Best Computer Protection Software
What Makes Great All-in-One Computer Security Software?
To evaluate computer protection software, we looked at third-party test results and spent over 240 hours conducting our own in-house tests using live malware samples. We looked for additional protection tools included in each program, such as password managers and antitheft tools. Based on our testing, we feel Norton Security Premium is the best option for protecting all your devices. It has a good list of security features, such as antiphishing and parental controls, which are available for all platforms, including Apple and Android cellphones. Plus, it comes with a 100-percent virus protection guarantee.
Norton Security Premium received high scores for protecting against malware from independent labs, and in our own tests it did well at blocking viruses. In fact, during full system scans, Norton detected traces of threats that had been left behind by other computer security programs and quickly quarantined these, too. Once deleted, all threats were completely removed so there was no trace of them left to re-infect our computer.
We were impressed with Norton Security’s in-browser alerts that provided us with details about the websites and downloads the program blocked. Other programs require you to comb through full reports to get that information. Also, when a site wasn’t reached because of a 404 error, timed out server or account suspension, Norton often still tagged it as malicious and sometimes caught a hidden virus trying to download.
This software comes with a 100-percent protection guarantee. If a virus does attack your computer while running Norton Security, Norton will help you clean and restore your computer. You also get 25GB of online backup storage which makes it easier to restore important files, folders and images after an attack.
Bitdefender Total Security 2018 comes bundled with separate programs for PC and Mac computers, and for Android and iOS mobile devices. The program protects against malware on all these devices, though we found its virus scan causes some slowdown on Mac computers. It comes with a fair number of security tools for all platforms, including parental controls, antitheft tools and password managers. All your devices have access to 2GB of shared online backup storage, and there’s 24/7 phone support. Bitdefender offers its multi-device protection for $10 to $30 less than similar products.
One great feature is Total Security’s secure delete. This completely wipes any trace of found threats from your computer so they can’t re-infect your system. While testing Bitdefender, its virus scan found traces of threats other computer security programs had left behind and eliminated them.
Note that the iOS component of this software has fewer security tools. The Android module includes a password manager, antiphishing and blocked call features, but iOS protection is limited to antitheft and parental controls.
During our in-house test, we noticed Bitdefender did a good job of blocking malicious files across popular web browsers. Even sites that displayed connection errors sometimes had a hidden threat that Bitdefender tagged and stopped. It did have difficulty working alongside Microsoft Edge, but most computer protection software has this issue.
Best Cloud Protection
Trend Micro’s cloud protection focuses on shielding your online storage files from hackers, internet snoops and viruses. This is a relatively new area of security that not a lot of computer protection programs offer. Additionally, you get 25GB of online backup storage to share between all your devices, which is a good place to keep copies of pictures, important documents and program files just in case your computer is attacked by malware.
Trend Micro Maximum Security consistently receives high scores for detecting and blocking malware in both Windows and Mac systems. During our own in-house testing Trend Micro consistently blocked every Trojan, rootkit, ransomware, malicious website and phishing scheme from downloading to our computers. It also worked better than any other in our tests with Microsoft Edge; other programs didn’t always block suspicious downloads from the MS browser.
We didn’t notice any slowdown on our computers during our testing of Trend Micro. In fact, the full virus scans were quicker than most computer protection programs we reviewed. However, other test labs reported some slowing and other users have complained of this program slowing down their devices.
The parent controls work on all platforms, allowing you to specify how long your kids have access to the internet and to monitor what they are doing online. Plus, Trend Micro’s antitheft tools for mobile include a GPS tracking feature that can be used to keep track of where your kids are.
Why Trust Us
Top Ten Reviews has been researching and testing computer protection programs for 15 years. We conduct hands-on tests with live malware, so we thoroughly understand how each program protects you from dangerous threats. We subscribe to security and IT news outlets and blogs, so we know quickly of newly discovered malware, security breaches and what’s evolving in the computer security industry. Also, our testers are parents with home computers and mobile devices, so we have a vested interest in keeping our own families secure while online. Often, we bring software home and test it on our own devices, so we have a pretty good understanding of how these programs work in a real-life scenario compared to an environmentally controlled test device.
As part of our research, we talk to professionals within the industry. These include IT professionals that oversee the security of IT systems of major companies, as well as security analysts hired to “hack” into companies and provide better computer protection solutions.
How We Tested
We tested each computer protection program using over 200 live malware threats – Trojans, rootkits, ransomware, phishing schemes, viruses and malicious websites gathered from several malware databases. We entered each threat into browser URL fields and watched to see how well the antivirus portion of each program recognized and stopped these threats from infecting our system. Through our hands-on testing we learned which programs stop threats before they are downloaded and which wait to capture the threat after it is on your computer.
We noted that not all programs worked equally well with Microsoft Edge. In other browsers, such as Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome, protection software uses extensions block threats that the browser’s security settings miss. Since Edge doesn’t allow third-party browser extensions, it’s more difficult for the software to stop any threats the browser misses. Most of the software we tested stopped threats from Edge only after they downloaded, but Trend Micro impressed us because it stopped threats from even downloading via Edge – without the need for a browser extension.
In addition to our own testing, we also considered results from tests conducted by independent test labs, including AV-Test and AV-Comparatives. Our final protection score and recommendation takes all these results into account and reflects how well each software detects and protects against malware.
As we tested performance, we shared files, sent emails, downloaded videos, software and images, navigated the web, and played games online – first without the computer protection software installed and then again during full virus scans. This gave us an idea of how much the programs tax computer resources while they run, as well as how much slowdown to expect. We compared our results to similar evaluations done by third-party laboratories and found similar outcomes across the board.
We tested each program on both Windows and Mac computers. Programs with an iOS component were tested on iPad Pros.
Important features to look for when buying computer protection software
Before we started testing computer protection software, we chatted with Mitch Stephens, a security consultant with Emagined Security, to get an idea how to best test these programs. Stephens explained that antivirus is proactive, meaning it is designed to stop your computer from being infected to begin with, and since most of these threats come through the internet, this is where we chose to focus our live malware tests.
“Attackers for the most part are looking for sensitive information they can use for either financial gain, or destructive purposes (i.e., Social Security numbers, bank account information, nonpublic company information,” Stephen shared with us. “The best way to strengthen the overall security is to maintain safe practices online. Keeping your system patches up to date is also good, [and] make sure [you use] good password construction.”
The best computer protection software includes tools to help further secure your computer while you are online. For example, a password manager, such as the one included with F-Secure TOTAL, keeps your credentials secure as you log in to online accounts. But it will also help create long, complicated passwords that you don’t have to remember each time you need to log in.
Vulnerability scans look for weak spots in your system, such as out-of-date software, and recommend patches or updates. McAfee Total Protection provides a link to these updates so you don’t have to search for them and accidentally click through to a malicious site.
What about mobile security?
There haven’t been a lot of viruses that target cellphones and tablets, yet. According to Stephens, the majority of mobile malware focuses on capturing personal information, usually through a phishing scheme sent through email.
“Email attacks are probably THE most common method of attack. An attacker can send a link that looks similar to another link you are familiar with that you will then go and enter your information in. The best way to protect yourself from phishing attacks is by only opening email from trusted or known sources.”