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ESET NOD32 Antivirus Review

Antivirus with custom configuration, and tools to please experts

Our Verdict

Antivirus software with expert-level tweaks and tools.

For

  • Lower performance impact
  • Ultra configurable
  • Good value with Multi-device licenses
  • Expert-level controls

Against

  • Mixed results when tested independently
  • URL filtering is merely average
  • Some functions are complicated
  • Next tier up is only a little more expensive

ESET is based out in Bratislava. It was started among friends writing their first antivirus code back in 1987, known as the NOD antivirus software. ESET has certainly grown to provide software across multiple major platforms, and is the security solution for 100 million customers worldwide.

ESET NOD32 Antivirus is the lowest tier among the company’s antivirus product line. It focuses exclusively on antivirus, superior than most of the competition. ESET skips the superfluous extraneous file shredder, password manager or other side features, and don’t make the inference that it left something out. In some ways, ESET has some more features than plenty of other antivirus solutions.

At the heart of ESET NOD32 is the real-time malware protection. ESET hunts for malware via its cloud-based file reputation service, which keeps the virus signatures always up to date. Complementing this is the antiphishing functionality designed to be on the lookout for less than reputable websites.

ESET NOD32 also has multiple layers to specifically block exploits, giving a defense to ransomware, and being vigilant for exploits that use PowerShell or malicious JavaScripts.

A Device Control module defends against an attack from an outside storage device by controlling access to external storage including external storage drives, USB thumb drives, optical storage media, and any Bluetooth or FireWire devices that connect to your PC.

Additional, new features are a UEFI scanner to locate malware deep into the PC's firmware. Another feature can store your ESET licenses, and a generous referral program will extend your trial license for each and every additional user you can sign up for the software.

While this should be plenty of features and power for even experts, there is also a healthy helping of  low level tweaks with access to in excess of 150 profile settings allowing further control of most functions.

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ESET NOD32: Price

ESET NOD32 has a price of $39.99 (£31) which buys the one PC, one-year license subscription. That's an average deal for antivirus software, with Bitdefender's Antivirus Plus having the same cost, but looking around, there are some better deals out there. For instance, Kaspersky Antivirus currently costs $29.25 (£22.53) for the first year, for instance, and $32.50 (£25) for each renewal.

Consider pricing a multi-device, multi-year discount to make ESET an even stronger deal. For instance, a four computer, three-year license costs only $139.98 (£108), or $11.66 (£9) for each device year.

For those in need of a multi-system license, a move up to the next higher tier to ESET Internet Security has some benefits. These include additional security suite features: a firewall, antispam, parental controls, webcam protection, and others. It only costs a bit more, with a four computer, three-year license costing $169.98 (£131), or $14.17 (£10.92) per each device per year.

ESET NOD32: Set up and installation

ESET NOD32 tenders the offer of a 30-day free trial; be aware that an email address needs to be provided for the activation. Our installation ran quite smoothly, with a download and install of the main ESET NOD32 package, which then performs an automatic update, and then goes into  an initial scan.

We next looked at ESET NOD32 installed, and discovered the expected files which were neatly organized, digitally signed, and used 650MB of our hard drive capacity (average for this type of software). This software ran lightweight, adding just a few additional processes to our test system, occupying a total of 100MB of RAM with the system idle.

Power users will like the opportunity to tweak a large number of options to finely optimize the software’s settings.

Other antivirus solutions have the option to control email scanning by selecting it to on or off, ESET allows lots more choices around this task, including which email clients for integration, the emails for scanning including received or sent, a choice of protocols for monitoring, the action to prompt when a threat gets detected, for instance to ignore, to delete, or to move to a previously designated folder.

We totally agree that not every user is going to benefit from this type of complete control, but, it is really nice to have this high level of options. When there is a concern for a potential conflict or a malware suspected on your system, having this high level of power that ESET offers to apply onto your system for tweaks could be the key to getting rid of the issue.

ESET NOD32's interface is a little busy on the first glance, as it is overflowing with a gaggle of status information, buttons, sidebars, links and more. For mastering even the essentials there is definitely a learning curve. By way of example, by clicking on Computer Scan it then launches the Scan page, and subsequently needs user input on the next step, but hitting on Scan Your Computer will launch the scan avoiding the delay.

After the learning curve has been surpassed though, ESET mostly works quite identically as other antivirus programs. General scans get fired up a simple click, or the same sequence for initiating a quick or removable drive scan. Another great feature is to create custom scan categories, which will scrub a specific location for malware, implementing the scanning rules previously specified.

