ESET Internet Security full review

ESET Internet Security 2019 is the company's latest offering, aiming to protect your computer from viruses and malware and prevent unauthorised access to your computer, including while making online payments.

First, the bad news. The cost of ESET Internet Security has increased to £39.99/$49.99. That's nearly as much as four users cost last year. The price for four users (the maximum you can buy at one time) has increased to £13.74/$19.99 per user (£54.99/$79.99 in total).

It's available to buy now from ESET's website here.

Though this is higher than products offering 10 or even unlimited installations for well under £100/$100, ESET has some genuinely useful capabilities that make it well worth your consideration. You can see alternative options in our round-up of the best antivirus.

Features and interface

Overall, ESET always scores very highly on tests conducted by AV-Test, AV Comparatives and SE Labs, but beyond top flight protection, what toys do you get?

It was only after a few days of use that we realised ESET is complete. By that, we mean none of its modules are simply opportunities to begin free trials of extra software, or free versions of modules whose full versions are extra paid software. We see this so often in rival antivirus products so this is a huge plus for ESET.

One highlight that really stands out is the SysInspector tool. This gives you a complete yet manageable rundown on your entire system's status, including the ability to take a snapshot of your system's security status, which you can later compare.

There's also a social media scanner that will alert you to problems. And if you ever have your laptop stolen, a sophisticated anti-theft module allows you to send an onscreen message to the thief along with a webcam snapshot of his ugly mug.

On installation, the package asks if you'd like to detect potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) trying to install themselves, which is another welcome touch as most packages don't even detect them unless you run an in-depth scan. PUPs can affect the stability of your devices, as well as being irritating if they're nagware, and also posing security risks due to poor coding.

The ESET user interface is it usual sparse self, but a little more populated than the previous offering. There are still only three tools on the main menu, the Connected Home Monitor, Anti-Theft module and Banking & Payment Protection. You must click More Tools for the full set. We didn't understand why the rest of the tools are so well hidden last time we reviewed ESET and we still don't.

As expected, the Connected Home Monitor scans your local network, which it does by scanning for hosts and open ports. You can opt to scan just your router (always address one on a home network), or just scan your devices  to cut down scan time. Like many comparable products, when a new device joins your network, a pop-up alerts you, meaning that neighbours cannot secretly leech your WiFi.

Banking and Payment Protection is done using a secure browser, which is based on a fresh, up-to-date installation of Mozilla Firefox. Enter your bank's URL into the address bar and access it in encrypted safety.

The anti-theft module is rather fun. It operates by creating a "phantom" account on the protected computer, which you name. Mr Thief logs into this account.

You can take pictures of them via the anti-theft page on the ESET web site, and also track their location. You can then send them messages and those pictures to show you're spying on them. You can even remotely access and retrieve your data from the machine.

It'd be nice if there was a real-time monitoring function here like a remote desktop so that you can see what he's up and record his actions, but maybe that's an enhancement for a future release. 

The rest of the tools divide neatly into monitoring and scanning. Monitoring gives you the usual information, such as protection statistics, network traffic and connections, and running processes. You can expand the log file view by opening it in another window and filling the screen. The extra screen real estate is a big boon to tracing intruders and other problems.

As mentioned above, the impressive SysInspector tool analyses your entire system and assigns a risk level to every component, from the registry to network connections. This is great for getting a 1,000-foot view of your security posture, but viewing the results can be an alarming experience if you've been downloading dodgy executables or visiting torrent trackers.

It's possible to scare yourself when you see something highlighted in red. Luckily, you can right-click an entry and search for it online to check out what the offending items are, and whether they're genuine threats.

Your subscription gives you access to the Social Media Scanner, which is an online tool that allows you to check that there are no links to malicious sites or other threats lurking in your timeline on Twitter and Facebook.

For most users, this is probably going to be a curiosity, but if you're very socially active online or are in the public eye, it could be useful. As you can imagine, the scanner needs your permission to access to your accounts. The exact permissions and data accessed by the scanner are detailed in the online privacy policy. 

It's also good to see an product with a direct link to a rescue disc rather than having it built into the product. Many similar products allow you to boot directly into the virus scanner instead of into Windows, but they require that you have the product installed on the computer.

In contrast, a rescue disk is a piece of software you can download and install on a CD/DVD/USB drive, then use it to boot and thoroughly scan any computer. This is great for delousing a friend's computer.

As with other AV products (notably Kaspersky), you can submit an unknown file for analysis by ESET using the file submission tool. Add an email address, and you may be asked for more details and will receive a written verdict. You can also right-click a file and either quarantine it, scan it (with and without cleaning), and check its reputation with the ESET LiveGrid (again as per Kaspersky's offering).

It looks at first sight that there is no explicit ransomware module, but deep down in the advanced setup screen under HIPS (Host-based Intrusion Protection System) there's a slider indicating this module is active.

Further investigation shows that HIPS is an advanced machine learning system capable of learning what's normal and what's not for your computer. It's capable of learning interactively, according to a policy you set, or by itself.

As with every AV product, there are a few niggles but not too many, and they're small. The system cleaner, for example, tells me that three system settings have been changed but not which ones, or what changed them. The only option is to reset them. Hovering over the blue information icon gives a general description of what might have changed, but nothing more detailed.

ESET App

As with the Windows version, the Android app asks if you'd like to enable detection of potentially unwanted applications. We've never seen this is in a mobile version of an AV product. Along with filtering unsuitable web sites and locating the device in real time, the Android version also has a very nice feature in its parental control module.

Parental Message allows you to send a message to your child that the child must acknowledge before continuing. Anything from "Dimmer's ready" to something only the child will know to check they're safe. This should bring peace of mind if your teenager is wilfully ignoring you and causing you anguish.