The best computer protection software is your front line security to keep your machine safe as well as your identity stored within. You may have already seen our best antivirus software (opens in new tab) guide and want to dive deeper into computer specific cover. You're in the right place.
This will mean that all your important data and personal information can be stored safely on your computer without worry of intrusion. The right computer protection software will not only keep your machine safe but will also keep your identity online secure. That means making sure nobody gets access to your data but also, in many cases, this spots if that does happen and takes action to help.
Some options offer multiple device protections, meaning you can have your smartphone and your tablet covered too, for example. These are similar to the best computer protection software, but we classify them as internet security software (opens in new tab) as they cover all kinds of devices.
It's also worth keeping an eye out for extras that might be of use. The password manager, which means a one click sign on for all your devices, is a useful addition. As is a VPN, which means your location is kept hidden when online.
Read on to find out which is the best computer protection software for you.
1. Norton 360: Best overall protection
Norton, as a long standing security software solution, is simply one of the best. There are lots of packages to pick from but at-the-top end 360 LifeLock Select is fantastic. This is a great option for identity theft protection and financial coverage for your computer.
Expect online protection for your machine (and other devices) against viruses, ransomware, malware, spyware using a firewall and more. You also get a password manager, VPN, free cloud storage of 100GB, plus credit history monitoring, credit alerts and data breach notifications. And should you get a virus, Norton says it will give your money back.
The LifeLock part of this package monitors the web to detect uses of your personal information, alerting you if someone has gained access to your identity. Even if this does happen, Norton can also help restore your identity with a dedicated team of fraud specialists. There's even a Million Dollar Protection package, should this go to court. You don't need to go for the full bells and whistles package though, and most of the Norton 360 options offer comprehensive cover for your computer.
2. Bitdefender: Best for all needs(opens in new tab)
Bitdefender is a powerful antivirus and online security system that offers a wide selection of options that should suit all need. Of the six main packages, the more you pay, the more devices you get covered as well as more extras. For the Bitdefender Total Security mid-range option you get a lot for your buck.
This covers five devices, or ten if you pay a little more, works on Mac, PC and smartphones, has a firewall, features parental controls, gives you a limited VPN, offers lots of virus and malware protection, has webcam and microphone monitoring protection, and anti-loss and anti-theft tools should your device go missing.
If you need priority support and an unlimited use VPN, the Premium Security option could be for you.
3. Kaspersky: Best parental controls(opens in new tab)
Kaspersky is one of the best options outright but is also a great choice for parents that want digital control over their devices. This offers flawless performance testing under the most rigorous of industry testing, for peace of mind that parents appreciate.
Kaspersky Total Security is the most powerful package which comes with Windows, Mac, and smartphone security against viruses, malware, spyware and ransomware, a VPN, ad blocking, password manager, webcam protection, a two-way firewall against hacking, payment protection, and keylogger protection.
It's the kid protection that stands out with an adult content blocker as well as screen time management. You also get social media monitoring and even a GPS child locator that lets you know if they leave a designated area you've defined.
4. McAfee Total Protection: Best for cryptocurrency(opens in new tab)
McAfee Total Protection is designed to monitor your cryptocurrency accounts and stop threats that try to hack in. This means Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency attacks can be avoided best with this software.
McAfee Total Protection works on Mac, PC and smartphones to protect them against viruses, malware, spyware and ransomware. It offers a firewall, password manager, file shredder, a secure VPN, identity theft protection, tech scam protection, and file-less attacks.
There aren't as many plan options as some others, but McAfee has managed to cover all the bases with just a few tiers of protection.
5. Avast Premium Security: Best affordable option
Avast Premium Security is an antivirus suite that offers plenty of features at a decent price. This is a more comprehensive version of the Avast Antivirus offering which is free and does a lot, when that value is taken into consideration.
Avast is pirate speak for stop and that's what this does when it comes to viruses trying to get into you Mac, PC or smartphone. Go for single device cover or get 10 covered at once depending on the package you pick. Either way you'll get protection from viruses, malware, ransomware, phishing attacks and more. This will even scan your WiFi to find weaknesses.
6. Trend Micro Antivirus Plus Security: Best for support(opens in new tab)
The Trend Micro Antivirus Plus Security offering is a powerful one that not only covers your computer but also your mobile devices. So if you want cover when on the go as well as on your computer, this option – which gives you a VPN too – is a great choice. At the top end, with Maximum Security, you get lots of premium features.
Up to five devices can be covered at once and that includes iOS and Android. The service offers dark web monitoring, meaning should your identity be compromised and used online, you will be notified right away. There's even 24/7 technical support to help you take action and remote login to let a pro access your device to fix any issues for you.
