- Defining Antivirus in 2021
- Malware Types and Attacks
- Bots and Botnets
Welcome to Cloudwards.net’s guide to the best antivirus software. We’re going to walk you through the cream of the crop that we’ve found throughout our antivirus reviews, as well as inform you about what an antivirus does to protect you and the precautions you can take outside of a normal scan.
We’ll compare antivirus programs over five rounds: features, pricing, user-friendliness, protection and support. Three programs will rank for each and, at the end, we’ll declare an overall winner.
Before going into the rounds, we’re going to define what an antivirus is for 2021, go over basic malware types and how to identify if they’re on your machine, and weigh the pros and cons of free antivirus programs.
Defining Antivirus in 2021
Most people who’ve spent time around a computer can provide a basic definition of antivirus. Put simply, it protects your computer against viruses. While that’s still true, antiviruses as we know them today are better described as antimalware.
Malware is an umbrella term for malicious software. Viruses are on the list, but
programs have grown over the years to accommodate a more diversified set of threats, not all of which live on your desktop.
Many antivirus programs now come as premium security suites, including protection for multiple machines, operating systems and mobile devices. Increased security measures like identity theft protection and file encryption are commonplace, as well.
Antiviruses aren’t as reactive as they used to be. They’re look for malware before it can infect your machine. One typical way that is accomplished is by using behavior monitoring and machine learning.
The best antiviruses can identify threats that aren’t known by learning the behavior of previously encountered malware and applying it to new software. That enables them to detect and remove new malware from your machine, even if the database of known malware doesn’t include it.
That learning extends to your browser, where there’s a treasure trove of malware just waiting for you to download it. Browsers have gotten better about built-in security, especially Google Chrome, but a dedicated antivirus can sweep out attacks that they may not detect.
Before moving on to our list, let’s define the common malware you may encounter and how to figure out if you’ve already been infected.
Malware Types and Attacks
There are many forms of malware and we couldn’t possibly cover each here. Crafty programmers are writing new malware for new exploits every day. Still, there are broad archetypes you should be aware of.
One of the most common types of malware, adware is built to run under the radar of those not looking for it. In most cases, your search engine will be changed, more ads will appear on websites you visit and, in some cases, there will be ads on your desktop.
Usually, you get adware as a bundled addition to free software. Many users click through installers without a second thought and that’s how it creeps in. Make sure you are vigilant with installers and uncheck any boxes that ask to install additional software.
The tricky thing is that it isn’t illegal or always malicious. In many cases, the user opts in to a “secure” browser designed to bring in ad dollars for whoever wrote the software. Even if the software is difficult to remove, it’s not trying to steal anything from you. The most important thing to protect yourself against this type of malware is to pay attention to installers.
Bots and Botnets
Bots are malicious. They’re designed to infiltrate your computer, allowing the hacker to carry out actions on your machine remotely. Bots can replace themselves like worms and spread to other machines like viruses.
It’s not like The Matrix, where a hacker pulls up a command prompt and sends you a message, though. If your computer has a bot, it is likely part of a botnet, slave machines that are most commonly used for DDoS attacks.
All the bots in a botnet call on the host machines to perform an action at once, usually to crash a web server and take down a site. What’s scary about botnets is that you may be part of one without any significant indication, especially if you have been using a malafide service like Hola VPN.
A self-explanatory, but nasty, malware, keyloggers store all keystrokes made on the host machine. Most antiviruses can detect keyloggers as they’re an actively running process, but there are other ways to protect yourself.
You can use an on-screen keyboard when entering sensitive data, but we recommend using a password manager from our best password manager list. Not only will you not touch your keyboard, but you’ll save time logging in to websites.
Ransomware encrypts data on your machines and holds it hostage until you pay a ransom. Your documents, media and more will be scrambled until you come up with the cash to get it back.
Unlike other malware, you’ll know if it’s on your machine. The attacker will notify you with instructions for how to send payment and unlock your data. Usually, you’ll need to pay using cryptocurrency so the attacker can stay anonymous.
Other ransomware is more crafty. Scareware, for example, will pose as an antivirus claiming it has detected innumerable issues on your machine. Lock screen viruses will load a fake website, usually a mock government or credit card agency, and demand payment before you can enter your machine.
