The top performers in our review are Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, the Gold Award winner; Kaspersky Anti-Virus, the Silver Award winner; and Norton Security, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 products.
Why buy antivirus software for Windows 8 when Microsoft includes virus protection for Windows 8 in the form of Windows Defender? The answer is performance. Defender is not the most effective security software even though it contains the best Windows-native security to date. Defender is there to buy time while you install something better. In fact, according to test results from independent software labs, any third-party Windows 8 antivirus achieves higher malware detection rates than Defender while treading more lightly on system performance. For further reading, we offer articles about the best antivirus software for Windows 8.
In our review we consider entry-level Windows 8 antivirus products. However they all have more full-featured versions, which we describe in our Internet Security Suites Software Review and Premium Security Suites Review. We refer any Mac users to our Mac Antivirus Software Review and our Mac Internet Security Review.
We consider antimalware performance test results to be the most important criteria in our evaluation. Publishers of the best Windows 8 antivirus products are not afraid to participate in objective testing by independent software labs such as AV-Test. Additional features are secondary but still important. Let’s examine both in detail.
Current Test Results of Windows 8 Antivirus Software
The German software test lab AV-Test published results for Windows 8 virus protection software tested in February 2015. The 10 products in our review demonstrated unusual strengths in intercepting malware, treading lightly on system performance and distinguishing between benign and malignant files. The protection tests measured two categories of malware interception: brand new (zero-day) threats and widespread threats. A few of the top 10 products achieved 100 percent detection of the 208 brand new samples. The industry average was 97 percent detection. Windows Defender, however, averaged 73 percent detection. To test against widespread and prevalent malware, 12,207 malware samples tried to sneak past each product. The industry-average detection rate was 99 percent, compared to 74 percent for Windows Defender. Each of our three award-winning antivirus for Windows 8 products achieved 100 percent detection rates for brand new and established malware threats.
The tests to check if the products slowed their host systems also inform our evaluations and ranking assessments. When the lab measured the effect on system performance during visits to websites, software downloads and data copying, the industry average was three seconds. In comparison, neither our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award winner, Bitdefender, nor our Silver Award winner, Kaspersky, slowed host PCs whatsoever. Windows Defender slowed systems by five seconds. By consuming more system resources and taking more time, however, Defender did much better than the industry average when it came to false labeling of benign samples as malignant. Out of 525,920 samples, Defender only confused one sample during its system scan, compared to an industry average of six false detections. Of course Defender’s success in avoiding false positives does not make up for its below-average malware detection rates.
Although quite a few of the products in our review contain the word “antivirus” in their names, fortunately they are all much more than antivirus. A virus is a subset of malware that piggybacks on a file or program to spread mischief as it travels. All of the products in our review are antimalware, which means that in addition to viruses, they also have it in for rootkits (a type of malware that burrows deeply in the operating system), worms (programs that spread from computer to computer without depending on any human behavior), and spyware (malware that sends your personal information to someone else). In support of their antimalware mission, all of the reviewed products scan incoming email and instant messages. They all discover and clean infected files without prompting you for response. And all of them can place suspected files into quarantine for observation.
Once you’ve identified the products that score well in antimalware performance tests, then consider additional features. Antiphishing is almost as important to your security as antimalware because phishing involves tricking you, the human, whereas malware attempts to trick the computer. Humans are more easily deceived, so hackers are engineering phishing bait customized to fool specific people with tidbits of personal data gleaned from social media. Every product in our review supports antiphishing by maintaining databases of phishing URLs and alerting you to any bad ones returned in search results.
Even though these are basic security products with quite a few shared attributes, some include extra features. For example the side-by-side comparison at the top of this page shows that eight out of the 10 products in our review provide: a rescue CD to reboot PCs crashed from infections; malware detection on detachable storage media, and; suspension of alerts while gaming. Just one product, Norton Security, also contains a password manager and identity safe that encrypts sensitive items in a secure online location.
How well the software publisher supports clients is something to consider. The gold standard is 24/7 access to support technicians via live chat, telephone or email. Four out of the 10 products in our review meet such a standard: Bitdefender, Norton, McAfee and BullGuard. Kaspersky is almost there with access available for 18 hours a day, every day of the week.
A couple of other things to consider are how many devices you can protect with a single license and whether the license protects operating systems other than Windows. Norton stands out in both regards because one Norton Security license protects up to five devices to include Windows, Mac and iOS. The only other product that protects more than Windows PCs is Trend Micro Titanium Antivirus + Security. It supports Macs as well as Windows, but one license covers just one computer so you would need to buy two Trend Micro licenses to protect a Mac and a Windows machine.
Best Antivirus for Windows 8: Our Verdict and Recommendations
Our evaluation process yields three winners that we recommend without hesitation: Bitdefender, Kaspersky and Norton. All three achieved 100 percent scores at AV-Test for ability to protect against new and established malware. In fact Bitdefender and Kaspersky also achieved 100 percent scores at AV-Test for the tests that measured system slowdown and false-positives.
All three have a generous feature list in addition to antimalware and antiphishing. Even though Norton did not quite match the other two in performance and usability tests, it offers a virus-free guarantee whereby it will refund the purchase price if it fails to remove infection. Norton also goes beyond Bitdefender and Kaspersky to include a password manager and identity safe. Nevertheless, even though our Gold, Silver and Bronze Award winners compete neck and neck, we must give the nod to Bitdefender because of its performance, useful features and 24/7 customer support access.