ESET Antivirus Review


ESET's popularity and the trust of millions of users is certainly earned, due to what it can do to protect a computer against malware. Their NOD32 and other antivirus products look deceptively simple, which makes them accessible to inexperienced users, but they hide a set of highly effective and powerful features under their hood. The antivirus can protect you from all the nasty threats you have heard about, from simple viruses to ransomware or advanced exploits. It can really make you feel safe when you visit your favorite websites or try out new applications.

Named after the Egyptian goddess of health, marriage and love, ESET was founded in 1992 by the creators of the NOD antivirus program, Miroslav Trnka and Peter Paško, together with Rudolf Hrubý. By that time, the antivirus itself already had about five years of development and improvements kept on coming.

NOD32 had its first major moment in 1998, when it received the VB100 award from Virus Bulletin. Just one year after that, the Slovak company established its first subsidiaries in the United States. Today, the Bratislava-based company has offices and development facilities around the world, in six different countries and it serves over 110 million users world-wide.

Packages and features

ESET's flagship product has come a long way since its creation and there is more to find than just the NOD32 antivirus. There are three major packages to choose from, plus one package for cross-platform protection. Each package can be used on one Windows PC, but you can purchase additional licenses, for up to five machines, for a fraction of what the original license costs. While paying for each additional computer you want to protect may not seem like an attractive proposition to some people, the possibility of buying licenses for the exact number of machines you have is still a good touch.

  • NOD32 Antivirus

  • ESET's baseline antivirus product can shield you from the latest threats the Internet will throw at you, from basic malware to document-encrypting ransomware. Because it doesn't offer much in terms of special features, this package is more suitable for people who only want to protect their computers from viruses and other threats and it has to be said that it excels in this department.

    • Anti-phishing

      There are dangerous websites out there, which try to make you relinquish your username and password or other privileged information. Scams like these are not always obvious, but you don't have to worry about them, thanks to NOD32's Anti-phishing capabilities. The program will spot these malicious websites ahead of time and it will block them automatically, so you can surf the web safely, knowing that the sites you visit won't try to trick you out of your information or money.

    • Anti-spyware

      Spyware doesn't have a visible effect on your computer, but it can log everything you do, including the passwords or banking information you type. ESET's NOD32 can detect this type of program and remove them like any other threat, to make your computer a safe environment, in which you can log into your accounts and do whatever you want, without worrying that a stranger on the Internet may find out about your activities.

    • Anti-ransomware

      Though it doesn't appear on the program's user interface, this function can prevent ransomware from encrypting your important documents and holding them hostage until you pay a large sum of money. When it detects something trying to encrypt a file, the program will ask you if you have initiated this operation, before it allows it to continue, so you can spot and stop ransomware attacks as they occur and avoid having to pay someone to recover your personal data. The best part is that it has a whitelist of known encryption applications, so the antivirus won't bother you when you encrypt something yourself.

    • UEFI Scanner

      Something you don't see in every antivirus is ESET's UEFI Scanner, which prevents low-level attacks on your computer. It monitors the basic firmware that boots up the operating system on newer computers and it prevents unwarranted changes. Most users stay away from these basic configurations and with NOD32 on the job, you don't have to worry about basic changes that could affect your computer in a bad way.

    • Game Mode

      This feature makes the program work as silently as possible. If you wish to play a video game, watch a movie or enjoy some other form of entertainment, you can switch the antivirus to Game Mode, so you can enjoy yourself without being interrupted by any messages or routine scans.

  • Internet Security

  • This mid-range package is a good balance between price and features. The additional tools it provides add a few extra layers of security for when you surf the web or shop online. If you keep your computer for online activities, this package will make you feel much safer.

    • Two-way Firewall

      Though the latest Windows operating systems come with an adequate firewall, interacting with it is not as simple as one would like. ESET's Internet Security makes it much easier to control which applications may exchange data to and from the Internet. It takes a single click to create firewall rules, based on recurring application usage. If you launch a simple media player, you can immediately instruct the antivirus to prevent any online interactions for that application and the best part is that you only have to do this once for each application, because the program will remember your decisions.

    • Anti-spam

      Spam can be really annoying and it can lead to some rather unfortunate situations. The program is capable if identifying and blocking spam, in desktop email clients, without requiring too much user input. Thanks to this feature, you won't see any more messages about enlargement pills, miracle cures or once-in-a-lifetime business offers in your mailbox.

    • Email attachment scan

      Viruses can easily hide in files that are attached to emails. Fortunately, the program can scan these attachments for infections, so you can retrieve those pictures or important documents you have received by email, without worrying that it could lead to your system being damaged or your important files corrupted.

