Why Buy Antivirus Software?
The top performers in our review are Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, the Gold Award winner; Kaspersky Anti-Virus, the Silver Award winner; and Norton Security Standard, 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.
This comparison is specific to antivirus solutions that were tested using the Windows 10 operating system. However, we have tested and evaluated solutions for Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows XP, Windows Vista and Mac. We also have tested versions specifically designed as small business solutions.
Antivirus software is a generic term for solutions that detect and block internet programs that threaten to infest and wreak havoc on your computer. These threats come in through email, program downloads, popular websites and removable files such as USB flash drives. Once settled into your system, computer viruses change settings, prohibit files and programs from opening, and poke holes in your system for hackers to get in to collect your personal data.
Most of the internet threats today are more accurately defined as malware, because of the way they infest and attack your computer, files and programs, though "virus" has stuck as the most common umbrella term. As part of our research on computer virus protection, we identified some of the most common and malicious threats to your PC that antivirus protection helps block from your computer. For more in-depth information about the many internet threats, check out our articles on antivirus software.
One of the current and fastest-growing threats is ransomware. Ransomware infects your computer and locks it, restricting access to your computer system, preventing you from surfing the internet, accessing the hard drive or opening files. The creators then demand payment that ranges from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars in order to remove the threat. Some ransomware looks legitimate. For example, some forms of it tell you that your user license for a particular application has expired and you need to repurchase the license. Unfortunately, once payment is made, often the creators skip out and leave the threat intact. Some of the trickiest ransomware creators have acquired millions of dollars from unsuspecting users. There are only a few antivirus programs that have jumped in to tackle this area of internet security. There are only five solutions in our antivirus software review that specifically target ransomware. In addition to our top pick, McAfee and Trend Micro are among those that offer it.
Antivirus software is designed to combat these and many other threats by preventing the programs from entering your system and quarantining and removing any malware that does get through. The best way to protect yourself from PC viruses is to update your computer system when prompted and to purchase third-party antivirus software that protects your computer 24/7.
Reviewing & Ranking Antivirus Software
One of the most important aspects of any PC antivirus protection is how well it detects, blocks and eliminates internet threats. This is a difficult test to perform, though, since it requires you to deliberately infest your computer with the most malicious of internet threats. The AV-Test Institute has created a standardized test that does exactly this and is recognized worldwide as the firm authority on the overall performance of antivirus software.
Several times each year, AV-Test puts the top 20 to 30 antivirus programs through a testing regiment that exposes them to several thousand internet threats multiple times over a four-week period. AV-Test then calculates the results to determine the average industry score and each individual score of how well the software discovers and protects against threats.
In addition to protection, AV-Test looks at the overall performance of a computer with a PC protection program installed and running. Like the protection score, the performance score is determined by launching, using, downloading, installing, and copying files and programs during the virus scan and seeing if the antivirus software disrupts the computer by creating significant lag time or showing pop-ups from the program during use. The testers use and access the same programs, files and networks many times throughout the testing period to determine the overall performance score.
The final test is for usability. AV-Test, in part, looks at the false detection rate, meaning how often the software blocks legitimate programs and networks mistaken as threats. AV-Test uses over 1 million samples in this test to ensure the top-scoring solutions only attack true threats while leaving your files and programs still running and accessible.
At Top Ten Reviews, we used the most recent AV-Test results to help us determine and rank the best antivirus software available. These tests were conducted during March and April 2016 on computers running Windows 10 operating systems. Bitdefender is the only program we reviewed that earned a perfect score in all three test areas. Most of the others, while they didn't score perfectly across the board, did score higher than the industry standard in these areas. We gave more weight to those that scored perfectly in protection, since this is the main focus of these programs.
Detection & Removal Tools
In addition to the important test results, we looked at the types of threats each antivirus solution detects, where the program detects threats, the tools available to help you remove and recover from these threats, and whether the software offers protection to your mobile devices, such as cell phones, in addition to your PC.
We learned that several antivirus protection solutions have mobile protection available for devices such as cell phones, but it is usually part of a larger internet security suite or offered as an add-on for an extra cost. Panda Antivirus Plus is one program that extends its virus protection to your mobile devices without the cost of an add-on or the purchase of a more advanced or higher-priced program.
