The 5 Most Secure Antivirus Services in 2023: Free & Paid Antivirus Software
While there are certainly factors like usability and price that impact your choice of antivirus, none of them matter as much as the actual security the service provides. We’ve reviewed the five most secure antivirus providers, and here’s how they all compare.
If we had to pick a single factor that can make or break an antivirus program, it would most definitely be security. True, you also want an antivirus you can afford, and one that won’t use up all your system resources, but primarily you want the most secure antivirus software to keep your devices safe from all types of malware.
Malware is an umbrella term for all types of malicious software that attempt to gain unauthorized access or harm your device. It can be ransomware, a trojan virus, spyware or adware, which is why you want a secure antivirus program that covers all bases.
- Security should be the most important factor when you’re choosing the best antivirus protection for your needs.
- Bitdefender is the best antivirus from a security standpoint, with excellent lab results and a vast selection of plans for everyone’s budget.
- Malwarebytes and Norton aren’t far behind, with both apps offering solid basic protection.
- ESET NOD32 and Microsoft’s Defender are also solid choices for virus protection, but both are expensive choices in most cases.
We have reviewed five excellent antivirus providers, all of which offer industry-leading levels of protection in both our reviews and independent lab tests. Spoiler alert: Bitdefender takes the win by being the most secure antivirus software of 2022, but it was certainly a close fight for the top spot.
11/24/2022 Facts checked
Since our last roundup, we have removed Kaspersky due to privacy concerns and added a couple of new providers.
The most secure antivirus is Bitdefender, with excellent security scores in both our review and independent lab tests.
Yes, Bitdefender is better than McAfee, with a better UI, better value and near-perfect scores in lab tests.
The most reliable free antivirus software of 2022 is Bitdefender Antivirus Free — the free version of Bitdefender — which is a lightweight antivirus software with excellent security.
What Makes the Most Secure Antivirus Software?
Security is the most important aspect with just about any antivirus software. However, when picking the best antivirus software, you should also consider the extra features it offers, as well as how resource-heavy it is, especially if you’re using it on an older device. These five antivirus software providers tick all the boxes.
- Bitdefender — Extremely secure antivirus at a reasonable price
- Malwarebytes — Extensive antivirus with solid free option
- Norton Security — Versatile antivirus with great security
- ESET NOD32 — Lightweight antivirus with UEFI protection
- Microsoft Defender — Very secure Windows-only antivirus
We used our own tests, as well as the results of independent labs such as MRG Effitas and AV-Comparatives, to make sure the antivirus software providers we reviewed offer the best possible malware protection.
Next, we considered what kind of extra features you get from each of the providers. We looked at things like identity theft protection, ransomware protection, phishing protection, dark web monitoring and even webcam protection which can be very important if you work from home. We didn’t pay too much attention to password managers and system optimization tools; in most cases, there are dedicated apps that do a much better job.
Last but not least, we considered how resource-heavy each of the antivirus software providers is. We’re aware that not everyone has high-end hardware, and an antivirus program can put a lot of strain on your system performance if it isn’t optimized. This is part of the reason why providers like McAfee Total Protection didn’t make the list.
The 5 Most Secure Antivirus Services
With the criteria out of the way, here are our five most secure antivirus providers, starting with Bitdefender.
More details about Bitdefender:
- Pricing: Free; Paid plans start at $1.67 per month (one-year plan)
- Provider website: bitdefender.com
- Almost flawless security
- Excellent selection of features
- Very easy to use
- Takes up system resources
Bitdefender is a household name in the antivirus software industry. It took the top spot on our best antivirus software list, and it’s also our recommendation for the best free antivirus. It scored very high in both lab tests — and our own Bitdefender review — which is why it also takes the win as the best antivirus software from a security standpoint.
With Bitdefender, you get security features like file encryption, webcam and microphone protection, and parental controls. The UI is clean on both desktop and mobile, and doesn’t feel at all cluttered, making it easy to navigate and use. The only downside is the hit on system performance — Bitdefender uses up a lot of RAM and users with lower-end machines may have issues.
Extremely Strong Focus on Security
Bitdefender is the most secure antivirus software out there, with a 99.72% auto block rate in MRG Effitas’ latest lab tests and zero false positives. This earned it a Certified (Level 1) rating, as well as a 360° Exploit Certified rating. AV Comparatives’ results are similar, with a 99.98% protection rate giving it an Advanced+ certification.
