Best Antivirus Software Review
Why Buy Antivirus Software?
The top performers in our review are Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, the Gold Award winner; Kaspersky Anti-Virus, the Silver Award winner; and McAfee AntiVirus Plus, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a product to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 15 products.
The term "antivirus software" stems from the early days of computer viruses, in which programs were created to remove viruses and prevent them from spreading. However, over the years, different types of malicious software, often called malware, emerged as threats to personal and work computers worldwide. "Malware" is an umbrella term to describe several different kinds of malicious programs, including computer viruses.
Although antivirus software evolved to combat new malware, the term "antivirus" stuck, even though the term antimalware is truer to the software's capabilities. To give you an idea of the different types of malware out there, we've identified malware types that are potential threats to computer systems today.
These malicious programs are designed to replicate themselves quickly with the intent to spread to other computers, often through a computer network. Although they may not be designed to intentionally impair computer systems, worms generally do some sort of damage or harm to the network itself by consuming bandwidth, at the very least. Most worms are designed only to spread as quickly as possible, so they may not try to change the computer systems they pass through. However, worms have been and are capable of creating backdoor security vulnerabilities, deleting files or even sending files via email. This is a common method for spam senders to spread junk email quickly, as the more computers the worms infect, the faster the spam mail spreads.
Trojan horses, or Trojans for short, are different from worms in that they are not designed to replicate themselves. Rather, Trojans are designed to trick you into downloading and executing them to cause data loss, theft and sometimes total-system harm. Just as in the ancient Greek story of the wooden horse designed to deceive the soldiers of Troy, Trojans present themselves as useful, interesting or routine programs to trick you into installing them on your computer.
This software is designed to gather information about you without your knowledge. This information can be sent to another party without your consent, and in some rather malicious cases, it can even be used to take control over a computer. Spyware is capable of collecting any type of data, including your internet history and banking information. Some forms of spyware can install additional software or change your internet or browser settings, which can be a mere annoyance or a problem that can take days to fix.
This incarnation of malware infects your computer with the intention of restricting access to your computer system, perhaps preventing you from surfing the internet or accessing the hard drive, and then demanding a payment to the malware creators. The trouble with this software is that it tries to imitate the look of genuine, trusted software to trick you into buying a solution. For example, some forms of ransomware tell you that your user license for a particular application has expired and you need to repurchase the license. Some of the trickiest ransomware creators have acquired millions of dollars from unsuspecting users.
Rootkits are stealthy types of malware that attempt to hide from typical methods of detection and allow continued privileged access to a computer. This essentially means that the rootkit attempts to gain administrator access on your computer and then hides itself so you don't know it is on your system. This type of malware is generally difficult to detect and remove because it tries to embed itself thoroughly and deeply into your computer's system.
Malware is not limited to these five examples, but this gives you a sense of how malicious and vicious malware can be. Fortunately, antivirus software is designed to combat these threats by preventing the programs from entering your system and quarantining and removing any malware that does get through. The best way to protect yourself from malware is to update your computer system when prompted and to purchase third-party antivirus software that protects your computer 24/7.
Is Antivirus Software Necessary?
You may ask yourself why you need antivirus software when your computer comes with, or makes readily available, free antivirus software found in Windows Defender and Microsoft Security Essentials. Windows Defender has been available since the Windows Vista days as an antispyware program, designed to monitor and detect programs that try to gather information about you without your knowledge. With the release of Windows 8, Windows Defender was upgraded to offer additional antivirus protection features. Windows 10 comes with Windows Defender built in to the operating system itself. Microsoft Security Essentials offers antivirus protection against viruses, spyware, Trojans and rootkits, and it is available on Windows XP, Vista and 7 but not on Windows 8.
With these protections in place, why would you ever need to download a third-party antivirus program? The answer is performance.
