Regularly scans your computer for potential security threats and removes them if need be. Fairly easy to understand and straightforward to install. Has anonymity settings for secure and anti-tracking browsing. Built-in ad blocker.
Can be on the pricier side compared to other services.
Offers a user-friendly password management system that keeps your passcodes secure. Provides reliable protection as you browse the internet, and added protection for important files. PC Magazine award winner.
Installation can be challenging, and customer service could be more attentive.
Provides a comprehensive level of protection that is easy to use for the average computer user. Great features focused on internet surfing and browser usage. A single subscription will cover a variety of desktops, laptops, and smart devices.
Can be finicky when using with a Mac.
Works well with Windows right out of the box. Advanced firewall protection will keep viruses from affecting important components of the operating system. Both Windows and Mac compatible.
Not as extensive in features as other options.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
Computer viruses, malicious pieces of software explicitly created to cause harm or damage to your device, are a constant threat to computer users worldwide. Some viruses are benign yet annoying, causing photos to pop up on your screen, but most of them are immensely destructive. One of the most sinister and disheartening aspects of these viruses is that, just like a flu virus, they easily pass from one host to the next. At any time, you would unwittingly contract a computer virus — and you could also unwittingly spread it to others.
To protect your files, data, and identity, you need antivirus software for your computer. But which one should you get? Many of the terms are confusing, and the features may seem to overlap each other. Different programs are designed for specific operating systems, and they vary in their protection, support, and other features.
We’ve done the heavy lifting for you. Keep reading, and we’ll walk you through the decision-making processes by explaining the key considerations you need to keep in mind as you search for the right antivirus software.
The most important factor when choosing an antivirus software is compatibility with your operating system.
Windows is the most widely used operating system today. If you’re using a desktop computer or laptop by any brand besides Apple, chances are you’re using Windows. All of the antivirus software has at least one Windows version available.
Microsoft has released new versions of Windows approximately once a year, with major revisions every five or six months. Modern antivirus software may not work on older versions of Windows. Companies like Amazon may have some of the older versions of antivirus software on their shelves. If they do, you might be able to find one that works with your version of Windows.
If you’re not using Windows, you’re most likely on a Mac computer. Like Microsoft, Apple has constantly released new versions of its operating system. Make sure the antivirus package you get is compatible with your version of the Mac OS.
The Linux operating system is a portable version of the Unix operating system written from the ground up for PCs.
Although Linux is now virtually identical to Windows in its user interface, many people still shy away from it. Therefore, it is difficult to find antivirus software for it. Furthermore, Linux has a tremendous amount of built-in security which Windows and Mac OS can’t match.
Antivirus software is usually sold according to how many devices it will protect, with a license for each device. PCs and Macs are commonly covered on most packages, and many packages cover up to five devices in any combination (three PCs and two Macs, four Macs and one PC, etc.). Some will only protect one to three devices, while a few offer protection for an unlimited number of devices.
Protection can also be purchased for mobile devices, although this is less common. Determine how many devices in your home need protection before you start comparing antivirus software.
A firewall is a software tool that monitors network traffic, both incoming and outgoing, to determine which traffic to allow or block. It performs this function based on a predetermined set of security rules. Early firewalls were mainly hardware. Today, a firewall can be software, hardware, or a combination.
A firewall is the first and most basic feature an antivirus software package should have. We don’t recommend antivirus software without firewalls.
Online data breaches have become a growing problem in recent years, and identity theft is on the rise.
Antivirus companies have stepped up to the plate by incorporating privacy and identity protection in the suite of services offered in their software packages. The implementation can be spotty, which is why we encourage you to investigate our highly reviewed products.
Windows is often touted as a major offender when it comes to the way the “delete” command works, but Macs are guilty as well. When you “delete” a file, the only thing that actually gets deleted is the index entry that points to the location on the disk or storage where the file was written. The file itself is still there, but is essentially invisible. It can be overwritten, either in whole or in part, by other programs or files.
Because of this, file recovery software can often recover a file you thought you deleted. In the case of sensitive, personal, or financial files or data, this is a bad idea. When you delete those files, you want to make sure they’re actually deleted.
A file shredder overwrites the file with random binary data not once but multiple times. Once it’s done, file recovery becomes impossible.
There are separate file shredder programs you can get to accomplish this task, but if an antivirus package includes it, it’s one less thing you have to purchase or worry about.
Ransomware is a big — and criminal — business. Ransomware is malicious software (malware) that infects your computer, encrypts your files so they can’t be read, and then issues a demand for a ransom to be paid in order to receive the mathematical software key that will allow you to decrypt them. If the attacker has used 128-bit encryption (standard these days) your chance of recovering your files without that key is zero.
