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The 5 Best Anti-Spyware Software (2023 Update)
By Tibor Moes / Updated: September 2023
Do you need anti-spyware software? Yes, you absolutely do.
- Think about it. Your digital life is an open book if left unprotected. From your personal details to your financial data, everything could be in the crosshairs of malicious spyware. You need to safeguard your private information.
- Secondly, the online world is only becoming more sophisticated, with hackers crafting stealthy spyware that can slip past ordinary defenses. High-quality anti-spyware software is constantly updated to combat these evolving threats.
- Lastly, these tools do much more than just fend off spyware. They act as comprehensive shields against various types of malware, viruses, ransomware, and phishing attempts, offering a holistic cybersecurity solution.
By buying the best anti-spyware software, you will gain peace of mind, knowing that your digital life is shielded from a wide range of online threats. Security is priceless, and it starts with a robust anti-spyware tool.
Ranked #1 of 28 antivirus
- Malware Protection 100% 100%
- Speed Impact 100% 100%
Norton has the best protection, excellent privacy features, and a great price. It’s the best anti-spyware software of 2023.
- Malware protection: 100%. In the last 10 tests, Norton removed all malware (incl. spyware). It will protect you against all threats.
- Speed impact: 100%. In the last 10 tests, Norton had no impact on the speed of the test PC. It will not slow you down.
- Features: 100%. Anti-phishing, firewall, VPN, password manager, identity protection, cloud backup, and more.
Try it risk-free, thanks to its 60-day return policy.
Ranked #2 of 28 antivirus
- Malware Protection 95% 95%
- Speed Impact 100% 100%
Bitdefender offers excellent protection and bonus features. However, it’s expensive if you want the VPN and password manager.
- Malware protection: 95%. In the last 10 tests, Bitdefender removed nearly all malware. It offers great protection.
- Speed impact: 100%. In the last 10 tests, It had no impact on the speed of the test PC. It will not slow you down.
- Features: 95%. Anti-phishing, firewall, and more. But the VPN and password manager cost extra.
Try it risk-free, thanks to its 30-day return policy.
The best anti-spyware software
We have reviewed security software since 2014. Based on our in-depth tests of 28 brands in 2023, these are the best spyware removal tools:
- 🥇 Norton Antivirus – The #1 in 2023
- Bitdefender Antivirus
- McAfee Antivirus
- Panda Antivirus
- Kaspersky Antivirus
We have tested their anti-malware protection, security features, speed impact, false positives, and price. Scroll down to read the in-depth reviews.
Norton has the best device, privacy, and identity protection. It has all the security features you need and a great price too.
- Malware protection: 100%. Norton averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 protection tests. It is excellent at detecting and removing malware.
- Speed impact: 100%. Norton averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 performance tests. It does not slow down your PC.
- Features: 100%. Norton offers anti-malware, anti-phishing, firewall, unlimited VPN, password manager, parental controls, and more.
- Price: 95%. Norton offers better value for money than all competitors, except for Kaspersky, which is slightly cheaper.
Discount: Temporarily save up to 70% 🔥
Norton 360 Antivirus Review
Norton offers the best antivirus protection on all operating systems.
Norton is one of the few brands with a 100% malware protection score. Its real-time malware protection tool, called SONAR, is the best.
To get to this score, we averaged the last 10 test scores by AV-Test, an independent test lab. We also ran our own tests, during which Norton was able to detect malware attacks and phishing attempts in real-time.
Norton SONAR applies heuristic analysis and machine learning to spot known and unknown security risks. This means it identifies new threats through suspicious behavior rather than malicious computer code.
Norton’s Smart Firewall checks incoming and outgoing connections for suspicious behavior. It stops any attack before it becomes a problem.
By contrast, Windows’ firewall only checks incoming connections. It does not monitor whether the software on your computer makes suspicious outgoing connections to other devices.
And that’s not all. Norton’s firewall also cloaks inactive ports, so hackers can’t find them through hacking techniques like port scanning.
Norton’s unlimited VPN (Virtual Private Network) is outstanding. It is fast, secure (AES-256 & OpenVPN), private (no logs), allows torrenting (P2P), and features auto-connect, a kill switch, ad tracker blocking, and a split tunnel.
Most VPN services, like those by Bitdefender, have a daily data limit of 200 MB. To remove the data limit, you’ll have to pay extra. Norton, however, includes its unlimited VPN for free.