    • Connected Home Monitor

      The program can show you what devices are connected to your wireless network and it can also help you discover and patch vulnerabilities in each one. The advantage here is two-fold. If you live in a "smart home", with numerous devices, connected to a wireless network, you can make sure there are no openings for hackers to gain access to one or more devices and cause problems. Furthermore, because the Connected Home Monitor shows all devices on your network, you can figure out if your neighbors are leeching your Wi-Fi.

    • Safe Online Banking

      If you get a feeling of unease when buying something online, ESET can make it go away with its Safe Online Banking feature. It is essentially a hardened web browser, which uses only secure connections, doesn't keep any traces of your activity and blocks extensions by default. Because it comes with a list of banking websites, the program will automatically ask you if you wish to launch the secure browser when you visit them, so you can buy that new pair of shoes without worrying that your credit card details may end up in someone else's hands.

    • Webcam Protection

      A lot of people keep a piece of tape on their webcam's lens, out of fear that someone could be watching them. However, thanks to ESET's Webcam Protection, you can decide what applications may use your webcam. Anything outside that list won't be able to connect to your webcam, so you can make funny faces in front of your computer all you want, because you won't be seen by strangers on the Internet.

    • Parental Control

      If you have children, who use your computer regularly, ESET's Parental Control functions can help you enforce rules regarding what kind of content they can access and how much they can stay online or use your computer. You can easily block violent or adult websites, so you won't end up having "that discussion" with your children.

    • Anti-theft

      If your computer or laptop gets stolen, ESET's Anti-theft functionality can help you find the culprit. As long as the machine is powered on and connected to the Internet, you will know its location and all about the thief's activities on your device.

  • Multi-Device Security Pack

  • This is essentially ESET's Internet Security package. It has the exact same features, but it also includes licenses for Mac, Linux and Android. If you have something else besides a Windows PC, this package is the one to get. You can have the same robust antivirus scanning engine and special features, to protect a Windows-powered computer, a Mac, and Android smartphone or tablet and even a computer that's running Linux.

  • Smart Security Premium

  • ESET's top-shelf package brings a few extra features, to protect the private information you have on your computer. It also includes everything from NOD32 and Internet Security, so this is the complete protection package from ESET. Like the previous products, it can be used on a single Windows machine, but licenses for additional computers come at a much lower price and you can go up to ten computers.

    • File Encryption

      Hiding an important document in a deep folders structure is not how data protection works. If you really don't want other people to open and read your sensitive files, you can use Smart Security Premium's encryption tool to render the them unreadable. The program uses a powerful encryption algorithm to lock your files, so without your password, no one will be able to open them and read your banking details or your secret cake recipe.

    • Password Manager

      Names or birth dates are not good passwords, because anyone who knows a bit about you could guess them. Thanks to the program's built-in Password Manager, there will be no more writing down passwords on a piece of paper, or using simple ones so you can remember them. This tool can generate long and complex passwords and keep them in a secure database and the best part is that it can help you log into your accounts on the fly, without typing anything.

    • Virtual Keyboard

      The Virtual Keyboard's functionality should be fairly obvious. It's an on-screen keyboard, which you can use to type by clicking each letter. By using this different input method, keyloggers won't be able to capture anything you write, so you can fill in your credit card details safely, knowing that they won't end up in a thief's hands.

Installation and setup

All packages can be installed through a small setup package, which, in turn, downloads and installs the main program. There are no special requirements you have to meet, but you should make sure you don't have another third party antivirus installed, to avoid conflicts. You will have to fill in your activation key during the setup process, after which you may create an online account, which is optional, but recommended.

It takes only a few minutes to complete the installation process and you won't encounter any confusing options along the way. The setup wizard will offer to scan for potentially unwanted applications on your computer, which is definitely a good touch and it shouldn't prolong the installation process too much. You can do away with applications and browser toolbars you didn't ask for, as you install the antivirus.

Once the program is installed and updated, you can start scanning your computer for virus infections right away or you can look over the tools it has to offer. ESET is not known to cause conflicts with third party, non-antivirus software, so you don't have to give up on your favorite apps.

User Experience

On the surface, it looks like ESET doesn't have too much to offer, but it actually has a wide range of tools, depending on what package you have picked. You can explore several sections of the user interface, starting with the Home screen, where you will find the company's mascot robot, along with a message that you are protected. Of course, the message will read differently if you have any problems on your computer, so you will immediately know if there is anything that requires your attention, from the moment you open up the user interface.

The Home screen also displays three options for starting a scan and for quick access to the secure browser and the Connected Home Monitor. This means that all major operations can be carried out without leaving the Home screen. Just open the program's interface and click an option to initiate a scan or launch the secure browser, to safely shop online.

