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Best antivirus software 2022: Stay safe online with premium and free software

Best antivirus software 2022: image shows computer protected by antivirus software
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It's important to own one of the best antivirus software packages now that security has never being more important than right now. Most of us go online to handle our finances, access medical records, and take care of many sensitive issues, so it's important to be properly protected.

No longer do you just have to worry about securing your best home computers (opens in new tab) either. Nowadays, you also need to protect the best smartphone (opens in new tab) and the best tablets (opens in new tab), as well as consider what to do when taking the best laptops on the move. They're all internet connected devices that could potentially be compromised by a nefarious virus or piece of malware. 

A good-quality antivirus package will protect all your devices, whether that's your work PC or your personal phone. The very best services also plan ahead thanks to an up-to-date database that detects the newest threats fast, and sometimes even spots suspicious behavior before it's been fully identified. That’s important, because, much like physical viruses, digital viruses are constantly evolving.

With the best antivirus software offering advanced artificial intelligence systems, you'll rarely need to worry too much once you have it installed on your devices. 

Most of the best antivirus tools are available as an annual subscription with many of them offering different product tiers to cover different needs and budgets. That means you have the freedom to buy a simpler and more affordable package if you only need basic protection, or you can invest in something more substantial if you need more features. There are plenty of free antivirus products too if you'd rather cut back further. 

When buying the best antivirus software, it may be a good idea to go with the best internet security software (opens in new tab) for more comprehensive security. They typically offer the same as the nine best premium and free antivirus software packages below, while bundling in firewalls, VPNs, and password management.

Whatever your intentions, read on and find the right antivirus package for you and your home. In no time, your devices will be secure from any threats thanks to one of these antivirus software tools. 

Editor's Choice: Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2021
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Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is the best antivirus software right now. It delivers watertight security, has excellent extra features, and it's very easy to use. With the basic antivirus package, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus you get protection against viruses, spyware and ransomware. It's extremely good value for money, too!

Most of the best antivirus programs these days operate on a yearly subscription model, meaning you’ll pay a yearly fee in exchange for the latest version of that software and all it’s updates will be free. You can also find some free antivirus software which is surprisingly effective, but these will often be lacking in features compared to the paid options. Premium antivirus software often comes with extras like firewalls, password managers, VPNs, and identity theft protection that free programs lack.

If you need an even more comprehensive security suite for your device, then you can also check out the best internet security software (opens in new tab). These are enhanced versions of antivirus programs that pack in extra security features and offer coverage for a larger number of devices.

Antivirus software explainer

Malware
Malware is short for malicious software, and it's a catch-all term to cover various types of threats that your device faces, including viruses, worms, trojan horses, spyware, adware etc.

Firewall
A firewall is a network security device on your computer that monitors incoming and outgoing network traffic, and blocks unauthorized or dangerous traffic. Windows and Mac computers have built-in firewalls, but many antivirus programs come with their own firewall program too.

VPN
VPN stands for virtual private network. These programs offer you a way to stay anonymous online, by encrypting your network signal and bouncing it off another server. This prevents websites from knowing where you are. They can also be used to access content that is region-locked. Some antivirus and internet security programs come with VPN access included.

Best antivirus software

1. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus: Best antivirus software overall

Best antivirus software : Bitdefender (From Techradar)

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The best antivirus software overall. Period.

Specifications

Operating system: Windows, Mac
Maximum devices covered: 10
Stand out features: VPN, Safe Files, File Shredder, Password Manager

Reasons to buy

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Excellent protection
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East to use
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Plenty of extras

Reasons to avoid

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Mac antivirus gets fewer extras

It was a tight contest, but in our opinion BitDefender edges it as the best antivirus software on the market. With the basic antivirus package, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus you get protection against viruses, spyware, ransomware and just about any other malicious kind of ware there is (no word on how it handles Tupperware). 

