Why Buy Anti-Malware Software?
Editor’s Note: Top Ten Reviews uses test results from the independent laboratory AV-Test as part of our review process for the best anti-malware software. AV-Test looks specifically at protection, performance and usability on multiple versions of Windows operating systems, and it performs these evaluations several times throughout the year. We use the most current AV-Test scores available at the time of our review. It is possible that new AV-Test scores will be released after our review goes live on the site. We will consider these scores during our next review of the best anti-malware software.
The top performers in our review are Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, the Gold Award winner; Norton Security Standard, the Silver Award winner; and Kaspersky Anti-Virus, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 12 applications.
Malware is malicious code on your computer that can cause many problems. Chief among them are slowing your system performance, integrating your computer into part of a botnet, spying on your activity and much more. And the consequences can range anywhere from annoying to devastating.
Malware is one of a hacker's primary tools to steal your personal information like Social Security, bank account and credit card numbers. They can also destroy the data on your computer or render it completely useless. Some malicious applications can record your keystrokes to steal your passwords – which allows them to commandeer your entire online identity.
There are many ways malware gets on your computer. It's most often associated with using the internet irresponsibly. Malware can be delivered by spam, transmitted through an infected thumb drive, hidden in other applications or simply downloaded via files from a hacked website. Most of these things are done innocently and unknowingly, but they can result in major disruptions to your digital life.
Anti-malware software can help you combat this threat by searching your computer for malicious code and removing it when possible. It also provides a bulwark against malware getting on your computer in the first place. The best anti-malware programs also keep constant guard by scanning the data coming onto your computer and halting potentially malicious programs from infecting your system.
For more information about choosing the right application for you, read our informative articles about anti-malware software.
Reviewing & Ranking Anti-Malware Software
In our evaluation of the best anti-malware, we relied on results from AV-Test, an independent IT-security institute dedicated to providing impartial information and test results for malware removal software. AV-Test runs each program through a battery of tests and reports how well it performs against threats to your computer. We used the results from AV-Test's April 2016 evaluations on the Windows 10 operating system.
- Protection: AV-Test periodically runs the top malware scanners through a series of tests. Each program is introduced to more than 14,000 malware threats to determine its effectiveness in stopping them. AV-Test then publishes an average industry score (which is 97 percent at the time of this writing) as well as scores for individual applications. The scores on our side-by-side comparison matrix are taken directly from those results. The best anti-malware programs in our review all scored 100 percent on the protection tests.
- Performance: AV-Test also measures how well the anti-malware programs detect threats without disrupting your regular computer activity. An anti-malware program that hogs a lot of your computer's resources can cause significant lag in other programs you're using. This can also slow downloads and uploads, as well as program installations and file transfers. The best anti-malware removal software uses as little of your computer's power as possible to provide a seamless and protected experience – one unimpeded by your anti-malware software.
- Usability – Almost as important as protecting you from malicious software is a program's false-positive rate. This rate is how often a program flags an authentic program as a threat to your computer. The best anti-malware removal programs yield as few false positives as possible. The programs on our lineup averaged an 83 percent score in this test. The programs that rank in the top tier of our review all scored perfectly in these tests.
Detection & Removal
- Your digital life is no longer contained to a desktop or laptop computer. These days, everyone has multiple devices, each with its own unique weaknesses to malware infection. The best anti-malware software should protect these mobile devices as well. However, the vast majority of the anti-malware removal programs on our lineup only protect a single device (your computer). Some, like Bitdefender, Kaspersky and F-Secure, can protect up to three devices. Only one program on our lineup, McAfee, protects an unlimited number of devices.
- Malware comes in many different flavors. You can get a garden-variety computer virus from an errant download, spyware integrated into a browser toolbar, or a Trojan embedded into a program that appears safe. No matter what kind of threat attacks your computer, the best anti-malware removal software should be able to protect and neutralize it.
- One of the most terrifying forms of malware is known as ransomware. It essentially takes your computer hostage until you hand over money for the hackers to release control of it. All of our award winners have this feature.
- In addition to scanning internet activity, downloads and other online threats, the best anti-malware protects from other sources. One of the most common sources for malware is infected thumb drives that can infect your system as soon as you plug them in. The best programs automatically scan thumb drives or any external drive before they're allowed access to your computer. Only F-Secure, G Data and Panda leave out this feature.
- Home computers are often used to play graphics-intensive video games for hours on end. The best anti-malware removal software contains a gamer mode, sometimes called silent mode. This setting turns off pop-ups, alerts and other potential disruptions so you can play your games or watch your movies uninterrupted. The only program on our lineup to omit this feature is BullGuard.
Help & Support
Despite how effective an anti-malware program is, there's still a possibility of your computer becoming infected. You may also have a technical or customer support issue to resolve. For these issues, you can contact the software manufacturers for support. These tools are invaluable when you find yourself in a computer emergency.
The best companies offer at least phone support during normal business hours. Some offer weekend support and a live chat room you can use to communicate with a customer service representative immediately. Only two programs in our review, Norton and McAfee, offer 24/7 support as well as a live chat service.
Our Verdict & Recommendations
At the end of our evaluation, the following anti-malware programs ranked in the top tier of our side-by-side comparison chart.
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus – The Bitdefender family has earned Top Ten Reviews Gold Awards in multiple security categories for more than a decade, and with good reason. AV-Test gave Bitdefender perfect scores on all the tests it performed. You also get anti-malware protection for up to three separate devices with Bitdefender. It contains all the detection and removal tools we look for in this category. The only feature it lacks is a live chat support service. This software is a great buy that can protect your computer from all malware threats.
Norton Security – One of the better-known names in the anti-malware industry, Norton makes an excellent program to protect your computer. Norton Security scored nearly perfectly in all the AV-Tests. It also has all the customer support options we look for. Including 24/7 telephone support.
Kaspersky Anti-Virus – This is another outstanding program that provides nearly complete protection for up to three devices. But it's also missing a virtual browser, which is a minor feature but is present in both of the other award winners. This feature is a browser dedicated to protecting your most important data such as passwords, banking information and personally identifying information.
Protecting your computer from malware is more than just keeping viruses off your computer. A severe hacker attack can render your computer completely inoperable, or worse, steal your information right of your hard drive. It's about knowing that, no matter what you connect to your computer, it's scanned for the latest malware threats. Anti-malware software gives you the peace of mind you need in today's world of nearly infinite digital bad guys.