No matter what form it comes in, do not pay the ransom. The person already went out of their way to screw up your computer, so they probably won’t give the files back. The best way to remove ransomware is to roll back to a system restore point in Windows and run a UEFI scan.
You can also bypass the whole issue and format your hard drive, but you need to have it backed up for that. Check out our online storage comparison and best online backup providers to figure out how to best do that.
A rootkit is similar to a bot, but, unlike botnets, more interested in infecting a single machine. The set of software tools gives an unauthorized user access to the remote machine, enabling them to execute files and change system configurations.
Because rootkits are so deep-seated, they’re difficult to detect and remove. It takes time to gain that level of access, though, so most antiviruses should detect and remove rootkits as they’re gaining user permissions.
In the event you already have a rootkit and it isn’t removable using a desktop scan, the best option is running a UEFI scan to snuff it out before your operating system loads.
Spyware is tricky because it isn’t illegal or malicious. It’s software designed to spy on you, gathering data about your browsing choices, purchase decisions and more. In most cases, it’s a way to sell information to marketers. A recent example, Red Shell, ran through many PC games, causing controversy in the gaming community.
Spyware like that is put in by software developers intentionally, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s a way to capture your screen, record sensitive login data or spy on webcams for peeping Toms.
Thankfully, it’s easy to detect and remove. Many modern antiviruses include webcam protection, as well, blocking access to all programs unless you allow it.
Like the Trojan horse, this type of malware represents itself as something useful, but holds a malicious payload inside. A trojan alone isn’t malware, though, just whatever is inside of it.
It’s one of the most common ways to deliver malware to a machine. It’s also one of the most dangerous because it’s used to deliver keyloggers, ransomware, rootkits and more. Trojans are among the first things antiviruses look for.
The best way to avoid a trojan is to not download anything questionable. You should look out for things like free PDF converters and fake antiviruses, especially. In more malicious cases, downloads pull double duty, installing a trojan and adware on your machine in the same executable.
One of the earliest and most potent threats to computers, viruses have been around for a long time, at least long enough to coin the term “antivirus.” They look to reproduce as fast as possible, infecting your machine and any you contact.
The scariest aspect of viruses is how quickly they can spread and cause destruction. They’re used to steal or corrupt massive amounts of data, often slowing your machine to a crawl by eating system resources.
Thankfully, viruses are less common than they used to be as antiviruses have become more sophisticated. Other malware have taken their place, though, most notably ransomware and bots.
While not technically a form of malware, phishing is a powerful threat to cybersecurity. You’re contacted by email, phone or text by someone posing as a legitimate institution asking you to provide sensitive information. Usually, it’s a bank, insurance company or credit card agency.
The goal is to lure a user in to clicking an infected URL, typically a mock payment portal, and entering information such as a username and password. During our antivirus testing, we saw banks, PayPal and insurance agencies emulated.
Phishing webpages constantly change, often staying up for a day or less, gathering data and going offline. The first line of defense is respecting your spam folder and not handing out information without credentials. Make sure when you are entering sensitive information, you double-check the URL you’re on.
How to Identify Malware
Most malware is meant to live undetected on your machine for as long as possible. There are other schemes, such as ransomware, that make their presence known. Other than those, it’s up to you to know if you have malware.
Once you download an antivirus from our list and run a scan, you’ll know if there’s malware on your machine, but there are signs to look out for before that.
The first is sluggish performance. Malware chews through system resources quickly, often because the programs are hastily written without optimization. If your machine in running slower than normal, you may have malware.
On Windows, you can use the task manager to see active tasks and resource usage. Scroll through the list and see if there are active processes that have strange names or don’t seem to be tied to any applications. It isn’t a good idea to end those processes, though, as you’re not removing the malware and it may be a process connected to a legitimate application.
Other forms of malware, such as bots, may show no signs of being on your machine. Because of that, it’s best to run a full scan with your antivirus often, even if you don’t notice system slowdowns or strange active processes.
Free Antiviruses: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly
While paid solutions are almost always better, there are free antiviruses on the market. We think you shouldn’t go unprotected just because your wallet can’t support a full plan, but there are drawbacks to free offerings.
Let’s start with the good, though. The main selling point for free antiviruses is that, well, they’re free. Companies such as Avast, Malwarebytes, Avira and Norton have pushed free antivirus for protection. You download an installer and that’s it, no money spent.
