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ESET Antivirus solutions review

Highly configurable security with some expert-level features

ESET 2022 Antivirus Solutions Hero
(Image: © ESET)

TechRadar Verdict

ESET NOD32 Antivirus has mixed independent testing lab results and it's not always easy to use, but experienced users will appreciate its advanced features and low-level configurability.

Pros

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    Minimal performance impact

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    Highly configurable

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    Expert-level device control

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    Covers up to 10 devices for 3 years

Cons

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    Mixed results from testing labs

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    Not many features

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    Was vulnerable to malware attacks (but issues now fixed)

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    ESET Internet Security is only a little more expensive

Please note

This is our all-in-one roundup reviewing every ESET consumer security solution for 2022. On this page, after our brief intro, you’ll find

(a) a full evaluation of the entry-level ESET NOD32 Antivirus, along with our reviews of the additional features incorporated with the rest of the range: 

(b) ESET Internet Security, and

(c) the top-end package ESET Smart Security Premium

You can jump to the reviews of those individual products by clicking on the links in the bar at the top of this page, but bear in mind that this article is really designed to be read all the way through, as the features of ESET NOD32 Antivirus are also present in the higher-level security suites, of course.

Bratislava-based ESET was founded by a group of friends some 30 years ago to market their NOD antivirus (opens in new tab) software. These days it has a broad portfolio of products covering all the major platforms, and is used by 110 million customers all around the world.

ESET's home user range begins with  ESET NOD32 Antivirus (opens in new tab),a stripped-back product which focuses on the antivirus, anti-phishing and anti-ransomware basics. But there's still a major plus in that it supports Windows, Mac and Linux devices (many baseline antivirus products are now Windows-only).

Prices start at $40 for single device, one-year license. That's not bad, but it's missing any introductory discount; Bitdefender Antivirus Plus and Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security are both priced at $20 in year one, before they also rise to $40 on renewal.

You can extend the license to cover five devices over up to three years, but that doesn't make ESET much more competitive. A five-device, three-year NOD32 Antivirus license is $160 in term one, for instance, $240 on renewal; Bitdefender has no initial discount, but then it's cheaper from the start at only $150.

ESET Internet Security (opens in new tab) adds a spam filter, parental controls, and a secure browser to protect online banking transactions. The package enables blocking unauthorized apps from accessing your webcam, while an anti-theft feature (Windows-only) could help find your missing laptop.

There are multiple layers of network security, including a firewall, monitoring for dangerous traffic patterns, and a Connected Home Monitor which scans your home devices for vulnerabilities. ESET Internet Security also adds Android support to its Windows and Mac coverage.

Prices start from a reasonable $50 for a single device, one-year license, and rise to a more costly $180 ($270 on renewal) outlay to cover five devices over three years. That's similar to other big-name vendors. Bitdefender Internet Security covers a single device for only $25 in year one, for instance, but it's $60 on renewal; a five-device, three-year Kaspersky Internet Security license is $135 initially, $270 on renewal.

ESET Smart Security Premium (opens in new tab) extends the suite a little more with a password manager and encryption for your files and folders. It also gets you a new LiveGuard feature which Webroot says can 'proactively discover and stop never-before-seen types of threat.' (Sounds great, though we expected the lesser packages to do that.)

The package starts at only a marginally more expensive $60 for a one-year subscription, and a five device, three-year license costs $220 for the first term, $330 on renewal.

Once again, there are much better deals around. For example, Bitdefender Total Security's ten-device, three-year license is $161 in term one, $230 on renewal.

ESET NOD32 Antivirus

Installation

(Image credit: ESET)

Installing ESET NOD32 Antivirus is straightforward: hand over your email address, choose a few key settings (would you like the app to detect potentially unwanted programs, are you happy to share data about how you use the program with ESET?), and it's up and running.

After installation is complete, ESET NOD32 Antivirus automatically launches a full system scan. That might not always be convenient, but it doesn't grab many resources, and we were able to continue using our review system as usual. (You can cancel the scan, too, if this really is a bad time.)

If you enabled the 'check potentially unwanted programs' feature, there's a chance you'll get more warnings than you expected. We were repeatedly warned about uTorrent (opens in new tab) and other legitimate apps, for instance.

