be the most impartial possible, I have ESEt online scanner install in my system for second opinion, it's a solution that I like a lot, butt not the best:


View attachment 248583
My next comparison will be Kaspersky vs Bitdefender, but I need to run quite a lot of tests before I conclude who's better. I will need at least 2 months for that.
 

Freud2004

Level 6
Jun 26, 2020
294
My next comparison will be Kaspersky vs Bitdefender, but I need to run quite a lot of tests before I conclude who's better. I will need at least 2 months for that.
I am not an expert butt I try to read all or see the most video comparison I can. No easy task that comparison, because they are so close that you start to go to subjective analyses like the GUI or other minor things.

In the site off Bitdefender they have this chart, so they admit that their product is very similar to Kaspersky, that comparison is no easy task:

1604705910502.png
 

McMcbrad

Level 20
Oct 16, 2020
967
I am not an expert butt I try to read all or see the most video comparison I can. No easy task that comparison, because they are so close that you start to go to subjective analyses like the GUI or other minor things.

In the site off Bitdefender they have this chart, so they admit that their product is very similar to Kaspersky, that comparison is no easy task:

View attachment 248584
I am already working on a pointing system that's gonna help me compare them. I am trying to come up with additional tests, I already look at many under-the-hood features not tested by labs. However, as we are really talking about the 2 kings here, I'll take my time perfecting many aspects of my tests.
 

Freud2004

Level 6
Jun 26, 2020
294
I am already working on a pointing system that's gonna help me compare them. I am trying to come up with additional tests, I already look at many under-the-hood features not tested by labs. However, as we are really talking about the 2 kings here, I'll take my time perfecting many aspects of my tests.

Good luck, and thanks for this comparison. If I disagree in something with you don't mean I don't recognize your effort to make this comparison, I liked a lot.
 

Cortex

Level 25
Verified
Aug 4, 2016
1,409
I'm sorry about this but the UI of BD is not something I want on a PC I own, many things in life need a pleasing UI including maybe the person we choose to live with, our car, decoration etc - Sometimes I do wonder if I tested a different BD than others a few weeks ago but I found it dreadful - Not the reason to choose an AV but it just puts it off my list along with McAfee for the same reason - I find ESET UI pretty good, it's always not been as good as the best in detection but light so suits some, for me I would choose neither of the two, superb review though ! :oops::oops:
 

McMcbrad

Level 20
Oct 16, 2020
967
I'm sorry about this but the UI of BD is not something I want on a PC I own, many things in life need a pleasing UI including maybe the person we choose to live with, our car, decoration etc - Sometimes I do wonder if I tested a different BD than others a few weeks ago but I found it dreadful - Not the reason to choose an AV but it just puts it off my list along with McAfee for the same reason - I find ESET UI pretty good, it's always not been as good as the best in detection but light so suits some, for me I would choose neither of the two, superb review though ! :oops::oops:
Thanks for your feedback. Which one would you choose and why?
By the way, Bitdefender changed their UI in 2021 and recently introduced dark mode, as well as new animations for vulnerability scanner, One-Click Optimiser and Shredder.
 
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