Like anything that’s free, there are limitations, though. What you’re getting is a stripped-down version of the paid software and constant solicitations to upgrade. Avira Free, for example, provides only on-demand scanning. Companies claim that both paid and free versions are updated with new malware signatures, but they’re not always done at the same pace.
The difference is small, but paid antiviruses put up higher detection numbers than their free counterparts. Assuming that both applications are updated with the same malware signatures, we can guess that those updates roll out first to paid users and second to free ones.
Time is of the essence for antivirus programs. Zero-day exploits are attacks carried out the same day the exploit becomes known. Those with free antiviruses are more vulnerable to them. Paid products usually use more sophisticated behavior monitoring to detect zero-day malware, while free ones rely on known malware signatures and rudimentary detection methods.
Whether it’s a more complex behavior monitoring system or faster malware signature update is irrelevant. On average, free antiviruses perform slightly worse than their paid counterparts. It’s a small margin, though, that paid solutions sometimes struggle to justify.
The gap is made up for in features focusing on usability or protection. On the list, you’re usually going to get parental control, ransomware protection and support options when you upgrade.
The features easily outclass the price. Scanning your machine for malware can clear remnants of it, but protection against identity theft, ransomware and mobile attacks are features you get with paid antiviruses.
In short, paid antiviruses are better than free ones. Detection rates are similar, but the extra protection features and more robust infrastructure make the upgrade justifiable. Still, free protection is better than no protection, so make sure you read through this guide for our recommendations on the best free antivirus software.
Round One: Features
Antiviruses are more than protection for your PC. Basic plans are available, but the staple product has evolved from a utility tool into a premium security suite. Our first round will look at features that improve your security and experience without hoarding system resources or bogging down the user interface.
Virtual private networks and password management tools will not be among the things we consider. Those tools have become common additions to antivirus suites, but perform worse than our best VPN picks and password managers. We’ll make an exception if the included VPN or password manager can go toe-to-toe with our top picks in those categories.
Instead, we’re looking at features such as a file shredder, parental control and a secure browser. Most antiviruses secure your current browser, but we’re looking for an additional application that protects online payments, blocks ads and keeps cookies cleared.
Outside of that, features are product specific. Bitdefender Antivirus includes profiles for tuning scans, for example, and AVG includes a free trial of its TuneUp software to clear the waste on your machine. Features like these help make certain antiviruses stand out from the others and will be used as tiebreakers for products with similar feature sets.
Here are the things we’re looking for in this round:
- File shredder
- Parental control
- Secure browser
- Extra features
AVG has a generous free offering with basic malware protection, ransomware protection and more. Our favorite feature from the free plan is AVG’s Secure Browser, a Chromium interface with pre-installed extensions like an ad blocker, cookie cleaner and password manager.
The browser, which is the same as Avast Secure Browser, stands out from other antiviruses. It’s a familiar interface that increases your speed and keeps you protected. As long as you can go without Google integration, Secure Browser isn’t a bad option.
Internet Security adds features such as a firewall, webcam protection and file encryption. Out of the lot, file encryption is the most useful, providing an extra layer of security against a nasty ransomware.
The reason AVG ranks first in this round is its Ultimate package, though. It’s Internet Security and AVG TuneUp combined. TuneUp is an excellent cleaning utility that can manage bulk files slowing down drive performance and fix background applications hogging system resources. When we tested TuneUp, it cleared over 12GB off our drives.
AVG satisfies our criteria with parental control, a secure browser, a file shredder and extra features such as TuneUp. There’s a host of other features, as well, which you can read about in our full AVG review.
Bitdefender Antivirus is our benchmark antivirus for features. If it wasn’t for AVG TuneUp, it would easily take first place in this round. However, it’ll have to settle for second. It nips at the heels of AVG with performance profiles, safe online banking and Bitdefender Photon.
It has an impressive set of protection features and satisfies our baseline of parental control, a file shredder and a secure browser, as you can read in our Bitdefender review. You get full file encryption and ransomware protection, a network threat monitor, a phishing filter and Anti-Theft, a tool that helps locate your device if it’s lost or stolen.
Our favorite feature is performance profiles, an exclusive for Bitdefender. You can set profiles to kick in automatically when certain actions are carried out or applications are launched.