ESET's executables and data files grab around 750MB of hard drive space, relatively high for a plain antivirus package, but we only noticed a single main background process. 

Running top benchmark PCMark Professional before and after installation showed NOD32 had no significant impact on our system performance. That's good news: most antivirus saps your speeds by a percentage point or two, and Sophos Home Premium cut our score by more than 5%.

AV-Comparatives' October 2021 Performance Test (opens in new tab) covers more areas than our tests, but is still mostly positive, placing ESET 5th out of 17 for minimal impact on system performance.

Self-protection

Malware (opens in new tab) sometimes tries to disable antivirus before launching a full-scale infection attempt, so security software must know how to protect itself.

We test this by simulating various attacks on a Windows antivirus - deleting files, stopping processes, closing internet connections, disabling filter drivers, tweaking settings and more - and checking whether our protection was compromised.

These tests highlighted a couple of significant issues. One attack managed to turn off a key part of ESET's real-time file monitoring, and a second effectively disabled all ESET's protective layers.

That has to be a concern for us, especially as most antivirus apps detect and block all our hacking attempts. But there are other factors to consider.

There's no evidence anyone has ever exploited these weaknesses, for instance. An attacker couldn't compromise your system unless they got you to run code with administrator rights. Even then, ESET suggests that code might be detected and blocked (that wasn't our experience, but we can't rule it out.)

What's more, when we reported our findings to ESET, the company responded quickly, accepting the issues, fixing one almost immediately and putting plans in place to address the other. That's a far better result than we've seen with some of the competition.

Overall, we still have to count this as a negative for the product: an antivirus must be able to protect itself from malware. But we don't consider it a disaster, either. This risk was always a theoretical one, and ESET's rapid response not only means NOD32 is more malware-proof than it was pre-review, it also gives us confidence that the company will speedily address any other issues in future.

AV UI

(Image credit: ESET)

Interface

ESET NOD32's interface works much like many other antivirus apps: a simple dashboard displays your current security status, you can launch a full system scan with a click, and there is a sidebar which enables browsing the program's other features and tools.

This is clear and straightforward, and even the greenest of security newbies should quickly feel at home. But don't be fooled, there's more to the app than you might think.

The dashboard window is resizable, for instance, and many panels will rearrange their layouts to make best use of the available interface. It's a smart touch which reduces scrolling and makes it easier to more comfortably view complicated reports.

Log Files

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Exploring the interface further, we found some surprisingly powerful features. The Log Files panel may look like an ordinary table of recent antivirus events, but then we right-clicked, and a menu appeared with a host of powerful spreadsheet-style tools: filtering by multiple parameters, copy and delete options, search tools, exporting to multiple formats.

There are some interface inconsistencies. The Log window supports right-clicking items and pressing Ctrl+A and Ctrl+C to copy everything; the Processes window has no right-click menu, and pressing Ctrl+A only selects the first item in the list.

ESET's interface is still more interesting than most of the competition, though. If you're a technical type, be sure to left-click every link and right-click every object to get a feel for what it can do.

Antivirus

ESET's scan types are more limited than most of the competition: there are just Full System, Removable Devices and Custom scans (the latter checks your choice of files, folders or drives).

There's no Quick Scan, at least as standard. You can create scan profiles to run more limited checks, but it's far from intuitive, and unless you go exploring ESET's menus you may never realize the option exists.

UI Scanning

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The app scanned our test 50GB of executables in 33:23 minutes, for the first run, 10:21 for the second. Most antivirus take 15-50 minutes for the initial scan, so that's a reasonable mid-range time.

AV UI Settings

(Image credit: EST)

If you'd like to speed up scanning, or otherwise tweak your protection, it's well worth browsing the Settings box. An array of expert-level options covers everything from the basic objects you'd like to scan (boot sector, network drives, archives, whatever it might be) to fine-tuned details like the email protocols to check or ignore, and the level of nested zip files ESET should scan (zips within zips).

Reputation Scan

(Image credit: ESET)

This flexibility continues almost everywhere you look. Right-click a file in Explorer and ESET NOD32, like everyone else, gives you the option to scan it for danger. But you can also check the file reputation to find out more about it; scan the file without cleaning it, just to get an immediate verdict; or manually quarantine a file even if it's not been flagged as malware, a very useful way to safely archive a file you're concerned about.

