Kaspersky Security Cloud Free is a simple, straightforward and entirely free malware eliminator from Russian security giant Kaspersky.
The company's previous free product covered the core essentials of antivirus and web filtering only, but Security Cloud Free throws in some valuable extras, including password management and a limited VPN (300MB a day, can't choose your location).
- Want to try Kaspersky Security Cloud Free? Check out the website here
Kaspersky made headlines in 2017 when the US Department of Home Security moved to ban Kaspersky products from use in US government agencies, apparently because of alleged connections to the Russian security services, and a further rule was introduced in September 2019 to cover the Department of Defense, NASA and the General Services Administration.
That has to be a concern, and you might feel it's enough that you shouldn't use the software. But we can only base reviews on our experience and the evidence, and as we've yet to see any evidence to support these stories, we're not going to take account of them in this review.
While many security companies boast about their free antivirus, Kaspersky keeps its offering a little more hidden. It's not highlighted on the website home page, or the products section, and visitors may not even realize it's available unless they scroll to the bottom of the Home Security page and spot the 'Free' link.
If you can find the program, it's easy enough to try. A couple of clicks downloads the installer, and after we'd agreed to the EULA and accepted some default settings, Kaspersky Security Cloud Free installed itself in under a minute on our test PC.
You must create a My Kaspersky account before you can use the program, which requires handing over your email address. That's not unusual,
Bitdefender Free Antivirus does something similar, but companies such as Avast and Avira allow their software to be used without requiring any personal data.
Once your account is created, Kaspersky Security Cloud Free launches in full and you're able to explore it further.
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free opens with a simple console which displays your security status and includes eight tiles representing the actions you can perform. Four of these are immediately available (Scan, Database Update, Mobile Protection and the Secure Connection VPN), Password Manager is available after any download and installation, and three are reserved for the paid editions (PC Cleaner, Privacy Protection, Safe Money.)
Tapping Scan gives you Full Scan, Quick Scan, Selective Scan and External Drive Scan options. You're able to run any of these scan types in a couple of clicks and scan times were relatively speedy on our test system, with quick checks taking as little as a minute. Full and Quick Scans can also be scheduled to automatically run when you're not around.
Kaspersky doesn't enable creating custom scan profiles, unfortunately. There's nothing to match Avast Free's ability to set up multiple scan types, defining both the areas to be checked and customizing the scan settings used to check them.
The program does at least make up for these by providing plenty of global settings. You're able to define what each scan type will inspect and how the program does it, set exclusions to minimize false alarms, adjust performance settings to optimize speed or battery life, password-protect Kaspersky to prevent others changing its settings, and export those settings for use on other computers.
Some of these settings are highly technical - do you fully understand the consequences of not scanning OLE objects? - but there are simpler options, too.
For example, if you're not happy with the default settings, you can set Kaspersky to offer Maximum Security, and prioritise safety above all else. Or switching to Minimum Security keeps basic protection but optimizes the app for system performance.
Right clicking an executable file in Explorer gives you the usual option to scan it for viruses, but you can also ask Kaspersky to display its reputation. This includes details like when the file was first seen and the number of other Kaspersky users who have it, all very useful clues when you're trying to understand if a file is dangerous or not. (You can check this out without installing Kaspersky by going to its Application Advisor web page.)
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free also includes a capable web filtering layer to block access to malicious websites. The engine checks for malware and runs a real-time check to detect phishing sites, and in our experience both functions work very well.
The previous Kaspersky Free package ran out of features at about this point, but Security Cloud is just getting started - there's plenty more to explore.
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free doesn't just monitor your system for malware; it's constantly looking out for other security issues, and raising alerts to tell you more.
Soon after installation a pop-up warned that we were affected by two 'weak settings', for instance: extensions weren't set to display in Explorer, and Linux apps were enabled on our system. The first point was incorrect - extensions were displayed - which didn't give us a good impression of Kaspersky's detection skills. We don't know the cause of that error, though, and overall, this approach of proactively warning users about risky settings is a good one.
Kaspersky Secure Connection is the company's Hotspot Shield-powered VPN. The free edition is very, very basic - you can't choose the location, and you're limited to 300MB data a day - but that's still enough to keep you safe when you're collecting a few emails over public wifi or doing some quick browsing. Integration with the Security Cloud console keeps it easy to use, too, as you're able to protect your activities in just three clicks.
Kaspersky's Password Manager is another capable product which is crippled in its free version.
The good news: it stores logins, addresses, credit cards, confidential documents and more, and syncs them across Windows, Mac, iOS and Android devices.
The bad news: the free build limits you to only 15 items, making it useless for all but the lightest of use.
Elsewhere, the Kaspersky Mobile Security tile makes it easier to install the company's free mobile apps. Kaspersky generally scores well for mobile protection, and for example AV-Comparatives' 2019 Android Test found its product blocked 100% of the test threats.
A 'More Tools' button leads on to the final set of features. Most of these are unavailable in the free build, but there are a couple worth noting.
The 'Clean and Optimize' section has tools to remove junk files, clear away privacy-busting browser traces and tweak poorly configured security settings. They're not outstanding - the cleanup modules can't begin to match free tools like CCleaner, for instance - but the settings checks are more interesting, and overall they're worth having.
The only remaining feature we could find was a simple on-screen keyboard which may allow you to enter usernames, passwords or other confidential information without it being logged by malware. This can't offer any guarantees - if malware has managed to install itself on your system then you're in all kinds of trouble, whether you use the keyboard or not - but it's still a welcome, if small addition to the package.
Kaspersky products have had a strong record for accuracy and consistency with all the major testing labs, but 2019 saw this become a little less certain.
AV-Comparatives' Real-World Protection Test, for instance, is a comprehensive benchmark of how well an antivirus can keep you safe from known and undiscovered threats. The February-May summary report found Kaspersky at its usual best, first out of 16 with a perfect 100% detection rate and zero false positives, but the July-October report saw Kaspersky way back in 14th place with a poor 99.1% result.
That's a little disappointing, but other labs have a different view. AV-Test's Windows Home User reports found no issues at all, with Kaspersky Internet Security blocking 100% of test threats in every 2019 test published so far (that's 10/10.)
Our own small-scale detection tests also showed excellent results, and we were particularly interested to see how Kaspersky Security Cloud Free would handle our own custom ransomware. As we've developed the code ourselves, Kaspersky would never have seen it before, making this a worthwhile test of its behavior monitoring.
The results were impressive. We launched our test threat, and Kaspersky Free blocked it so quickly that only three files were encrypted. And even that wasn't a problem, because seconds later Kaspersky automatically recovered those, too. A great performance.
There may be some disagreement between the labs over Kaspersky's protection, then, and we'll watch the 2020 test results closely to see what they show. But overall, right now, Kaspersky looks like a solid performer, effortlessly outpacing most of the free competition.
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free is short on advanced features and most of its extras are very limited, but you still get all the core antivirus essentials and they do a great job of keeping you safe.
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