Most PC protection software, in addition to scanning your computer regularly, automatically scans your emails and USB ports for any threats and, if it finds one, destroys it before it has a chance to move into your computer. Avira has both of these capabilities and perfect scores in the AV-Test evaluations for correctly identifying between legitimate threats and nonthreatening programs.
Another important feature of a good antivirus program is the availability of a rescue CD. This disk or download reboots your computer in the event it crashes as a result of an infection. While good antivirus protection should block internet threats before they can affect your system, new and emerging threats sometimes get through before virus protection programs have a chance to recognize them. Bootable rescue CDs are important because they allow you to recover and continue your protection from your antivirus service. F-Secure and ESET are among the majority of solutions that have this feature available.
Free vs. Paid Antivirus Software
As you search for the best antivirus software, you're going to run into free software that claims it is as capable as paid programs. If you were to rank antivirus software categories into three different tiers, you'd find free software in the bottom tier, with the least functionality and protection. Although free software can be enticing, free antivirus protection is not as capable as paid software. All free programs can scan for viruses, but only some of them scan for malware automatically and offer real-time protection or browser add-ons to help you avoid bad links. Most advanced features are limited to paid antivirus programs.
One annoyance of free antivirus software is that each program displays ads for the full, paid version of the product. This doesn't detract from the free version's performance or capability, but it can be distracting and annoying. Some programs even immediately launch your web browser and link to their company's website if you click on a feature that isn't available in the free version, which may be a minor distraction but is annoying nonetheless.
Perhaps the biggest frustration with even the best free antivirus programs is the general lack of support available from the developers. Paid programs generally offer extensive technical support, allowing you to contact the manufacturer via email, phone and live chat. Free programs generally leave you fending for yourself with user manuals or a knowledgebase in which you have to comb through information before you find helpful material specific to you.
Choosing the Best Antivirus for Your PC
Antivirus solutions come with options ranging from basic protection to full-fledged internet security suites that include additional security features such as parental controls, password managers and internet filters. One of the factors that makes the biggest difference, though, is the operating system on your computer and how well the antivirus program works with it. AV-Test tests antivirus software on currently supported Windows and Mac operating systems. Sometimes a new version of the program is available to be evaluated on an older operating system, though usually the older versions of protection software are more compatible and effective with older operating systems. Here is a quick rundown of the most commonly used operating systems and what we found while reviewing antivirus software solutions.
Best Antivirus Software for Windows 8
The antivirus software programs for Windows 8 we reviewed have all been tested by the independent lab AV-Test. One thing we found is that some antiviruses perform better on Windows 8 than Windows 10 operating systems. It's also important to note that the last tests on the Windows 8 platform were conducted in December of 2015. While most antivirus protection developers had already upgraded and released their 2016 versions, some products, such as Avira and Norton Security, were still evaluated based on their 2015 versions. While the 2016 versions are compatible with Windows 8, they were not released in time to be evaluated by AV-Test and therefore were not included in our Windows 8 antivirus review.
Bitdefender, Kaspersky and Avira antivirus software scored perfectly in all three test areas: protection, performance and usability. This means each was able to identify, block and destroy 140 existing malware threats and almost 15,000 new antiviruses that were discovered during the testing time between November and December 2015. The average protection score for the industry is 97 percent, which means many programs in our Windows 8 PC protection comparison are exceptionally effective at stopping internet threats from attacking your computer system.
Some of the antivirus solutions for Windows 8 are capable of extending protection to mobile devices such as cell phones, though it may be possible to purchase either an add-on feature or a higher-priced internet security suite in order to have access to these tools. Additionally, some of the best programs now detect and eliminate ransomware threats.
In our evaluations of the best antivirus software for Windows 8, we found that Kaspersky, Bitdefender and Norton Security achieved the best AV-Test results and have plenty of features to cover your security needs.
Best Antivirus Software for Windows 7
Although the computer protections Microsoft sets in place may tempt you to avoid purchasing third-party antivirus software, you should know that these protections are best used as a starting point. Even though Microsoft continually improves upon its built-in security systems, with each installment of Windows' built-in security getting better, third-party applications simply outperform Microsoft Security Essentials. These built-in protections are designed for users who either try to get by without additional security software or don't realize other software is needed. However, narrowing down the best antivirus for Windows 7 and your needs can seem like a daunting process. We evaluated the top performers and ranked them based on their strengths and weaknesses to help you determine the right program for you.
