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The Best Antivirus Software
Ultimate Buyers Guide

The Best Antivirus Software

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If you're in the market for the best antivirus software then look no further. This list may actually surprise you, though - this isn't your grandpa's computer security. We're in the midst of a new age of computer security with clouds, online backups, and other new technologies and that means ever increasingly innovative threats too.

With close to a million new malware programs released each day, you need the type of anti-virus software that plows through all the infections and corruption to deliver a powerful computer cleanup. Whether you're an advanced user or just beginning, you'll find something to meet a range of needs and skill levels in my list of the 5 best Internet security programs.

Our Top Picks

Norton Antivirus Review

  • Pros
  • Multiple tools for removing malware
  • Blocks outside threats to your computer
  • Safety on social networks
  • High scores in test labs
  • Email scanning
  • Cons
  • Only helpful for viruses and malware
  • The more protection and security you want, the more you pay

Norton security is probably the most familiar name in this group. At $89.99 for 10 licenses, Symantec Norton may be the best value out there, especially considering that it is a cross-platform suite which allows you to use it on multiple devices.

Malware detection is where Symantec Norton security really shines. When tested, the product detected about 93 percent of malware, which matches Bitdefender for the top score. Phishing protection is another area in which Symantec Norton is top notch.

While not quite at the level of Kaspersky, this virus protection software adeptly identifies fraudulent websites and notifies you as soon as you enter a potentially dangerous website.

Norton destroys known bad programs and also monitors the behavior of new or unknown programs. The program's behavior-based detection system automatically activates if it detects any strange behavior from new or unknown programs. As you can tell, you can see why Norton Antivirus is our editor choice.

Bitdefender Antivirus Review

  • Pros
  • 24/7 technical support
  • Malware blocking and phishing protection
  • Secure browser for financial transactions
  • Remote management
  • OS Rescue doesn't require CD
  • Cons
  • Long cleanup time with potential collateral damage

At $59.95 per year and $79.95 for three licenses, Bitdefender Antivirus is a bargain for its effective suite of antivirus software. Of course, you could always upgrade to Bitdefender Total Security for a little bit more. Bitdefender Total Security grants you protection for not only your PC, but for also Mac OS and the Android device.

One of the primary features introduced in the newest version of the product is Bitdefender Central, which is a security hub used for managing multiple devices with the tool installed (Windows, Mac OS X, Android device) from a web interface. The second is Ransomware Protection, which prevents hijackers from encrypting and deleting your private data in order to use it as a ransom against you.

Bitdefender Antivirus' installation process is fast as well. Once installed, Bitdefender gets right to work and a diagnostic scan begins to determine your computer's security status. Once completed, Bitdefender enters its default Autopilot mode.

In Autopilot mode, the program silently and constantly scans your computer and browser for threats, and unlike many programs, you'll never notice it. So, for instance, if Bitdefender detects a threat while you're using the computer, it quietly quarantines the threat without any notifications popping up.

Kaspersky Antivirus Review

  • Pros
  • Easy to install on any computer, infected or not
  • Effective at removing malware
  • 100% new threat identification
  • Phishing protection
  • Scans for insecure settings
  • Cons
  • Long scan time
  • Pricey, but comes with 3 licenses

Kaspersky Internet Security is a well-rounded product that has you covered in all areas, and at $59.99, it is competitively priced. This software protects your PC from viruses, bots, spyware, phishing, malware, and more.

Kaspersky's installation process is fast and shouldn't take more than a few minutes. However, you should expect the average scan and cleanup to last about 45 minutes, which is on the longer side.

Malware protection, including detection and elimination, is the area in which Kaspersky Internet Security shines. When tested, the product typically detects and blocks about 89 percent of malware on a PC in its first scan. And the product typically eliminates the majority of remaining malware in subsequent scans. You would be hard-pressed to find a superior program for malware outside of those specifically produced to only remove malware.

If you want anti-virus protection, especially total security of extremely high quality, that has you covered in nearly every facet, you can't go wrong with Kaspersky Anti-Virus.

Why You Need Internet Security

We live in an incredibly small world, thanks to the Internet. Virtually everyone is exposed to some type of risk via their connection to the World Wide Web. These risks can include damage to your devices, access to personal and financial information, and identity theft.

