Why Do Windows 7 Users Need Antivirus 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 antivirus 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 antivirus software.
The top performers in our review are Kaspersky Lab Anti-Virus, the Gold Award winner; Norton Security Standard, the Silver Award winner; and Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a product to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of the top antivirus software solutions.
To understand why it's important to protect your Windows computer with the right third-party antivirus software, it's helpful to take a look back at the evolution of Windows operating systems since the early part of the century. Windows XP was a critical and commercial sensation upon its release in the early 2000s. It offered an intuitive interface, expanded multimedia capabilities and improved hardware support. As a result, XP sold over 400 million copies in its first five years and would remain popular for the better part of a decade. However, soon after Windows XP's release, virus and spyware threats were a growing concern, and increasingly sophisticated malware would soon enter the scene, infecting computers throughout the world. So despite its many strengths, Windows XP's security vulnerabilities were soon exposed.
Windows Vista was released in 2006 in response to those security concerns with its own built-in antivirus package, Windows Defender. While Vista didn't have nearly the critical reception of its predecessor, Microsoft was showing it was conscious of the need for security. Unfortunately, Windows Defender lacked the strength to combat some of the more vicious threats and didn't perform well with independent testing lab AV-Test – hence the need for third-party antivirus software.
Windows 7 came on the scene in late 2009 and improved on many areas where Windows Vista fell short, but security wasn't one of them. Windows 7 improved on the operating system's user interface, added libraries and a new file-sharing system called HomeGroup, among other improvements. It wasn't until the release of Windows 8 in 2012 that Microsoft offered an updated version of Windows Defender. This Defender upgrade had improved, more extensive virus protection features, but even with these improvements, it still fell well short of the best antivirus software in protecting computers from vicious malware and other threats.
To keep your home and work computers more secure, you will want to make an informed decision about what antivirus software program works best for you. Some of the best antivirus software for Windows 7 is Kaspersky Anti-Virus, Norton AntiVirus and Bitdefender Antivirus Plus. To see profiles of individual antivirus programs and other security information, we invite you to read our articles about antivirus software for Windows 7. For an in-depth analysis of antivirus software across all Windows formats, and to read reviews of the best antivirus software, visit our antivirus software reviews site.
Types of Security Software for Your PC
There are generally three recognized tiers of virus protection: antivirus software, internet security suites and premium security suites. Antivirus software is the lowest tier and is regarded as entry-level viral protection. Internet security suites, the next tier of protection, offer more functionality with further protections, such as firewalls and antispam tools. The top tier of virus protection is premium security suites, which are comprehensive tools to help you protect your system from the most aggressive malware with a variety of measures.
Each tier of PC virus protection lends itself to different users in different situations. Here are a few of the main components found in antivirus suites that you won't find in entry-level antivirus software:
Antivirus software is the entry-level software, with fewer features than internet security suites or premium security suites. An antivirus can block or remove spyware, worms, rootkits and other malware types. It can also scan incoming email for potential threats, automatically clean or quarantine infected files, and create bootable rescue disks, to name a few of its many features.
Internet Security Suites
Internet security suites generally contain all of the tools found in entry-level antispyware, such as antimalware, PC tune-up utilities, safe online banking and shopping, secure browsing, vulnerability scanning, and privacy protection. These suites also include additional features that give you more levels of security, such as an alternate firewall from the one included with the Windows operating system. Many suites offer social network protection designed to detect threats through your online social presence. Additionally, these antivirus suites include parental controls to limit where your children go on the internet, which can protect the computer system and, more importantly, your children.
Premium Security Suites
Premium security suites offer even more protection than internet security suites. Premium suites include all of the features found in internet suites and add extra layers of protection in the form of file shredders, online backup, system tune-up utilities and password managers. In other words, these suites tend to be the best of the best in terms of protection, offering an entire arsenal of defenses and protection against malware. G Data is a program that offers all three tiers of protection – an antivirus software package for basic protection, an internet security suite and a total security package for more comprehensive protection. Each one is optimized to run with any Windows system from XP and Windows 7 to Windows 10.
Once you have determined which level of security your system requires, be sure to consider the software's customer support before making a final decision. Look for a program that offers 24/7 access to support through email, phone or live chat. Regular, easy access to support ensures that you can get the help you need, whether you have a simple question or your entire computer system crashes and you need immediate help. Whether you're looking for protection on your Windows 10 tablet, Windows 8 laptop or Windows 7 business computers, make sure the software has numerous means of technical support.
Best Antivirus for Windows 7
While you examine the features of antivirus products for Windows 7 software, it helps to think about the features you need and the ones it might simply be nice to have. Does the software protect you from phishing, ransomware or rootkits? Does it recognize when you insert a thumb drive so it can scan for threats? Is it easy to install and use? Can you schedule scans to run during times when you are not using the computer? Without third-party antivirus protection, your Windows 7 computer is at increased risk and, if infected, can become completely unusable in a short time. To help you narrow down the best antivirus software for your needs, we ranked the top 10 antivirus software based on the following criteria.