The most important thing to consider when you search for the right security software is its ability to defend your computer against attacks. AV-Test, a well-respected independent test lab, tested every product we've reviewed and published its findings. This lab evaluated the protection capabilities of each product by testing it against both brand-new threats and well-known, established malware. By exposing hundreds of workstations networked to dozens of servers to tens of millions of threats, AV-Test is capable of determining which programs can keep your system safe quite accurately. Therefore, the performance of each Windows 7 antivirus program was the most important element we used to determine our ratings.
The next thing we considered for Windows 7 antivirus protection was the software's feature set. Generally speaking, the more features an antivirus program has, the more you can customize the security level of your computer system. 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 between 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.
Although Microsoft Security Essentials 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. We found that Kaspersky, Norton Security and Bitdefender are the best options for Windows 7 antivirus protection.
Best Antivirus for Windows Vista
The main goal behind the creation of Windows Vista was to improve the security of the Windows operating system after criticisms of its predecessor's vulnerabilities. Despite the security improvements developed specifically for Vista, advanced malware was created to break or circumnavigate the security systems in place.
Even though Microsoft designed Vista to be inherently secure, third-party antispyware software is the best measure against attacks from malware. The best Windows Vista antivirus software allows you to rest easy, knowing that your system is safe from potential threats. However, finding the right Vista antivirus program can be a tricky and difficult process. We evaluated and narrowed down the top choices through the following criteria to help you keep your system safe.
All Windows Vista security programs are capable of detecting different types of malware, including basic viruses and aggressive rootkits. The main difference among these products is not if they can find and remove malware, but how good they are at detecting these threats. AV-Test, an independent test lab, evaluates the best antivirus software programs on the market, running them through rigorous tests to determine each program's ability to detect both brand-new and older malware. So, while you're looking for the best Vista antivirus software, check out the performance scores of each program to make sure it is capable of catching brand-new threats as well as established malware. The best software scores 99 or even 100 percent in protection, so pay special attention to these programs.
All the antivirus software we reviewed for Windows Vista offers email protection, automatically cleans infected files, scans instant messages and quarantines dangerous files so they can't spread to other files. However, only some of these programs can create bootable rescue disks that allow you to recover an infected computer, which can be incredibly helpful. Additionally, not every program protects against attacks via USB storage devices or has antiphishing securities in place. Make sure to look for programs that meet all of your needs before making your final decision.
Another element to consider when looking for antivirus software is how impactful the program is on the host operating system. The top antivirus programs have no impact on your system performance, meaning you can visit webpages, download files, use different applications and so on without any performance interference from the antimalware program. However, most programs have at least some effect on the system's performance, generally a slowdown of around three seconds, which isn't terrible but is still noticeable.
Even with enhanced security in place with Windows Vista, antivirus software allows you to rest easy. This software can give you all the protection you need. As new malware appears every day, antivirus software evolves to stay on top of these growing threats. Antivirus software for Windows Vista helps your system remain safe against these constant and ever-changing threats.
Best Antivirus for Windows XP
Windows XP was a revolutionary operating system for Microsoft that generated overwhelming popularity from the general public and businesses alike. XP proved to be intuitive, highly capable and the most popular operating system from Microsoft for about 10 years, even after the release of Windows Vista and 7. Now that Microsoft has ceased updating support and security updates to Windows XP, protection against malware is vital if you want your XP computer to continue running smoothly. Without Windows XP antivirus software, you are at higher risk than most users, and your computer can become completely unusable in a short time.
The first thing to consider for any antivirus software is its ability to detect and remove malware. Not all programs are created equal, and some software is better at defending your system against potential threats. AV-Test, an independent software test lab, evaluates antivirus software for Windows XP on the effectiveness or, in some cases, ineffectiveness of its virus protection.
The very best antivirus software is capable of detecting and removing 100 percent of the threats sent its way. Many programs perform decently, catching 96 or 97 percent of the malware AV-Test sends its way. Regardless, make sure the antivirus software you purchase for Windows XP can catch and remove a high percentage of threats so you know your system is safe.
