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Best internet security software 2021: Protect your online devices

Best internet security software 2021: Protect your online devices
(Image credit: Getty)

The best internet security software takes you beyond just antivirus protection for the ultimate in online safety. That means safety for your digital self, protecting everything from online bank details to logins, as well as greater privacy for your identity and belongings in the real world.

The core of the best internet security software is a strong antivirus software setup. But you get a lot more as part of the deal, meaning browsing security and online banking protection, a VPN and parental control programs – to name just a few.

Premium security: Bitdefender Total Security

Bitdefender Total Security has all the tools in Bitdefender’s basic internet security suite, including a password manager and parental controls, plus it includes secure online storage for important files.VIEW DEAL ON Bitdefender

From a VPN to keep your location secure to a firewall to block dangerous network connections, good internet security software offers plenty. Expect parental controls to keep your kids safe and antivirus software to make sure you're free from viruses, malware and more.

Keep in mind that some of the best internet security software packages offer more device coverage than others, so think about how many gadgets you'll need to have protection running on. Also think about if you actually need the extras bundled in, as you may already have one of the best VPN services and don't need another, for example.


1. Norton 360: Best internet security software overall

Best internet security software: Norton 360

(Image credit: Norton)

Norton 360

Powerful and versatile, Norton's 360 range gets our top prize

Range of tiers for all needs
Excellent antivirus and malware protection
Easy to use
Multi-device coverage locked in more expensive tiers

Norton is one of the biggest names in town when it comes to antivirus protection and internet security, so it should be no surprise to see it at the top end of our list. Norton 360 offers several tiers of internet security software for users to consider, with each successive tier adding on extra layers of protection. 

For the average user, Norton 360 Standard will more than suffice. It offers access to Norton’s exceptional antivirus program, which covers you against viruses, malware, spyware, and ransomware. There’s also a firewall to keep hackers and other invaders out of your network when you’re online and a VPN to keep your identity and location hidden when you’re browsing and shopping online.

Later tiers bring in additional layers of defense including identity theft protection and financial coverage should you become the victim of identity fraud, while the top package offers coverage for unlimited devices and 401k monitoring to keep your retirement investments safe.

Most importantly, Norton 360’s performance is second to none, with our antivirus experts finding that it blocked 100% of attacks sent against it in recent tests, while also having a negligible effect on your device’s performance.


2. Bitdefender Total Security: Best premium security

Best internet security software: Bitdefender

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

Bitdefender 2020

Bitdefender offers total online protection

Excellent malware detection 
Tons of options
Includes a VPN
Some packages offer poor value compared to others

Another big hitter when it comes to the best internet security software, Bitdefender 2020 lives up to the company's sterling reputation by providing an excellent selection of software for you to choose from. 

Bitdefender Internet Security is what we’d call the basic package and it comes with everything you’d expect, but it only covers PCs. If you want to cover all your devices, you’ll want Bitdefender Total Security.

With Bitdefender you’re protected from viruses, malware, ransomware and spyware, and there’s a built-in firewall to keep cyber-intruders out of your system. When tested by the experts at AV Test and AV Comparatives, Bitdefender performed very well, blocking almost all of the viruses and malware tests programs that were set against it.

Alongside this standard protection there’s also a suite of parental controls to keep your kids safe and away from the more unsavory parts of the internet. There’s also a VPN to let you stay anonymous or access georestricted content online, though usage is limited unless you go for the top package, Bitdefender Premium Security.

There are a ton of pricing options available, letting you choose which program you want, how many devices to cover and for how long.


3. Kaspersky Internet Security: Best malware protection

Best internet security software: Kaspersky antivirus

(Image credit: Kaspersky)

Kaspersky 2020

Kaspersky doesn't put a foot wrong, surpassing our already high expectations

Flawless antivirus protection
Flexible price options
Good range of extra features
Parental controls locked to premium option

Most of the antivirus and internet security software that we tested had excellent performance when it comes to blocking malware, but Kaspersky stands above the rest in this regard with a perfect score - not a single piece of malicious software made it through Kaspersky’s defenses during the expert testing from AV Test and AV Comparatives.

It really is hard to argue with those kinds of results, especially when you pair it up with Kaspersky’s flexible pricing model and great range of extra features. With annual prices for Kaspersky Internet Security starting as low as $39.99, it offers highly competitive costs without cutting corners on its offerings.