Protection

(Image credit: AV Comparatives)

Protection

AV-Comparatives' Real-World Protection Test matches 17 of the top Windows antivirus engines against both well-known and the very latest malware. 

The July-October 2021 summary report (opens in new tab) saw ESET trailing back in 16th place with a protection rating of 98.9%. Even Microsoft Defender did significantly better, with a 99.7% protection rating earning it ninth place.

AV-Test produces six Home Windows User reports (opens in new tab) a year, each one awarding a maximum of six points to an antivirus for protection. Most vendors scored a maximum 36 for the past year (that's Avast, Bitdefender, BullGuard, F-Secure, Kaspersky, McAfee, Microsoft Defender and Norton), but ESET lagged behind here, too, with a score of 34.5.

SE-Labs' Home Anti-Malware Protection reports (opens in new tab) haven't covered ESET recently. It performed well in its last appearance (Q1 2021), though, reaching equal third out of 15 with a Total Accuracy Rating of 100%. (Only Sophos Home Premium, AVG Free and Microsoft Defender did better.)

Threat Removed

(Image credit: ESET)

Test results

We check antivirus behavior monitoring by running further tests of our own, exploiting various Windows tools to perform malicious actions and download dangerous files.

ESET had no problem spotting malware, instantly quarantining every threat just as soon as it touched our hard drive.

It didn't complain about our test tools and their dubious behavior. Other vendors take a stricter approach. Trend Micro didn't just spot the malware, for instance: it recognized our test apps were up to no good, and killed them as well.

Next, we unleashed our own custom ransomware (opens in new tab) on thousands of user documents. As it's never been released in the wild, antivirus shouldn't be able to pick it up from the file signature alone, making this a useful test of anti-ransomware behavior monitoring.

It didn't quite work out that way with ESET, though, as NOD32 Antivirus correctly realized our simulator was a threat from the file alone, and blocked it before it could run. That tells us precisely nothing about ESET's behavior monitoring, but we can hardly blame NOD32 Antivirus for that; all it can do is block the threats we give it, and the app did that exceptionally well.

Blocking malicious sites

ESET NOD32 Antivirus comes with two URL filtering layers: the simplest protects you from phishing sites, while the other uses multiple technologies to block more general website dangers.

Conveniently, both layers are built into the core engine. There's no need to install browser extensions or worry about which browsers are protected or supported, you're automatically covered for everything that accesses the web.

URL Blocking Settings

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There are a lot of configuration options, too. Most are on/off switches which you'll rarely use – you can disable scanning for HTTP sites, for instance, though that's probably a bad idea – but you can create handy blacklists and whitelists of sites which should always (or never) by blocked.

AV-Comparative's 2021 Anti-Phishing test (opens in new tab) found ESET blocked 91% of malicious URLs. That's good, but it's not great. It outperformed Bitdefender (87%), for instance, but trailed behind Avast (96%), Trend Micro (96%) and Kaspersky (94%).

Ransomware Detected

(Image credit: ESET)

ESET scored a little better in our tests, though, and we also found it was smart enough to recognize web threats beyond just phishing sites. When we pointed it at a new link containing a Bitcoin miner script, for instance, ESET checked the script, spotted the danger and alerted us to a 'potentially unwanted application.'

The end result looks much the same as we saw with antivirus. ESET NOD32 does a fair job and will keep you safer than you were before, but it doesn't quite match the best of the competition.

Device control

ESET's bonus tools start with Device Control, an unusual feature which enables defining what happens when users connect a host of device types to the system: external storage, a USB printer, Bluetooth device, scanner, smart card reader, modems and more.

Device Control

(Image credit: ESET)

Options include making devices read-only, displaying a warning to users or blocking them entirely. Rules can apply to all or specific devices (‘block all USB storage apart from x, y, z’), some or all user accounts, and the system logs all device connections for review later. 

It's a powerful system, far more capable than G Data's similar Device Control feature, but it's also tricky to set up. There's no simple library of prebuilt rules, and no user-friendly visual rule creator. Instead, you're mostly choosing technical options from lists and hoping you understand them correctly (check the Help page on the feature).

