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Best computer protection software

Best computer protection software

We spent over five months conducting in-house tests on computer protection software. During that time, we used live malware samples to see how well each program protects Windows and Mac computers and mobile devices. 

Editor's Choice: Norton Security Premium

Norton Security Premium comes with a 100-percent guarantee that it will keep all your devices free of viruses. Norton 360 Deluxe is currently $50 off for the first year. Or get the latest Norton 360 with a saving of $40 for the first year.VIEW DEAL ON Norton

We also considered each application’s additional protection tools and overall value. Based on our findings, we believe Norton Security Premium is the best program for protecting all your device. 

It has a good list of security features, including anti-phishing protection and parental controls, and comes with a 100-percent virus protection guarantee.

To discover today's best security options, make sure to check out our best antivirus software guide.

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 to get a thorough understanding of how each program protects you from dangerous threats. We subscribe to security and IT news outlets and blogs, so we know quickly about 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, which gives us a pretty good understanding of how these programs work in real-life scenarios versus controlled environments.

As part of our research, we talk to professionals within the industry. These include IT professionals who oversee the security of systems for major companies as well as security analysts hired to “hack” into companies and provide better computer protection solutions. Using information from these professionals, we developed a testing methodology that closely mirrors real-life malware attacks to find out which programs proactively keep your system free from threats rather than reactively roundup malware after it has settled onto your computer.

ProductPriceOverall RatingValueWindows ProtectionMac ProtectionAndroid ProtectioniOS ProtectionUser ExperienceSuggested Retail PriceVirus Protection GuaranteeWindows: In-House Malware Protection ScoreWindows: Overall Malware Protection ScoreWindows: Game Mode EnabledWindows: AntiphishingWindows: Spam FiltersWindows: FirewallWindows: Social Network ProtectionWindows: Vulnerability ScanWindows: Parental ControlsWindows: Password ManagerWindows: Safe BankingWindows: VPNMac: In-House Malware ProtectionMac: Overall Protection Score for MacMac: AntiphishingMac: FirewallMac: Vulnerability ScanMac: Parental ControlsMac: Password ManagerMac: Safe BankingMac: VPNAndroid: AntitheftAndroid: Block CallsAndroid: Parental ControlsAndroid: Password ManagerAndroid: VPNiOS: AntitheftiOS: Block CallsiOS: Parental ControlsiOS: Password ManageriOS: VPNEase of Use ScoreMinimum Number of LicensesOnline BackupWeekly Phone Support Hours (EST)Weekend Phone Support AvailableLive Chat
Norton Security PremiumView Deal5/5109.59.8109.510$109.9997%99%Manual100%100%--90%1025GB24/7
Bitdefender Total Security 2019View Deal4.5/$89.99-99%100%Manual99%99%------80%52GB24/7
Trend Micro MaximumView Deal4/$89.95-100%100%Manual$--100%100%-$--$-$-85%55am - 8pm
McAfee Total ProtectionView Deal4/$69.99100%100%Manual-100%96%------80%11GB24/7
Kaspersky Total SecurityView Deal3.5/559.37.887.58$79.95-98%99%Manual-100%100%------90%124/7
Panda Dome PremiumView Deal3/52.598101.35.8$116.24-97%99%Manual-72%81%--------65%124/7--
Webroot Internet Security CompleteView Deal4/59.579.52.557.5$79.99-98%98%----100%98%$---------80%525GB24/7-
ESET Multi-SecurityView Deal3/55.59.575.51.32.5$59.99-99%99%Automatic-71%85%---$-------90%1----
BullGuard Premium ProtectionView Deal3/57.16.8561.39.8$99.95-85%92%Manual---80%95%------------80%1020GB24/7
F-Secure TOTALView Deal4/$89.99-98%99%---87%82%---65%3-9am - 6pm-

Best Overall

Norton Security Premium

Reasons to Buy

Received high scores for Windows and Mac malware protection
Comes with a 100-percent protection guarantee
Tracks lost or stolen mobile devices

Reasons to Avoid

Social media protection not included
Parental controls not available on Mac and iOS devices
Gamer mode must be manually enabled

Norton Security Premium received high scores in our tests because it did a good job of blocking both Windows and Mac malware threats. In fact, during full system scans, Norton detected traces of threats left behind by other security programs and quickly quarantined them.