Bitdefender Antivirus offers plenty of plans, from the free plan to the $6.67-per-month (paid annually) Ultimate Security plan. The best value comes from Bitdefender Total Security, at $2.92 per month, paid annually. For most users, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition will suffice, but if you need something more, there are plenty of plans to choose from.
- Unlimited devices (Windows only)
- 3 devices
- 3 devices
- 5 devices
- 15 devices
- 10 devices
- 10 devices
- 10 devices
More details about Malwarebytes:
- Pricing: Free; Paid plans start at $3.75 per month (one-year plan)
- Provider website: malwarebytes.com
- Excellent security results
- Easy to use & install
- Scans are very quick
Malwarebytes started off as an on-demand scanner, but today it’s a full-fledged antivirus security software that offers excellent real-time malware protection in a blazing-fast app. It’s available for every desktop operating system, mobile devices and as a browser extension.
The only thing holding it back from taking the top spot in this list is the pricing. You can find out more about it in our Malwarebytes review.
Malwarebytes received quite a lot of praise in MRG Effitas’ latest tests, with a Certified (Level 1) rating, thanks to a 100% protection rate and zero false positives.
AV Comparatives’ results show a 99.81% block rate as well, cementing Malwarebytes as one of the top providers of excellent antivirus and internet security protection.
A feature we don’t see very often, zero-day protection, means that Malwarebytes will protect you from exploits that companies didn’t patch in time. With so many bugs showing up daily, companies find it hard to keep track of all of them and patch them up, and Malwarebytes’ protection will give you peace of mind.
Malwarebytes is expensive, with the most affordable package coming in at $3.75 per month on an annual plan, but it’s limited to one device. If you want up to five devices, you’ll pay almost double that, at $6.67 per month on an annual plan. If, however, you want quick and extremely effective antivirus protection, it’s an excellent choice.
- Full package (1 device)
- Full package (5 devices)
- Full package + VPN protection (5 devices)
3. Norton Security
More details about Norton Security:
- Pricing: Starts at $1.67 per month (one-year plan)
- Provider website: us.norton.com
- Excellent protection results
- Webcam & identity security
- Built-in firewall
- Uses a lot of system resources
Norton Antivirus has been around for quite some time, and it consistently receives praise for its excellent protection scores. It has an excellent feature set with plenty of extras, and a selection of plans that makes it easy to find one that fits your budget and needs. It’s not just an antivirus software, but a complete security suite, and you can find out more about it in our Norton Security review.
AV Comparatives’ tests give Norton a 99.99% online protection rate, alongside an impressively low number of false alarms at only 3. You don’t just get basic antivirus protection, though, as Norton also includes web protection features like phishing, ransomware, webcam and identity theft protection.
Configurable Built-In Firewall
Norton is far from the only antivirus software to offer a firewall, but it does offer the most configurable one you can get. You have plenty of control over not just different software on your device, but also the types of internet traffic. Best of all, it’s all very beginner-friendly, which means you’ll be able to set it up even if you haven’t done it before.
Norton offers several plans, but the one that offers the best value is Norton 360 Deluxe, at $4.17 per month on the annual plan. You can use it on five devices, and it comes with all the neat features we mentioned above, plus a VPN and 50GB of cloud storage.
- Full protection from viruses and malware, 2GB of cloud storage, integrated firewall, password manager, protection for one PC or Mac
- Protection for one PC, Mac or mobile device, 10GB of cloud storage, webcam protection, dark web monitoring
- Protection for five devices, parental control, 50GB of cloud storage
- Protection for five devices, 100GB of cloud storage, full access to LifeLock’s identity protection
4. ESET NOD32
More details about ESET NOD32:
- Pricing: Starts at $3.33 per month (one-year plan)
- Provider website: eset.com
- Solid protection test results
- Easy on system resources
- Easy to use
- Poor ransomware protection
Initially released in 1987, ESET’s NOD32 is one of the oldest antivirus software programs out there. Today, it’s a strong contender for the best antivirus software from a malware protection and internet security point of view. It has an easy-to-use app that doesn’t take up a lot of resources and works on most platforms, and you can read more about it in our ESET NOD32 review.
Security-wise, NOD32 is a bit of a mixed bag. It has a solid internet security suite that’s quite extensive, and its protection against regular malware is good. However, it drops the ball when it comes to ransomware, and when stacked against the competition, it has a lower auto-block rate.