Although Windows Defender and Microsoft Security Essentials offer built-in support and Microsoft continues to improve upon these systems, they don't generate high scores in the tests conducted by AV-Test, the respected independent antivirus software test lab. This is expected to a point, as these programs were designed as a baseline of protection for users who don't plan on purchasing commercial antivirus protection. However, AV-Test regularly publishes its test results comparing both Windows Defender and Microsoft Security Essentials to the top third-party antivirus programs. The third-party systems score higher every single time.
So, is antivirus software necessary when Windows already has built-in protections against viruses? Although baseline virus protections can give you some sense of security, you want the top-performing antivirus programs to make sure you are always protected. AV-Test tests two separate categories of malware or virus interception: the detection of widespread and prevalent viruses and the detection of zero-day, or brand-new, malware attacks. In both categories of tests, Windows Defender and Microsoft Security Essentials performed poorer than the industry standard, regardless of which Windows operating system was used during the tests. This means that third-party antivirus programs are more capable of protecting your computer, and you, against malicious virus attacks. Visit our learning center to find out more about how the top antivirus software can help you secure your computer.
Free vs. Paid Antivirus Software
As you search for the best antivirus software, you're going to run into free software that claims it is as capable as paid programs. If you were to rank antivirus software categories into three different tiers, you'd find free software in the bottom tier, with the least functionality and protection. Although free software can be enticing, free antivirus protection is not as capable as paid software. All free programs can scan for viruses, but only some of them scan for malware automatically and offer real-time protection or browser add-ons to help you avoid bad links. Most advanced features are limited to paid antivirus programs.
One annoyance of free antivirus software is that each program displays ads for the full, paid version of the product. This doesn't detract from the free version's performance or capability, but it can be distracting and annoying. Some programs even immediately launch your web browser and link to their company's website if you click on a feature that isn't available in the free version, which may be minor but annoying nonetheless.
Perhaps the biggest frustration with even the best free antivirus programs is the general lack of support offered by the developers. Paid programs generally offer extensive technical support, allowing you to contact the manufacturer via email, phone and live chat. Free programs generally leave you fending for yourself with user manuals or a knowledgebase in which you have to comb through information before you find helpful material specific to you.
Choosing the Best Antivirus for Your PC
Perhaps the most confusing part of shopping for antivirus software is finding the best program for your needs. Besides free programs, there are generally three recognized tiers of virus protection: antivirus software, internet security suites and premium security suites. Antivirus software is the lowest tier and is regarded as entry-level viral protection. Internet security suites, the next tier of protection, offer more functionality with further protections, such as firewalls and antispam tools. The top tier of virus protection is premium security suites, which are comprehensive tools to help you protect your system from the most aggressive malware with a variety of measures and protections.
Each tier of PC virus protection lends itself to different users in different situations. Here are a few of the main components found in antivirus suites that you won't find in entry-level antivirus software:
As stated above, antivirus software is the entry-level version of virus protection for your PC. That is not to say this software is ineffective, as it can protect your personal computer from even the most vicious viruses. In fact, all antivirus software includes tools to block or remove spyware, worms, rootkits and other malware types. Rather, this particular set of virus protection software has fewer features than the two antivirus suites. This software does include the ability to scan incoming email for potential threats, automatically clean or quarantine infected files, and create bootable rescue disks, to name a few of its many features.
Internet Security Suites
Internet security suites generally contain all of the tools found in entry-level antispyware, such as antimalware, PC tune-up utilities, safe online banking and shopping, secure browsing, vulnerability scanning, and privacy protection. However, these suites include additional features that add more levels of security and protection to your computer system. Most internet security suites include an alternate firewall from the one included with the Windows operating system, and many even offer social network protection designed to detect threats through your online social presence. Additionally, these antivirus suites include parental controls to limit where your children go while on the internet, which can protect the computer system, and more importantly, your children.