Once deleted, there were no traces of the threats left to re-infect our computer.
We were impressed with Norton Security’s in-browser alerts, which provide details about the websites and downloads the program blocks. Other applications require you to comb through full reports to get that information. Also, when a site couldn’t be reached because of a 404 error, server timeout or account suspension, Norton often still tagged it as malicious and sometimes caught hidden viruses trying to download.
This software comes with a 100-percent protection guarantee. If a virus attacks your system 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.

Read the full review

Best Value

Bitdefender 2019

Reasons to Buy

Securely removes all threats
Provides good protection and extra tools for a decent price
Tags some good sites
Includes a VPN for all devices

Reasons to Avoid

iOS component has limited features
Password managers not included for mobile
Doesn’t work well with Microsoft Edge

Bitdefender Total Security 2019 comes bundled with separate programs for PC and Mac computers as well as for Android and iOS mobile devices

The software protects against malware on all these devices and includes a fair number of security tools, although the iOS component has fewer of them than the modules for other devices and platforms. For example, the Android module includes antiphishing and blocked call features, but iOS protection is limited to antitheft and parental controls. All devices have access to Bitdefender’s VPN.
During our in-house tests, we noticed Bitdefender did a good job of blocking malicious files across popular web browsers. Even sites that display connection errors sometimes have hidden threats, and Bitdefender tagged and stopped those. However, it had difficulty working alongside Microsoft Edge, but most computer protection software has this issue.
One of Total Security’s best features is its secure delete. This feature completely wipes all traces of threats found on your computer so they can’t re-infect your system. While testing Bitdefender, its virus scan found traces of threats other security programs left behind and eliminated them.
Bitdefender comes with a minimum of five user licenses and costs between $10 and $30 less than similar products. Futher, all your devices have access to 2GB of shared online backup storage, and there’s 24/7 phone support.

Read the full review

Best Parental Controls

Kaspersky Total Security

Reasons to Buy

Parental controls work on all devices, including cell phones
High detection scores for both Windows and Mac computers
Easy to use

Reasons to Avoid

May be expensive for one or two user licenses
Doesn’t include a VPN
U.S. government has issued warning about federal agencies using this program

Kaspersky Total Security can filter online content that falls under 15 categories and blocks websites quickly so your child isn’t exposed to inappropriate or mature content.

You can also add specific websites to the block list – for example, social media sites – which may not otherwise be blocked by enabling a filter category. Kaspersky also includes time controls, so you can block access to the internet when you kids should be in bed, working on homework or doing chores. These parental controls work on all devices and platforms.
On top of its great parental controls, Kaspersky provides powerful malware protection. In our in-house tests, Kaspersky blocked 98 percent of malware on Windows computers and 100 percent of threats on Mac machines.
In addition, the program’s password manager shields you usernames and passwords when you log into online accounts, and the in-browser keyboard can also keep your personal information safe when you need to enter it online. You can also enable the antitheft feature to track down your Apple or Android cell phone if it is lost or stolen and to remotely access and erase sensitive information saved on it.
Kaspersky isn’t the cheapest option. However, it offers impressive discounts when you purchase three or more user licenses.

Read the full review

Cryptocurrency Protection

McAfee Total Protection

Reasons to Buy

Shields cryptocurrency accounts from malware

Reasons to Avoid

Some tools don't work on mobile devices

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency attacks are the newest malware threats, and McAfee Total Protection is designed to monitor your accounts and stop threats that try to hack in.