Up to 40% of American households have been affected by computer viruses at some point, but many of those incidents are preventable through the use of a good Internet security program.

If you're having trouble deciding on the right protection for your device, a free antivirus trial allows you to test the program out and see if it meets your needs.

The threat created by access to unprotected computer systems has become so pervasive that the FBI even has a specific website just for reporting cyber-crimes - the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

By choosing - and using - one of the top antivirus programs on my list, you can drastically reduce your chances of ever falling victim to viruses and other types of computer network vulnerabilities. However, it should be noted to always backup your personal data, on the chance that you do encounter a virus that has slipped through your computer's defenses.

Key Considerations When Choosing Antivirus Software

The Best Antivirus Software

  1. Norton
  2. Bitdefender
  3. Kaspersky
  4. ScanGuard
  5. Total AV

One thing I've noticed is that the terms "antivirus software" and "Internet security" are often used interchangeably. That's probably because most programs cover a range of protection needs, addressing issues in both areas. Technically, however, the two terms do differ a bit in literal meaning. Antivirus software is designed to identify and protect your computer from harmful infections like Trojan viruses, worms, and other destructive digital hacks.

The best Internet security suite will also provide a comprehensive set of additional protections, such as spam blockers and anti-phishing. Not only that, but the best Internet anti-virus should be able to also discover and clean or quarantine older malware that you may have picked up before installing the program.

Be wary of advertisements for 'free' anti-malware trials which promise to clean up your computer. These are often predatory scams which try to steal your personal information or gain access to your sensitive files.

To help you sort out what each term means so you can decide the level of protection that's right for you, I've detailed the most important features of a good antivirus and Internet security suite.

Related: How to Secure Your Wi-Fi

1. Firewalls

One way to think of a firewall is a barrier which blocks communication to and from unwanted parties. When a computer is connected to the Internet through a broadband connection, its files immediately become susceptible to unauthorized access because they share the same network. When a firewall is in place, hackers are unable to collect your personal information and files because it checks the source's credentials before granting access to domestic files. Many systems also allow you to customize your firewall settings to block untrustworthy websites. No computer should be in operation without adequate firewall protection.

Additionally, many antivirus programs come equipped with a two-way firewall. A two-way firewall is a more recent advancement of technology, as malware has become far more widespread and complex. It has been part of Windows Firewall since Windows Vista, but again, you can find this type of firewall in many anti-virus programs. A two-way firewall basically keeps intruders out - such as keyloggers - while retaining sensitive information so that it won't get stolen.

2. Anti-malware

Anti-malware protection comes as an integrated feature in most antivirus programs; it detects and removes malicious programming. Worms, viruses, and Trojan horses are all types of malicious software which can damage the inner workings of your device.

Be wary of advertisements for "free" anti-malware protection trials which promise to clean up your computer. These are often predatory scams which try to steal your personal information or gain access to your sensitive files.

Related: What is malware?

3. Anti-spam

No one likes spam clogging up their inbox. According to SpamLaws.com, a website dedicated to providing consumers with relevant Internet security information, 14.5 billion spam emails are received globally per day. If you have the right antivirus protection software, consider spamming a thing of the past! Anti-spam tools can protect your network and mail from those annoying messages. Email security is of critical importance, especially if you operate your large, medium, or small business through the web, conduct banking online or send correspondence with sensitive information. ESET Smart Security for business and F-Secure Internet Security (or F-Secure Anti-Virus) are two examples of great anti-virus programs for businesses.

4. Anti-phishing

Anti-phishing software is designed to block websites which trick you into entering your personal information. For example, if you have a PayPal account, chances are you have at some point received an email related to a recent phishing scam, where fraudsters try to lure you into signing into your account through their link.

If your antivirus doesn't have an anti-phishing feature, it's not the end of the world. Certain browsers like Firefox and Google Chrome have built-in anti-phishing protection. Moreover, many of the popular email hosts (Gmail, Yahoo!, Hotmail) have incorporated anti-phishing features within their platform.

Related: What is Phishing?

5. Anti-Ransomware

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that blocks access to your computer. The only way you can access your files and programs is to pay up a sum of money. Not only have individuals been victims of ransomware, but institutions, such as hospitals, have been as well. In fact, hospital ransomware attacks account for 88 percent of all ransomware.

So while you most likely won't ever encounter such a horrific incident, you will probably want anti-virus protection with anti-ransomware embedded.

