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Best Antivirus Software
Why Buy Antivirus Software?
According to the identity protection firm IdentityForce, there have been 29 major consumer security breaches in 2017 at companies such as Equifax, Verizon, Arby’s, Blue Cross BlueShield/Anthem, and Gmail – each leading to the theft of consumers’ personal information, including birthdates, social security numbers, addresses, bank accounts and credit card numbers. Identity thieves use this information to become you, causing financial and emotional damage. The information can also be used to hack into your computer to gather more information or hold your files hostage with ransomware, rootkits, worms and bots. The best way to protect against hackers and malware is to update your computer and programs when prompted, and to purchase antivirus software that monitors your system 24/7.
Verdict & Recommendations
Our testing and research consistently pointed to Bitdefender, Norton and Kaspersky Lab as the overall best antivirus programs for Windows. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean one of them is best for you and your internet security needs. Each antivirus software we reviewed is high quality and includes specialty features and tools that make it stand out from the dozens of virus protection programs out there. We recommend any of these programs, depending on the specific needs of your family.
Antivirus programs are subscription-based with a per-year and per-license price. Most offer a single license for between $20 and $55. However, several programs, including Bitdefender Antivirus 2018, bundle multiple licenses together for a lower per-license price than if you bought them each separately.
Best Antivirus Software for Windows
All the programs we tested are Windows antivirus software and are compatible with versions 7, 8 and 10. Most also work on computers running Windows XP and Vista, though you likely won’t get support with these versions since Microsoft no longer updates them.
Bitdefender is the best antivirus software for computers that run Windows because it blocks more malware than any other program, no matter which version of the operating system you use. This software warns you of dangerous search results and blocks you from opening infected links and files. It also includes a file shredder and a personal data filter. Bitdefender protects your computer without causing significant lag, even when you play games or watch videos online.
Additional Recommendation: Trend Micro
Best Antivirus for Mobile Protection
Hackers and malware are becoming a big threat to mobile devices as more and more people use tablets and smartphones to access the internet. Several antivirus programs have mobile solutions that extend malware protection to these devices. You usually have to purchase an additional license or a separate, add-on program for mobile antivirus protection, but there are a few developers that include it in their regular software packages.
Avast’s antivirus software comes with free access to its mobile protection program so you can safeguard all your web-enabled devices. It is just as effective at detecting and blocking malware on your cell phone, including rootkits and phishing schemes, as it is on your computer or laptop. This means you can surf the web, shop online and connect to social media without worrying about what malicious programs may be trying to gain access to your phone files.
Additional Recommendation: Norton Security
Best Antivirus for Online Banking
The best antivirus programs go above and beyond blocking internet threats and include additional tools to help you stay safe online. One powerful set of tools is designed specifically to keep your personal information secure while you bank online or access credit card sites. When you choose a program with online banking features, hackers have extra barriers to get around to swipe your information. Online banking tools are a great way to protect your identity and your computer system.
In addition to providing great malware protection, Kaspersky includes tools to keep you safe during online banking sessions. For example, it has a virtual keyboard you can use to enter usernames and passwords to log into your accounts. This keeps you safe from keyloggers hackers use to capture the keystrokes you make on traditional keyboards. Kaspersky also has powerful antiphishing blocks to crack down on how often you are asked for credit card and banking information by dangerous sources disguised legitimate ones.
Additional Recommendation: McAfee
Best Antivirus for Online Gaming
All the antivirus solutions we reviewed let you schedule scans to happen automatically. This can be bothersome if you play games online or watch videos on your computer since virus scans can cause significant lag and programs send pop-up notifications when scans finish to let you know what they found.
Gamer, or silent, mode suspend scans and notifications while you play games or watch movies online, so you’re not interrupted and don’t experience any computer slowdown. The best antivirus applications that include this mode automatically enable it rather than requiring you to access the settings to turn it on yourself.
One of Avira antivirus software’s best features is its gaming mode, which allows you to play games online without lag or interruptions from system scans and pop-up notifications. Several other antivirus programs have this features, but Avira automatically enables it. When you access an online game, the software automatically adds the URL to the gaming list so it knows you’re on a safe site when you visit it again. You can also manually add sites to the list.
Additional Recommendation: ESET
Best Antivirus Software for Mac
We specifically tested antivirus solutions for Windows 10, but many of these programs are also compatible with Mac computers. Antivirus programs that are compatible with Macs and PCs usually work equally well on both. However, there are a few solutions developed solely for Mac computers, and they look and feel more natural on that operating system than those that work on both. Additionally, customer support is better because representatives understand how your Mac computer works with the software.