You get antivirus protection and a firewall that you’d expect, alongside VPN access and an ad blocker to keep those pesky pop-ups and auto playing videos at bay. The only real mark against it is that a lot of the parental controls are locked behind the more pricey option, Kaspersky Total Security, but even this is very reasonably priced.


4. Avast Premium Security: Best for casual use

Best internet security software: Avast antivirus

(Image credit: Avast)

Avast Premium Security

Avast's free offerings are second to none, but it struggles to justify the costs

Great antivirus capabilities
Decent range of extras
Heavy performance impact
Better offerings elsewhere

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me. We love Avast because it makes us feel like pirates whenever we say it, but beyond that it also offers a compelling choice for those looking for free antivirus software. Sadly the premium internet security software that Avast offers, called Avast Premium Security, doesn’t quite measure up to the rest of the competition.

You get the standard antivirus and firewall protection along with a nifty tool that lets you run suspicious apps and programs in a walled-off sandbox to test it before letting it loose on your computer, but the features set is a little anemic beyond that. VPN access is walled off behind Avast Ultimate, the most expensive option. 

There’s a password manager, webcam protection, and file shredder, but that’s about it. Parental controls are nowhere to be found, locked away in Avast Omni, a home internet security solution that requires the installation of a specific device.


5. McAfee Total Protection: Best for technophobes

Best internet security software: McAfee Total Protection

(Image credit: McAfee)

McAfee Total Protection 2020

McAfee's single program solution is great, but it falls short of its rivals

Single program eliminates confusion over product features
Great antivirus performance
Good range of extra features
Outdone by the competition

If you’ve been looking at the other options on this list and your eyes have started to glaze over at all the choices, then McAfee has a non nonsense, one-size-fits-all solution for you. McAfee Total Protection is the only internet security software that it offers and while there are a few pricing options depending on the number of devices you need to cover, the core software is the same.

McAfee performed well in recent tests of its antivirus and malware protection capabilities, blocking over 97% of attacks levied against it. Those are good numbers, but they do lag behind other options on the market.

The other issue is that some of the extra features that McAfee Total Protection offers are locked behind an auto-renewal paywall, so you’ll have to commit to McAfee long term if you want things like VPN access or identity theft protection. Considering none of the competition has this limitation, McAfee is a difficult sell. Not bad, but unless you really don’t want the hassle of choosing between various options, we’d say that there are better picks out there.


6. F-Secure Antivirus SAFE: Best for ease of use

Best internet security software: F-Secure screenshots

(Image credit: Future)

F-Secure Antivirus SAFE

A simple to use solution

Very easy to use
Great value for money
Some issues with false positives

F-Secure Antivirus SAFE is a powerful solution from a big name that's got lots of experience with security online. As such you get a very powerful antivirus program at the heart of this package. That means protection from malware, spyware, phishing schemes and more.

Beyond that you also get multi-device coverage including support for iOS and Android. This even lets you remotely control your device so as to secure your data should you misplace your phone or have it stolen.

F-Secure SAFE is a light running system which means it's good for older machines too, since it can be fast to operate and won't put a strain on system processing resources.


7. Trend Micro Antivirus Plus: Best for ransomware cover

Best internet security software: Trend Micro Antivirus Plus Security

(Image credit: Trend Micro)

Trend Micro Antivirus Plus

A very powerful anti malware setup

Superb malware detection
Affordable pricing
Simple usability
Could be resource intensive

Trend Micro Antivirus Plus offers very powerful protection from its excellent antivirus software. This specializes in malware protection with anti spam, anti ransomware and anti phishing protection that stands out. The addition of a folder shield, to specifically protect certain folders, is a really nice touch.

Everything is very easy to use making this a good option for those that either want it simple or are new to this type of software. Either way protection is strong and the inclusion of a 30-day free trial makes it a great way to try out this type of cover.

Some cases of this offering false positives and being a little resource intensive have been reported but they weren't issues found in our testing experience.


8. VIPRE Advanced Security: Best for minimal strain

Best internet security software: VIPRE Advanced Security

(Image credit: TopTenReviews)

VIPRE Advanced Security

A light build that's gentle on resources

Minimal system drag
Great protection
Flexible pricing
Lacks smartphone support
Lower tier doesn't offer extras

VIPRE Advanced Security is a very easy to use system that's not only easy to install and run but also treads lightly. By this we mean it doesn't use many system resources. This means it won't slow down your machine noticeably so you can run scans in the background without any sacrifice required to what you're doing.