6. Licenses

When browsing the collection of antivirus protection programs on the market, be sure to check the number of licenses it comes with. On average, they'll come with three so that you can protect all of your electronic devices. If you run a business (whether it's a small business or a mega corporation) or have a number of computers in your possession, double check to ensure that there are enough licenses in the package.

It should be also worth pointing out that businesses should take into consideration endpoint security. Endpoint security, or endpoint protection, protects computer networks that are remotely bridged to user's devices. In other words, the protection covers mobile devices that are connected to corporate networks. Without endpoint protection, these devices would create vulnerability paths for certain security threats.

One example of endpoint security software is Symantec Endpoint Protection. Symantec Endpoint Protection is a security solution that features antivirus and a personal firewall for centrally managed corporate environments. Security is applied to both the workstations and the servers.

Without endpoint protection, these devices would create vulnerability paths for certain security threats. One example of Endpoint Security software is Symantec Endpoint Protection. Symantec Endpoint Protection is a security solution that features antivirus and a personal firewall for centrally managed corporate environments. Security is applied to both the workstations and the servers.

Conversely, if you're only looking to protect your own computer, make sure you're not paying for multiple licenses. Most companies offer a one-PC option.

7. Additional Services

Though you don't need to have additional services embedded into an anti-virus program - as you can download the additional services through specific software - it is always a good idea to have an anti-virus program that includes these features so you won't consume additional storage and RAM on your devices. Here are just some of the highly beneficial services that may come included the anti-virus software:

  • File Encryption - Though you can perform file encryption with a service like TrueCrypt on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS, it is always nice to have your Internet security suite do it for you. File encryption protects your files from being accessed by others.
  • File Shredder - Sure, you can delete your files, but did you know that your files can be recovered after deletion? There are programs for such tasks, but with a file shredder, you'll be able to destroy files beyond recovery.
  • Computer Performance - Some Internet security suites include computer performance improvement tools, but others, such as Avast Antivirus, will sell the service individually. Computer performance tools include defragmentation, cleaning, and more, so your computer can perform more efficiently.
  • Browser Add-on - Can you equip your browser with your antivirus' browser add-on? As a browser add-on, the antivirus program will protect you with additional functions and perhaps even help you save money by finding you the best deal on specific items.
  • Online Banking - When it comes to online banking, you don't want your personal information to be stolen. Unfortunately, your information is at risk of being "keylogged" or being tracked by spyware. Fortunately, full Internet security suites may come equipped with full anti-spyware software and anti-malware software to prevent your online banking information from being pilfered.
  • Password Manager - Passwords for dozens or even hundreds of sites are difficult to manage. Some people may record them in a notebook, and some people may use a universal password, which isn't a safe method in the slightest. This is what a password manager is for, and you can find this feature in plenty of anti-virus programs. You can consult our buyer's guide to password managers for more information.
  • Identity Theft - You do not want to have your identity stolen, as it would lead to a vast array of issues. While it is a good idea for an anti-virus program to contain identity theft protection, you could also look into individual programs with identity theft protection. We have a guide that discusses all there is to know about identity theft protection.

Understanding the Different Types of Malicious Software

It is important to discuss the most important types of malware that may infect your computer, as well as the repercussions of an infection. You will then understand why it is so important to have an antivirus solution.

1. Adware

Adware is any software package that, upon infection of your machine, automatically generates advertisements in order to generate revenue. The unwanted advertisements may appear clear as day on your computer via impossible-to-close windows or popups or on an installation screen - that's why you need to beware of what you download.

2. Worms

A computer worm is a type of malware that can replicate itself in order to spread to other computers, relying on security flaws on the victim computer. Worms cling to a variety of damaging methods, including deleting files on a host system, encrypting files in the midst of a ransomware issue, or steal personal information and documentation. Anti-virus and anti-spyware can protect against these malicious beasts, but at the same time, they need to be updated as often as possible. A firewall should also be intact.

3. Viruses

A computer virus is a type of malware that, when activated, will replicate by reproducing itself and infecting other computer programs by modifying them. Just about anything on a computer can be infected with a virus, including the boot sector of a hard drive.

Viruses are actually fewer in number compared to trojan horse programs or computer worms. There are various reasons as to creating a virus: to make a profit, to corrupt data within a business, to exact revenge, to send a political message, to demonstrate a vulnerability in a machine, or to be a complete "troll," as one would put it.

