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Shopping guide for best anti-virus protection

Last Updated March 2024

Just because you are not an avid web surfer and you're not downloading content regularly, your computer isn’t any less vulnerable than the next. If you use your computer for occasional web browsing, checking your emails, or even just for streaming Netflix, you need to consider properly outfitting your system with reliable anti-virus protection.

Anyone with an Internet connection can be affected by viruses, malware, and spyware.

Of course, choosing the right kind of protection for your needs can be overwhelming. Figuring out what kind of software is right for your unique situation may seem difficult. That's why the BestReviews team has put together this guide to help demystify virus protection software and make the process a little bit less confusing.

You'll learn about the various types of security software available, things to look out for when making your choice, and prevention tips to help you reduce your risk of computer infection.

Detection is important, but so is actually getting rid of potential threats to your computer. Make sure your selected anti-virus can successfully remove threats from your computer.

Anti-virus considerations

Before settling on a particular anti-virus software, you'll need to consider the following.

Your operating system

First, you need to consider your operating system. Many Mac users don't think they need anti-virus software, but that's simply not true. All computers with an internet connection are vulnerable to threats such as malware and viruses.

Make sure that the anti-virus protection software you're considering is compatible with your operating system before handing over your money.

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Your computer habits

Take your computer habits into consideration when choosing an anti-virus protection software. This will give you an idea of how much protection you need. Someone who is a heavy PC user will require more protection than the occasional Netflix viewer. If you use your computer for work and it contains sensitive data, you'll likely want the maximum amount of protection possible.

Detection scores

Find out what kind of detection score your potential anti-virus software has. Detection scores tell you whether an anti-virus program can actually find viruses and how good it is at doing so. The better the score, the more useful the software will be. Look for a program with high scores, and don't even think twice about considering ones with poor performance ratings.

System requirements

You don't want to add clutter to your machine. Make sure your selected anti-virus software is compatible with your computer and be certain that your PC or Mac can run it smoothly. If you choose a software option that requires too much computing power, you'll slow your device down, and likely find yourself disabling the program more often than not.


Testing is an important part of the buying process when it comes to anti-virus software. Use free trials to your advantage to test out the options you're considering. You'll be able to check out whether the program can run on your device, if it can perform well, and whether it's easy and intuitive to use.


Remember to update your anti-virus protection software frequently, so it's ready to detect and remove the newest viruses.

Features to look for


Overall effectiveness is the most important thing to look out for when choosing an anti-virus program. You want it to work. If it can't correctly detect viruses or other kinds of threats to your machine, there's little use in keeping it installed.


Part of an anti-virus program’s effectiveness is its ability to stay current. A good anti-virus software requires frequent updates, and will be able to detect even the newest viruses and threats.

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Low number of false positives

Good anti-virus programs will not tell you that you need to uninstall legitimate programs. A program that performs well can tell the difference between custom content you've downloaded for a game and real threats to your computer. Be careful. Some programs will remove files they deem suspicious, without your permission. Make sure to choose a program that gives you the option of approving deletions to avoid nasty surprises.


It's not enough to just detect viruses. A good anti-virus program eradicates them completely. Make sure that your chosen software can get rid of viruses just as well as it can find them hidden in your computer files.


Viruses don't always originate via the Internet. One of the very first viruses created, the Elk Virus, was spread via the humble floppy disk.


Some anti-virus programs offer a “quarantine” feature. If a file is suspicious, but not immediately classifiable as malignant, the anti-virus software will suggest quarantine. You can opt to temporarily disable the file, determine whether anything else on your system is affected by the absence, and re-introduce the file (or eradicate it) after further research.

Ease of use

Anti-virus software must be easy to use. Of course, extra features are nice, but too many options can overcomplicate things, especially for the non-tech savvy user. Utilize free trials to test out the interface of potential software, to make sure you are comfortable using it and can understand how it works.


Delete that email: if it looks too good to be true, or is asking you for a password or financial information, delete it right away. Don't take chances.

Extra features

Some anti-virus programs come equipped with additional useful features. It's up to you whether these are important.

