London-based BullGuard is an experienced security company which has been developing consumer antivirus software since 2002.
The 2020 range starts with BullGuard Antivirus, a Windows-based product with real-time virus protection, malicious URL filtering, and, surprisingly, a performance booster for games and other demanding full-screen applications.
BullGuard Internet Security 2020 adds a firewall, parental controls, cloud integrated backup (supports Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive) and basic PC optimization. It has builds available for Windows, Android and Mac.
The top-of-the-range BullGuard Premium Protection throws in a home network scanner, while a comprehensive identity protection service looks out for unauthorized use of your email, phone numbers, credit card details, passports, bank accounts and more.
All BullGuard 2020 editions include new machine learning technology, which the company says improves zero-day threat detection ‘without any impact on the computer’s resources and without the need for an internet connection.’
BullGuard’s VPN can be launched from the interface, too, although you’ll need to purchase a separate license to use it. Unlike Kaspersky, Bitdefender and others, BullGuard doesn’t have a limited free version of its VPN, or even a trial.
BullGuard 2020 Internet Security and Premium Protection also feature a major addition in its new Secure Browser, a customized version of Chromium which uses multiple layers of security to keep you safe online. Forced HTTPS connections and use of Cloudflare’s encrypted DNS over HTTPS makes it difficult for others to spy on your browsing, for instance. Malicious URLs are blocked, site certificates are checked, and your internet history is encrypted to keep it safe from snoopers.
BullGuard Internet Security is priced from a relatively low $60 for a three-device, one-year subscription. There’s no introductory discount on the site, so competitors can sometimes look cheaper, but you’ll usually win out in the long term. Bitdefender’s equivalent Internet Security suite is priced at $40 for year one, for instance, but renews at $80.
(We also noticed that our trial version regularly offered us 30% off as a ‘BUY NOW!’ incentive. We don’t know if that’s a permanent deal, but even if you’re sure you’re buying, install and run the trial first – it could save you a little cash.)
You can save even more money by adding devices and years. A ten device, three-year license costs just $282, for instance, or $9.40 per device per year.
A 30-day trial build gives you a quick and easy way to find out if this is the right antivirus for you. That should be long enough, but even if you run into problems later, you’re further protected by a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Some antivirus tuck their trial builds away, maybe hoping you’ll hit the Buy button instead. BullGuard is different. Scroll down the Internet Security website, reading about the product, and at the bottom you’ll find, in very large letters, ‘Haven’t decided yet? Now you can try it for FREE.’ We tapped the Download Now button and had the BullGuard Internet Security installer downloaded within seconds.
Like many competitors, BullGuard requires that you hand over your email to create an account before you can activate the trial, but that was also straightforward and there were no other setup hassles.
BullGuard Internet Security installed a long list of components on our test system. After rebooting, we found no less than eleven new background processes and some surprising extras, including an Outlook add-in (more on that later.)
While this looked a more heavyweight setup than many competitors, most of BullGuard’s various processes didn’t grab much in the way of RAM or other system resources, and we didn’t notice any significant impact on our system speed.
It’s important that an antivirus is able to prevent itself being disabled by malware. We tried deleting core BullGuard files, closing processes, stopping services and other tricks, but weren’t able to compromise our security. It was a good start, but then we uncovered a problem.
BullGuard Internet Security enables users to define exactly what they want to be checked in Quick and Full system scans, and we noticed these settings were stored in plain text files without any special protection. An attacker could replace the default settings with his own, turning off just about every scan option, greatly reducing the chance that they would detect anything at all.
As an example, running an initial Quick Scan on our review system with the default settings took around 7 minutes. After replacing the Quick Scan file with our own, where every possible scanning option was turned off, it checked so little that the scan was complete in about 5 seconds.
In another more serious problem, we were able to disable BullGuard’s file system filter driver with a single standard Windows command (requiring admin rights.) As a result, the package wasn’t able to detect malware as it was downloaded, unzipped or otherwise saved to, or opened from our hard drive.
It’s important to put these issues into perspective. The scan settings vulnerability only affected on-demand scans, for instance, leaving BullGuard’s real-time protection to work as usual, blocking threats as they appear. And even if an attacker also disabled the filter driver, BullGuard wasn’t left entirely defenseless. URL filtering would still block attempts to download malware from known dangerous sites, and the behavior monitoring layer remains constantly looking out for suspicious processes.