Beginners should probably leave the Device Control screens alone, but it does have real value for businesses. Get it working and you can lock down sensitive systems, make it harder for employees to copy sensitive information to their own USB keys (or just infect them with an autorun virus.)

AV UI Tools

(Image credit: ESET)

More features

ESET NOD32 Antivirus doesn't have the usual selection of bonus tools you'll often see with other security apps: no password manager (opens in new tab), no 'file shredder', no junk file cleaner or anything similar.

There are some unusual options tucked away on the Tools menu. Here, you can view logs, see what the program has blocked, watch running processes, download ESET's bootable SysRescue cleaning tool, and more.

System Cleaner

(Image credit: ESET)

Some of these are a little dubious. The System Cleaner claims to warn you of key Windows settings which have been changed from their defaults, for instance, perhaps because of malware. Sounds great, but in reality it doesn't give you nearly enough information to make a clear decision.

For example, System Cleaner highlighted Windows System Restore on our review system, saying 'Windows System Restore settings allow you to revert your system to a previous state.' Yes. We know that. System Restore was turned on for our system drive, though, so what problem was ESET trying to describe? We've no idea.

It's the same elsewhere, with for instance System Cleaner telling us it would like to reset our 'System folders configuration' and 'Executable files configuration' but without offering any explanation as to why, or what changes it wants to make. Why should we allow ESET to reset whatever it's complaining about, when we've no idea what that is? Simple answer: we shouldn't, and neither should you.

Nod32 Sys Inspector

(Image credit: ESET)

There's much better news elsewhere, fortunately. ESET SysInspector is a particular highlight, an excellent tool which takes a snapshot of your system and highlights interesting items: running processes, network connections, critical files (HOSTS), important Registry entries and more. It's not for beginners, but if you've used extended task managers like Sysinternals' Process Explorer you'll soon feel at home.

Final verdict

An interesting antivirus that boasts some expert-level tweaks and tools, but is let down by below-par results from the independent testing labs.

ESET Internet Security

Internet Security UI

(Image credit: ESET)

If ESET NOD32 Antivirus looks short on features, that's probably because the company has saved most of its tools for ESET Internet Security (opens in new tab).

Upgrading gets you a firewall, for instance. A spam filter. Parental controls, webcam protection, network monitoring, extra network attack and botnet protection, plus an anti-theft feature for Windows. And an Android app, too.

All this can be yours for just $50 for a single device, one-year license. That's only $10 more than an equivalent ESET NOD32 Antivirus license, and you can save even more money by adding devices and years.

Is the suite really worth your time, though? Let's see.

Firewall

Install most security suites and you'll get a firewall (opens in new tab) that blocks network attacks, and makes at least some effort to intelligently decide which of your apps should be allowed to make internet connections, and which should be blocked. Suites from providers including Bitdefender and Symantec do a great job of making these decisions all on their own.

Install ESET Internet Security and its firewall starts in automatic mode, which allows all outgoing traffic without making any filtering attempts, and blocks uninitiated traffic from the web. That has a little value in a technical sense, but you could do much the same with Windows' built-in firewall.

Firewall Outbound

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The first problem here is that, unless you carefully explore all the Firewall settings, you may never realize it doesn't filter outbound traffic by default. If a process tries to get online, it can.

The second problem is that even if you spot the issue and enable ESET's alternative Interactive Mode, the firewall still won't make any decisions itself, and instead asks you whether it should trust any application which makes an outbound connection.

We do mean any application, too. When we enabled Interactive Mode, ESET raised alerts for even the most well-known and trusted processes (Firefox, Chrome, Windows system processes, more.)

You could make this go away forever in a few clicks, by telling ESET to allow Chrome in future. But while that's easy with an obvious process like Chrome, it's not so clear when you're looking at something like '64DriverLoad.exe is trying to communicate with remote site 255.255.255.255'. Even experts aren't going to be able to give a definitive verdict on every prompt, at least not without some explanation, and the more prompts there are, the more likely users will click 'Allow' just to make them disappear.

ESET also offers a firewall Learning Mode which the company says 'automatically creates and saves rules according to predefined parameters.' Sounds easier, but ESET also warns that the mode is intended for initial configuration only, and shouldn't be used permanently, which doesn't sound encouraging. If you need outbound filtering long-term it seems like you'll be the one making all the key decisions.