If you need to make use of other tools or configure certain security modules, you can easily navigate to the other sections of the interface and access the tools you need or make the settings you want, without any kind of difficulties. Also, certain features work exclusively in the background, so you don't need to worry if you don't see them mentioned on the Interface. For example, while an anti-ransomware functionality is included in all packages, you won't see any related options on the interface, but you can be sure that ESET won't let any malicious software encrypt your important files and hold them hostage.

Though ESET doesn't provide an option for performing a quick scan, you still get options for scheduling automatic scans, scanning removable media, like external hard drives or USB flash drives, as well as an option for running a custom scan, if you want to check specific files or folders for infections. Alternatively, you can just drag and drop your files in a special box, in the interface's "Computer scan" section, if you want to scan them.

The bonus utilities that are included in Internet Security and Smart Security Premium can be found in the Tools section. They are fairly easy to master, thanks to ESET's modern and user-friendly design. For example, if you wish to scan and secure your home network, the Connected Home Monitor will show you large icons for each connected device, around your main computer. Also, the icons may appear further or closer to your computer, depending on how far they are from your router. Furthermore, if there are any vulnerabilities on one or more devices, the program will mark their icons appropriately, to draw your attention to them.

Unless there is an imminent danger, that requires your immediate attention, ESET won't bother you too much, so you can still carry out your daily tasks or enjoy a good movie. Furthermore, switching the program to Game Mode will make it completely silent. You can participate in epic raids with your friends, without any kind of interruptions from the antivirus. Also, thanks to the automatic updates and scan scheduling options, you will barely have to interact with the program at all.

Scanning and detection

Like all major antivirus solutions on the market, ESET comes with a multi-layer defense system against malware, Trojans, spyware, ransomware and many other threat types. Besides matching files to known virus signatures, the program also watches out for suspicious behavior on your computer, through the use of heuristic analysis. This will keep you safe even from the latest virus threats, that haven't been documented yet. If you encounter such a threat, the program will upload it to the LiveGrid cloud lab for analysis, after which all 110 million ESET users will receive an update, so they can protect themselves from this new threat more effectively.

  • Antivirus Scanning

    ESET lets you choose from several scanning methods. Although there is no option for a quick scan, the regular scan doesn't take long to complete and it will still identify malware infections, regardless if they are in usual locations or hidden deep in your operating system. If you are in a hurry and don't want to wait for a full scan, you can make use of the program's custom scan options to quickly check the executables or documents you intend to open and make sure they are safe.

    ESET also comes with dedicated options for scanning external drives. If you receive important data on a USB flash drives or other removable drives, you can check that device at a moment's notice. You can avoid malware infections, which could lead to anything, from corrupted files to stolen information, by simply running a brief scan when you plug an external drive into your computer.

  • Real-time Protection

    Like most antivirus programs, ESET doesn't stay idle when you're not actively scanning for threats. It constantly checks for infections, especially in the files you interact with. When you open a document or launch an application, you can be sure that nothing dangerous will spread to your system. The best part is that your regular operations won't be affected. You won't notice anything when you open a safe file, but you will get a warning if the file you are about to open is infected.

    The program's protection doesn't stop at files and applications. You will also be protected against various online threats. Figuring out which website is legitimate or not isn't always as simple as you'd expect, but thanks to ESET's capabilities, you won't have to worry about such things. If the website you are about to visit contains something malicious, that could reach your computer, or if it tries to trick you into giving away your passwords or credit card details, the program will block it immediately and it will warn you of the danger. This enables you to surf the web as usual and discover new and interesting websites, without worrying that they could hide something harmful.

  • Behavior Analysis

    Comparing files to existing virus signatures is the basic method of detecting and preventing infections, but it's not enough to protect you from freshly created malware. Fortunately, ESET incorporates a heuristic analysis system, which constantly monitors your computer for virus-like behavior. If a piece of malware doesn't match with anything in the signatures database, it can still be picked up, if it tries to carry out unsanctioned modifications in your system. You may unknowingly run a an infected application, without triggering any warnings, but it won't take long until you will see it shut down and deleted right before your eyes, because it tried to infect other files on your computer.

    ESET's LiveGrid can confirm if a suspicious file is indeed a virus and it can help other users protect against it more effectively. When the program detects a suspicious file, it will upload it to the LiveGrid cloud lab for analysis and if it turns out to be a new threat, all 110 million ESET users will receive an update. As a result, whenever you or other users encounter that specific threat again, the program will block it immediately, instead of letting it run for a few seconds, before it attempts to infect your files.