Programs like anti-virus suites can do more than simply detect and remove viruses. They can also perform the following tasks:

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Anti-virus software pricing

There's a huge range in pricing when it comes to anti-virus software. Some programs are even available free for download, although these offer very basic protection.

Anti-virus suites, which offer a higher degree of protection from various threats, can sometimes cost up to several hundred dollars. Some anti-virus programs require yearly subscription payments to ensure the software stays up-to-date.

Many programs also offer free trials, usually lasting 30 days or less.

Types of threats

There are multiple types of anti-virus programs. Many can detect a variety of threats. Here are some of the threats you may want to look out for and consider protecting yourself from.


This type of threat is intended to corrupt or disable your machine permanently.


One of the creepier types of computer threats; spyware allows someone else to see what you do on your computer, usually to help them scam you later on.


A new kind of threat that is essentially a form of digital blackmail. Your computer “locks,” and you’re given instructions to pay an anonymous hacker to unlock it.


Not a virus at all. Just a way to get you to shell out cash for what's usually a fake anti-virus software.

Often, a pop-up window attempts to convince you that Microsoft or your Windows system has discovered a virus, and that for your computer’s safety, you should call a phone number and pay for them to fix it remotely.

Of course, the people at the other end of that phone line are the same people who released the scareware virus.

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This type of threat detects and records what you type, which is a potential way of gaining access to logins and passwords.


More challenging for anti-virus programs to detect and particularly threatening. A Trojan virus replicates itself across files on your computer before activating fully.


Malware is a term that refers to various malicious threats. A virus, for instance, is considered malware.

Common mistakes to avoid

Don’t fall for a scam

Watch out for scams. They're everywhere. Scareware is designed to frighten you into paying money for fake anti-virus programs that won't work.

Choose a legitimate and reputable software company's anti-virus program, and avoid cheap imitations.

Getting a program that slows down your computer

Make sure your machine meets the anti-virus program's system requirements. Otherwise, you risk ending up with a computer that slogs along as the software scans for viruses.

Not trying software before buying

Most companies offer free trials, so you can try before you buy. It's not a bad idea to give a program you're considering a test drive.

Don't spend your money without getting a feel for the product. Find out if it's easy to use, understand, and if it runs well on your computer.

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More money doesn't necessarily mean better protection. There are plenty of low-cost options available, suitable for most computer owners.

Make sure before you spend your hard-earned money that you're choosing a program that works well, and that you're happy with.

Don't choose a program just because it has a ton of extra features; ask yourself first if you even need all those extras. If you're a single person, a child block is probably not necessary, for instance.

The world of computing may seem like a dark and scary place, but the right protection can help to reduce your anxiety levels.


Q. I have a Mac, do I really need anti-virus protection?

A. Yes. Mac users are vulnerable to viruses and other threats, just like any other computer. The belief that Macs are somehow immune to viruses is a popular urban myth.

Q. What's an anti-virus suite?

A. This kind of anti-virus protection delivers the whole package. These programs offer protection from multiple forms of threats, including phishing scams, and other types of malware. Anti-virus suites also often include firewall protection. They’re sometimes packaged with family safety or web-monitoring applications as well. In short, they are the complete threat-protection option and offer a wider array of features.

Q. Do I need tech support and should I pay for it?

A. If you're not tech savvy, it might be a good idea to purchase tech support along with your anti-virus program. Tech support can help you if you actually end up with a virus or other threat on your device.

Q. Do I even need anti-virus protection? I only use my device for watching Netflix.

A. Yes. Unfortunately, the reality is that most computer users these days are vulnerable to all types of threats. This is true even if you rarely go online for anything other than streaming content. If you use your computer less than the average person, it might be wise to choose a basic anti-virus program, as it will be more cost-effective.

Q. How do I know if the anti-virus software I'm considering is legitimate?

A. There are a few ways to detect whether an anti-virus software is the real deal or not. Often, they are quickly programmed. Scammers aren't going to put too much work into the final product, since it's not actually intended to suss out viruses. A good sign that a program is fake is that it will scan your computer in seconds. Many phone programs won't give you the option to try them for free. Instead, they'll be aggressive about asking for more money to clean out supposed threats they've detected. The best way to figure out if a program is nonsense? Just do an online search.

The team that worked on this review