Norton’s password manager is excellent. Creating passwords is easy. Auto-filling them is accurate. And you can access your password vault using biometrics scanners (fingerprint or facial recognition).
Prices & Packages
- Norton Antivirus Plus costs € 15 (Europe) or $ 20 (USA). It offers antivirus, a firewall, and a password manager. It protects 1 PC or Mac.
- Norton 360 Standard costs € 30 (Europe) or $ 40 (USA). It adds a VPN and dark web monitoring. It protects 1 (Europe) or 3 (USA) devices.
- Norton 360 Deluxe costs € 35 (Europe) or $ 50 (USA). It adds a privacy monitor and parental controls. It protects 5 devices.
- Norton 360 Advanced costs € 40 in Europe and is not sold in the USA. It adds identity theft protection and protects 10 devices.
- Norton 360 Select + LifeLock costs $ 99 in the USA and is not sold in Europe. It adds LifeLock identity theft protection and protects 10 devices.
In some countries, Norton 360 Advanced is called Norton 360 Premium. This is essentially the same product, without identity theft protection.
- Web protection: Block malicious websites via the Safe Web extension.
- Cloud backup: Back up important files in secure cloud storage.
- Parental controls: Monitor and protect your kids online.
- Privacy monitor: Scan data brokers for your personal information.
- Webcam protection: Prevent unauthorized access to your webcam.
- Dark web monitoring: Scan the dark web for your personal information.
- LifeLock identity theft protection: Discover and restore identity theft.
Note: Norton’s identity protection features are only available in the USA.
Conclusion: Is Norton the best anti-spyware software of 2023?
Yes, Norton is the best anti-spyware program in our test.
Modern security software needs to offer far more than just anti-spyware protection. By combining device security, online privacy, and identity theft protection, Norton is the best internet security suite you can buy.
You can try Norton risk-free, thanks to its 60-day return policy.
Ranked #2 out of 28 Antivirus
Bitdefender offers excellent protection and bonus features. However, it’s pricey if you want the VPN and password manager.
- Malware protection: 95%. Bitdefender averaged 5.95 out of 6 in the last 10 protection tests. It is excellent at removing malware.
- Speed impact: 100%. Bitdefender averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 performance tests. It does not slow down your PC.
- Features: 95%. It offers anti-malware, anti-phishing, firewall, parental controls, and more. But the VPN and password manager cost extra.
- Price: 75%. If you only want the antivirus, Bitdefender offers great value. But if you want all features, Norton offers a better deal.
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Bitdefender Antivirus Review
Bitdefender’s antivirus engine is famous for its outstanding protection, many security features, and multi-layer ransomware protection, while being light on system resources.
Bitdefender antivirus has a 95% malware protection score. This is the average of the 10 most recent protection tests by AV-Test. It puts Bitdefender ahead of all competitors, except Norton, McAfee, and Kaspersky.
Bitdefender’s real-time protection feature, Advanced Threat Defense, offers solid virus protection and advanced ransomware protection.
It does not rely on traditional malware detection methods, which use virus signatures. Instead, it continuously monitors the behavior of apps. The apps are blocked if Bitdefender spots an anomaly, such as code injection.
This method offers excellent malware detection rates while having a low number of false positives. During our own tests, Bitdefender detected the latest malware types instantly.
Bitdefender’s firewall can block inbound and outbound connections on local networks and the internet. On top of that, Bitdefender detects and blocks port scans that hackers use to find open ports on your device.
Bitdefender’s free VPN has a data limit of 200 MB / day. That equals 5 minutes of streaming at 720p or the opening of 100 websites.
Bitdefender uses Aura’s VPN tech but has built its own apps. The VPN is fast, secure (AES-256 & HydraVPN), private (no logs), allows torrenting, and has a few extra features: start-up, auto-connect, kill switch, and split tunneling.
You will have to buy Bitdefender Premium VPN or Bitdefender Premium Security, for unlimited data transmission.
Bitdefender’s password manager is sold separately. It is not included with Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, Internet Security, or Total Security. To get it, you have to buy it separately or buy Bitdefender Premium Security.
Prices & Packages
- Bitdefender Antivirus Plus starts at € 15 (Europe) or $ 15 (USA). It offers antivirus and anti-phishing. It protects 1 to 10 PCs.
- Bitdefender Internet Security starts at € 19 (Europe) or $ 25 (USA). It adds a firewall and parental controls. It protects 1 to 10 PCs.