Bitdefender will increase protection is areas, suppress notifications or do whatever else you need based on what you’re doing. For example, a work profile may increase email and network protection while suppressing scan notifications.
Another way to increase performance is with Bitdefender Photon, which will scan your hardware and software configurations and optimize scans for that setup. You’ll save resources and improve your speed, so you can continue to use your machine while Bitdefender is scanning.
A lot of antiviruses could take the third slot for this round. ESET, Panda Security and Norton were contenders, but we have to give it to Kaspersky for focusing on quality over quantity with its features.
It includes everything we’re looking for in this round: a file shredder, parental controls and a secure browser.
Other notable features include webcam protection and a privacy cleaner. It will sweep your system for any identifying data and clean it out. While the privacy cleaner won’t save you as much space as AVG TuneUp, it will protect you from identity theft. You can read our tips to prevent identity theft to learn more ways to protect yourself (also read our identity theft statistics piece to see why it’s important to protect yourself).
You get Safe Money, which is a secure way to deal with online transactions, but Kaspersky protects your normal browser, as well. Private Browsing will block attempts to collect data from web analytics to social networks. You can read more about Private Browsing and Kaspersky’s other features in our Kaspersky Antivirus review.
Round Two: Pricing
As with all our guides, we looked at price as it relates to value. For example, we consistently rate ExpressVPN at the top of its category. It’s expensive, but justifies its price with a robust feature set you can read about in our ExpressVPN review.
A service isn’t good just because it’s cheap, though, so we’ll look at the price and feature set in relation to each other. For instance, F-Secure is more expensive than McAfee Total Protection, but lab results rate it higher than its red-shielded competitor.
Outside of overall value, we’re looking at the plan lineup. That includes how many devices can be on a plan, what operating systems it supports, etc. Kaspersky Internet Security, an antivirus that puts up excellent lab results, is limited to five devices, which makes it a tough sell for families.
As mentioned above, paid antiviruses are generally better than their free counterparts. Still, there’s merit to free offerings. We’ll consider if an antivirus provides a free plan as a small factor when determining our rankings.
Here’s what we’re looking for in this round:
- Device support
- OS support
- Free plan
Avast is the best value-oriented antivirus. The generous free offering stands out and the low cost of Avast Pro is around half the price of other antiviruses. While features are light, it was able to set itself apart in lab results, as you can read in our Avast Pro review.
- One to 10 PCs, WiFi security
- One to 10 PCs, Phishing protection, Sandbox
- One to 10 PCs, Webcam protection
- One to 10 PCs, Avast Cleanup
It’s light on features when compared to a security package such as Bitdefender, but, at less than half the cost, you’re still getting a lot. Avast includes its Secure Browser, which is the same as AVG Secure Browser. It has extensions such as an ad blocker, cookie cleaner and more, but lacks Google integration.
Our favorite feature on Avast Free and Pro is Wi-Fi Inspector. It’ll scan all devices connected to your network and warn you of vulnerabilities. That is especially useful for scoping out public WiFi, but can be used to identify issues in your home network, as well.
The only issue with Avast is that operating systems can’t be mixed. Even multi-device plans are restricted to PC. Mac, Android and iOS offerings are free or cheap, though, easing the pain of a Windows only plan.
Despite the value of Avast Pro, there are many more features to warrant an upgrade. Avast Ultimate, for example, doesn’t have as much value per dollar as the inexpensive offerings but comes with Avast SecureLine, a surprisingly good VPN for a bundled product. You can read our Avast SecureLine review to learn more about it.
McAfee Total Protection
McAfee earned a “decent” score in our McAfee Total Protection review because of poor desktop performance due to a barrage of pop-ups, but there’s no better option for a high device count at a low price.
For less than $50 annually, you can protect up to 10 devices with McAfee’s premium suite. It supports Windows, macOS, Android and iOS and you can sync all of them in the UI. The antivirus is best suited for a family that needs to protect multiple machines and manage them in a single area.
You get a lot of features, too. McAfee includes True Key, a decent password management software that doesn’t make it to the level of Dashlane (read our Dashlane review). As a bundled software, though, it’s good. You get five licenses, which, on their own, would run $99.99 annually.
Features such as a file shredder and browser cleaner are welcome, too. McAfee Total Protection is a good middle-of-the-road option that doesn’t excel in any area. If you’re looking to protect as many devices as possible at the lowest price, though, it’s the best choice.
