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Best Antivirus Software
Why Buy Antivirus Software?
Verdict & Recommendations
We recently spent four months testing antivirus programs with over 200 live malware samples on multiple test computers running Windows 10. While we haven’t tested every program on the market, we have evaluated 10 well-known products, including Bitdefender, McAfee, Norton and Kasperky. We are in the process of testing additional programs and are excited to share our results as we find them.
Our testing, and those of other internet security testing labs, consistently point to Bitdefender Antivirus as one of the best antivirus programs for Windows. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best for you and your security needs. Each antivirus software we reviewed is highly qualified and includes specialty features and tools that make it stand out from the dozens of virus protection programs out there. Here are some of the specific needs your family may have and the antivirus program we feel may best meet those needs.
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 feature, 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 best virus protection solutions out there. Additionally, we downloaded several antivirus programs onto test computers at our Lab and used over 200 live malware threats to see how well these programs recognize and block viruses, Trojans, rootkits, ransomware and other internet threats. Phishing schemes and other malicious websites were also used in our testing to see if the program recognized them as threats and blocked us from reaching them.
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 at and discovered.
One of 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. But we do just that. We’ve created a standardized test that we use to determine how well each program protects your computer. Several third-party laboratories, including AV-Test Institute and AV-Comparatives, have similar tests. Our final test scores are an average of multiple third-party test results and our own findings.
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’s important to know how much an antivirus program affects your computer’s performance as it runs. A lag of even a few seconds is enough to interrupt game play, videos and even simple tasks such as attaching files to emails and searching the web.
We determined each software’s effect on our computers’ resources by first performing common tasks without an antivirus program installed. This included attaching large files to outgoing email, downloading programs, file sharing, playing games online, downloading and watching videos and simply navigating the web. Once we had a base time we performed each task again after the antivirus programs were installed and during performing virus scans.
Since these programs offer free trials of their software, we also downloaded these programs to personal computers at home and did the same performance tests. This also gave us a chance to get a feel for how they work in everyday life rather than in a controlled laboratory environment. As with our protection score, we created an average score based on our own experience with the drag created by these programs, 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.