- Bitdefender Total Security starts at € 35 (Europe) or $ 40 (USA). It adds an optimizer and support for other OS. It protects 5 to 10 devices.
- Bitdefender Premium Security starts at € 55 (Europe) or $ 60 (USA). It adds an unlimited VPN and password manager. It protects 10 devices.
Note: There is also Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition, the free version of Antivirus Plus. This is the best free antivirus software. But honestly, it’s very basic and not much better than the built-in Microsoft Defender. So instead, we recommend Bitdefender’s paid antivirus software. It’s worth it.
- Online threat prevention: Anti-phishing protection for malicious sites.
- Vulnerability scan: Scan the operating system, apps, and network.
- Ransomware remediation: Restore files encrypted by ransomware.
- Anti-spam: Customize anti-spam for Outlook and Thunderbird.
- Safepay: Open a secure browser for online banking protection.
- Video and audio protection: Webcam and microphone protection.
- Anti-tracker: Remove tracking cookies via this browser extension.
- Parental advisor: Monitor the digital activities of your kids.
- Anti-theft: Locate and wipe your devices remotely.
- One-click optimizer: Clean up your hard drive and browsers.
- Data protection / file shredder: Permanently remove files.
Conclusion: Is Bitdefender the best anti-spyware software of 2023?
Bitdefender is one of the best antivirus software in our test. Its anti-malware, firewall, password manager, and VPN are highly advanced. On top of that, there are tons of extra features.
However, Bitdefender can be expensive. It sells its password manager and unlimited VPN separately or as part of its Premium Security suite. This makes it pricey if you want all security features.
By contrast, Norton includes these features for free.
You can try Bitdefender risk-free, thanks to its 30-day return policy.
Ranked #3 out of 28 Antivirus
McAfee offers excellent device, privacy, and identity protection. However, some features are only available in the USA.
- Malware protection: 100%. McAfee averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 protection tests. It is excellent at detecting and removing malware.
- Speed impact: 85%. McAfee averaged 5.85 out of 6 in the last 10 performance tests. So it has a minimal impact on your PC’s speed.
- Features: 100%. McAfee offers anti-malware, anti-phishing, firewall, unlimited VPN, password manager, parental controls, and more.
- Price: 95%. McAfee offers better value for money than most competitors, except Kaspersky, which is slightly cheaper.
Discount: Save 70% on this secret page
McAfee Antivirus Review
McAfee allows you to protect an unlimited number of devices.
McAfee is among the few brands with a 100% anti-malware test score. It has improved its cybersecurity tools a lot in recent years. Since April 2020, it has achieved a perfect 100% score in every protection test by AV-Test.
In our tests, McAfee offered reliable protection against malicious software and cyber threats. Which means that it successfully detected and removed all offline and online threats.
McAfee can reach these results because of its Scan Engine:
- It runs antivirus scans and matches files with malware samples.
- It executes malicious code in a safe environment, called a sandbox.
- It applies heuristic techniques to recognize new malicious threats.
- It removes dangerous code from corrupted files.
McAfee’s excellent firewall filters both in- and outgoing traffic. On top of that, McAfee hides open ports so that hackers can’t identify unused ones with their port scanning techniques.
McAfee’s VPN, Safe Connect, is free and offers unlimited data. It’s fast, secure (AES-256), private (no activity logs), has servers in 45 countries, works with Netflix on many servers, and allows torrenting.
However, it’s not perfect. For instance, not all security features (like the kill switch and split tunnel) are available on all operating systems. And if you turn off auto-renew, the VPN is limited to 500 MB / day.
McAfee’s cross-platform password manager, True Key, is one of the best.
Creating and storing passwords is easy. Auto-filling them is accurate. And you can use biometrics (facial recognition and fingerprint scanner) to log in. As a result, it can compete with the best password managers, like Dashlane.
Prices & Packages
- McAfee Basic costs € 30 (Europe) or $ 30 (USA). It offers antivirus, anti-phishing, firewall, password manager, and VPN. It protects 1 device.
- McAfee Essential (called McAfee Plus in Europe) costs € 40 (Europe) or $ 40 (USA). It adds no additional features but protects 5 devices.
- McAfee+ Premium costs € 45 (Europe) or $ 45 (USA). It adds a personal data cleanup and protects unlimited devices.