Independent Lab Tests
We've thoroughly checked the antivirus products' performance, drawing on data from independent testing lab AV-Test. This organization employs hundreds of workstations networked to dozens of servers to expose antivirus programs to tens of millions of existing and potential threats.
AV-Test puts each antivirus through rigorous testing in three key areas: protection, performance and usability. Specifically, AV-Test monitors each program's ability to guard against malware infections (protection), how much it slows down your computer (performance), and its ability to accurately detect real threats while avoiding false detections (usability). The best antivirus software consistently scores above 98 percent in each category.
The first thing to consider for any antivirus software is its capability to detect and remove malware. Not all programs are created equal, and some software is better at defending your system against potential threats than others. AV-Test evaluates antivirus software for Windows 7 on its effectiveness. By exposing hundreds of workstations networked to dozens of servers to tens of millions of threats, AV-Test determines which programs can keep your system safe quite accurately.
Make sure the antivirus software you purchase for Windows 7 can catch and remove a high percentage of threats so you know your system is safe. The very best antivirus software detects and removes 99 to 100 percent of the threats sent its way. A number of other programs perform decently, consistently catching more than 95 percent of the malware AV-Test throws at them. Along with the top products in our lineup, when it comes to protection, Panda and AVG AntiVirus consistently perform above average in AV-Test's evaluations.
The next considerations when looking for the right Windows 7 virus protection are how powerful your processor is and how resource-intensive the software is on your computer. If you're still running Windows 7 but have a relatively new computer with decent specs, you can purchase virtually any antivirus software on the market without having to worry about your system performance. However, for an older machine, the processing power required to run antimalware programs effectively can be a concern. If you have limited RAM or processing speed, consider an antivirus program that won't take a large toll on your system. AV-Test scores antivirus software on this factor as well.
Generally speaking, the older your computer gets, the more ineffective it will be at running antivirus programs and other software that is constantly updating. Whether your Windows 7 hardware is relatively new or rather old, it's a good idea to look for programs that are not as resource-intensive during updates, scans or malware removal, just to be safe.
Every program we evaluated is capable of detecting numerous types of malware, including spyware, rootkits and basic viruses. What separates the best antivirus software from the others are additional features that offer more protective techniques to combat malware attacks. For example, many programs offer the ability to create a backup recovery disk so that you can recover your computer after it has been infected.
All antivirus programs for Windows 7 are capable of detecting the different types of malware, including Trojans, spyware, worms and rootkits, and they can all automatically clean infected files, scan compressed files and quarantine threats. Differences among these products emerge in the form of more advanced features, including the ability to protect your computer from attacks that occur when you turn the computer on (registry startup), create bootable rescue disks and scan USB storage devices. While you hunt for the right Windows 7 virus protection, look for software that includes a number of additional features that can help you protect your system from nasty viruses.
F-Secure is one of the programs that has all of the features we look for, including some uncommon ones like ransomware protection. Other programs are capable of performing vulnerability scans, in which the antimalware program searches for outdated programs on your computer to see if it can find any weaknesses for malware to pass through. The best antivirus software for Windows 7 can also launch a virtual browser, allowing you to run websites separate from your computer system to check it for vulnerabilities. You may not need all of these features for your personal use, but make sure the software you purchase can handle all of your needs.
Our Verdict & Recommendations
Although Windows Defender offers some protection for your Windows 7 computer, it is best used as a temporary line of defense while you find the antivirus software that will serve your needs best. The best way to protect yourself from malware is to update your computer system when prompted and to purchase third-party antivirus software that protects your computer 24/7. Our research revealed that Kaspersky, Norton and Bitdefender are the best options for Windows 7 antivirus protection.
Kaspersky Anti-Virus performed especially well in recent tests conducted by AV-Test specifically for Windows 7, with perfect scores for protection, performance and usability. Kaspersky is also one of the easiest programs to use, and, in addition to protecting against hidden cyber threats, it is effective at helping you clean up an already-infected computer. Norton and Bitdefender consistently get results of over 98 percent when tested for Windows 7. Other software that tests consistently well for Windows 7 is Avira Antivirus Pro and Trend Micro.
Kaspersky, Norton and Bitdefender protect against all types of malware, including phishing, ransomware and worms. All of these programs scan email and USB drives for threats that can enter your virtual space that way. They all offer 24/7 telephone support and a free live chat option to provide support in a way that is most convenient and helpful to you when you need it. With malware continuously increasing in sophistication, you will be well served to find antivirus software with equal sophistication, like the best antivirus software on our site, to combat subversive elements bent on invading your virtual space for personal gain.