ESET NOD32: Features

The custom configuration theme runs in multiple areas of the program. Just right-clicking on a file in the Windows Explorer, to initiate ESET NOD32 to perform the usual scan. We also appreciate the options to analyze a file’s reputation for additional information, for only a scan of the file without any cleaning to give an instant opinion, or for a manual quarantine of the file even when it does not come up as malware, which we utilize for safe archiving a suspected file.

Whatever scan method we chose, our system’s scanning time were quick, especially following the initial analysis, with on a repeat run ESET Smart Scan examines only the modified or new files. The rate of detection is quite high also. On our test, ESET found all of the malware threats we placed, and there were no false alarms.

We found URL filtering to be nothing outstanding, but still average. It did find several malicious URLs, which was quite stable from our prior experience with this software. A significant improvement was noticed with the false alarms, as encouragingly ESET did not erroneously alert us about any legitimate sites at all.

The program’s behavior gets controlled by The Device Control tool which defines the connections between multiple device types and the system, including external storage, USB printers, Bluetooth devices, scanners, flash card readers, modems and others as well. There are several options such as having devices be read-only, indicate a warning, or to simply block them completely. There are options to globally apply these rules for all devices, or more selectively, for example to block all USB storage except from x, y, z, or only on some user accounts. The system logs all device connections for later review.

If this sounds powerful, it really is, but there is some effort to get this up and running. It’s too bad that it lacks a simple library of presets, and even more so that there it lacks a user-friendly, visually based rules creator. Unfortunately, the user must sludge through too many lists of technical options in hope of correctly assigning them (tip: there’s a Help page on the feature). Yes, this is not amateur hour, and for experts only.

At least the tools menu provides better clarity, with the ability to view logs, and see what the program has blocked. Also, You can see the processes that are active, download the bootable cleaning module known as SysRescue, and even more options.

The ESET SysInspector tool is another highlight of the program. It can take a snapshot of the system and includes noteworthy items including running processes, network connections, other critical files (HOSTS), and Registry entries. This advanced tool is also for the expert set, but skills translate from use of similar software, like, Sysinternals' Process Explorer, so power users will likely be familiar with controlling this module.

In short, ESET NOD32 goes above and beyond just a pure antivirus app. Beginners will appreciate the option to skip the more advanced options and streamline how the program works. Also, more advanced users will get use of the power options, such as the Device Control module and ESET's plethora of configuration options.

ESET NOD32: Protection

ESET exhibited a high degree of accuracy across our quick malware detection tests. Going beyond our own limited testing, for a comprehensive assessment of ESET’s capability compared to competing antivirus solutions, we looked at the results from the major testing labs.

Unfortunately, AV Comparatives' monthly real-world protection tests places ESET into their lower mid-range of its testing, in other words, somewhere in the middle. The September 2018 round of testing puts ESET puts the protection rate at 98.5%, good enough for 12th place of the 18 programs tested. In addition, the February-June summary for the five tests also put ESET, once again, in 12th, with an again average protection rate of 99.1%.

Furthermore, AV-Test, which is another major testing lab, also reports lower to mid-range results on their previous testing. However, it is unfortunate that ESET products have not been evaluated for a few years now.

At least another major lab, SE Labs, evaluated ESET for their July-September 2018 home anti-malware report gives insight into some of the most favorable results for the program. Their testing puts ESET in third place from the 13 antivirus programs tested, which places it behind Kaspersky and Norton, but ahead of some leading programs, including Avira, Trend Micro, Avast, McAfee and others.

Analyzing these results from these several testing labs gives multiple views on ESET. One partial explanation is that each lab its own independent methods, protocols and scoring systems. Synthesizing this brings us to the conclusion that ESET is not at the tops of protection, but neither is it at the bottom, putting it firmly in the middle of the pack for its performance.

Alternatively though, this kind of undervalues the strengths to be found here, particularly for power users. When these labs do their testing, the antivirus packages get set to the default settings, however by putting some effort into configuring ESET's advanced settings, such as the Device Control, which gives enhanced protections that is not taken into account during the routine testing by these lab protocols.

Another crucial benefit of the ESET antivirus program is that it does not slow your system down. PassMark's Security Products Performance Benchmarks 2019 reports on 23 important areas with the performance impact across 14 modern security suites. During this testing, ESET bested the field of competitors for a second place finish, placing it just behind Norton Security in the pole position. Of note, even the known to run lite Windows Defender fell back to 6th place. This is one of those YMMV situations, as your specific results may vary with the hardware specs and other software running, but we can conclude that ESET NOD32 Antivirus will have no deleterious effect on the performance of the vast majority of systems.

ESET NOD32: Verdict

ESET NOD32 is a joy for novices, but its real pro is for the advanced user set who will truly enjoy the options for custom configuration.