- McAfee+ Advanced costs € 65 (Europe) or $ 80 (USA). It adds identity theft protection and protects unlimited devices.
- McAfee+ Ultimate costs $ 190 (USA) and is not sold in Europe. It adds more identity theft protection features and protects unlimited devices.
McAfee is in the process of renaming its products. So in some countries, you’ll be shown McAfee Total Protection instead, which has the same features as McAfee Basic and Essential.
- Secure Apps: A vulnerability scanner for security updates.
- App Boost: A performance boost for apps you frequently use.
- Browser Security: An anti-phishing browser extension.
- Web Boost: A browser extension that stops videos from auto-playing.
- Tracker Remover: A feature that deletes tracking cookies.
- ID Protection: A dark web scanner for your personal data.
- File Shredder: A shredder that can delete files securely.
- File Lock: An app that creates password-protected file vaults.
- Anti-Spam: An anti-spam feature for Outlook and Thunderbird.
- Safe Family: A parental control feature to monitor and protect kids online.
Conclusion: Is McAfee the best antivirus software of 2023?
McAfee is one of the best antivirus software in our test. Its virus protection gets perfect scores, its password manager is excellent, its unlimited VPN is included for free, and its design is both user-friendly and beautiful.
On top of that, its premium and advanced plans allow you to protect an unlimited number of devices and offer extensive privacy and identity protection features, especially in the United States.
You can try McAfee risk-free, thanks to its 30-day return policy.
Ranked #4 out of 28 Antivirus
Panda offers excellent protection and has flexible pricing. However, it’s expensive if you want the unlimited VPN.
- Malware protection: 99%. Panda averaged 99.9% in the malware protection tests. It is excellent at detecting and removing malware.
- Speed impact: 99%. Panda averaged 99% in the performance tests. So it has almost no impact on your PC’s speed.
- Features: 100%. Panda offers anti-malware, anti-phishing, firewall, unlimited VPN, password manager, parental controls, and more.
- Price: 75%. Panda offers the most flexible pricing of all brands. But, if you want all the security features, Norton is more affordable.
Discount: Save 50% on this secret page
Panda Dome Antivirus Review
Panda offers the most flexible pricing for its antivirus packages.
Panda antivirus scored 99.9% in the real-world protection tests. However, it does have with a higher number of false positives than its competitors, which means that it frequently mistakes harmless software for malware.
This result is the average of all tests by AV-Comparatives since 2020. Usually, we quote AV-Test, another independent test lab. However, Panda does not take part in their tests. Both labs independently test the malware scanning capabilities of free and premium antivirus programs.
Panda combines big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to scan all apps on your device. This allows it to counter known malware and advanced emerging threats like zero-day malware, ransomware, and API’s.
Panda’s firewall filters incoming and outgoing connections on local networks and the internet. It automatically assigns permissions to each application based on its risk level. But you can edit the rules per app.
Panda includes a free VPN with its antivirus products. However, this built-in VPN is limited to 150 MB / day, which isn’t a lot. That equals about 4 minutes of streaming at 720p or the opening of 75 websites.
Like Bitdefender, Panda’s VPN uses Aura’s technology. This means that the VPN is fast, secure (AES-256 & HydraVPN), private (no logs), and allows torrenting. However, it lacks extra features like a kill switch, making its € 50.00 price expensive.
Panda’s password manager is excellent. Generating and storing passwords is easy. Auto-filling them is accurate. And both two-factor authentification and biometrics login is supported.
The design of the browser extension for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox is identical to the apps on Android and iOS, which gives it a seamless experience across all major operating systems.
Prices & Packages
- Panda Dome Essential starts at € 17 (Europe) or $ 24 (USA). It offers antivirus and a firewall.
- Panda Dome Advanced starts at € 23 (Europe) or $ 28 (USA). It adds anti-phishing and parental controls.
- Panda Dome Complete starts at € 35 (Europe) or $ 43 (USA). It adds a password manager and system optimizer.
- Panda Dome Premium starts at € 60 (Europe) or $ 67 (USA). It adds an unlimited VPN and update manager.
All of Panda’s plans can be upscaled to an unlimited number of devices.
- Safe browsing: Block malicious URLs and phishing sites.
- Dark web scanner: Search the dark web for your email address.
- PC cleanup: Delete cookies or files with the system optimization tools.
- Wi-Fi protection: Check and improve the security of your Wi-Fi network.