Unlike many antiviruses, Sophos Home has a simple pricing scheme. There’s a free and paid variant, both with high device counts considering their cost. The free plan protects three devices and paid protects 10, which is a steal at only $50.
You don’t get many features on the free plan. You have the basic antivirus that protects against the standard set of malware, including ransomware, parental controls and remote management to check on all your devices.
Premium is worth the upgrade, though, with triple the device count and a slew of new features. You get webcam and keylogger protection, advanced malware removal and banking protection. At 10 devices, the parental controls and remote management shine even more.
We have our reservations about protection, though, as you can read in our Sophos Home review. Still, for the price, it’s excellent value. You get support for many devices and plenty of features for around half the cost of comparable packages.
Round Three: User-Friendliness
Most antiviruses are easy to use. There are exceptions, but they didn’t have a chance of making this list anyway. We’ll consider the overall usability, but care more about options and how those options are displayed.
The core of any antivirus, scanning, is the biggest concern. We’re looking for a lot of scan modes and an easy way to make sense of them. Targeted scans are a must and features such as ESET’s drag-and-drop scan are welcome.
Piggybacking on scanning, we’re looking at performance, at least from our hands-on testing. We’re monitoring CPU utilization during a scan as that’s one of the few ways to gauge performance outside of just saying an antivirus “is slow.” As with protection scores, we lean on the labs for performance testing, which we’ll address in the next round.
Performance reaches outside of scanning, though. Panda Security, for example, has an attractive interface that tries too hard to pack features in. Its tax on system resources even brought our powerful test machine to a crawl during use, responding to user input slightly after it came through.
Here’s the things we’re looking for in this round:
- Scan options
- Accessibility of settings
- Scan performance
- Idle performance
While other rounds are close, this one isn’t. AVG takes first place with a slew of options and a simple way to make sense of them all. The installer starts the customization, giving you the ability to choose which protection components to install. If webcam protection isn’t of concern to you, for example, you can omit that feature.
We’re especially impressed by the scan modes. You have six presets: a basic sweep, deep scan, targeted scan, performance scan, boot scan and USB scan. We like that the targeted scan can be aimed at specific files and performance scans can boost your speeds with TuneUp. Boot scans are useful, as well, especially if ransomware is locking you out of your machine.
Every scan, as well as all other components, has its own settings. You can manage pop-up duration, set how AVG recognizes file types, set custom scan areas and much more. You don’t have to change any of these settings, though, and that’s what makes AVG so powerful. It gives you those options without any push to change them.
AVG rounds out our criteria with excellent performance. We noticed, at most, a 5 percent increase in CPU utilization over idle when running a deep scan. Idle performance was good, as well, with the interface zipping along.
Bitdefender takes second in this round because of its customizable interface. There are modules you can configure to build the front page of the UI any way you’d like. Bitdefender calls them Quick Actions and we like that it allows you to tailor the experience without any wasted space.
The rest of your settings are in the four tabs on the left side menu. Bitdefender uses a similar tile layout to the homepage and you can click on any of the options to bring up an advanced settings menu.
While not as deep as AVG, Bitdefender has a lot of power wrapped into an intuitive interface. There’s no question about where a particular setting or feature is and, if you’re stumped, skimming through the tile interface is simple.
You also get profiles and Bitdefender Central, which is a web UI for managing your devices, setting parental controls and handling your billing. Segregating those sections helps keep the interface concerned with protection and the browser with everything else.
Performance is good, but not excellent. There’s a slight decrease when performing tasks, such as launching a website, while a scan is running. Overall, though, the interface is snappy and Bitdefender doesn’t hog too many system resources.
NOD32 has a deceptively simple interface. There’s a main screen showing your computer status and six tabs on the left for navigation. As opposed to Bitdefender’s broad approach to tabbing, the options in ESET’s interface take you to specific features such as scanning or updates.
The advanced settings are hidden. You can get to them by going to “setup,” then “advanced setup.” The floodgates open there with options for submitting samples, tweaking the detection engine and setting up network protection.
Those settings aren’t hard to locate, but they’re buried enough that a normal user won’t ever find them. Anyone who’s comfortable configuring software to fit their needs will find a slew of tools, though, all without compromising the integrity of the interface.