Protection is strong with a powerful antivirus that offers great malware cover, spyware stopping and removal of any threats that are found. It even scans programs in use so that it can find any attacks the instant they arise.

While this is great for newbs, thanks to a simple interface, it also offers a depth of controls that make it useful for more seasoned security aficionados alike. 


9. Webroot Secureanywhere: Uniquely light system

Best internet security software: Webroot Secureanywhere

(Image credit: Webroot Secureanywhere)

Webroot Secureanywhere

Very lightweight in a unique way

Very light on system resources
Extremely fast
Advanced features
No data from top labs

Webroot Secureanywhere may be at the bottom of the list but that's largely owing to its rather unique way of working. Unlike the others, this does all the thinking in the cloud, using an advanced AI brain. As such, threats are detected but only dealt with when that cloud brain decides it is a real threat. Then it can be removed and the system rolled back to adjust any changes the threat may have made.

While this novel way of working means there is very little strain on your system, taking up less than 2MB (compared to 700MB on most), it also makes it difficult to assess. As such the results from testing are mixed with some very impressive scores but also a few discrepancies which can't go unnoticed. 

All that said, the company is confident it works and will be liked and so offers an impressive 70-day 100 percent money-back guarantee.


Why trust us on internet security software?

More than half of the programs we tested earned a malware protection score of 98 percent or higher. In general, the applications had the most trouble with completely blocking malicious sites. For example, some programs recognized and blocked a webpage with a virus download or phishing scheme on it but still allowed us to access other pages on the site. The best programs blocked the whole site, even the unaffected pages, so there was no chance of accidental infection.

After we have researched each program, we analyse results from several third-party testing labs, including AV-Comparatives and AV-Test, to see how well they perform over time in terms of virus protection and loss of computer resources. This lets us study long term trends in performance, rather then just how it handles a limited number of tests that we could throw at it during out review.

What is the difference between antivirus software and an internet security suite?

The biggest difference between basic antivirus software and an internet security suite is the number of extra protection tools included with the program. For example, Kaspersky Antivirus doesn’t include a personal firewall or parental controls, but the more expensive Kaspersky Internet Security does.

Typically, internet security programs build on the same engine used in the developer’s antivirus software, so the level of protection doesn’t change with the more expensive internet security program. 

(Image credit: Avast)

One other difference between basic antivirus software and internet security suites is the number of user licenses you get. Most antivirus solutions come with a single license to protect one computer. Internet security suites, however, usually come with at least three licenses, and are sometimes compatible with mobile phones and tablets so you can protect multiple web-enabled devices at once.

What should internet security software come with?

Because internet security programs are a step up from basic antivirus software, they should include several additional malware protection and privacy tools – typically a personal firewall, a password manager and a system vulnerability scanner. These tools give you added protection against hackers and identity thieves who try to sneak into your system by swiping passwords, piggybacking on your internet connection or exploiting out-of-date software.

We spoke with Mitch Stephens, a security consultant with Emagined Security. He suggests that keeping your system and program patches up to date is a good way to stay secure from online threats. Programs, such as ESET and Avast, use vulnerability detection scans to make sure the most recent software versions are installed on your computer, and if not, they provide you with a legitimate link to where you can download the latest updates. Without these patches, hackers and ransomware can take advantage of these weak points and use them to attack your computer.

Norton 360 internet security software

(Image credit: Future)

Parental controls are also good to have. These tools allow you to limit the time your child is online as well as block inappropriate content. They are also good for blocking cyberbullies and predators. Kaspersky Internet Security includes internet filter categories that make it easy to quickly block harmful content, including vulgarity, profanity and violence.

The best internet security software comes with multiple licenses or a single license that can be used to protect multiple computers or mobile devices at once. Sometimes, the only difference between a top-rated security program and the best premium security suite is the number of licenses you get.

How much does an internet security program cost?

Internet security software costs about $80-$120 for a year subscription, though this varies wildly depending on who you choose and what tier you go for.. You can usually find deals that make the first year cheaper though. These programs are a step up from basic antivirus software, which costs less but typically doesn’t include advanced tools like a firewall, safe banking features or a password manager. 

Premium-grade software typically goes one step further to include all the security tools a developer has to offer. For example, Kaspersky Internet Security doesn’t include a parental controls, but Kaspersky Total Security does. Because premium security solutions have more tools than internet security software and include additional user licenses, they typically cost more.