7. F-Secure: Best for simplicity
F-Secure Anti-Virus falls into three categories of, Anti-Virus, SAFE and TOTAL. The latter, at the upper end, offers the best overall protection. Not only do you get virus protection – with perfect test scores – but also malware cover for Mac, PC and smartphones.
This software is very light too, putting little processor strain on your device which means it can work in the background without you noticing. Cover runs for up to seven devices at once, with cheaper options for five or three devices.
Thrown in is the F-Secure FREEDOME VPN that means your identity is kept secure and location secret. Dark web monitoring will alert you if your details appear online and you can use smartphone notifications to be alerted if any service you use is hacked and you may be compromised.
8. VIPRE Advanced Security: Best for speed
VIPRE Advanced Security is a great alternative to the big name options out there, maintaining a minimal footprint to ensure the least impact on your device. All that equates to a powerful protection setup that won't slow down your device. VIPRE Advanced is the middle of three tier options, striking the balance between features and affordability – but make no mistake, this is a premium option.
This system protects you against viruses, malware, spyware and more – also scanning your system files as they're in use for constant protection. This lets you protect email and social media specifically if you tweak and edit the settings. It even uses machine learning to detect and deal with new malware. You also get a firewall, spam filter, pop-up blocker and anti-phishing smarts. A comprehensive package that remains light to run.
9. Webroot Secureanywhere: Best for system performance
Webroot Secureanywhere is a very, very light way to get your device protected. The install package is just 4MB, so that can give you some idea of how little this affects the performance of your machine. This is thanks to an antivirus program which runs minimally, locally, but keeps its big AI brain up in the cloud.
You still get protection against viruses, established or new, malware, phishing, hacks and more. Only this does that by monitoring locally until the cloud smarts decides action needs to be taken. As such any threat that has caused damage can be annihilated and the changes rolled back so you're secure and running as normal.
You won't get extras like a VPN or parental controls for a price that isn't much cheaper than the competition and there are antivirus performance questions still floating around, so this is lower down on our list for now.
Do you need an antivirus for Windows 10?
Windows Defender has come a long way and now scores pretty high in third-party security tests for detecting and protecting against malware. Windows 10's bundled virus protections do a solid job securing PCs from internet threats, but it's no match for a dedicated computer protection program.
While no antivirus software can guarantee 100 percent virus protection (though some programs, like Norton, come with such a guarantee), all of the options we reviewed here will enhance the protection of your Windows 10 computers beyond what Windows Defender can provide. For example, Bitdefender stops threats from within your web browsers from infecting your computer in the first place, plus it comes with extra tools to secure your passwords, monitor your internet connection and scan for weak points in your system in ways Windows alone can’t.
Other programs, such as McAfee Total Protection, include spam filters designed to monitor your incoming email messages for not only malicious links and downloads, but phishing schemes. This is something Windows Defender can’t do on its own. We also feel most standalone antivirus programs are easier to use than Windows Defender.
Antivirus vs. Internet Security vs. Computer Protection Software
Most internet security companies offer more than one protection solution. These programs often include antivirus, internet security or computer protection in their name. These days the lines between antivirus, internet security programs, and computer protection have been blurred, but there are still some difference between them, even if there is a lot of overlap. Here are the biggest differences between these types of programs.
Antivirus software is very bare boned. Its main function is to stop threats like viruses, ransomware and Trojans from infecting your computer through a malicious download online, an infected file sent via email or uploaded from a thumb drive, or shared through a USB-connected device, like a cellphone. The best antivirus programs, like Bitdefender Antivirus Plus (opens in new tab), stop threats before they have a chance to open on your machine, while others wait until the threat is loose before rounding it up and placing it in quarantine. Antivirus software typically comes with just a single user license to protect one computer or mobile device.
Internet security suites build on the basic antivirus platform. Along with malware protection, internet security software also includes other tools that provide additional internet protection. These often include password managers, safe browsing features, safe banking tools and parental controls. They also include a personal firewall that is a good tool for monitoring your internet connection to ensure hackers can’t get into your computer, especially when connected to a public hotspot, and for disconnecting anyone trying to illegally piggyback on your home internet connection. Internet security suites typically come with three or five user licenses so you can protect more than one computer in your home.
Computer protection software typically is a suite, or bundle of multiple security programs, each compatible with a different device or operating system. For example, Kaspersky Total Security includes the internet security solution for Windows computers, its antivirus software for Mac computers, and a mobile program for cellphones and tablets. Every security feature offered by the developer, which often includes VPNs and webcam monitoring, is included in addition to the protections that come with the internet security software. Also, computer protection software comes with multiple user licenses; the best companies offer a minimum of 10 or even unlimited licenses.