Scan modes are solid, as well. There’s a full scan, removable media scan, targeted scan and UEFI scan. You can also drag and drop files or folders into the interface to begin a targeted scan. To learn more about scan settings and what else ESET has to offer, read our ESET NOD32 review.
Round Four: Protection
Antiviruses are meant to protect and, as such, this round is the most important out of the five. We’ll compare our hands-on testing to lab results to get an overview of how well an antivirus protects you from the constant stream of online threats.
We’ll look at identification and removal of software through test results first. The scenario here is that a user already has malware and needs an antivirus to find and destroy it. In most cases, it will be known malware that’s part of the antivirus’ database.
Zero-day malware is the next concern. We’ll check out the behavior monitoring of the antivirus and how well it identifies malware, even if a signature hasn’t been generated for it. We’ll also look at false positives, which are an occasional unintended consequence of behavior monitoring.
Outside of removing malware that’s already there, we’ll look for proactive security measures including ransomware, webcam and browser protections. We’ll also test phishing schemes and gauge an antivirus’ ability to identify them.
Here’s what we’re looking for in this round:
- Malware identification and removal
- Zero-day malware protection
- Proactive security
- Phishing performance
Bitdefender was the most secure antivirus in our hands-on testing. It’s gotten plenty of nods from labs, as well, ranking as one of the top options among antivirus providers. AV-Test’s April analysis found it 100 percent effective against in-the-wild and zero-day malware, which beats the 99.5 percent industry average.
It was also one of only four antiviruses to gain a Level 1 certification from MRG Effitas. The Q1 2018 full spectrum analysis tested 18 antiviruses with trojans, ransomware, backdoors, financial malware and more. The certification means Bitdefender was 100 percent successful at blocking all 337 samples in these test results.
In keeping with our criteria, Bitdefender takes a host of proactive protection measures. You get real-time data protection, along with network threat monitoring, file encryption to protect against ransomware and Anti-Fraud, a filtering system designed to warn you about websites that may steal your information.
For deep problems, such as rootkits, Bitdefender includes Rescue Mode. Unlike a normal UEFI scan, Bitdefender will identify the rootkit and reboot your computer into Rescue Mode. There, it can properly remove the malware.
F-Secure performed well in our hands-on testing and got high marks from labs. The Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization’s feature settings check for desktop antivirus and Wicar’s mock samples were all blocked by F-Secure. Though it initially failed a drive-by download, it removed the file immediately afterward.
AV-Test found it 100 percent effective against in-the-wild malware and zero-day attacks in its May and June analysis, above the 99.6 industry average at the time. AV-Comparatives found it 100 percent effective during its tests as well, which even Bitdefender was unable to accomplish.
Likewise, MRG Effitas’s full Q1 2018 full spectrum analysis awarded it a Level 1 certification, though the test was ran with F-Secure Business.
F-Secure takes second place because of its abysmal performance when it comes to false positives. AV-Comparatives, despite witnessing excellent performance, awarded it two out of three stars because it returned 30 false positives out of the 216 samples used in the March assessment.
Thankfully, F-Secure doesn’t just remove false positives like other antiviruses do. As long as you can deal with user input, F-Secure is among the most secure antiviruses on the market. You can learn more about it in our F-Secure Antivirus review.
Kaspersky is a tough sell for protection, especially for our U.S. readers. Our hands-on testing showed good results, but not excellent, and there are privacy concerns with the Russian government. As we’ve always said in our antivirus reviews, we rely on labs for more accurate numbers and there’s no denying the results Kaspersky gets.
AV-Test and AV-Comparatives treated it well. AV-Test found 100 percent blockage of widespread and zero-day malware in its April assessment, which bested the 99.5 percent industry average at the time. AV-Comparatives got similar numbers, with Kaspersky scoring a 99.7 percent average block rate between February and June.
Kaspersky also gained a Level 1 certification from MRG Effitas in the Q1 2018 full spectrum analysis and passed MRG Effitas’s harsh banking simulation, a test that two-thirds of antiviruses failed.
Proactive protection measures as good, as well. Kaspersky includes a safe banking mode to protect online transactions and full file encryption. There are reservations concerning privacy, but Kaspersky has consistently been at the top in lab results.
Round Five: Support
All software needs support and that’s the last area we’re going to look at for ranking the best antivirus software.