Anti-ransomware will detect ransomware by its unique profile or according to an updated list of ransomware that has been identified or both. It will prevent it from being installed, quarantine it, and alert you to its presence.
A rootkit is a collection of malicious computer software designed to access restricted areas of a computer and mask its true purpose while doing so. The term rootkit is a linguistic blend of two words: “root” from the traditional name of the administrator’s account on Unix/Linux systems and “kit,” which refers to the set of software components that implement its tools.
Rootkit installation is often the result of a corrupt website or malicious download. Rootkits are extremely sophisticated, and it’s important to catch it before it’s installed, otherwise, it becomes nearly impossible to detect it once it’s in place.
For this reason, an anti-rootkit feature is important and possibly vital in an antivirus software.
Real-time monitoring uses various techniques such as signature detection and heuristics to detect malware-like behavior. It continually scans the local file system and memory for anomalies. It scans emails as you download and before you open them.
Cheaper antivirus packages only scan at set times, but the better ones include real-time monitoring so you’re constantly protected.
Webcam manufacturers design their cameras for maximum connectivity and ease of use. Unfortunately, that leaves them open to hacking by unscrupulous individuals who can use them to spy on you or your children. Oftentimes, they can be remotely activated once the malware is installed or connects to your device.
Software that comes with the devices is often the target of hackers. Once they get into that, the camera is completely vulnerable since it is accepting commands from a legitimate source.
Webcam protection presents some unusual challenges since it has to protect third-party software from itself. If you don’t use your webcam, you could physically disable it and not have to worry about it. If that’s not an option, an antivirus package that has built-in webcam protection should be on your list of must-have features.
Parental controls are an important tool for keeping your children away from inappropriate content online, as well as protecting them from online predators. If you have children, your antivirus software needs to have parental controls.
Customer support isn’t a feature of the software per se, but it is a service that not all brands offer.
This is the best option and the one that is least likely to be offered. Employee salaries are always a big cost of doing business and the one companies constantly try to reduce. If you find an antivirus package that offers real telephone support, you’re probably going to notice a higher price on the software in order to cover the additional costs.
Some companies brag about 24/7 telephone support, but if you read the fine print there are often gaping holes in the coverage.
Online customer support can be a database of FAQs, real-time chat with an employee, or chat with a robot. In our experience, the last one is most likely what you’ll get — again, to save money.
Email customer support can be an exercise in frustration if you’re up against a deadline. If you don’t mind waiting for a slow response though, eventually you’ll get some help with your question or problem.
Antivirus manufacturers often add features that sound great but are better purchased separately. If your antivirus comes with one of these features that’s fine, but they’re not necessary for an antivirus. These features include password managers, online storage, and VPNs (virtual private networks).
The price at the checkout counter isn’t the best way to gauge prices on antivirus software. The price per device is a better method. If a package costs $100 but covers 100 devices, then the price is $1 per device, which would be fantastic. Unfortunately, when it comes to antivirus software, price and performance are rarely related.
The low price range seems to be around $14 to $20 per box (or download code) for current releases.
The medium price range runs from $20 to $40. Some of the best products are in this price range, offering great features and coverage for multiple devices.
For antivirus software for over $40, you’re usually paying extra for the brand name or a top-heavy package loaded down with extras that hog system resources and don’t actually increase security.
At installation, allow at least an hour for your antivirus to load and do a complete system scan.
When the antivirus is loading, always choose the advanced option that lets you pick and choose what you want installed. Uninstalling a useless feature can sometimes be unexpectedly difficult, and it’s also more time consuming.
A full system scan can take a while. Set it to scan at night while you’re sleeping.
One of the most popular antivirus software is McAfee Total Protection. It has one of the lower prices on the market but allows you to protect an unlimited number of devices: PCs, Macs, smartphones, and tablets. It uses cloud-based and offline protection for all your devices, and it provides you with a full suite of parental controls so you can monitor your children and keep them safe when they're online. Like many subscription-based antivirus packages, it auto-renews if you don't opt out.
We also like Kaspersky Total Security. Their annually updated packages have an established pattern of full protection for up to five devices, which may be PCs, Macs, Android, and IOS devices. It stops viruses, phishing attacks, ransomware, and webcam spying, and it gives you an extra layer of protection during online banking sessions. In addition, it stops dangerous file downloads and has a shredder to protect your personal files. While it’s a good package, it's not always user-friendly.
Q. What is an activation key?
A. Most antivirus software requires a long alphanumeric code, referred to as an activation key, to unlock the package so it will work.
Q. What is a quarantine area?
A. It’s a protected area on the hard drive or storage device where infected files can be isolated from the rest of your file system.
Q. Will antivirus software slow down my system?
A. Yes. All software uses system resources, and antivirus is no exception. Because it is continually scanning, it may slow it down more than other software.