We raised our concerns with BullGuard, anyway, and the company responded quickly. It rolled out a fix for the filter driver issue almost immediately, closing the more serious security hole. The lesser scan settings issue had already been fixed in BullGuard’s Small Office Security product, the company explained, and the consumer products will get the same update in the next release.
We’re happy to accept that the risks here were largely theoretical. It would take some effort to exploit these vulnerabilities, and there’s not the slightest evidence that’s ever happened.
They still constitute worrying mistakes, though, especially leaving the filter driver unprotected. If BullGuard missed this issue, are there other problems it’s failed to spot? We have no idea, but it has to be a concern.
The BullGuard 2020 interface looks a little cluttered, with at least eight tiles representing its various features: Antivirus, Firewall, Vulnerabilities, Backup, Game Booster, PC Tune Up, Parental Controls and Secure Browser. (If you’ve got a BullGuard VPN account then you can launch that from the console, too.)
This approach works well in some ways. Every tile has a drop-down list of common functions, allowing users to run a Quick Scan, check for vulnerabilities, open the Secure Browser or perform other essential tasks directly from the main console. And icons indicate the status of each product area, ensuring you can see how your system is performing at a glance.
Still, this feels like a waste of valuable screen real estate. We suspect most users will leave the firewall, vulnerability scanner, PC Tuneup tool, and Game Booster to run entirely in the background, for instance, so why are those tiles taking up half the interface? It would make more sense for the console to focus on the tasks people carry out most often, and leave the more advanced options – like managing firewall rules – tucked away in a menu or behind a separate tab.
Whatever you might think of the BullGuard Internet Security interface, it’s not difficult to use. If you need to check your system, a drop-down list on the Antivirus tile displays the actions you can take – Quick Scan, Full Scan, Custom Scan, Quarantine, Settings – and you can launch any of these in a couple of clicks.
Hidden away in the Settings is an option to add further scan types, which BullGuard calls Antivirus Profiles. You could use this to create custom scans where you get precise control over which areas of the system are checked, the files to examine, the way the scan is run and what the program does if it finds any threats.
This is a valuable feature which gives you all kinds of options. You could create a scan which focuses on a key area of interest, perhaps folders of documents or executables, or network drives which might not be checked otherwise. You might be able to improve performance by excluding data-packed drives or folders you’re sure aren’t at risk, and you can experiment with some interesting low-level tweaks.
For instance, by default our review system used four threads for scanning. Reducing that would cut system load during a scan, while adding more threads might speed up the scan process, and BullGuard’s ability to play around with this setting will help you find the right value for you.
BullGuard also provides real-time protection, and for the most part that worked as we expected. Dangerous downloads were automatically scanned and blocked, for instance, and the package immediately detected malware we unpacked from a password-protected archive.
We noticed one limitation, though, in email scanning. BullGuard Internet Security doesn’t scan incoming emails at the network level, instead using email client add-ins (Outlook and Thunderbird are supported.) If you’re using another client, or the add-in doesn’t work or gets disabled, your emails won’t be checked.
If you read your emails in a browser, this won’t be an issue. And even if you’re affected, BullGuard’s real-time protection should detect and block any malicious attachments as soon as they’re saved or opened. Still, it could mean some users will lose a layer of security they’ll often get with other vendors.
In our brief tests, scan times proved fractionally shorter than average. They didn’t noticeably affect the performance of our system, either, and we were able to continue working without active scans getting in our way.
BullGuard supports a simple vulnerability scan, which checks your Wi-Fi security, auto-run settings for mobile devices, Windows Update status and whether your drivers are digitally signed. This isn’t exactly extensive, and we suspect competitors like Kaspersky and Avast are covering more areas, but if you have nothing similar, the scan could still give you genuinely useful information.
BullGuard Internet Security includes a firewall which blocks for network attacks, and sort-of controls access to your internet connection.