  • UEFI Scanner

    Though not as common as other threats, certain forms of malware can affect a computer at a basic level, by making changes to the UEFI, the interface that replaces the old BIOS. Regular users don't bother looking over this interface, while some of them don't even know it exists, which can make a malware attack at this level difficult to spot. Fortunately, ESET can guard the UEFI against unsanctioned changes. If you don't feel comfortable accessing your computer's basic settings, you can rest assured, knowing that ESET will prevent unwanted changes, so you don't have to access the UEFI yourself and risk doing something wrong.

System Performance

Minimum system requirements:

CPU: 1GHz or higher
RAM: 512MB (1GB for Win Vista x64)
Disk space: 320 MB

Obviously, the more resources your computer has, the better, but you can still run ESET on lower-end computers. On a modern-day system, the program doesn't have a noticeable performance impact. You can use your computer comfortably, even when actively scanning for viruses, so you don't have to interrupt your regular tasks.

When you're not scanning, ESET's background activities won't slow down your system by more than 4%, which brings the program very close to the best performing antiviruses on the market. A good performance score can also be seen when running a virus scan. In this situation, your normal operations will be slowed down by roughly 18%, which is perfectly reasonable. Though there are better scores with other products, the difference is only marginal and ESET is still a long way ahead of many other well-regarded security solutions.

You can still run programs, copy files or even watch a movie, while the program is scanning your system for virus infections. What's more, you won't have to wait for too long to finish scanning. When you run a scan for the first time, it will take just over half an hour to complete the operation, which is significantly faster than the average of 45 minutes of most antiviruses. What's more, ESET keeps learning which files it can safely ignore, which makes subsequent scans much faster. After two or three scans, the time it takes to complete the operation will settle down to about 10 minutes, which ensures ESET's position among the fastest and best-performing antivirus programs.

Support and Customer Service

ESET's technicians can help you with any problems you may run into. If you have trouble installing or activating your product or if you have technical issues, you can get someone to help you solve them. Although phone calls are taken only within business hours and there is no live web chat, you can still send them an email at any time. What's more, ESET offers a wealth of information and instructions on their website.

If you don't want to wait until someone can help you with your problem, you should have a look at the support section, on ESET's website, where you will find step-by-step installation and activation instructions for each package, as well as numerous tips for solving virus-related issues, activation errors, login problems and more. You can also find a huge video library, with tutorials and other step-by-step guides.

Value for the Money

ESET can be counted among the few antivirus programs which you can count on to protect your system from virus attacks, without making it run slower and disrupt your daily activities. Though its pricing model may not sound too attractive to some users, you can still find some good bargains if you plan to get an ESET license. Furthermore, you can't ignore the smart and effective scanning and detection capabilities, which you get regardless of how much you intend to spend.

The virus scanning engine can certainly hold its own when competing with other security solutions. With high scores and certifications from AV-Test and various awards from AV-Comparatives, ESET has earned its spot among the top antivirus products. Furthermore, the reports coming in from SE Labs show ESET with near-perfect scores, which brought it a well-earned AAA rating.

The antivirus packages on offer are well tailored to specific user categories, so it can be quite easy to pick the one that is right for you. Also, ESET lets you buy a license for the exact number of computers you want to protect, so you won't end up with unused licenses.

NOD32 Antivirus

The baseline antivirus package doesn't offer much in terms of special tools, but it does offer the same powerful virus scanning engine that comes with all other packages. It is a good pick for single users, who only wish to make sure their computers won't get a virus, but it also works as a good security system for the family computer, in smaller households.

Internet Security

Unlike other security suites with the same name, this one is actually tailored specifically to Internet use. If you spend most of your time online, you will be much safer with the improved Firewall controls, Anti-spam, network scanner and other useful tools, included in this package. Family use is definitely a good reason to get this package, since its webcam protection and parental controls can keep your children safe from all the dangers that lurk on the Internet. Also, the Connected Home Monitor is a must-have, if you have a large number of smart devices on your home network.

Multi-Device Security Pack

Though it doesn't bring anything new in terms of functionality, the Multi-Device Security Pack is the solution you will need, if your work involves using more than just a Windows-powered computer or laptop. Besides all the features from Internet Security, you also get additional licenses, for protecting a Mac, and Android mobile device, as well as a Linux-based machine. It doesn't sound too attractive for regular users, but professionals, who work on the aforementioned platforms, will certainly opt for this package.

Smart Security Premium

Aimed at protecting sensitive information on Windows-powered computers, this package is an excellent pick for people who take their work with them and need to protect valuable company files. The included file encryption utility and password manager can give you the peace of mind you need if you have to log into work-related accounts and handle important documents.

Final Verdict

ESET is certainly worth keeping in mind when looking for an antivirus for your computer. Though there is room for a few more features, you won't feel that your protection system is lacking something essential. If you also add its user-friendly design and intuitive controls, you will agree that ESET is a worthy contender on the antivirus market.

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