Even though there aren’t too many known malware (yet) that attack the unified extensible firmware interface (UEFI), NOD32 offers protection from viruses that attack outside your operating system. A successful UEFI attack means that even a hard drive reformatting won’t help, and we’re happy to see antivirus programs paying attention to this.
NOD32’s Windows-only plans offer solid value, but if you want to use it on other devices, you’ll need to splurge on the most expensive, Premium Security plan, which comes in at $5 per month. It’s a high price to pay for an antivirus that leaves you vulnerable to ransomware, which is one of today’s most common attacks. This places NOD32 at the fourth spot on our list.
- Basic Antivirus, UEFI scanner, Ransomware protection, Windows only
- Banking protection, Network protection, Botnet scan, Parental control, Windows only
- Password manager, Encrypted data, Multi-platform
5. Microsoft Defender
More details about Microsoft Defender:
- Pricing: Free with Microsoft 365
- Provider website: microsoft.com
- Great lab test results
- Light on CPU resources
- Preinstalled with Windows
- Expensive for non-Windows operating systems
Microsoft Defender, sometimes called Windows Defender, is one of those antivirus programs that doesn’t make too much noise; instead, it lets its performance do the talking. The fact that it comes preinstalled with Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system and has a negligible impact on system resources makes it easy to recommend. It offers not just solid virus protection, but also parental controls and online security.
Defender scores admirably in MRG Effitas’ full-spectrum malware detection results, with a 100% auto-block rate and zero false positives. AV Comparatives give it a 99.99% online protection rate, making it an excellent antivirus from a security standpoint. That being said, you’ll have to pay for Microsoft’s expensive 365 subscription if you aren’t using Windows, which is why it’s last on our list.
Incredible Ease of Use for Windows Users
The best thing about Microsoft Defender is how easy it is to use if you’re running Windows. You don’t need to do a thing — just install Windows and Microsoft Defender will offer its protection quietly in the background.
If you have a Windows license, Microsoft Defender comes pre-installed at no additional cost, making it an excellent free security suite. However, those who use other operating systems will need to pay for a Microsoft 365 subscription. With the most affordable plan coming in at $6.99 per month, It’s extremely expensive for anyone other than Windows users.
|MS 365 Personal (1 person, 5 devices)||$6.99 (monthly)|
|MS 365 Family (6 people, 5 devices per person)||$9.99 (monthly)|
While the five providers above are the best in terms of malware and virus protection, there are two more names that are missing from the list. We’re talking about AVG and Avast, which come from the same company but are slightly different from one another.
AVG was acquired by Avast back in 2016, but it’s the better choice for a few reasons. It comes with a lightweight desktop app that doesn’t consume resources and has a solid set of features, even in the free version. AV Comparatives’ testing shows a 100% protection rate for AVG — with very few false alarms — and gives it an Advanced+ certification.
Unfortunately, AVG’s parent company Avast was caught selling user data via Jumpshot, a subsidiary company. Even though the company cleared its name shortly after the scandal was made public, it’s still something that must be considered if you’re looking for the most secure antivirus. You can find out more about AVG (and the Jumpshot scandal) in our AVG review.
Avast is the other honorable mention, coming in with slightly worse lab results than AVG and a somewhat different feature set. It offers things like cloud analysis for suspicious files, as well as ransomware protection and data leak alerts. You can find out more about Avast in our Avast review.
Avast didn’t make it onto our list for the same reason AVG didn’t — the Jumpshot data scandal, in which the company was caught selling user data to corporations.
Installing antivirus software on your device is essential if you want to keep that device and all the data on it secure and away from prying eyes. There are far too many choices when it comes to antivirus programs, but very few offer the level of protection the top names in the industry do.
If you’re looking for an antivirus software that will provide malware protection that ups the ante with things like ransomware protection and phishing protection, Bitdefender is the best antivirus software for you. That being said, Malwarebytes and Norton give it a run for its money, and ESET NOD32 and Microsoft’s built-in Defender aren’t far behind either.
Which antivirus software do you currently use? If you’re not using one, which one are you eyeing? Will you pay the price and get Bitdefender as the most secure antivirus out there, or do you go for Malwarebytes or Norton? Let us know in the comments, and as always, thank you for reading.