AntiSpam

(Image credit: ESET)

Spam filter

Security suites don't often have spam filters these days, no great surprise when most people use Gmail or some other email hosting (opens in new tab) service with spam blocking built-in.

ESET Internet Security does include some extra help, though, with a spam filter which can integrate into Microsoft Outlook.

A quick glance at the Settings dialog makes it clear just how long this feature has been around, and how little it's changed. There are still options to integrate the filter with Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail and even Outlook Express (last released with Windows XP.)

But despite all that, the Outlook extension is surprisingly capable. You can choose whether to scan incoming, outgoing and read emails, select an action to take (delete, move to the Junk or a specified folder), add custom text to the subject line, and log the spam score to understand any false detections.

There's even the ability to process all the existing emails in the current folder, perhaps to clean up a cluttered Inbox because you've not had a decent spam filter before.

In earlier tests we've found ESET performed almost as well as stand-alone spam filters, such as SPAMfighter. If you're looking for client-side Inbox protection, ESET Internet Security can definitely help.

Webcam

(Image credit: ESET)

More features

The company doesn't boast about it, but ESET Internet Security includes webcam protection which aims to prevent your webcam from being hijacked by malicious apps.

We tried this out by running a custom command line tool to grab a webcam image, and ESET noticed it immediately, popping up a warning, and not allowing webcam access until we had approved the app.

This is powered by a very configurable rules-based system, so you can always allow access to some apps, always block others, maybe prompt for a few, or, if you never use the webcam, just automatically block everything. You don't have to explore these rules if you're not interested – ESET will manage everything automatically – but we're happy to have the choice.

Banking Protection

(Image credit: ESET)

The Banking and Protection feature opens your default browser in a hardened form which ESET says makes it more difficult for keyloggers to capture personal data. We tested this with a keylogger of our own, and it worked as advertised; we captured keypresses in other apps, but not the browser (opens in new tab).

Parental Controls

(Image credit: ESET)

ESET's Parental Controls are also very basic, with support for content filtering but nothing else, not even basic functionality like restricting internet access or device use by time. It works, but doesn't add a lot of value to the package. Windows' built-in Family tools are more capable.

ESET's Anti-Theft feature works much like many competitors, and may enable you to track your device location, use webcam image capture to get a view of its location, or send a message to its finder. There are plenty of mobile services which do much the same, but it's good to have one that covers Windows.

Connected Home Monitor

(Image credit: ESET)

Elsewhere, ESET's Connected Home Monitor lists devices connected to your network and raises alerts for any new connections. It can scan your network for open ports, weak router passwords and other vulnerabilities, too. The module didn't find anything interesting for us, but it's worth a quick check, anyway.

Android App

(Image credit: ESET)

Internet Security App

ESET Internet Security also adds support for Android to its Windows, Mac and Linux lineup.

That's not quite as big a deal as it sounds, because ESET already offers a free version of its Mobile Security and Antivirus app (opens in new tab). It's not advanced - just Antivirus and real-time protection - but it could be all you need.

Upgrading does include a pile of extras though, from mobile versions of the desktop tools (anti-theft, banking protection, Connected Home network monitor), to an app locker, a security audit for your apps, and more.

There's nothing surprising here, but the app does score well for protection, with AV-Test's September 2021 Android test (opens in new tab) giving it full marks for Protection, Performance and Usability. (If you're primarily interested in Android protection, though, you can trial ESET's premium Android features for 30 days without having to set up or register Internet Security.)

ESET Internet Security has a long list of features, and some are impressive, but others are underpowered and can't match the competition. If you're an ESET fan or need this precise feature set, the suite might be interesting, but everyone else will find better protection elsewhere.

ESET Smart Security Premium

Smart Security UI

(Image credit: ESET)

Top-of-the-range security suites usually add some major new features to tempt potential customers, like the full VPN (opens in new tab) access you'll get with Avira Ultimate.

At first, ESET Smart Security Premium (opens in new tab) looks relatively disappointing, with the package only adding the new Live Guard (an extra layer of cloud analysis), a password manager and file encryption system to the ESET Internet Security feature list.

