Since the dawn of the Internet, security suites have been a necessary evil to fend off the growing threat of spyware, malware, viruses, crackers and spoofing. Of course, they're never a good substitute for the use of safe practices based upon an up-to-date knowledge of current computing security issues, but they provide a sensible compromise for the majority of us who don't have time to keep abreast of every security development as it happens.

As with any product sold on the basis of fear, many such suites are keen to tell you what a good job they're doing, rather than concentrating on getting the job done. It's common to see repeated pop-up messages, desktop branding and constant reminders that your security suite is keeping you protected. Not only is this an irritant that confuses novice users, but it also lulls users into a false sense of security, because no suite can provide total protection against emerging threats.

Bullguard is refreshingly different in this respect. You receive Windows-style balloon messages when the firewall blocks events, but the only desktop modifications are a shortcut and a System tray icon. Some of its big-name competitors could learn a thing or two about modesty from Bullguard. This doesn't mean that the suite is short on features.

Bullguard 8.0 provides the familiar protection against viruses and spyware. It includes a firewall that's easy to configure and a spam filter to protect email received using Outlook, Outlook Express or Thunderbird.

Online backup

A notable improvement over many security suites is the inclusion of an online backup module. Ensuring that you have a safe copy of your important data is the cornerstone of good security. If your data becomes mangled by an infection, you can start again with a fresh installation and restored data. Yet until recently, this wasn't a feature offered by most security suites. Improved bandwidth and cheap online storage have made this easier to provide, but it's still a laudable development.

You'll need a broadband connection to make use of the back-up module and you have to set up an account with Bullguard. Trial users receive 100MB of back-up space, but if you buy Bullguard then you're given a year's subscription and 5GB of backup space. If you need any more then you can upgrade to a Silver or Gold subscription, which provide 7GB or 15GB respectively. These cost £55 or £95 depending on which one you choose.

Infections and irritants

The anti-virus and anti-spyware module is combined, so that a scan of your machine covers both sets of nasties. By default, you're protected by real-time monitoring and automatic updating. The firewall comes preconfigured to cover most Internet use patterns, but you can override this and set complex rules.

The Spamfilter inserts a block button in your email client and it works collaboratively with other Bullguard users. When you identify a message as spam, other users benefit from your identification and vice versa. You can set up whitelists of addresses that you want to receive messages from and blacklists for senders to block.

Bullguard's main competition comes from Norton Internet Security and McAfee's suite. The former has no online backup, while the latter includes it but at a significantly higher price. Bullguard gives the closest thing you'll get to complete protection while retaining a user-friendly approach and an affordable price.