And while it’s all very well saying your product protects against these threats, Bitdfender backs up its claims with between 99.5 and 100% of malware attacks set against it when tested by industry experts.

Alongside this stellar protection against malware and viruses, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus also comes with access to a VPN to help you stay anonymous and safe online, along with Bitdefender’s Safe Files feature which can safeguard specific, important files further. Pricing is competitive too, with costs starting at $19.99 for the first year's cover.


2. Norton 360 Antivirus Plus: Best antivirus for performance

Best antivirus for performance: Norton 360 Antivirus Plus

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Great value antivirus software that won't slow you down

Specifications

Operating system: Windows, Mac
Maximum devices covered: 1
Stand out features: Cloud storage, password manager, online threat protection.

Reasons to buy

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Great antivirus protection
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Variety of tiers
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Easy to use

Reasons to avoid

-
Multi-device coverage limited to higher tiers.

It really was a close contest for our top spot, but nipping right at the winners heels was Norton 360 Antivirus Plus. Again, you get an exceptional antivirus suite that protects you against all kinds of online threats including viruses, spyware and ransomware. And again, Norton can back up those claims with excellent results in industry antivirus tests from experts like AVTest and AV Comparatives where Norton 360 scored perfect marks in the most recent round of testing.

On the extras front, you also get access to a password manager along with 2GB of online cloud storage to help protect your most vulnerable files that could otherwise be lost if your home computer was compromised.


3. Kaspersky Anti-Virus: Best antivirus protection

Best antivirus software: Kaspersky antivirus

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The best antivirus software for pure protection

Specifications

Operating system: Windows
Maximum devices covered: 5
Stand out features: Exceptional performance blocking malware

Reasons to buy

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Exceptional protection
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Very easy to use
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Cheaper than most

Reasons to avoid

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No bonus features
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No Mac coverage in basic tier.

Another huge name when it comes to antivirus software and with good reason, Kaspersky Anti-Virus is one of the best antivirus suites we’ve ever seen - in fact the only reason it doesn’t top out our list is the lack of extras and add ons. But as an antivirus program first and foremost, Kaspersky is peerless.

You get protection from viruses, spyware, malware, ransomware, Delaware, and a whole host of common hacking techniques. When tested recently by antivirus experts at AV Test and AV Comparatives, Kaspersky Anti-Virus scored perfect marks, blocking every single malicious file that was sent against it.

The only reason to look elsewhere is if you value some of the added extras that other programs bring, like VPNs and password managers, or if you only need to cover a single device. Kasperksy Anti-Virus stars at $29.99 for the first year to cover three devices, but there is no single device option so competitors are cheaper for single device users.


4. Avast Free Antivirus: Best free antivirus

Best antivirus software: Avast antivirus

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The best free anitvirus on the seven seas.

Specifications

Operating system: Windows, Mac
Maximum devices covered: No limit
Stand out features: Free, password manager.

Reasons to buy

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Free
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Great antivirus performance

Reasons to avoid

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Slows your computer down

What would you say if we told you that one of the best antivirus softwares on the market costs absolutely nothing? Nada, zilch, bupkis. Well it’s true, because Avast Free Antivirus is, as the name suggests, completely free. There are no hidden fees or delayed costs. It’s just free.

But surely it can’t be as good as the other antivirus programs out there, right? Wrong. Avast Free Antivirus offers you the same levels of protection as many of the other big names in the field, covering your devices from attacks by viruses, spyware and various other forms of malware. It performs excellently too, blocking between 99.7 and 100% of attacks levied at it by experts during their latest rounds of testing.

The downside is that it doesn’t run as efficiently as some premium antivirus software, so you may experience noticeable slowdown on your computer, especially if you’re using an older device. A small price to pay, when you’re not paying any price at all though.


5. McAfee Total Protection: Best antivirus for technophobes

Best antivirus software: McAfee Total Protection

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McAfee Total Protection takes a one size fits all approach.

