Known for being a power user's antimalware tool, Kaspersky has quietly evolved its Kaspersky Internet Security software ($80 for a one-year, three-PC license, as of 12/2/2010) into a somewhat kinder, gentler application more suitable for the masses.
While it's eased up on the geekspeak--some earlier versions were more geared toward advanced PC users--the company has not traded down its well-known rock-solid security. Its overall performance rating in our tests earned it second place, behind only Norton Internet Security 2011's top score.
Across the board, the figures were good but not exemplary. Kaspersky managed to block 23 out of 25 of real-world attacks--a very good score, but behind the leaders. It also detected 95.7 percent of known, recently released malware. These numbers don't flirt with 100 percent detection as some of its competitors have, but they're about par for the course. Kaspersky was better at avoiding false positives, and it was nearly tops when it came to removing malware from an already infected machine. Finally, Kaspersky operates at quite a clip, earning it solid marks for performance in both on-demand and on-access system scanning. (The on-access scanner kicks in when you open or save a file to disk; you start the on-demand scanner manually.)
Turning to the main Kaspersky interface, the look is clean and well-designed, and it feels inviting to the novice. That said, the way the company splits up its home screen is curious: What will the average user make of the differences among "Files and Private Data Protection," "System and Applications Protection," and "Online Security"? After all, we live in a world where these three things are rapidly blurring together, and I can't fathom a user who would want, say, his documents protected from viruses, but not his applications. Kaspersky muddies things further by putting IM, Mail, and even Web settings in the System and Applications Protection section, as well as Online Security. Will users wonder if they need to configure things twice?
Then there is Kaspersky's bizarre decision to include a Windows Gadget as part of its install. This large orb sits on your desktop but basically just takes up space. Fortunately, it's easy to turn off.
Installation is another sore spot. After downloading an initial 100MB file from the company's Website, we were prompted in the middle of the installation to download an update--another 100MB file--via a somewhat convoluted process. Updates during the install process are common in this market, but you shouldn't have to download an entirely new set of installation files. Even less excusable: Kaspersky won't install at all unless you register it with an e-mail address.
These quibbles aside, we were thrilled to see a couple of uncommon add-ons as part of the default Kaspersky Internet Security installation. First is a Safe Run for Applications mode, a sandbox system that lets you run potentially dangerous applications without fear of infecting the machine. This isn't the fastest process around, but if it's a tool you think you'll need--as when mom sends that holiday e-greeting card and you just can't bring yourself to hit delete--it can be a real savior. Also worth noting is the app's Anti-Banner system, which effectively scrubs ads from your Web browser while you surf.
All in all, Kaspersky is one of the more expensive applications in this roundup, but its solid security and thoughtful extras arguably make it worth the extra cash.