In reality, the suite is better than it sounds. The password manager (opens in new tab) isn't the usual underpowered app you'll get with some security suites, for instance – it has a surprising number of features. And the encryption system uses the same DESlock technology as ESET's business-oriented Endpoint Encryption products.

Pricing starts at $60 for a single device, one-year subscription. There are discounts as you add more devices and years, but these aren't as good as you'll see with some vendors, so ESET Smart Security Premium can seem relatively expensive if you're covering a lot of devices.

Is the suite worth a look? That's your call, but these are the extras you'll get.

Live Guard

ESET's Live Guard technology is a new form of cloud analysis which aims to detect even the very latest brand new and undiscovered threats.

Turn Live Guard on, and whenever you access a file which Live Guard hasn't seen before, it's automatically sent to the ESET cloud for in-depth testing.

One problem with this scheme is it inevitably takes a while (ESET can't conduct thorough tests in just a few seconds.) This is such a potential issue that the client automatically gives up if the analysis takes more than five minutes, although we've seen ESET forum posts saying a two to three minute delay is more typical.)

Any extra detection layer is welcome, though, and we're interested to see how Live Guard develops.

Password Manager Interface

(Image credit: ESET)

Password manager

ESET's Password Manager isn't as powerful as specialist standalone apps like Dashlane and LastPass, but it's smarter than the efforts you get with most security suites, and it covers the basics well enough.

Wide platform support includes apps for Mac, Android and iOS, and browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, Edge and more.

You're able to import passwords from Chrome, Firefox and a range of other password managers (1Password, BitWarden, Dashlane, LastPass, more).

Generate Passwords

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Once you're up and running, the browser extensions allow you to generate secure passwords, saving your credentials, syncing them across all your devices and automatically filling in web forms.

You can also create one or more Identities, with personal details which can automatically be entered into web forms: name, address, date and place of birth, common forms of web ID (email address, Skype name, Yahoo ID), credit card information and more.

The service highlights particularly weak and reused passwords, helping you spot potential problems before any vulnerable accounts are hacked (well, hopefully).

Password Manager App

(Image credit: ESET)

The Password Manager isn't about the browser extensions, though. A native Windows app enables browsing your logins and launching whatever sites you need. A Sharing Center can securely share data with other ESET users, and it's even possible to capture and reuse passwords for Windows applications, as well as websites.

New features include two-factor authentication (opens in new tab) (at least), giving your account an extra layer of security.

The system earns a thumbs up from us, but you may see a different experience, depending on the sites you use (password capture and form filling performance can vary significantly between sites.) It the password manager is a priority for you, take the full 30 days of the trial, and test it, in-depth, with every app and browser extension you intend to use.

ESET Smart Security

(Image credit: ESET)

Secure data

ESET's Secure Data allows you to create an encrypted vault on a hard drive, USB stick or other device.

Open the vault with the correct password and it acts like a virtual drive or folder. Save or copy files to the vault and they're automatically encrypted; open or view them and they're decrypted. You don't have to worry about the technicalities, though, because the vault works just like any other drive or storage device.

Once you're logged out, though, the vault is inaccessible to any else. If you lose a protected USB key and the finder plugs it into another computer which doesn't have ESET's Secure Data installed, they won't see the encrypted folder. If they have Secure Data they'll be prompted for the password, but unless they know or can guess it, your data will be safe.

Secure Data is a simple and effective way to protect your most important files from snoopers, and it's not a feature you'll get with most security suites. You can get freeware tools that perform similar tasks, though, and on balance we're not sure Secure Data, the Password Manager and Live Guard are enough to justify signing up for ESET Smart Security Premium. These limits and other issues with ESET's suites mean ESET NOD32 Antivirus is our pick of the range.

We've also highlighted the best antivirus (opens in new tab)

Mike Williams
Mike Williams

Mike is a lead security reviewer at Future, where he stress-tests VPNs, antivirus and more to find out which services are sure to keep you safe, and which are best avoided. Mike began his career as a lead software developer in the engineering world, where his creations were used by big-name companies from Rolls Royce to British Nuclear Fuels and British Aerospace. The early PC viruses caught Mike's attention, and he developed an interest in analyzing malware, and learning the low-level technical details of how Windows and network security work under the hood.