Specifications

Operating system: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
Maximum devices covered: 10
Standout features: VPN, Identify theft protection, password manager, firewall.

Reasons to buy

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One size fits all
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Extensive feature set

Reasons to avoid

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No standalone antivirus
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Better options out there

While other companies have tiered their offerings, McAfee only offers a single antivirus solution called McAfee Total Protection. This is more of a full blown internet security software in truth, but it does include antivirus protection so we’d be remiss not to mention it here.

When it comes to antivirus protection, McAfee has been one of the big names for years now and it still offers a great product, though some of the competition might have started to pull away. The antivirus stood up to between 97.8 and 98.4 % of attacks in the most recent round of expert tests, which is excellent, but falls short of some of the other antivirus programs on our list.

You get a ton of other features rolled into the package, including a firewall, password manager, file shredder, and a secure VPN. But these aren’t freebies or extras, they’re part of the security package that you’re paying for. Pieces start at $29.99 for single device coverage for a year. That’s not bad, but if you just need an antivirus program you can get more devices covered for cheaper elsewhere.


6. F-Secure Antivirus SAFE: An easy to use antivirus

Best antivirus software: F-Secure Antivirus SAFE, an easy to use antivirus

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The easiest antivirus software to use

Specifications

Operating system: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
Maximum devices covered: 3
Stand out features: Browsing and banking protection, Family Rules, ransomware protection

Reasons to buy

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Very easy to use
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Great value

Reasons to avoid

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Some issues with false positives

F-Secure Antivirus SAFE is quite the serious piece of antivirus software. It comes with fantastic additional features to keep your system secure, such as banking protection for safe online shopping, and safety tools to protect your entire family, including time limits and content blocking. This protection extends beyond your desktop computer, too, with a device finder that can help you track down a lost Android or iOS device - and remotely lock or wipe it too, to keep data safe.

F-Secure Antivirus SAFE delivers premium antivirus protection, receiving high marks after testing by major labs, including AV-test. It’s worth pointing out that some noted more false positives were generated than other antivirus software packages, but whether that affects you will depend on how you use your computer. 

We like that this antivirus software program runs lightly - making it ideal for an older system. Another pro is the clean, easy-to-use interface. F-Secure Antivirus SAFE is an impressive package, and well-deserving of a place in our best antivirus software guide.


7. Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security: Best antivirus for ransomware protection

Best antivirus software: Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security

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Strong antivirus software with great ransomware protection

Specifications

Operating system: Windows only
Maximum devices covered: 1
Stand out features: Ransomware protection, advanced AI learning, email scam safeguarding, Pay Guard

Reasons to buy

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Excellent malware detection
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Affordable
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Simple to use

Reasons to avoid

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Could be resource intensive

Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security delivers highly effective protection. The antivirus software scores particularly well for anti spam, and comes with an effective ‘Folder Shield’ module to block ransomware. It has a reputation for being easy to use too.  

Although the best testing labs agree that its protection is very good, there’s some inconsistency to the details. AV-Comparatives, for example, reports a comparatively high number of false positives; while AV-Test found very high accuracy and no issues with false positives. One issue some agree on though is that Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security may be more resource intensive than others, making this antivirus software better suited to newer, more powerful systems.

We didn’t notice any performance problems, however. We found protection levels to be similar to Bitdefender, false positives were only marginally higher, and it didn’t slow down our system noticeably more than anything else.

Happily, there’s a free 30-day trial – which we’d advise running to check how the program performs on your system. If there are no noticeable issues, Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security is one of the best antivirus software programs you can choose.


8. VIPRE Advanced Security: A great antivirus for saving system resources

Best antivirus software: VIPRE Advanced Security

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An easy to use, non-invasive antivirus software

Reasons to buy

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Doesn’t drag on your system

Reasons to avoid

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Doesn’t have a password manager

VIPRE Advanced Security is the easiest antivirus software program to install and use among the antivirus programs we tested. It’s easy to find the tools, functions and folders you need because they are clearly marked with large icons and big text. 