Premium Security Suites
Although the additional protections found in internet security suites are highly valuable, premium security suites offer even more protection. Just as internet security suites contain all of the features found in antivirus software, premium suites include all of the features found in internet suites. These programs add extra layers of protection in the form of file shredders, online backup, system tune-up utilities and password managers. In other words, these suites tend to be the best of the best, offering an entire arsenal of defenses and protection against malware.
With the different tiers of computer antivirus software demystified, you can determine the level of security you require and apply that to your particular situation. Although they aren’t the best or most comprehensive programs, free antivirus software allows you to scan and remove threats on your computer, for the most part. However, free software lacks the functionality, features and overall support that is readily available on paid programs. Entry-level antivirus software provides significant advancements over freeware, and its feature set provides enough functionality for many home users. Internet security suites provide even more features, while premium security suites are the pinnacle of PC protection.
No matter which antivirus software catches your eye, make sure you consider help and support before making your final decision. Look for a program that offers 24/7 access to support through email, phone or live chat. Regular, easy access to support ensures that you can get the help you need, whether you have a simple question or your entire computer system crashes and you need immediate help. Whether you're looking for protection on your Windows 10 tablet, Windows 8 laptop or Windows 7 business computers, make sure the software has numerous means of technical support.
Small Business Antivirus Software
Regardless of what your small business does, you've worked hard to build it and keep it moving forward. Even if you don't want to purchase antivirus software for your personal computer, you should consider antivirus protection for your business computers to ensure that you, your employees and your clients are safe from aggressive malware. As our computers become more advanced with more meticulous, refined technology and software engineering, hackers and viruses follow suit and adapt to become more efficient and malicious. The last thing you want is to leave a door open for an attack that can affect your entire business in one fell swoop.
However, choosing the right antivirus software for your business may seem like a daunting task, and it can be tempting to purchase the most expensive, premium programs, assuming they meet all of your needs. This is not necessarily the case. In our lineup of the best small business antivirus software, we evaluated the overall performance of each program and compared their features to help you determine which programs can serve your needs. As you consider which software is right for your business needs, consider the following.
Licenses & Pricing
First, if you're running a shop on your own, kudos. Second, a one-man-band business doesn't require antivirus software with 20 user licenses to stay up and running. On the other hand, if you employ a few people who require personal work computers, you don't want to purchase licenses for only one or two of the computers. Every employee should have their computer protected so that a virus doesn't make its way through an unprotected system and travel from computer to computer within your business.
Make sure you protect every computer within your business from virus attacks, no matter if you have one computer or 20. Also, as a small business, you want to make sure the software you purchase is affordable. Fortunately, most antivirus programs are priced similarly to each other, so you don't have to worry too much about searching for the best bargain.
If you're purchasing antivirus software for your small business, you want to make sure it performs its most basic function – protecting you from malware – well. AV-Test put all the software in our antivirus comparison through rigorous tests to determine how effective each program is at detecting well-known malware and emerging, zero-day viruses. The very best programs scored 100 percent in both known and emerging malware protection. Look for antivirus software with high scores, as these programs are capable of defending you and your business against malicious threats.
One of the main elements that separates antivirus software that can serve your business needs from programs that leave you wanting more is the security feature set. If your business constantly sends email to external clients, look for software that offers email protection, a feature that scans incoming email for malware. If hardware security is a concern, look for programs that are capable of locating lost or stolen mobile devices such as laptops, tablets and phones. Some programs allow you to lock or wipe the content off laptops remotely, which is a great feature that protects you against the theft of proprietary information contained on the laptop.
Another element to strongly consider is which operating systems the antivirus software can protect. Every small business antivirus software program we reviewed is capable of protecting PCs, but only some programs can protect Macs or tablets. If you need to use Windows or Linux servers, make sure the software you purchase is capable of defending these systems from malware.
