Jeremy Laukkonen is automotive and tech writer for numerous major trade publications as well as the creator of a popular blog and video game startup. A fan of EVs since the early 2000s, he stays up-to-date on the myriad complex systems that power battery electric vehicles.
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Independent lab verification
Protects more than just viruses
Good multi-device pricing structure
Includes encryption but no shredding
Expensive single-device plan
ESET Smart Security Premium is a competent antivirus with a great set of tools, but it doesn’t add enough value compared to the less expensive ESET antivirus products.
ESET is a Slovakian-based security company that doesn’t have the same mind share or cachet as the bigger names in the industry, but their NOD antivirus engine has a track record that stretches back to the early '90s. The modern NOD32 engine forms the core of each of ESETs security offerings, and its performance is backed up by very favorable independent lab results. Beyond the basics, each of ESET’s more advanced antivirus suites add features such as a firewall, parental controls, and a password manager. Bona fides like those demand careful consideration, which we afforded through rigorous hands-on testing with the flagship ESET Smart Security Premium antivirus suite.
ESET Smart Security Premium, like all ESET products, uses the NOD32 antivirus engine, which uses a combination of signature-based virus detection and advanced heuristics to identify emergent threats.
Like other signature-based antivirus engines, NOD32 uses a database of known virus signatures to identify and root out established threats. By analyzing the files on your computer, and files that you download, and looking for similarities to known viruses, it’s able to find infected files and either cut out the malicious code or remove the offending files if less drastic remediation isn’t possible.
Unlike standard antivirus engines, NOD32 also uses advanced heuristics to identify a wide variety of other types of malware, including brand new threats. This function also looks for signs of potential infection, but it’s actually capable of observing suspicious files within a sandboxed environment. If the file behaves like spyware, ransomware, or any other type of malware, it’s unable to harm your computer due to being trapped in the sandbox environment. ESET can then eliminate the threat before it causes any problems.
There is no option to run a quick scan manually, which is the type of scan that most antivirus suites default to. Some users will be put off by this omission, although ESET Smart Security Premium does automatically scan operating memory after each update.
ESET Smart Security Premium has a surprisingly light footprint, based on both lab testing and our own hands-on experience.
The basic scan is actually a full scan that thoroughly inspects every local disk you have installed in your computer, and then cleans any threats that are detected during that process. This scan can take a very long time depending on how many hard drives you have and how much data you have stored.
In addition to the basic scan, you can also choose to perform a custom scan or removable media scan. The removable media scan allows you to check flash drives and memory cards, while the custom scan provides fine control over scan locations.
With the custom scan, you can actually choose to run a fast scan of just operating memory or boot sectors, which is a nice option that’s a bit buried in menus. You can also opt to scan a specific drive, including any network drive that you’re connected to.
ESET’s NOD32 specializes in viruses, but its advanced heuristic capabilities help it root out a variety of other types of malware, including spyware, ransomware, and other malicious files and programs. According to independent testing from AV Comparatives, it’s capable of catching and removing about 90 percent of malware threats with very few false positives.
ESET has a user interface that’s fairly easy to get a handle on. The home screen of the app isn’t very functional, as it just displays an image of their robot mascot and some information about the features that are available from the specific version of the software that you have installed. The home screen also has a handful of clearly defined links that lead to the virus scanner, manual updater, additional tools, and setup options.
The computer scan option is the star of the show, as this section is where you can activate the virus scanner. It includes an area where you can drag and drop suspicious files, a link to activate the basic scan, and a link to access more advanced scans.
Additional tools, including the password manager, anti-theft protection, data encryption, and banking protection are all accessed through the tool menu. Clicking an option opens it up in the same window, resulting in a clean user experience that’s easy to navigate.
Virus signature database updates are available on a daily basis, and ESET automatically checks for updates every hour. Users can set a custom schedule to check as frequently as every 10 minutes, or go up to 44 days between checks. You can also turn off the automatic update feature and initiate updates manually.
In order to keep on top of cutting edge malware, ESET uses its LiveGrid cloud-based threat detection system. When this system detects unknown malware on a device, it transmits the specifics to ESET for analysis and rapid inclusion in their threat database.
ESET Smart Security Premium has a surprisingly light footprint, based on both lab testing and our own hands-on experience. Over a week of testing, we noticed no impact on system performance with the ESET antivirus suite running in the background, and very little impact during active scans.
Our one complaint is that after the initial scan completed, Chrome immediately crashed on our test system. It could have been a coincidence, but our research found a number of ESET users complaining about similar crashes.
NOD32 is ESET’s basic antivirus that’s laser-focused on identifying and removing viruses and other malware, and there are two products built on that base.
The first improvement over the basic NOD32 is ESET Internet Security, which adds banking protection and a network monitor for smart home devices. It also adds a basic firewall, phishing protection, parental controls, botnet protection, and anti-theft measures.
ESET has a user interface that’s fairly easy to get a handle on.
We tested ESET Smart Security Premium, which adds a password manager and an encryption tool that you can use on folders and USB drives.
Each version of ESET’s antivirus suite adds value through additional tools, although some are more useful than others. The biggest problem is that the version we tested, Smart Security Premium, just doesn’t add enough value compared to ESET Internet Security. The password manager is very basic, and the encryption tool has a glaring flaw. While it works just fine, there is no option to shred the original, unencrypted files. If you want to do that, you’ll need an additional file shredding utility.
Support is available through the ESET website, or directly through the app. You have the option to contact support via email, a web-based live chat system, or phone. The live chat system and phone support are both available Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific Time.
If you have trouble outside business hours, or on the weekend, the app provides links to a knowledge base to help with basic problems and a FAQ-style page that answers a lot of basic questions.
Priced at $59.99 for a single device license, ESET Smart Security Pro is positioned in the middle of the road for this type of antivirus suite. Each additional device only costs $10 more, so the pricing is much more attractive if you have multiple devices to protect.
The main problem with the pricing on Smart Security Pro is that NOD32 is available for $39.99 per month, and Internet Security costs $49.99 per month. Since Smart Security Pro only adds a basic password manager and an encryption tool with no shredder, it’s difficult to justify the additional expense.
ESET Smart Security Pro compares favorably to most of the competition in terms of bug squashing prowess, but you can get the same protection from the much less expensive NOD32 product. In terms of pricing and extra features, ESET measures up somewhat less favorably against a comparable antivirus suite like McAfee Total Protection.
ESET and McAfee provide a similar level of protection from malware, with both providing an over 99 percent protection rate when connected to the internet in recent testing from AV Comparatives. McAfee performed worse when not connected to the internet, with an offline detection rate of 83.7 percent versus 97.6 percent for ESET.
ESET’s antivirus products are more user friendly, but McAfee wins out in terms of features. For example, ESET Smart Security Pro allows you to encrypt files, but it doesn’t have a shredder to securely destroy the originals. MaAfee Total Protection also includes an option to encrypt files, and it also has a built-in shredder to destroy the originals or any other files you need to get rid of.
McAfee also has more attractive pricing, starting at $19.99 for a single device, although that price is only good for your first two years. After that, McAfee Total Protection is significantly more expensive than ESET Smart Security Premium.
ESET Smart Security Premium is a great antivirus, but realistically, you can get that same protection from ESET Internet Security or NOD32 for less money. Although it performed relatively well, the default scan was slow and we feel the feature-poor password manager and an encryption tool without a file shredder isn't worth the extra money.
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