There are so many viruses lingering on the Internet nowadays, that it is advised to be aware of what you're opening or downloading. One such frightening virus, known as MEMZ (Win32), can show users how chaotic a virus can be. If you view the video, be aware that the there are flashing lights involved. Sometimes, not even the most powerful antivirus software can protect your computer against a vicious and destructive virus.

4. Keylogger

Keystroke logging, or keylogging, is one of the most frightening types of malware. This is because a keylogging program, or keylogger, will capture your keystrokes as you type on a computer. So when you're inputting your username and password for a site such as an online banking system, the attacker may be able to obtain this information.

5. Trojan Horses

A Trojan horse is a malicious program that misleads users of the true intention, just like the Trojan horse found in the Ancient Greek story. For instance, an unsuspicious e-mail may actually have a Trojan horse hidden inside the attachment. Trojan horses typically act as a backdoor, which grants an unauthorized user access to the victim's computer. This allows the attacker to snatch up any personal information. However, this particular type of malware can cause destruction to the computer.

6. Spyware

Spyware is a type of software that gathers information on the victim without their consent or knowledge. Furthermore, spyware may send the information it gathers to another party. Furthermore, this malicious software can take over the consumer's device. Spyware, however, normally tracks and stores Internet users' activity on websites. Unfortunately, spyware is hard to detect. Keyloggers are one such type of spyware.

One useful combatant against Spyware is Vipre Antivirus, which has scored a 100 percent block rate. Not only is Vipre Antivirus' antivirus protection certified, but the program is easy to install, is a low impact system, and prevents against identity theft and spyware.

Questions to Ask Before you Buy

Before choosing anti-virus software to protect your devices, take these important questions into consideration:

  • How simple and easy is the installation?
  • What kind of infections does it remove? Malware or viruses or both?
  • Do virus scans slow down your computer? How long does it take to scan? Many anti-virus programs may slow down your computer (unless you have a hefty amount of RAM and a fantastic CPU), but others may be quick or even rely on a cloud. One anti-virus that utilizes the cloud, thus minimizing the impact of the scanning process, is Panda Antivirus.
  • Can you customize scans? If you don't want a scan to take all day, you can customize a scan to tackle desired hard drives or folders, especially if you're concerned with a particular file you downloaded.
  • Is technical and customer support readily available 24/7? If you spot an issue you need to be able to deal with it quickly.
  • Does it offer phishing protection?
  • Do you own a PC or a mac? Viruses are a bigger issue on PCs and some common antivirus software isn't available for Macs.
  • Are there parental controls available? Anti-virus software with parental controls built in should be taken into consideration if you're a parent or guardian. With this feature, your family access on a machine can be limited. However, this feature should also have the ability grant particular members of family access to parental controls.

As a side note, your machines are naturally equipped with security measures, but these measures can be overcome with powerful and persistent malware. For instance, Windows has a firewall system in place. Even browsers feature security measures. Let's take Internet Explorer as an example. Internet Explorer features a SmartScreen Filter, which warns users if you've encountered a phishing or malware-infested website.

Furthermore, the SmartScreen Filter will check downloads and, if there is an issue with the download, block the download for your safety. SmartScreen also checks files that you download against a list of files that are well-known and downloaded by other Internet Explorer users and will warn you when the download is not on the list.

Another security measure brought to you by Windows? Windows Defender. Windows Defender, which is touted as the best free anti-virus program on Windows 10 by Microsoft, is built into Windows machines and grants you real-time protection and cloud-based protection against viruses, malware, boot-time, and spyware. Furthermore, this application performs network inspections to ensure everything is safe.

What is Quarantining?

Quarantining, which can be part of the virus destroying process, should be explained and understood before discussing the best anti-virus programs. Quarantining isolates infected files onto a computer's hard disk. This way, files are no longer capable of infecting the system. While many viruses can be deleted, some viruses cannot be easily rid of. This is what quarantining is for.

Other Considerations

Not everyone needs the same level of protection or every advanced feature available today. Here are some other things to take into account when deciding on an Internet security suite, whether you're shopping for a Windows antivirus program, or the best Internet software for Mac.

