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Best internet security software 2021: Protect your online devices

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Best internet security software 2021: Protect your online devices
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The best internet security software is a step above your average antivirus program, offering you complete peace of mind on your devices when you’re browsing the web, using internet banking, or doing some online shopping. These programs combine premium security features like antivirus, firewalls, VPN access, identity theft protection and more into a single, easy to manage program that you just pay a single subscription fee for, taking the hassle out of internet security.

So what exactly comes with the best internet security software, and why is it worth the upgrade over the protection you get from the best antivirus software? Well, while an antivirus program offers you protection against one form of online threat, the top internet security programs cover you against almost everything. Viruses, malware, spyware, websites and advertisers snooping into your online activities - these can all be blocked by good security software. They can also help keep your kids safe online with parental controls and social media monitoring. 

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.

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.

Most of the top-rated internet security software out there actually comes in several tiers, depending on what level of protection you’re looking for. The entry-level tiers have all the protection that most people need, while the premium tiers offer things like bank transaction monitoring and identity theft protection. The higher tiers often come with support for a larger number of devices too, so they’re great for families.

Speaking of devices, these days it’s not enough to just protect your home computer and laptop. If you’re browsing the web or using online banking apps on your smartphone, you’ll need that covered too. Fortunately, the best internet security software works on mobile devices too, so your phone and even your tablet can be protected.

Internet Security Software Explainer

Malware is a shortened name for malicious software. It’s an overarching term used to describe computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, adware, spyware and any other form of software that can harm your devices or steal your data.

Firewalls are network security programs designed to monitor incoming and outgoing traffic on your devices, and to block malicious and unauthorized traffic. Most computers come with a built-in firewall these days, but the best internet security software will come with its own more powerful firewall.

VPN is an abbreviation for virtual private network. Using a VPN, you can encrypt your network signal and bounce it off a server anywhere in the world. This means that websites and other software can’t tell where your actual location is. This stops advertisers from targeting you with specific ads, but also stops hackers from getting into your network. You can also use a VPN to access region-locked content.

Best internet security software 2021

1. Bitdefender Total Security: Best internet security overall

Best internet security software: Bitdefender

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

Bitdefender offers total online protection

Reasons to buy
+Excellent malware detection +Tons of options+Includes a VPN
Reasons to avoid
-Some packages offer poor value compared to others

One of the big hitters when it comes to the best internet security software, Bitdefender 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 geo-restricted 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.

2. Norton 360: Best premium security

Best internet security software: Norton 360

(Image credit: Norton)

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

Reasons to buy
+Range of tiers for all needs+Excellent antivirus and malware protection+Easy to use
Reasons to avoid
-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.

3. Kaspersky Internet Security: Best malware protection

Best internet security software: Kaspersky antivirus

(Image credit: Kaspersky)

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

Reasons to buy
+Flawless antivirus protection+Flexible price options+Good range of extra features
Reasons to avoid
-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's free offerings are second to none, but it struggles to justify the costs

Reasons to buy
+Great antivirus capabilities+Decent range of extras
Reasons to avoid
-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's single program solution is great, but it falls short of its rivals

Reasons to buy
+Single program eliminates confusion over product features+Great antivirus performance+Good range of extra features
Reasons to avoid
-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)

A simple to use solution

Reasons to buy
+Very easy to use+Great value for money
Reasons to avoid
-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)

A very powerful anti malware setup

Reasons to buy
+Superb malware detection+Affordable pricing+Simple usability
Reasons to avoid
-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)

A light build that's gentle on resources

Reasons to buy
+Minimal system drag+Great protection+Flexible pricing
Reasons to avoid
-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)

Very lightweight in a unique way

Reasons to buy
+Very light on system resources+Extremely fast+Advanced features
Reasons to avoid
-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.

Ian Stokes

Ian Stokes is the Tech Editor here at Top Ten Reviews. He has extensive experience in tech and games journalism, with work published on IGN, Kotaku UK, Waypoint, GamesRadar, Trusted Reviews, and many more. You'll find him covering everything from smartphones and home computers to 3D printers and headphones. He's also our resident cocktail expert.