Security comes first when choosing an antivirus. While usability, price and the number of devices supported are important, it’s all in vain if the protection falls flat. Out of the software we tested in our antivirus reviews, these five reign supreme in protection.
In this guide to the most secure antivirus, we’re going to pit the best antivirus software against each other to give you the best options on the market. We’ll share how we made our selections, then compare lab results to our hands-on testing to show you how well a particular antivirus performed.
Out of the lot, we recommend Bitdefender most, as it has excellent protection scores, tons of features and an intuitive interface, to boot. While we’re looking at security here, Bitdefender manages to do that and everything else well.
The Most Secure Antivirus Software 2020
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Picking the Most Secure Antivirus Software
There are a lot of factors that go into choosing antivirus software, from usability to features and beyond. It’s straightforward for this guide, though. Security is our primary factor and everything else is secondary.
We evaluate security is two ways: lab results and hands-on testing. Our hands-on testing is rudimentary, using established testing tools available online. It’s a way for us to use the antivirus is the real world and test its basic functionality.
That said, lab results are more conclusive, so we use them as the main factor when evaluating security. We reference three independent labs that test antiviruses a few times a year using a long list of real malware.
Protection numbers aren’t the only thing we look at, though. Additional, proactive protection is another area we’re concerned with. That includes ransomware protection, webcam protection, a firewall and secure browser.
Scan modes are important, too. Our expectation is that an antivirus will have full system and targeted scans, so any more than that stands out. Particularly, we’re looking for UEFI scanning that can weed out deep-seated rootkits.
We’re not looking at included password managers, though, with the exception of Kaspersky’s. In our testing, they fell flat when compared to the best password managers. Dashlane is a much better option and the first we recommend (read our Dashlane review).
Those areas trump all others, but we’re considering price, overall usability and features in this guide, as well. If an antivirus slacks in them, but has excellent protection, it’ll still be included in this guide.
We’ll go over security for each antivirus first, then we’ll talk about other reasons we like it. With that out of the way, let’s get to our list of the most secure antivirus software.
The Most Secure Antivirus: Bitdefender
Bitdefender is continually at the top of lab results. It was one of only four antiviruses to get a Level 1 certification in MRG Effitas’s Q1 2018 full spectrum analysis, which tested 337 samples of malware on 18 providers.
Other labs reported impressive numbers, too. Bitdefender blocked 100 percent of zero-day and widespread malware in AV-Test’s April analysis. At the time, the industry average was 99.5 percent.
AV-Comparatives found similar results. Bitdefender was awarded Advanced+, the highest possible tier, in performance, file detection and malware removal. During its June testing, Bitdefender blocked 99.8 percent of malware thrown its way.
Bitdefender has other protection measures, too, including ransomware protection and a secure browser. It calls its secure browser “Safepay,” which is used for online transactions. It’s a seperate version of your desktop that will cut all connections other than the active one.
Other Reasons We Like Bitdefender
Bitdefender’s protection scores shine, but so do its other features. It has one of the best antivirus interfaces we’ve seen, using the available space without feeling cluttered. There’s a grid on the main screen that you can customize with “quick actions.” The tiles open other areas of the application, such as the virtual private network, from the main screen.
There are also profiles you can adjust in the client. Bitdefender comes with a few configured out of the box, which you can customize further. Profiles will increase or eliminate protection in certain ways depending on the task you’re performing. For example, a work profile will protect against phishing schemes more. Profiles are optional if you don’t want to use them.
The only downside to Bitdefender is its price. You can get a plan for relatively cheap, or even free if you just want basic scanning. Inexpensive plans are missing core protection features such as a firewall, though, and only support Windows. It’s expensive, but we recommend Total Security out of the options.
- Excellent lab results
- Lots of features
- Easy to use
F-Secure is neck-and-neck with Bitdefender in lab results. It was awarded a Level 1 certification in MRG Effitas’s Q1 2018 full spectrum analysis and a Level 2 certification in the Q2 analysis. It slumped in the Q2 testing because of poor performance with potentially unwanted applications, but common sense should block most of that anyway.
It did well with other labs, too. AV-Test found it 100 percent effective against widespread and zero-day malware in its May and June assessments, which is above the 99.6 percent industry average. Performance was good, too, with only a 12 percent slowdown when launching popular websites.