Antivirus software is a necessity in today's business world. Over 200,000 new malware cases appear on a daily basis, meaning every single day there are new ways your business is at risk of falling victim to a malware attack. A lack of computer security can halt even the strongest businesses in its tracks. Even large corporations suffer from malware attacks, which always catches the attention of the media. Most attacks against corporations are targeted attacks, meaning a person or group of people is specifically trying to harm that entity via malware. Fortunately for you, most small businesses are only at risk for untargeted threats. The best way to protect your small business from hacking or malicious viruses is to find the right antivirus software for your company. This will allow you to rest easy.
Best Antivirus Software for Windows 10
In July 2015, Microsoft released the latest version of its operating system: Windows 10. As mentioned earlier, Windows 10 comes with Windows Defender as a built-in antivirus, and it offers a decent level of protection until you choose to install a third-party antivirus. Most Windows 8 antivirus solutions work on Windows 10, so you shouldn't have problems getting the software to work properly. AV-Test evaluated 20 Windows 10 antivirus products in September and October of 2015. The tests concluded with four products earning perfect scores: Bitdefender, Kaspersky, Norton and Avira.
Best Antivirus Software for Windows 8
With the release of Windows 8, Windows Defender replaced Microsoft Security Essentials as the baseline of malware protection. Although Microsoft continually updates and improves upon Windows Defender, this security system does not perform as well as third-party Windows 8 antivirus programs. According to the German software test lab AV-Test, the products we reviewed performed rather well compared to Defender, demonstrating unusual strengths in intercepting malware while not being too strenuous on the overall system performance.
The tests Windows 8 antivirus software underwent are broken into two categories: zero-day, new threats and widespread, known threats. The industry-average detection rating of brand-new viruses is 97 percent. This means that third-party antivirus software is capable of catching most, and in some cases all, of these new and unknown viruses, which is amazing.
Defender, however, only averaged 73-percent detection, which is significantly lower than the industry standard. During the tests against widespread and known malware, third-party programs were capable of detecting 99 percent of all the viruses sent their way, while Defender was only capable of detecting 74 percent of these viruses. What this means is the very best virus protection for Windows 8 is found in the software we reviewed rather than Windows Defender. The ability to detect malware is the most important component for any antivirus program, so performance was highly weighted in our ranking process.
Another element to consider when looking for the best antimalware software is how impactful each program is on your computer. AV-Test measured the effects each program had on Windows 8 during visits to websites and downloads; through these tests they found the industry average was three seconds. The very best antivirus software for Windows 8 had no effect on the overall system performance, while Windows Defender slowed the system by five seconds.
However, Defender performed better than any other antivirus program when it came to false labeling of nonthreatening files as malicious viruses. This is, in part, due to the fact that Defender takes slightly longer and uses more resources. During a test of 525,920 safe file samples, Defender only mislabeled one sample as a threat. The industry average for false labeling is six detections, according to AV-Test's results. Although Defender does a great job identifying safe samples, it doesn't make up for the fact that it misses a higher percentage of unsafe samples.
Every single program we considered for Windows 8 is capable of detecting spyware, worms, Trojans, rootkits and other types of malware. All of them are also capable of scanning incoming email and even instant messages for potential threats, both of which are major mediums of attack for virus bots and hackers. Additionally, every single program we considered can automatically clean infected files without any required action from you, as well as store infected files in a quarantine so that they do not infect your entire system. Although every program is capable of performing all of these functions, there are a number of defining factors for you to consider in order to find the right software for your needs.
For example, only a few antivirus programs for Windows 8 are capable of creating a rescue disk that allows you to reboot a computer that has crashed because of an infection. Good antivirus software for Windows 8 automatically scans connected USB storage devices, such as flash drives, to help defend your computer from attacks. Some antivirus software even includes password managers, which help you create and store strong passwords. These capabilities define the top-rated antivirus programs on the market.