Intego is one of the top 10 programs we looked at when we reviewed Mac antivirus software. It scans your files in real time, so it detects threats quickly, before they have a chance to settle in your system. In addition to Mac malware, Intego recognizes many Windows viruses and can keep you from inadvertently passing them on by email to friends and family with Windows computers.
Best Free Antivirus Program
Free antivirus protection is enticing if you have a limited budget. Unlike paid software, these programs typically don’t scan for malware automatically, and they usually don’t protect your computer in real time or have browser add-ons to help you avoid bad links. Additionally, free antivirus software displays ads for the full, paid version of the product. While this doesn’t detract from performance, it can be distracting and annoying. Perhaps the biggest frustration with even the best free antivirus programs is the general lack of customer support from the developer.
Through our testing, we found that AVG is the best free antivirus software available. It includes extra protection tools that most free programs don’t have such as a USB scanner, PC tune-up scanner and some personal support via email. AVG is very effective at detecting and blocking viruses, receiving perfect scores in this area from third-party testing labs. It is also very easy to install and use. Unlike other free antivirus programs, AVG lets you schedule automatic scans and performs deep scans instead of just skimming the surface.
Reviewing & Ranking Antivirus Software
We spent hundreds of hours testing, researching and evaluating dozens of antivirus programs to narrow the list down to the 10 best virus protection solutions out there. We downloaded each program on several test computers in Purch Lab as well as on personal computers at home to get a feel for how they work in everyday life. We compared our results to those from other third-party laboratories that also test antivirus software on a regular basis. Here is a breakdown of what we looked for and discovered.
One of the most important, if not the most important, considerations when choosing an antivirus program is how well it detects, blocks and eliminates internet threats. This is difficult to test, though, because it requires you to deliberately infect your computer with the most malicious of internet threats. Several third-party laboratories, including AV-Test Institute and AV-Comparatives, have created standardized tests that do exactly that, and they are recognized worldwide as authorities on the overall performance of antivirus software.
As part of our review process, we considered the findings of these third-party experts. Additionally, we tested the programs with less invasive threats, such as keyloggers and outdated software, to see how well they detected and quarantined them. Our final test scores are an average of multiple third-party test results and our own evaluations.
Detection & Removal
This score shows, on average, how well an antivirus program can protect your computer against threats. The best software keeps an accurate data log of all known malware threats so it can quickly recognize common viruses and block them. In addition to how the program handles known threats, our detection and removal score considers how well the software stops new threats, which it does by comparing unfamiliar files and those it previously blocked for similarities.
Loss of Computer Resource
It is also important to consider how much an antivirus program affects computer performance as it runs. A lag of even a few seconds is enough to interrupt game play, videos and simple tasks such as attaching files to emails and searching the web.
We determined the software’s loss of computer resource score by launching, using, downloading, installing and copying files and programs during a virus scan. As we did so, we observed whether the program created significant lag or showed pop-ups. We took our testing a step further and played downloaded and online games and watched videos online during virus scans to see just how much interference the program created.
As with detection and removal, we created an average score based on our own test results and those published by third-party testing labs.
The final score we assigned is for how well the antivirus program identifies legitimate sites. Top-ranking antivirus solutions only attack true threats and leave your harmless files and programs accessible.
Scanning & Detection
In addition to performing the above tests, we looked at the types of threats each antivirus solution detects, where the program detects them, and the tools it uses help you remove and recover from them.
All the antivirus programs we reviewed do a good job of blocking known malware, including rootkits, keyloggers, phishing schemes and ransomware. They are also all effective at identifying and blocking new threats before they infect your system.
In addition to scanning your computer regularly, most Windows antivirus software automatically scans you emails and USB ports for any threats. If the program finds one, it destroys the malicious file before it has a chance to enter your computer.
Since new and emerging threats sometimes get through, good antivirus programs also have a rescue CD or a rescue file you can download to a USB drive. This disk or download reboots your computer in a safe mode and helps recover the system in the event it crashes because of an infection.
Antivirus software’s most basic and important function is protecting against malware, but programs often include tools that can further protect your computer. These can include parental control features that let you set time limits, block websites and filter dangerous online content.
In addition, a password manager stores the login information for all your online accounts in one secure place. Because you access your accounts using the manager’s password, you aren’t as likely to have a security breach and can bypass phantom sites that try to snatch sensitive information as you proceed to legitimate sites – this is particularly harmful when the phantom site is connected to bank, credit card and other websites that house personal information.