First, we’re going to evaluate direct support options and response times. Email support is good, but phone and live chat are better. Any antivirus that offers all three gets bonus points for this round.
Next, we’re checking for DIY support. All antiviruses we’ve tested have a knowledgebase in some form, though some are better than others. Video tutorials and a community forum can make an antivirus stick out, too.
It’s unlikely you’ll need much support, but in the event you do, we don’t want it to add insult to injury. We’re last considering the overall usability of the support system, including navigating the knowledgebase and finding direct support options.
Here’s what we’re looking for in this round:
- Multiple direct support options
- Video tutorials
- Community forum
- Support usability
As with features, Bitdefender is the benchmark for support. You get the full range of direct contact options including email, live chat and phone, as well as a knowledgebase, community forum and many how-to videos.
The knowledgebase is robust, with articles covering every product Bitdefender offers. Sometimes, there will be an accompanying video tutorial, such as those in articles going over installation. The topics are rudimentary, but it’s still a nice inclusion for those who may have trouble setting up an antivirus.
The forums are available in five languages: English, German, French, Romanian and Spanish. The English forum is most active, but we like that Bitdefender caters to a larger audience.
That also helps inform you of local malware if you don’t live in an English-speaking country. If, for example, you’re an English speaker living in Germany, there may be malware that’s concentrated there that the forum can help identify.
Phone support is available in multiple languages, as well. There are local phone numbers for 16 countries and a 24/7 English hotline if you fall outside of those regions.
Trend Micro has the easiest to use support system we’ve seen for an antivirus. There’s a single area for browsing the knowledgebase, obtaining downloads, viewing manuals and watching video tutorials. All direct contact routes are covered, too, with live chat, phone and email support.
The knowledgebase is broken up by product, with a short FAQ at the top so you can find common answers. Instead of seperate article pages, Trend Micro organizes this section with collapsible answers, making a quick scan much simpler.
Product guides and video tutorials focus less on troubleshooting and more on setting up and using Trend Micro. We like the segregation as you can scan the knowledgebase if you’re having problems or jump to the guides if you want to learn more about a particular feature.
Our favorite support feature is live chat. Trend Micro uses Facebook with a dedicated support representative named Vanessa. She answers questions Monday through Friday from 2-11 p.m. PST and, unlike other live chat systems, you’re speaking to a real person. Read our Trend Micro Antivirus+ review to learn more.
McAfee has good, but not great, support. It takes third in our list because of its robust knowledgebase and helpful troubleshooting tool.
You can contact McAfee over live chat or phone. Unfortunately, there’s no email support. Even so, the two around-the-clock options suffice. McAfee also has Virtual Assistant, a form of live chat, that points you toward DIY options for whatever questions you have.
The knowledgebase is excellent. While finding the article you need can be a hassle, the instruction is clear. McAfee has a long list of topics ranging from installing the software to troubleshooting it.
The forums are available if you need to go deeper. They’re a bunch of techies talking about security and as active as any tech forum gets. There are sections for basic product support, but also areas to talk about security news and recent malware.
The troubleshooting tool will help identify issues in your installation if you’re having problems in McAfee’s interface. It’s a small addition to support, but one that other antiviruses don’t have.
The Best Antivirus Programs
There is plenty of room at the top when it comes to antiviruses. Fantastic offerings from Kaspersky, Webroot, AVG and more make the task of declaring a winner difficult. Still, there’s an antivirus that made its way into four rounds in this guide, more than any other provider.
From its easy-to-use interface to its excellent protection score, Bitdefender is our best antivirus software. We especially like the quick actions you can configure in the UI and Bitdefender Central, a browser interface for managing all your devices.
The only round Bitdefender couldn’t make it into was pricing. It’s not that Bitdefender is expensive, but that its plan lineup is confusing. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus and Internet Security are available for one to 10 devices, but both are Windows-only. Because of that, you’re forced into the more expensive Total Security if you want to protect multiple operating systems.
The upgrade is worth it, though. Bitdefender sets our benchmark for antivirus features, coming with parental controls, profiles for resource-dependent scans, a secure browser and a limited VPN. Considering the features, Total Security is worth it, especially when you can get it cheaper than the competition by signing a multi-year plan.
The Best Free Antivirus
Editor’s Note 1/28/2020: A report has surfaced showing that Avast and its subsidiaries collect user browsing data from more than 100 million devices. We cannot, in good faith, recommend Avast or AVG products until we look further into the issue.