McAfee did a great job identifying and protecting against the Windows malware samples we used during testing. We were especially impressed with the in-browser warnings the software displayed when we tried to visit a dangerous site or if a virus download started – even in the Microsoft Edge browser, where most computer protection programs don’t work as well.
Total Protection works on both PC and Mac computers and is compatible with Android and iOS cell phones. It comes with a password manager that works on all devices, plus parental controls and a secure file lock that work on laptops and computers. The biggest drawback we noticed is McAfee slowed our test computers while it ran.

Read the full review

Cloud Protection

Trend Micro Maximum Security

Trend Micro’s cloud protection shields your online storage files from hackers, internet snoops and viruses. This is a relatively new security feature that not a lot of computer protection programs offer.

Additionally, you get 25GB of online backup storage to share between all your devices. This 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 received high scores for detecting and blocking malware on both Windows and Mac computers. During our own in-house testing, it blocked every Trojan, rootkit, ransomware, malicious website and phishing scheme. It also worked better with Microsoft Edge than any other software we tested; other programs didn’t always block suspicious downloads from the MS browser.
The parental controls work on all platforms and allow you to specify how long your kids can access the internet as well as monitor what they do online. Plus, Trend Micro’s antitheft tools for mobile devices include a GPS tracking feature you can use to keep track of where your kids are.

Read the full review

Antivirus for Windows 10

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus

Reasons to Buy

Stops malware from downloading and infecting Windows computers

Reasons to Avoid

Requires a few extra steps to install and set up properly

For basic virus protection for Windows 10 computers, we highly recommend Bitdefender Antivirus Plus.

This program includes many of the same protection tools found in the more advanced Bitdefender Total Protection, including a file shredder, password manager and vulnerability scanner. Bitdefender antivirus also is very good at catching and blocking malware from infecting your computer, recognizing threats quickly and stopping them before they have a chance to download. It also detects when a website you want to visit has a phishing scheme, malicious links or problem downloads hidden on them. It displays a clear warning message with details about what might be hidden on the site so you can choose to continue or back out. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus doesn’t have as many protection tools as Bitdefender Total Protection, though. Parental controls, a firewall and spam filters are all missing. Bitdefender also requires a few extra steps to install and step up, compared to other brands, so it isn’t a best solution if you’re not even a little tech savvy.

Read the full review

How We Tested

We tested each computer protection program using 517 live malware threats – 352 Windows threats and 165 Mac threats. These included Trojans, rootkits, ransomware, phishing schemes, viruses and malicious websites gathered from several malware databases. We entered each Windows threat into browser URL fields and noted how well the antivirus portion of each program recognized and stopped them from infecting our system. Through our hands-on testing, we learned which programs stop threats before they download 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 to 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 were downloaded, but Trend Micro impressed us because it stopped threats from even downloading via Edge, without the need for a browser extension.

We stored Mac malware as individual files, then zipped them into one master file. We watched each program, as the file unzipped and released malware. Most programs did very well at stopping each threat, either immediately scrubbing it from our system or quarantining the malware. AVG surprised us by quickly recognizing malware and quarantining the entire zipped file before it had a chance to open and begin downloading threats.

In addition to our own testing, we considered results from tests conducted by independent labs, including AV-Test and AV-Comparatives. Our final protection score and recommendations takes all these results into account and reflects how well each software detects and protects against malware.

To test performance, we shared files, sent emails and downloaded videos, software and images. We also 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 how much each program taxes computer resources as it runs 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.

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. Our own tests showed that the included Windows 10 virus protections do a solid job securing PCs from internet threats. But we did see that several malware files were still able to sneak through. While no antivirus software can guarantee 100 percent virus protection (though some programs, like Norton, come with such a guarantee), our tests show that there are better antivirus programs that help 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. 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, 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.

What Is the Best Computer Protection Software for Mac?