- Anti-theft: Locate your PC if it is lost or stolen.
- File encryptor: Encrypt sensitive files with a password.
- File shredder: Securely and permanently delete files.
- USB protection: Scan a USB drive for malware.
Conclusion: Is Panda the best antivirus software of 2023?
Panda is one of the best antivirus software in our test. We really like the password manager and flexible pricing.
But we prefer Norton, because it includes an unlimited VPN at a lower price. And because it offers better protection for Macs and mobile devices.
However, if you only have a Windows PC to protect, Panda’s excellent internet security suites are a great choice.
You can try Panda risk-free, thanks to its 30-day money-back guarantee.
Ranked #5 out of 28 Antivirus
Kaspersky has excellent protection at a low price. But the war in Ukraine raises concerns about its ties to the Russian government.
- Malware protection: 100%. Kaspersky averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 protection tests. It is excellent at removing malware.
- Speed impact: 100%. Kasperksy averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 performance tests. So it does not slow down your PC.
- Features: 100%. Kaspersky has anti-malware, anti-phishing, firewall, unlimited VPN, password manager, parental controls, and more.
- Price: 100%. Kaspersky Plus is the most affordable way to protect a Windows PC with all essential features, including an unlimited VPN.
Discount: Save up to 50%
Kaspersky Anti-Virus Review
Kaspersky offers exceptional online security at a low price.
Kaspersky antivirus has a 100% malware protection score. This was its average in the independent tests by AV-Test since October 2016. This puts it ahead of all other antivirus companies, except Norton and McAfee.
It can offer such excellent malware protection through its triple-layer protection system:
- Locate vulnerabilities and threats proactively via heuristic analysis.
- Block cyber threats in real-time.
- Instantly isolate and remove dangers.
Kaspersky has one of the most advanced firewalls in the industry. It will filter incoming and outgoing network activity on local networks and the internet. And although it works perfectly on the default settings, there are plenty of customization options too.
Kaspersky includes an unlimited VPN for free with Plus and Premium.
Like Bitdefender’s VPN, it uses Aura’s technology. Therefore, the VPN is fast, secure (AES-256 & HydraVPN), and allows torrenting (P2P). It also features several extra features: Auto-connect, kill switch, smart protection, and website protection.
However, by default, Kaspersky will collect information on your device, location, VPN server, and WiFI network (including IP and DNS settings). It does this to improve product quality, send ads and create marketing offers.
Kaspersky’s password manager is excellent. Creating and storing passwords is easy, and auto-filling them is accurate. Unlike Norton and McAfee, Kaspersky’s password manager is a desktop app rather than a web app. But that doesn’t get in the way of a great user experience.
Prices & Packages
- Kaspersky Standard starts at € 20 (Europe) or $ 28 (USA). It offers antivirus, anti-phishing, and a firewall. It protects 1 to 5 devices.
- Kaspersky Plus starts at € 26 (Europe) or $ 37 (USA). It adds a firewall and an unlimited VPN. It protects 1 to 5 devices.
- Kaspersky Premium starts at € 32 (Europe) or $ 48 (USA). It adds identity protection and parental controls. It protects 1 to 20 devices.
Kaspersky has replaced the old product names Kaspersky Anti-Virus, Internet Security, and Total Security, with Standard, Plus, and Premium.
- Internal scan: Scan for worms, spyware, rootkits, and other malware.
- External scan: Scan external drives, like a hard disk or USB drive.
- Vulnerability scan: Scan your device for security risks.
- Kaspersky protection: A hardened browser extension for secure banking.
- Parental controls: Monitor and protect your children online.
- Webcam protection: Block programs from accessing your webcam.
- Private browsing: Block and remove tracking cookies in your browser.
- Backup and restore: Backup files to cloud backup storage.
- File encryption: Lock sensitive files in a secure vault.
- File shredder: Permanently delete files via advanced protocols.
Conclusion: Is Kaspersky the best antivirus software of 2023?
Kaspersky offers excellent antivirus protection. Its anti-malware is industry-leading, its firewall and password manager are excellent, and it provides a wide range of extra features.
Therefore, we prefer Norton, which includes an unlimited VPN for free in its antivirus suite, doesn’t track what you do online, and isn’t caught up in a geopolitical struggle.
You can try Kaspersky risk-free, thanks to its 30-day return policy.