How much can I expect to pay for complete computer protection?
Computer protection suites include a wide range of protection tools and multiple-use licenses. and they typically include a mobile security element, so you can expect to pay between $70 and $120 for a good program. Most computer protection software comes with five to 10 user licenses that are compatible with both Windows and Mac computers and laptops as well as cell phones and tablets.
How Does Malware Get Onto Your Computer?
The term "malware" encompasses any type of computer threat, including viruses, Trojans, rootkits, ransomware and hackers. Phishing schemes and spam email messages are also classified as malware, since they put you at risk of identity theft. While there are many ways for your computer to become infected with malware, according to computer security expert Mitch Stephens, the most common way is through email. Too often people click on links in emails that look safe but really send them to forms that collect personal information or pages with malicious downloads. Also, you can accidentally click on a malware file online, or someone may inadvertently share one with you through a USB drive.
The best way to lower the risk of infecting your computer with malware is to learn how to spot fake email. This includes looking closely at the sender’s email address, evaluating if correct grammar and punctuation are used, and avoiding clicking links embedded in messages. The next best defense against online threats is using an antivirus software designed to spot malware in email messages; block malware from downloading; and protect sensitive information with tools like spam filters, VPN, personal firewalls and password managers.
Can viruses steal personal information?
Viruses aren’t able to swipe any personal information on your computer; however, there are other types of malware that do. Trojans are threats that look like a legitimate program, but much like the Trojan Horse in ancient Greek mythology, threats are hidden inside. These threats are used by hackers to sneak into your computer system specifically to steal personal information. This is one reason experts suggest never saving your passwords on your computer unless you encrypt (opens in new tab) the document. But even then, a hacker can use a Trojan to install a keylogger. Keyloggers capture every keystroke as you make them, even if you don’t save a document or hit the Enter key. It isn’t difficult to capture passwords using this type of program, and having one on your computer will leave you vulnerable.
We recommend using an antivirus program, like Norton 360 (opens in new tab), that includes a firewall. This tool monitors your internet connection and is a good way to stop Trojans from sneaking in. It also stops these, and other malware files, from downloading from the internet. Other important tools included with Norton Security are an encrypter and a password manager. This means you can encrypt documents and files on your computer without having to buy a separate, standalone program. The password manager hides all your passwords in a way that is difficult for a hacker to break through.
Important Features to Look for When Buying Computer Protection Software
Before we started testing computer protection software, we chatted with Mitchell Stephens, a security consultant with Emagined Security, to get an idea how to best test these programs. Stephens explained that antivirus software is proactive, meaning it is designed to prevent your computer from being infected in the first place. Since most threats come through the internet, that 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)," Stephens said. "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 (opens in new tab), keeps your credentials secure as you log into online accounts. It also helps you create long, complicated passwords you don’t have to remember each time you 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 (opens in new tab) provides a link to these updates so you don’t have to search for them and accidentally click through to a malicious site.
Watch What You Share on Social Media
Some computer protection programs, like McAfee Total Protection (opens in new tab), include tools that look for phishing schemes and malicious links posted on social media sites. However, other dangers lurk on these sites. Here are some tips for staying safe from hackers and identity thieves on social media:
- Don’t share personal information. Twitter, Instagram and Facebook all ask for your birthdate, full name, email address and phone number to create your account. However, you don’t have to make this information public. In fact, even your friends and family don’t need this information. It’s safer to keep these details private so people can’t swipe them.
- Use a separate email address just for social media. Some sites require you to share personal information – for example, LinkedIn (opens in new tab) does because it’s a networking site intended to connect you with potential employers or employees. In that case, create a separate email account just for business purposes. Many free email services (opens in new tab) let you have more than one account at a time. Also, be careful about the work history you post. You don’t have to give exact dates or share addresses for a legitimate company to find you or be impressed.
- Be careful of what you click on. A lot of feel-good stories or to-good-to-be-true deals hide a phishing scheme or malware download. Only click on links you trust are from legitimate sources. If you’re not sure, type the store’s URL into your web browser or do a search for a specific news story. You will see the same information, deals, etc. if it was offered by a legitimate source.
- Don’t post information that may be used in passwords or that makes it easy to identify you. For example, some people post challenge questionnaires on social media that ask for information about where you went to school, your favorite pet’s name or your nicknames. This information is often used to create passwords and armed with these details, a hacker could break into your online accounts. Other games challenge you to find your alter ego by combining words based on your birthdate. Again, this information can be used to steal your identity, so be careful about participating.