Based on our evaluations of the best antivirus software for Windows 8, we found that Bitdefender, Kaspersky and Norton achieved the best AV-Test results and have plenty of features to cover your security needs. All three of these programs scored 100 percent for the ability to protect against brand-new and old, established malware, which is impressive. Bitdefender and Kaspersky were also scored 100 percent in tests that measure system impact and false-positive detections, meaning they won't slow down your overall computer performance at all, and the programs won't mislabel safe files as potential threats. Overall, these three programs achieve great test results and have full feature sets to protect you against virus attacks.
Best Antivirus Software for Windows 7
Although the computer protections set in place by Microsoft may tempt you to avoid purchasing third-party antivirus software, you should know that these protections are best used as a starting point. Even though Microsoft continually improves upon its built-in security systems, with each installment of Windows' built-in security getting better and better, third-party applications simply outperform Microsoft Security Essentials. These built-in protections are designed for users who either try to get by without additional security software or don't realize other software is needed. However, narrowing down the best antivirus for Windows 7 for your needs can seem like a daunting process. We evaluated the top performers and ranked them based on their strengths and weaknesses to help you determine the right program for you.
Of course, the most important thing to consider when you search for the right security software is its ability to defend your computer against attacks. AV-Test, a well-respected independent test lab, tested every product we reviewed and published their findings. This lab evaluated the protection capabilities of each product by testing it against both brand-new threats and well-known, established malware. By exposing hundreds of workstations networked to dozens of servers to tens of millions of threats, AV-Test is capable of determining which programs can keep your system safe quite accurately. Therefore, the performance of each Windows 7 antivirus software was the most important element we used to determine our antivirus ratings.
The next thing we considered for Windows 7 antivirus protection was the software's feature set. Generally speaking, the more features an antivirus program has, the more you can customize the security level of your computer system. All antivirus software for Windows 7 is capable of detecting the different types of malware, including Trojans, spyware, worms and rootkits, and they can all automatically clean infected files, scan compressed files and quarantine threats. Differences between these products emerge in the form of more advanced features, including the ability to protect computers from attacks that occur when you turn the computer on (registry startup), create bootable rescue disks and scan USB storage devices. While you hunt for the right Windows 7 virus protection, look for software that includes a number of additional features that can help you protect your system from nasty viruses.
Although Microsoft Security Essentials offers some protection for your Windows 7 computer, even the least effective third-party antivirus programs outperform the built-in security protections. Microsoft Security Essentials is best used as a temporary line of defense while you find the antivirus software that will serve your needs best. We found that Bitdefender, Kaspersky and Norton were the best options for Windows 7 antivirus protection.
Best Antivirus for Windows Vista
The main goal behind the creation of Windows Vista was to improve the security of the Windows operating system after criticisms of its predecessor's security vulnerabilities. Despite the security improvements developed specifically for Vista, advanced malware was created to break or circumnavigate the security systems in place.
Even though Microsoft designed Vista with the intent to make it inherently secure, third-party antispyware software is the best measure against attack from malware. The best Windows Vista antivirus software allows you to rest easy and know that your system is safe from potential threats. However, finding the right Vista antivirus program can be a tricky and difficult process. We evaluated and narrowed down the top choices through the following criteria to help keep your system safe.
All Windows Vista security programs are capable of detecting different types of malware, including basic viruses and aggressive rootkits. The main difference between these products is not if they can find and remove malware, but how good they are at detecting these threats. AV-Test, an independent antivirus test lab, evaluates the best antivirus software programs on the market and runs them through rigorous tests to determine each program's ability to detect both brand-new and older malware. So while you're looking for the best Vista antivirus software, check out the performance scores of each program to make sure it is capable of catching brand-new threats as well as established malware. The best software is capable of scoring 99 or even 100 percent in protection, so pay special attention to these programs.
All the antivirus software we reviewed for Windows Vista offers email protection, automatically cleans infected files, scans instant messages and quarantines dangerous files so they can't spread to other files. However, only some of these programs can create bootable rescue disks that allow you to recover a computer that has been infected, which can be incredibly helpful. Additionally, not every program protects against attacks via USB storage devices or has anti-phishing securities in place. Make sure to look for programs that meet all of your needs before making your final decision.