Below, we compare the following products:
- Norton 360 Standard
- Bitdefender Internet Security with the Premium VPN
- McAfee Basic
- Panda Dome Premium
- Kaspersky Plus
These products pack the basic security essentials like Anti-Malware, Anti-Phishing (Web Protection), Firewall, Password Manager and Unlimited VPN with no restrictions on data use, designed to secure a single PC.
Test score comparison
We’ve scrutinized the performance metrics from the ten latest test scores of all antivirus brands, courtesy of the German anti-malware test lab, AV-Test. They consider three key factors:
- Protection (1-6): Antivirus protection against malware attacks.
- Performance (1-6): System slowdown caused by the antivirus.
- Usability (1-6): Frequency of false alarms and disruptions.
We used their results, and this formula, to calculate the final score:
Final Score = 60% Protection + 20% Performance + 20% Usability.
Any brand not mentioned in the table did not participate in AV-Test’s examination, which is usually a red flag. Most renowned brands, barring Panda, ESET, and Sophos, submit to this test.
We’ve evaluated the pricing of leading antivirus solutions for Windows. To ensure a fair analysis, we’ve considered the cost of securing a Windows PC with fundamental protections:
- Anti-phishing (web protection)
- Password manager
- Unlimited VPN (no data limit)
A few notes:
- Some brands are missing features, lowering their value for money.
- Prices are second-year prices in the USA, without first-year discounts.
- Prices are rounded up for readability (e.g., $99.99 becomes $100).
Brands may have different pricing structures outside the US. Check their respective websites for these details.
We’ve compared user feedback for all antivirus brands using TrustPilot, a popular user review platform. Be mindful of these results as some brands might try to boost their ratings artificially.
We remain skeptical about unusually high ratings, particularly from brands like TotalAV, known for their aggressive marketing.
Scores ranging between 4.0 and 4.5 are considered acceptable and credible. Higher scores raise suspicion, while lower scores might suggest subpar products or customer service. For example, the scores for McAfee raise eyebrows.
Antivirus software buying guide
Below we cover a range of topics:
- What is antivirus software?
- How does antivirus software work?
- What’s the difference between anti-spyware and antivirus software?
- How do we test antivirus software?
- How to choose the best antivirus software?
- What cyber threats can antivirus protect you from?
- What cyber threats can antivirus not protect you from?
- What antivirus software have we tested?
Clicks the links to be taken to the one of your choice:
What is antivirus software?
Antivirus software, a critical component in digital security, is a set of programs designed to detect, prevent, and remove malicious software, commonly known as malware. In the evolving world of cyber threats, it safeguards against viruses, trojans, worms, ransomware, spyware, adware, and other nefarious cyber intrusions. More advanced antivirus software also provides protection against phishing attacks, firewall breaches, and online identity theft.
The software is an essential tool for anyone navigating the online world, from individual users to large corporations, as it keeps sensitive information, data, and systems safe from harmful cyber threats.
For more, read our blog post on what antivirus software is.
How does antivirus software work?
Antivirus software functions by using a variety of detection methods to identify threats on your device or network. Upon identification, it isolates and eliminates the threats before they can inflict damage.
The software is capable of continuous scanning and monitoring in the background, providing real-time protection while minimizing performance impact. Let’s delve into some of the detection techniques.
Signature-based detection, one of the oldest methods, involves matching harmful software with a database of known malware signatures. A signature is a unique string of code or ‘fingerprint’ that identifies a specific type of malware.
Antivirus software scans files and applications, comparing them to its database of signatures. If a match is found, it indicates the presence of malware, and the file or application is quarantined or removed.
Heuristic analysis is a more proactive method, designed to catch new, or ‘zero-day’ malware, which hasn’t been previously identified and added to the signature database. Instead of matching signatures, heuristic analysis examines code and file behavior for characteristics typical of malware.
It identifies suspicious or abnormal activities, such as attempts to access sensitive data, modify system files, or replicate itself, which could suggest the presence of malware.
Behavior-based detection, also known as behavior blocking, monitors the actions of applications in real-time. Rather than examining the code, it observes what an application does once executed.
If an application engages in activities typically associated with malware, such as encrypting large amounts of data quickly (a sign of ransomware) or trying to gain elevated system privileges, the antivirus software intervenes, blocking the suspicious actions and quarantining or removing the offending software.
For more, read our blog post on how antivirus software works.
What’s the difference between anti-spyware and antivirus software?