We have two picks for the best free antivirus that happen to come from the same company. Avast acquired AVG in 2016 for $1.3 billion. The two products share the Avast security infrastructure, but remain independent in terms of features.
Anyone who’s tried both will know that’s not entirely true, though. The interfaces have become more similar over the past two years, enough so that we’d say there’s little difference between them at all.
If we had to pick, and it’s really splitting hairs, we’d select AVG as the best free antivirus. We like it’s customization options during install and its settings more, overall. The real selling point is a 30-day trial of AVG TuneUp that cleaned over 12GB of garbage from our machine during testing.
As we said above, paid antiviruses are more secure on average than their free counterparts. AVG and Avast are generous in their offerings, so much so that an upgrade to one of their premium-tier packages quickly outclasses the price.
The differences between AVG and Avast are small, so make sure you try both to get a feel for which one fits you.
Other options, such as Bitdefender Free and Avira Free are decent, but they provide the same number of features as AVG or Avast. While they’re better in terms of protection, the paid versions of Bitdefender and Avira shine much more than the free versions.
The Best Android Antivirus
Our guide has focused on desktop antiviruses, but we want to give a nod toward mobile devices, as well. We like Avast Mobile Security as the best antivirus for Android, which is free software that supports itself with non-intrusive ads.
It goes beyond scans with a call blocker, firewall and device recovery tool that tracks where your phone is if it’s stolen and gives you remote control over wiping it.
If you have an Avast plan that supports Android, you’ll unlock premium features along with removing the ads. One feature is in-app locking where your device will require a PIN before opening apps. Malware won’t be able to access apps, such as mobile banking or PayPal, with it enabled.
The only drawback is that it’s Android-only. For iOS users, we recommend Bitdefender Mobile Security, an app available on iOS and Android. It’s paid, but a premium Bitdefender package includes it in the price.
There are many great options for antiviruses. Some are better than others in particular areas, such as features or protection, but any of the options presented here will serve you well.
Bitdefender stands apart with its robust feature list, excellent protection scores and support for multiple devices on different operating systems. The UI is among the best we’ve seen, as well, aided by Quick Actions for easy navigation.
AVG gives Bitdefender a run for its money, though. Considering the low cost of AVG and its large list of features, it’s a good option as well. The interface is better than Bitdefender’s, at least in our testing, but protection results aren’t as good.
Overall, a lot of it comes down to personal preference, so make sure to let us know your favorite antivirus in the comments. As always, thanks for reading.
Best Antivirus Software Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Best Windows 10 Antivirus?
Bitdefender is the best antivirus software for Windows 10. With its abundance of features, easy to use interface and excellent protection results, it’s the de facto choice for keeping your Windows PC secure.
What is the Best Mac Antivirus?
Bitdefender is the best antivirus software for Mac. Like its PC counterpart, the macOS application brings excellent protection and a wide list of features. However, the macOS application boasts an even easier to use interface that meshes perfectly with the Apple OS.
What is the Best Android Antivirus?
Avast provides the most comprehensive malware protection for Android, including a scanner, call blocker, firewall and anti-theft tool. The app is supported by ads, but you can upgrade to a paid plan to remove them.
What is the Best Free Antivirus Program?
AVG is the best free antivirus software, largely thanks to its list of features. While it doesn’t boast the same protection results as Bitdefender, it offers features that normally only show up in paid applications.
What is the Best iPhone Antivirus?
Avira is the best antivirus software for iPhone. It features similar protection results to Bitdefender while having a much more generous free plan. Many of its features are free, but you can upgrade to a paid plan to access them all.
Do I Need Antivirus Software?
In nearly all cases, yes, you need antivirus software. The threat of cybercrime is constantly evolving, and an antivirus works overtime to become away of these threats so you don’t have to.
Is Antivirus Software Dangerous?
Antivirus software is rarely dangerous as long as you’re using a reputable name. There have been cases where faux antivirus software actually infects your machine instead of protecting it, so it’s best to stick to recommended software like Bitdefender.
Why is Antivirus Software Bad?
In most cases, antivirus software isn’t bad. That said, a few applications, such as Norton and McAfee, are highly intrusive on your browsing history. We recommend sticking with a privacy-friendly provider like Bitdefender Antivirus.