F-Secure performed better than Bitdefender in AV-Comparatives results. It blocked 100 percent of samples, earning an Advanced rating. AV-Comparatives only awarded it two out of three possible stars, though.
Labs agreed that F-Secure returned a high level of false positives. In the AV-Comparatives March testing, F-Secure had 30 false positives out of the 216 samples used. Trend Micro was the second highest at only nine (read our Trend Micro Antivirus+ review).
Our hands-on testing was good, though. F-Secure blocked Wicar’s samples and five out of six of Amtso’s samples. It failed the drive-by download category, but the file was removed from our machine before it could do any harm.
F-Secure includes a firewall, real-time monitoring and ransomware protection with its plans, too. If you purchase the expensive Total bundle, you’ll also get the Freedome VPN. It’s good for a bundled service, fit with a no-logs policy and based in Finland, which has strict privacy laws.
Oddly, F-Secure doesn’t include its password manager with any plan. It would be an exception to our “no password managers” rule. We gave it a high rating in our F-Secure Key review and think it would be a great addition in the future.
Other Reasons We Like F-Secure
F-Secure has a lightweight installer, only 1MB size, that finishes the installation in under a minute. That lightweight approach carries over to the interface, which is one of our favorite parts of F-Secure.
The client doesn’t have anything special, such as quick actions or profiles. Instead, F-Secure segments its power so that users can access only the features they want. You’d never have to go into the settings, for example, but you can find a lot of customization there.
F-Secure also has an online manager for all your devices. Since the focus is on multi-user plans, the browser interface only makes sense. You can view the status of your devices, no matter what machine you’re on, and configure parental settings there.
- Easy to use
- Browser-based manager
- Excellent lab results
- False positives
Kaspersky is an interesting inclusion for this list. It has excellent lab results and our hands-on testing was impressive, too, but there are allegations it has been spying on its customers and reporting to the privacy-unfriendly Russian government.
That may be a case of Russia-related hysteria, given that the problem seems to only focus on the U.S. We still wanted to note it, though, especially if you’re considering picking up a copy of Kaspersky.
While its privacy is questionable, its protection is not. Kaspersky was awarded a Level 1 certification in MRG Effitas’s Q1 and Q2 full spectrum analyses. Avira was the only other software to earn that certification twice in a row.
Kaspersky also passed the harsh banking simulation that MRG Effitas has. Two-thirds of the antiviruses subjected to this test failed, including F-Secure.
Our hands-on testing was good, but not as good as F-Secure or Bitdefender. Kaspersky failed two of the six tests from Amtso and three of the 13 from Wicar. Once the files were downloaded, though, Kaspersky identified and removed them.
Kaspersky has a host of protection features, too. It includes a secure browser, real-time monitoring, a firewall, phishing protection, ransomware protection, webcam protection and more. We recommended it in our guide on how to secure your webcam.
Other Reasons We Like Kaspersky
Kaspersky gives you a lot for your money. Plans are inexpensive, under $50 for the highest tier on five devices, and it comes with a password manager, VPN and Safe Money, a secure browser similar to Safepay.
Kaspersky’s Password Manager was one of our picks for best password manager. It excels in user-friendliness and features and, for a bundled software, we like it a lot. You can learn more in our Kaspersky Password Manager review.
It’s optional, though. Kaspersky has enough features to easily justify the price, including a privacy cleaner that sweeps your files for identifying data. It’s an excellent all-around antivirus with a low price, great feature set and supreme protection scores.
- Excellent lab results
- Webcam protection
- Good included password manager
- Privacy concerns
- Limited to five devices
Norton Security did about as well as Kaspersky and F-Secure in lab results.. MRG Effitas awarded it a Level 1 certification in its Q2 full spectrum analysis and a Level 2 certification in its Q1 analysis.
While Level 2 is a lower certification, meaning the antivirus blocked at least 98 percent of malware, Norton barely made it in the Q1 testing. A small amount of behavioral blocking, around 2 percent, accounted for Norton’s dip.
Still, it’s clear that protection is excellent. AV-Test found it 100 percent effective against zero-day and widespread malware in April, which was above the 99.5 percent industry average. Between the two types of attacks, AV-Test tested over 5,600 samples.
AV-Comparatives showed 100 percent blockage in its May tests, too. Despite the excellent performance, Norton suffered the same false positive issue that F-Secure did. It wasn’t as bad, though, turning back 11 false positives out of 80.