Subfolders and tools, like the quarantine folder and custom scan settings, are in the main folders where you would expect them to be, so it’s not hard to navigate this program. Also, setting up VIPRE doesn’t take a lot of guesswork, and it doesn’t cause much slowdown of your computer while its running, even during deep virus scans.

While third-party test laboratories don’t test VIPRE very often, we checked out how well it protects against malware and were happy to see it blocked 99 percent of the over-300 live malware samples we used for testing.


9. Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus: A good lightweight option

Best antivirus software: Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus, a good lightweight option

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The most lightweight antivirus software around

Specifications

Operating system: Windows and Mac
Maximum devices covered: 1
Stand out features: Always-on security, identity protection, real-time anti-phishing, firewall monitor

Reasons to buy

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Very light on system resources
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Extremely fast
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Advanced features

Reasons to avoid

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No data from top labs

If you’re looking for a truly lightweight tool, Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus is the best antivirus software you can choose. Sure, most other products claim to be lightweight, but Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus is the only one to really live up to the claim: it’s tiny – and it’s exceptionally fast.  

It takes just seconds to install, and the program files are barely 2MB in size (some antivirus software can more than 700MB), with no bulky signature updates to hog your bandwidth. But just because it’s light on space, it doesn’t mean Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus is light on features. Aside from the core protection, it comes with smart behaviour monitoring, accurate real-time antiphishing, a firewall and network connection monitor, enhanced anti-ransomware, and other bonus features.

The top testing labs don’t evaluate Webroot's products very often, so it’s tough to directly compare this program’s accuracy with that of the other best antivirus software programs. But when they are tested, they score well - and certainly our tests revealed solid, reliable protection.

The company is so confident you’ll like it, Webroot has given SecureAnywhere AntiVirus a generous 70-day 100 per cent money-back guarantee. If you’re fed up of bloated engines, Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus is a very good product and worth a shot.


How we test antivirus software 

We’ve thoroughly researched antivirus software from all the big names in internet security, including Norton (opens in new tab), McAfee (opens in new tab), Kaspersky (opens in new tab) and Bitdefender (opens in new tab). We’ve spent hours finding out what each antivirus software offers and how much they cost and discovered how they perform in real-world situations.

We turn to industry experts and in-depth laboratories when deciding our overall antivirus ratings, and with good reason – these facilities test for malware, zero-day threats, false positives, and other security issues.

X-HEAD: Can antivirus software remove existing viruses? 

It can be challenging for any antivirus software to find and eliminate threats that were already on your system – because lots of viruses and malware applications block detection or mimic legitimate applications. 

Ultimately, antivirus applications will remove some existing malware, but not all of it. And these apps can’t usually repair existing damage.

If your PC is already infected, we recommend that you seek professional help – computer stores and local experts will be able to remove malware and get your PC fighting fit. 

Once your PC has been thoroughly cleaned, you should install an antivirus package to ensure that you don’t end up in the same situation again. 

Can antivirus software remove existing viruses?  

It can be challenging for any antivirus software to find and eliminate threats that were already on your system – because lots of viruses and malware applications block detection or mimic legitimate applications. 

Ultimately, antivirus applications will remove some existing malware, but not all of it. And these apps can’t usually repair existing damage.

If your PC is already infected, we recommend that you seek professional help – computer stores and local experts will be able to remove malware and get your PC fighting fit. 

Once your PC has been thoroughly cleaned, you should install an antivirus package to ensure that you don’t end up in the same situation again. 

How much does good antivirus software cost?

Mainstream antivirus packages don’t tend to be expensive. The top utilities generally cost between $20 and $50 per year, but prices vary between brands. Prices change elsewhere, too: you’ll often get a discount if you buy a multi-year package, but you may also have to pay more if you want to protect multiple devices. 