We say ‘sort of’ because although the firewall allows known safe processes to get online automatically, it asks the user about anything it doesn’t recognize. That’s an issue, both because it’s difficult for even experts to tell which processes are legitimate, and, if users are prompted like this regularly, it’s tempting to keep hitting the ‘it’s fine’ button without really paying attention. We prefer more intelligent firewalls, like Bitdefender and Kaspersky’s offerings, which make these decisions themselves.
Aside from this limitation, the firewall does a decent job, blocking most attacks and providing plenty of configuration options if you need them.
BullGuard Internet Security comes with a ‘cloud integrated’ backup feature. It’s an application, not a service – there’s no web space included – but otherwise it covers all the core basics.
Customizable backups enable choosing what you’d like to back up, for instance, from common user folders to whatever else you might need.
Backup destinations include your Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive holders, or your choice of external drive.
A simple scheduler enables running backups automatically, and there are a handful of useful settings covering compression, encryption and versioning.
There’s nothing too surprising here, and BullGuard’s backup can’t match the best of the freeware competition. But it works well enough for simple tasks, and having the app available from the same interface as the rest of the suite means it’s certainly convenient to use.
BullGuard’s Parental Controls module uses a range of tricks and technologies to protect your kids online.
Website filtering blocks sites by your choice of category (adult, social media, chat, gambling – 24 in total.) You’re also able to create custom whitelists and blacklists of sites which should never (or always) be blocked.
Application control enables blocking specific apps from running. The module covers a dated-looking list of chat apps by default (it includes Google Talk rather than Hangouts, for instance), but you can change that, or add any other apps you’d like to protect.
The Privacy control feature aims to prevent your child sharing key personal details online (names, phone numbers, credit card information, addresses and more.)
A flexible scheduler enables controlling access to the internet, or your entire PC, to a specific time of day or a maximum time limit.
Choose your preferred settings in all areas and you’re able to apply them to your child’s Windows user account.
BullGuard’s Mobile Security has its own features, including the ability to monitor pictures stored or received on your child’s phone, and an option to track where your child’s device is. But it doesn’t synchronize with the main Parental Control service, so for instance you can’t set up rules in one place that apply across all your child’s devices.
Much like BullGuard’s firewall and backup modules, the Parental Control module is mostly about the basics. It can perform some useful tasks, but demanding users are likely to be left wanting more.
BullGuard Internet Security 2020 now includes Secure Browser, a customized version of Chromium which the company says, ‘enables a safer way to browse the Internet and a much safer platform from which to make online payments.’
How is it safer, exactly? The website explains that Secure Browser doesn’t ‘load’ cookies or extensions, perhaps reducing the chance of any privacy leaks. Using Chromium as a base means you lose multiple layers of Google Chrome telemetry, too (optional features, like crash reporting, which send data back to Google.)
Secure Browser makes DNS requests using Cloudflare’s DNS over HTTPS. The added encryption makes it more difficult for snoopers to monitor your browsing, and it also limits MITM attacks where, for instance, a rogue wifi hotspot might redirect you to a malicious website.
The browser forces HTTPS connections where possible, and warns users about mixed content (HTTP content in an HTTPS page.)
BullGuard told us that ‘we also use the same engine in the secure browser as we do for Safe Browsing to help users avoid malicious websites.’
Elsewhere, cache encryption aims to prevent malicious programs from accessing browsing data. We noticed a very limited history leak – a log file included the domains we were accessing, though not the full URLs – but otherwise this worked well.
Secure Browser isn’t as sophisticated as Bitdefender’s Safepay. There’s no attempt to prevent malware taking screenshots, for instance. It doesn’t include a password manager or a virtual keyboard. There is still some value here, though, and this is only the first version – we expect more features will appear over time.
BullGuard’s Game Booster is an interesting tool which recognizes when games or other full-screen applications are running, and tries to improve their performance by giving them a greater share of system resources. Although this has nothing to do with antivirus or security, it’s aiming to tackle the idea that installing an antivirus will necessarily slow down your PC.
The Game Booster works by shifting user processes (and optionally, in this release, system processes) to use the same CPU cores, reducing their demands on your system resources and making a greater share available to the game.
It’s a smart idea, and independent testing has shown very positive results. Gaming rig builder ChillBlast benchmarked the game-related performance of BullGuard Internet Security against Kaspersky, AVG, Norton, McAfee and even Windows Defender. Not only did BullGuard deliver the best performance, it was even faster than a control system with no antivirus installed.