The next great differentiator between Windows XP virus protection programs comes down to how system-intensive the software is on your computer. If you still run Windows XP, a major factor in your decision should be the power of your processor. If you 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, if you are looking for antivirus software 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 doesn't take a large toll on your system.
Regardless of whether your Windows XP hardware is relatively new or rather old, it's still a good idea to look for programs that are not as resource-intensive during updates, scans or malware removal, just to be safe. Generally speaking, the older your computer gets, the less effective it is at running new software, such as antivirus software, which is constantly updating.
Every program on our lineup can detect 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.
Other programs are capable of performing vulnerability scans, in which the antimalware software searches for outdated programs on your computer to see if it can find any weaknesses for malware to pass through. Finally, the best antivirus software for Windows XP can 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; just make sure the software you purchase can handle all of your needs.
Windows XP was a revolutionary operating system when it first became available, and its strengths have remained present throughout the years. With the right tools, you can continue using XP even though it no longer receives updates from Microsoft. Virus protection software for Windows XP is designed to be lighter than other security systems, allowing you to use it with older processors. With XP antivirus software installed, you can surf the internet, view media and run additional applications without worrying about malware breaking down the system and making the computer virtually unusable.
Best Antivirus for Mac
Mac generally doesn't have as many threats as PC, mainly because there are more people using Windows than Mac computers, making it more lucrative for malware creators to focus on Windows operating systems. Mac devices also come standard with their own security measure that has proven to be pretty effective against many internet threats. However, it is still a good idea to invest in third-party antivirus software to close any gaps in the Mac system.
The best antiviruses for Mac devices don't hinder the performance of your computer while they scan for and protect against internet threats. As part of our evaluation of Mac antivirus software, we looked at the latest results of the AV-Test evaluations of security suites for Mac operating systems. These tests included looking at how much performance is lost while the antivirus program runs, including lag time while you access popular websites, open and use applications such as email and word document programs, and transfer files.
The other big test AV-Test conducts is one to see how well each antivirus protects against both known and unknown threats. Over the course of four weeks, AV-Test introduces hundreds of known malware threats and allows the introduction of thousands more newly emerged threats to determine how each antivirus protection performs on a Mac operating system.
As with PC protection programs, it is important to ensure the Mac antivirus detection program you choose scans your email and external drives for any threats that may attempt to penetrate your system in ways not necessarily common of malware. Additionally, with more and more PC threats evolving to include Mac devices, it is important to know the solution you choose can detect Windows threats and stop them before they infect your Mac.
We used the AV-Test results and the rich selection of features available to evaluate the best antivirus software for Mac. Overall, we found that Bitdefender, Norton Security and Kaspersky are all good solutions for protecting your Mac from malware attacks.
Small Business Antivirus
Most companies know that keeping workstations safe is important to the daily operations of the business, and often vital to the success of the company. It is a way to ensure hackers don't get through to interfere with production or attempt to swipe confidential company information. While the antivirus you use at home may offer some protection, it is better to use a solution specially tailored to business computer systems. Small business antivirus software often include added protections for threats that are more common in workplace settings, while still providing the best malware-blocking capabilities of home antivirus solutions.
AV-Test, an independent laboratory that evaluates the most common antivirus solutions, reviews antiviruses designed for business Windows clients. It looks at how well business antivirus programs detect and block both known and unknown malware by introducing thousands of different threats and monitoring each program's effectiveness against them.
AV-Test also evaluates how running an antivirus program affects the overall performance of your business computers. It looks at how much slower your system will run while accessing websites, transferring files and performing tasks within needed business programs.
After performance, we looked at the plethora of features available as part of business antivirus solutions, including strong firewalls, remote device detection and email protection. A couple of important features to have that not all business solutions include are anti-theft protection, which allows you to remotely lock and delete important files and information in case your device is lost or stolen, and a file shredder that ensures any threat is completely wiped from your computer rather than isolated and saved in a dormant state after being detected.
Taking into consideration the AV-Test results and the many features available with these programs, we determined that Kaspersky, Panda and Sophos are the best antivirus solutions for small business computers.