Another element to consider when looking for antivirus software is how impactful the program is on the host operating system. The top antivirus programs have no impact on the system performance, meaning you can visit webpages, download files, use different applications and so on without any performance interference from the antimalware program. However, most programs have at least some effect on the system's performance, generally a slowdown of around three seconds, which isn't terrible but is still noticeable.
Even with enhanced security in place with Windows Vista, antivirus software allows you to rest easy. This software can give you all the protection you need. As new malware appears every single day, antivirus software evolves to help you stay on top of these growing threats. Antivirus software for Windows Vista will help your system remain safe against these constant and ever-changing threats.
Best Antivirus for Windows XP
Windows XP was a revolutionary operating system for Microsoft that generated an overwhelming level of popularity from the general public and businesses alike. XP proved to be intuitive, highly capable and the most popular operating system from Microsoft for about 10 years, even after the release of Windows Vista and 7. Now that Microsoft has ceased updating support and security updates to Windows XP, protection against malware is vital if you want your computer to continue running smoothly. Without Windows XP antivirus software, you are at higher risk than most users, and your computer can become completely unusable in a short period of time. To help you narrow down the best antivirus software for your needs, we ranked the top 10 antivirus software based on the following criteria.
The first thing to consider for any antivirus software is its capability to detect and remove malware. Not all programs are created equal, and some software is better at defending your system against potential threats. AV-Test, an independent software test lab, evaluates antivirus software for Windows XP on the effectiveness, or in some cases, the ineffectiveness of virus protection programs on the market today.
The very best antivirus software is capable of detecting and removing 100 percent of the threats sent its way. Many programs perform decently, catching 96 or 97 percent of the malware AV-Test sends its way. Regardless, make sure the antivirus software you purchase for Windows XP can catch and remove a high percentage of threats so you know your system is safe.
The next great differentiator between Windows XP virus protection programs comes down to how system-intensive the software is on your computer. If you still run Windows XP, a major factor in your decision will be the power of your processor. If you have a relatively new computer with decent specs, you can purchase virtually any antivirus software on the market without having to worry about system performance. However, if you are looking for antivirus software for an older machine, the processing power required to run antimalware programs effectively can be a concern. If you have limited RAM or processing speed, consider an antivirus program that doesn't take a large toll on the system.
Regardless of whether your Windows XP hardware is relatively new or rather old, it's still a good idea to look for programs that are not as resource-intensive during updates, scans or malware removal, just to be safe. Generally speaking, the older your computer gets, the more ineffective it will be at running new software, such as antivirus software, which is constantly updating.
To help you determine whether or not an antivirus program is capable of running on your computer or not, we've included the minimum system requirements of Windows XP antivirus software to help you find a program that will work on your machine.
Every program we evaluated is capable of detecting numerous types of malware, including spyware, rootkits and basic viruses. What separates the best antivirus software from the others are additional features that offer more protective techniques to combat malware attacks. For example, many programs offer the ability to create a backup recovery disk so that you can recover your computer after it has been infected.
Other programs are capable of performing vulnerability scans, in which the antimalware program searches for outdated programs on your computer to see if it can find any weaknesses for malware to pass through. Finally, the best antivirus software for Windows XP can launch a virtual browser, allowing you to run websites separate from your computer system to check it for vulnerabilities. You may not need all of these features for your personal use, but make sure the software you purchase can handle all of your needs.
Windows XP was a revolutionary operating system when it first became available, and its strengths have remained present throughout the years. With the right tools, you can continue using XP even though it no longer receives updates from Microsoft. Virus protection software for Windows XP is designed to be lighter than other security systems, allowing you to use it on older processors. With XP antivirus software installed, you can surf the internet, view media and run additional applications without worrying about malware breaking down the system and making the computer virtually unusable.