Budget

This is obviously a major concern for most home users. The majority of top rated antivirus programs offer free versions which are lighter on features than the paid levels. A free antivirus can be perfectly adequate for some users, such as those who don't bank or shop online and just want basic virus protection. Examples of fantastic free anti-virus programs are Panda Free Antivirus (note: Panda Free Antivirus is a light anti-virus program, as the work is done in the cloud), AVG Anti-Virus, Comodo Antivirus, and free McAfee Antivirus Security Scan Plus.

However, it should be noted that if you can afford the upgrade, you can always opt for Panda Antivirus Pro, which protects yourself from any onslaughts brought by various types of malicious programs. You'll also be able to protect your PC from hackers, protect yourself against online fraud, and secure your communications. For businesses, a more comprehensive suite of features is more appropriate due to sensitive transactions and data stored on the devices.

Compatibility

Be sure you're getting the right program for your machine. Mac antivirus software and Windows programs are not typically compatible with the other operating system. In addition, older computers running XP or Vista usually require a different version than the most current release. Make sure your chosen provider offers the right version for your computer. Also, take into account antivirus protection for your mobile device. Though iOS shouldn't have antivirus software, Android devices should.

Free Trials

Again, the main players in top rated Internet security software typically offer a free trial (although features are sometimes restricted during this period). If you're having trouble deciding on the right protection for your device, a free antivirus trial allows you to test the program out and see if it meets your needs. Taking advantage of this offer allows you to see whether the scan slows your computer down as well as ensure that it addresses your particular areas of concern.

Warranty

Sometimes, antivirus software will overlook a viral or malware infection. You will want an antivirus software that has a money back guarantee in this case. For instance, Norton Antivirus, the editor choice, has a 60-day money back guarantee for those that are unhappy with the service.

Internet Security Advice

For most of us, purchasing a good computer is a fairly significant investment. You will often spend over $1,000 on your machine and spend a great deal of time using it either for work or recreation for two or more years. This makes protecting your investment of the utmost importance. Which, in turn, makes selecting the best antivirus software of the utmost importance.

In summary, the top considerations when choosing a good Internet security or antivirus software program include:

  • What can you reasonably afford? Total security programs are often far more expensive compared to basic programs.
  • Compatibility with your PC, Mac OS, or mobile device.
  • How long each scan takes.
  • What features are included (firewalls, anti-spyware software, anti-malware software, anti-phishing and anti-spam being the primary features you will want to consider).

Of course, if my picks aren't suitable for you, make sure to carefully research what available antivirus software exists. One good choice for you to consider - that did not make the list - is Trend Micro Security Premium, which provides protection for up to 10 devices and sports a 30-day money back guarantee. Not only are you able to stop ransomware and other threats with Trend Micro Security Premium, but it contains parental controls, performance optimization tools, social media privacy tools, and more.

In other words, you should tailor your choice to what you will primarily be using your PC for. If you plan on sending and receiving a large number of emails, anti-spam will likely be one of the most important features for you. Conversely, if you do a lot of online shopping, anti-phishing will likely be most important to you. The key for everyone is finding the most well-rounded product which best addresses your needs.

It's important to take a thorough, realistic account of what those needs are. You may underestimate the importance of tight computer security, but the fact is you could be vulnerable and not even realize it. According to the Pew Research Center's Internet, Science, and Tech division, 21% of Internet users have been the victim of a compromised email or social network account, and an alarming 11% have had vital information stolen such as bank account information and/or credit card or Social Security numbers.

I point out these numbers not to scare you but to assure you that installing one of the top antivirus programs will help prevent you from becoming one of these statistics.

Recap

Antivirus software is important today. Having efficient computer security not only gives you peace of mind but it keeps your sensitive information safe, as well as files with a strong emotional value such as digital photo albums or long conversations with a friend online. I've done the research and read what customers think in order to save you some time and trouble. After weighing the pros and cons, you can now more easily decide which one is right for you.

Do know that your mobile device needs to be protected too. After all, your cell is becoming more vulnerable to malware, like Stagefright or Hummingbad. Fortunately, I have an article, "How to Get Rid of a Virus on Your Phone," that will guide you to the best anti-virus apps for iOS and Android.

Once you choose and install the best antivirus software for your computer, it's the perfect time to protect all of your precious memories and important documents even further by getting an online backup service. You can learn more by consulting our buyer's guide to online backups.

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