In other words, installing BullGuard Internet Security didn’t reduce gaming performance, it actually improved matters. We wouldn’t choose an antivirus based on that, alone – security issues should come first, after all – but it’s an interesting feature, and could be very appealing to some users.
PC Tune Up
BullGuard Internet Security includes several Windows cleanup and maintenance tools.
An Optimize feature can delete junk Windows and third-party files, clear your browser cache, remove invalid shortcuts and defragment the Registry. It’s easy to use, but the freeware CCleaner gave us more control and freed up more files on our test system (12.9GB vs 10.1.)
The Cleanup Helper can also remove junk files, though apparently less effectively (it didn’t find as many leftovers as the Optimize module.) It has a couple of handy bonus features, though. Drive maps graphically highlight the folders taking up the most space on your system, while the Large Files section lists, well, your largest files.
A Duplicate Files Finder scans your system for unnecessary copies of files. It’s useful, but basic and with limited options. You can’t choose to scan only a particular folder tree, for instance; the module scans your entire system every time, which means it can take a while to run.
The Boot Manager logs and displays the load times for your startup applications. There’s much more detail than you’ll get with Windows 10 Task Manager’s Startup Impact feature (see the Start-up tab, and it may help you diagnose slow boot times.
If all this sounds like too much hassle, no problem; tell PC Tuneup the type of junk you’d like to remove (browser caches, the contents of Temp folders, crash dump files and more) and it’ll remove them automatically.
None of this will change your world, and PC experts probably have better tools already. But for everyone else, BullGuard’s various speedup modules are easy to use and will do a fair job of cleaning up your system.
BullGuard isn’t assessed by many of the independent testing labs, these days. It hasn’t appeared in AV-Comparatives’ Real-World Protection Test since 2018, for instance.
AV-Test currently includes BullGuard Internet Security in its Windows antivirus reports, though, and they give us some useful pointers to its likely performance.
The September-October 2019 results saw BullGuard block 100% of well-known malware in both tests. The package also blocked 100% of zero-day threats in September, and 98.4% in October. While that’s very capable, nine vendors blocked 100% of threats in every test, leaving BullGuard in tenth place out of 19.
The company did better in some of the earlier 2019 reports, worse in others, and probably the best word to describe its performance is ‘mixed.’
These lab tests are lengthy and thorough, but they don’t always provide the specific information we need, and so we also assess antivirus packages by running smaller tests of our own.
BullGuard Internet Security had no problems with our first test, detecting malware samples without difficulty when they were downloaded or unzipped on our review system.
Our second more advanced test used a custom ransomware simulator which would attempt to encrypt thousands of documents on our system. By creating this threat ourselves, we ensured it wouldn’t be recognized from the file signature alone, making the program an interesting test of BullGuard’s behavior monitoring.
Unfortunately, BullGuard Internet Security appeared not to notice our threat at all, and paid no attention as it encrypted thousands of test files. We don’t mark down apps who fail to spot our simulator, because it’s not real malware and we can’t say why it wasn’t detected. But this was still a little disappointing, not least because BullGuard detected and blocked our simulator during its last review.
BullGuard Internet Security 2020 is decent value, configurable, and has an unusual extra in its Game Booster. But most of its features are on the basic side, and the security issues we found (now fixed) remain a concern. Factor in the mixed test results and the suite is hard to recommend right now, although the new engine might change that over the coming year.
- Another shield, a safer Internet for minors – OneNewsNow
- What’s the future of the internet — and society? – Technical.ly
- Astranis raises $90 million for its next-gen satellite broadband internet service – TechCrunch
- ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ proves the internet wrong – Houston Chronicle
- Gov. Mills: high-speed internet is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity – Knox VillageSoup – Courier-Gazette & Camden Herald
- New Report Finds Internet Users Overwhelmed by Identity Theft Worries – Yahoo Finance
- Never Mind the Internet. Here’s What’s Killing Malls. – The New York Times
- China to relax its internet restrictions for 100,000 students hit by Australia’s coronavirus travel ban – The Guardian
- Quarantine and chill? The internet is giving quarantined people a social outlet – Salon