All of the computer security programs we tested work on Mac computers and laptops. But there are some programs that work a little better on this platform and offer more advanced security tools than others. Norton Security Premium, our pick for the best computer protection software, blocked 100 percent of the malware samples we used during our in-house tests and earned a perfect score for malware protection from other independent test labs, too. For Macs, you get a personal firewall, password manager and VPN. The only tool missing that we looked for is parental controls. Another big plus of Norton is the program you download and install on Windows machines is the same program you install on Mac devices.

Another good choice for Mac computer protection software is F-Secure TOTAL. Unlike Norton, F-Secure is a bundle of programs that includes a component specifically designed for Macs. This program only stopped 87 percent of the threats we tested with before they could download and infect out test computer. But it did a good job of rounding up the threats once they downloaded. F-Secure comes with great parental controls for Mac desktops and laptops, as well as a firewall, VPN and safe banking tools. It is missing a vulnerability scanner that looks for outdated software and other soft spots in your system and helps you strengthen them against ransomware and hackers.

For more information on programs designed specifically to protect Mac computers, check out our reviews and test results of the best Mac internet security software.

Which Free Antivirus Is Best for Windows 10?

We tested several free programs using Windows 10 computers and found Avira Free Security Suite is one of the best. Testing them against live malware, we learned that most free programs don’t stop malware as it downloads; they wait for the file to open before catching and quarantining it. And most free programs don’t include safe browser extensions to help block websites known to harbor malware or detect phishing schemes. However, Avira did stop malicious downloads and block dangerous websites, earning an overall protection score of 98 percent.

On top of decent protection, Avira comes with several extra security tools that other free antivirus programs don’t include: You get a password manager and VPN with this program. Plus, Avira doesn’t cause much slowdown on your computer while running. Because it is a free program, you can expect to see a lot of ads prompting you to purchase the ad-free program that gives you access to more features like a personal firewall and vulnerability scanner.

Which Computer Protection Software Is Best for Mobile?

Several of the computer protection programs we tested are compatible with cellphones and tablets, but not all of them include malware protection and security tools are typically limited to a password manager and blocked call capabilities. This is especially true of iOS devices. Kaspersky Total Security is one of the best for mobile devices because it works on both iOS and Android devices, scans for malware and includes security tools like parental controls in addition to phishing and spam filters, a personal firewall and a password manager. It includes antitheft tools that help you track down a device that is lost or stolen using a GPS system. You can also access sensitive information remotely and hide or delete it from the misplaced phone so it can’t be seen or used.

The majority of the computer protection programs we tested include a separate download for mobile protection. A handful, including Norton Security Premium, allow you to download the exact same program to your mobile devices as the one that protects your computers and laptops.

Some programs, like F-Secure, have security tools for mobile devices but do a better job detecting and removing malware when the device is connected to your computer through a USB port. When installed on your computer, F-Secure will scan everything connected to it for threats, including cellphones and removable drives. This is a decent way to ensure your phone or tablet is threat-free.

Is Bitdefender Safe?

Kaspersky, a computer protection software developer, has been accused of using its antivirus programs to gather information from the computers of U.S. departments and workers, and then sharing this information with the Russian government. This has resulted in the federal government removing all Kaspersky programs from its computers and putting stricter guidelines on employees who work on personal devices. But Kaspersky is the only computer protection program accused of any wrongdoing.

Bitdefender is widely trusted and used throughout the world as a secure and safe antivirus solution. Our own, in-house tests of Bitdefender products, including Bitdefender Total Security 2019, have to show Bitdefender to be one of the best at recognizing, blocking and completely removing malware threats from both Windows and Mac computers.

You can learn more about Kaspersky, including its move from Russia and the sanctions imposed by the U.S. government, from our colleagues at Tom’s Guide.

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 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 Security, 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 encryptor 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, 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 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, 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Use a separate email address just for social media. Some sites require you to share personal information – for example, LinkedIn 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 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.