Norton has all of the proactive protection measures we like to see, as well. It includes ransomware protection, phishing protection and a firewall that adapts to programs you frequently use that connect to the internet.
If, for some reason, malware makes it on to your machine, Norton will clean your device free of charge or give you a full refund. Norton’s 100 percent guarantee is one of its strongest points.
Other Reasons We Like Norton Security
Symantec is a large company and that means Norton can offer a long list of plans. Its pricing is on par with other providers, around $30 for basic protection and around $50 for multiple devices and a premium suite, but it offers a higher tier security package that few other providers have.
You can bundle LifeLock or Norton’s router and VPN with Security Deluxe. For $300 annually, you will get all the features of Deluxe, with support for up to five devices, and up to $1 million in stolen funds reimbursement.
LifeLock has proactive protection against identity theft, too. You get alerts for your social security number and credit, suspicious bank and credit card activity, 401(k) and investment activity, crimes committed in your name and an annual credit report from three bureaus.
Even with all that protection, though, it’s a good idea to follow our six tips to prevent identity theft.
Norton has a few issues, including an annoying toolbar and browser extension, but, overall, the user experience and level of protection outweigh those cons. You can learn more in our Norton Security review or try it with a generous 60-day money-back guarantee.
- Excellent protection scores
- Easy to use
- Great range of plans
- Annoying toolbar & browser extension
- Limited single-device plan
ESET has had mixed results in lab testing. Some tests praise it with excellent protection scores, while it falls flat in others. Our hands-on testing was impressive, though, and ESET’s multiple scan options and malware handling earn it a spot on our list.
As with Norton, ESET was awarded a Level 1 certification in MRG Effitas’s Q2 test and a Level 2 certification in the Q1 test. Initial detection rates in the Q1 testing were good, but not excellent. ESET missed two samples out of the 337 tested, blocked another two within 24 hours and behaviorally blocked another.
Other labs had a few issues, though. AV-Test found it 100 percent effective against widespread malware, but it stumbled against zero-day attacks. It only blocked 97.9 percent in November 2017 and 98.9 percent in December, below the 99.5 percent industry average.
AV-Comparatives found a 99.1 percent blockage rate between February and June 2018 when it monitored ESET. There’s variation in the testing, though, and the score was brought down by the worst month, April, which had a protection rate of 98.2 percent.
ESET blocked all samples we used in our hands-on testing — six from Amtso and 13 from Wicar. We like that ESET notifies you that it’s working. Other antiviruses operate in the background and give no indication that a threat has been blocked.
It handles potentially unwanted applications especially well. While installing, you can choose if ESET should notify you of PUAs or block them automatically. When we downloaded one, ESET notified us and asked if we wanted to proceed.
The scan modes are impressive, too. ESET can scan on a file level, impressive considering some antiviruses can’t even touch folders. It also has a comprehensive UEFI scan to catch any malware that’s worked its way too deep in your operating system.
Other Reasons We Like ESET
ESET’s interface, particularly in scanning, works well. You can drag and drop a file or folder into the interface and a scan will begin immediately. It’s a more intuitive way to handle targeted scans than browsing through a folder hierarchy.
If you upgrade past the base NOD32 protection package, you get additional features. Internet Security includes a secure banking browser that separates your normal desktop from your banking one. Like Bitdefender, it cuts all connections outside of your banking session.
You can add an additional layer of ransomware protection if you pick up Smart Security. It includes file encryption, meaning any folder, file or removable can be protected if you get ransomware and it tries to grab them.
All the plans are cheap, too, as long as you only need to protect a single device. ESET has a strange pricing scheme compared to other leading antiviruses, allowing you to choose the exact number of devices you need and charging $10 per.
You get a lot for your money, though, not the least of which is an intuitive interface. It falls short of AVG (read our AVG review) in that regard, but it’s still good. You can learn more in our ESET NOD32 review or try it with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
- File-level scanning
- Strong results from MRG Effitas
- UEFI scans
- Plans priced for single device
- Confusing knowledgebase
Overall, Bitdefender, Kaspersky and F-Secure are the most secure antiviruses on the market. ESET and Norton are good, too, but there are a few cons that keep us from recommending them for the top of this list.
Cybercrime is becoming more rampant and a strong antivirus is the first step to protect against it. A password manager helps a lot, too, protecting you against brute force attacks and keyloggers.
What antivirus are you using? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, thanks for reading.