While the terms “anti-spyware” and “antivirus” are often used interchangeably, there are nuanced differences between them, primarily in their focus areas. However, it’s important to note that modern antivirus solutions encompass anti-spyware capabilities, and as such, the terms have become more synonymous over time.
Antivirus software, in its traditional sense, is designed to protect against a wide array of malicious software or malware, which includes viruses, worms, trojans, and more. On the other hand, anti-spyware software specifically targets spyware threats, a type of malware that quietly monitors your activities and collects personal and confidential information without your consent.
Spyware can be particularly harmful as it can track and record keystrokes (potentially capturing passwords and other sensitive data), browse your files, read your emails, and even hijack your web browser settings. The danger with spyware lies not only in data theft but also in the violation of personal privacy.
Another form of spyware, called Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs), are also worth noting. PUPs are software that, while not explicitly malicious, often perform activities that interfere with user experience or compromise security. They typically find their way onto your device via software bundling, sneaking into the installation of another program.
PUPs can include adware, junkware, or unnecessary toolbars that slow down your device or inundate you with ads. Some PUPs can act as a form of spyware, covertly collecting your personal data and browsing habits and sharing them with third parties without your knowledge. This makes it crucial to have a reliable antivirus or anti-spyware program, capable of identifying and removing PUPs from your system, thereby safeguarding your online privacy.
However, as the cyber threat landscape has evolved and become more complex, the line between antivirus and anti-spyware software has blurred. Today, comprehensive antivirus solutions include robust anti-spyware capabilities as part of their security suite. They not only protect against traditional viruses but also against spyware, ransomware, phishing attempts, and other online threats.
In other words, while all anti-spyware tools form part of an antivirus software, not all antivirus tools were initially equipped with anti-spyware functionality. This is no longer the case, and currently, choosing a well-rounded antivirus solution ensures you get robust anti-spyware protection too. It’s like getting a multi-purpose shield that safeguards against a myriad of online threats, spyware included.
For more, read our blog post on what anti-spyware software is.
How do we test antivirus software?
Our evaluation process for antivirus software is thorough and multifaceted. We assess each product on six crucial elements, each carrying a different weightage, to ensure a comprehensive review. These elements include:
- Anti-malware protection (30%)
- Security and privacy features (30%)
- Speed impact (10%)
- False positives (10%)
- Price (10%)
- Ownership and reputation (10%)
This methodical approach allows us to provide a well-rounded perspective on each software’s capabilities, performance, and value, helping users make an informed choice.
Anti-malware protection (30%)
The effectiveness of an antivirus program in providing robust anti-malware protection forms a critical part of our evaluation process. To ensure a rigorous assessment, we employ a two-pronged approach: conducting our own in-house testing and reviewing results from AV-Test, an internationally recognized testing lab.
Our in-house testing process is designed to closely mimic real-world scenarios. We expose the test PC to hundreds of malware samples via a USB device, testing the antivirus software’s ability to detect and neutralize them. This provides an understanding of how well the software can identify and eradicate threats that may land on a system via external storage devices, a common occurrence in everyday usage.
Additionally, we simulate active malware attacks by executing malware files and initiating ransomware attacks on the system. This allows us to evaluate the software’s real-time protection capabilities and its efficiency in halting threats before they can inflict damage. Such a test is vital because modern-day cyber threats often come disguised and may be triggered by seemingly innocuous activities like clicking on a link or downloading an email attachment.
In addition to our in-house tests, we also consider AV-Test results in our assessment. AV-Test is a highly respected independent IT security institute known for its rigorous testing of antivirus software across various platforms, including Windows, Mac, and Android.
These results give us an understanding of the antivirus software’s performance against a wide range of malware in diverse environments and under different conditions. By integrating AV-Test results into our evaluation, we ensure our review is not only comprehensive but also aligned with global testing standards.
Security and privacy features (30%)
Assessing an antivirus software’s security and privacy features forms a significant part of our evaluation process, given the multitude of threats that users face online today. Here’s a look at some of the key features we examine:
Web protection (anti-phishing)
Web protection, particularly anti-phishing capabilities, is vital in protecting users from malicious websites that try to steal sensitive information. We test this by visiting a variety of known phishing websites and observe whether the software successfully blocks access and alerts the user about the potential threat.
A firewall serves as a first line of defense, monitoring network traffic and preventing unauthorized access to your system. We test firewalls by attempting to connect to the test system from another device, assessing whether the software effectively blocks unauthorized connections while allowing safe ones.