If you want to save cash, many antivirus software companies have introductory discounts, and you can switch to a different provider the next year to take advantage of another deal. And, at the other end of the scale, expect to pay more if you want additional features.

Companies like Avast, Avira and AVG produce free antivirus software. They don’t have the features of paid products and they’re usually ad-supported, but they will certainly protect your PC.

Using your data to help others

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2020 also has a data sharing program that allows the software to send information about viruses, Trojans, rootkits and other malware found on your computer back to its databases. This is a way to keep tabs on new threats and pass along protection to other Bitdefender users before the malware becomes a cyber outbreak. 

There hasn’t been any evidence of Bitdefender gathering inappropriate or unauthorized information, so we’re confident Bitdefender is safe to use. However, you can turn off this feature altogether from the Bitdefender dashboard if it worries you. 

What is the best mobile antivirus software?  

Most smartphone operating systems have built-in antivirus software alongside loads of other security features, but you can also deploy third-party applications if you’d like an extra layer of protection.

Bear in mind, though, that most basic and entry-level antivirus applications don’t cover smartphones. If you want smartphone protection, you’ll need to purchase a more comprehensive package, like McAfee Total Protection or Norton 360 Standard. Those products tend to cover PCs, laptops, and smartphones for one price.  

What is the best antivirus for business? 

We found that Kaspersky is the best antivirus choice for small businesses, with superb malware protection alongside straightforward design – it’s easy to use even if you’re not experienced with technology. Kaspersky also uses cloud computing to keep its apps updated, which is ideal if you don’t have an in-house IT team.

Kaspersky’s small business software covers up to 50 users, so it’s well-suited to protecting all devices in more compact organizations – and it covers smartphones and tablets as well as PCs and laptops. As well as antiviral protection, it includes password managers, backup tools, anti-spam and anti-phishing modules and web controls. 

We’d also highlight Avast’s business products for larger firms. There are various products that can protect up to 100 or 1000 devices, and the packages include firewall and VPN modules for added security. Avast’s products also have a vulnerability scanner, so you’ll get alerts about potential threats before they’re exploited, and it can even monitor employee webcams.

Do I need to uninstall an old antivirus program before installing a new one? 

Most antivirus software competes with other protection programs, so you need to uninstall your old program before installing a new one. Also, antivirus programs take up substantial memory, and having two installed will cause your computer to run much slower. During the installation process, most programs perform a scan to see if any other antivirus software or components are already installed, and they will either uninstall the old program for you or prompt you to uninstall it manually.

However, there are a couple programs that work in tandem with other antivirus software. Both AVG and Avast work alongside other protection software to add a second layer of security, catching threats your main program may miss. In both programs, you can turn off the virus detection and scan features – your main program can provide those specific service, and you can still take advantage of AVG’s and Avast’s more advanced tools like safe banking and password managers. 

If you install Avast or AVG as a secondary antivirus program, make sure to install it after your main antivirus. Otherwise, your primary program will require you to uninstall it before completing the installation process.

What is a personal firewall?

Firewalls should form a critical part of any security setup – because they inspect your internet traffic and block harmful content. Firewalls are included in modern operating systems, in routers, and in antivirus packages and security software. 

Many operating system and router firewalls are not infallible, though, because they don’t check inside packets of information for hidden threats – so malware can still creep through.

Firewalls from leading security companies do tend to look inside these packets, though, so they do a better job of spotting tricky threats. If you want to be truly secure, it pays to use a third-party firewall that can better identify and eliminate potential problems.

Luke is a veteran tech journalist with decades of experience covering everything from TVs, power tools, science and health tech to VPNs, space, gaming and cars. You may recognize him from appearances on plenty of news channels or have read his words which have been published in most tech titles over the years. In his spare time (of which he has little as a father of two) Luke likes yoga, surfing, meditation, DIY and consuming all the books, comics and movies he can find.

With contributions from