Password managers store, generate, and auto-fill complex passwords, enhancing security while simplifying user experience. We test this feature by evaluating its ease of use, password generation capability, and effectiveness in auto-filling passwords across various websites and applications.
Virtual private network (VPN)
VPNs protect privacy by creating a secure, encrypted connection, thereby shielding your data from prying eyes on public networks. We test VPNs by checking their encryption standards, assessing connection speeds, and verifying their no-logs policies to ensure they don’t track user activities.
Parental controls help safeguard children online by restricting access to inappropriate content and setting internet usage limits. We assess this feature by trying to access various age-inappropriate websites and attempting to override set usage limits.
Identity theft protection
This feature alerts users to potential identity theft by monitoring personal information online. We test this by entering user details into a monitored category and checking if the software sends an alert when this information appears in suspicious contexts online.
Secure cloud storage (cloud backup)
Secure cloud storage provides a safe space for users to back up important files, protecting them from loss due to ransomware or hardware failure. We test this feature by backing up and restoring files, checking for data integrity and encryption levels.
Anti-ransomware tools prevent ransomware from encrypting your files, effectively rendering them inaccessible. We test this feature by simulating a ransomware attack to see if the antivirus software successfully thwarts it.
Dark web monitoring
Dark web monitoring scans the dark web for your personal information, alerting you if it appears in data breaches. We verify this feature by checking if alerts are triggered when simulated personal information is found in places associated with data breaches on the dark web.
An antivirus program can come with various entry-level functions, such as spam filters and secure browsers, and premium options like online storage with enhanced security. We consider the following bonus features worthy of your consideration:
- Ad Blocker
- Email protection
- File encryption
- File shredder
- Gaming mode
- Microphone protection
- PC maintenance features
- Secure browser (hardened browser to protect your online banking)
- Spam filter
- Startup optimizer
- Tune up tools
- Virtual keyboard
- Webcam protection
Speed impact (10%)
The impact of antivirus software on system speed is a key determinant of user experience. An effective antivirus solution should provide robust protection without significantly slowing down your computer. For this assessment, we rely on AV-Test’s performance tests.
These tests evaluate the software’s impact on system speed during common tasks such as downloading and installing applications, copying files, and browsing websites. The lesser the impact on system speed, the better the performance score.
False positives (10%)
False positives occur when an antivirus software incorrectly identifies a safe file or application as malicious. This can cause unnecessary alerts and disrupt the user’s activities.
To assess this, we use AV-Test’s usability tests, which measure the frequency of false positives during system scans and daily usage. A high number of false positives can lower a software’s usability score, as it signifies more potential interruptions for the user.
In our evaluation, we also consider the cost of the antivirus software. However, it’s not about simply opting for the cheapest product but finding the best value for your money. We compare features, performance, and pricing across products to identify those that deliver superior protection at a reasonable cost.
It’s important to note that pricing can vary significantly between the first and second years, with substantial discounts often offered in the first year to attract new customers.
Ownership and reputation (10%)
The reputation and conduct of the company behind the antivirus software also play a crucial role in our assessment. Companies with a track record of respecting user privacy and maintaining high ethical standards score higher.
On the other hand, companies involved in scandals, such as Avast, which faced backlash for selling user data through a subsidiary called Jumpshot, are viewed unfavorably. Trustworthiness and respect for user privacy are as important as the technical capabilities of the antivirus software.
For more, read our blog post on how we test antivirus software.
How to choose the best antivirus software?
Selecting the right antivirus software involves evaluating various elements to ensure the product can effectively safeguard your devices while also meeting your specific needs. Here are some crucial considerations to make during this process:
Reliable protection from malware
The primary function of antivirus software is to protect your system from malware. Ensure that the software you choose has reliable anti-malware capabilities. Check for independent test results from reputable organizations like AV-Test, which provide insights into the software’s ability to detect and neutralize various malware types.
Cyber threats evolve continuously, and new malware variants emerge daily. It’s crucial that your antivirus software stays up-to-date with these developments. Choose a product that provides regular and automatic security updates, so it’s equipped to deal with the latest threats.
Beyond basic malware protection, look for additional security features that meet your needs. These may include a firewall, password manager, VPN, parental controls, and more. The best software will offer a comprehensive suite of tools to protect you from a wide range of cyber threats.
Antivirus software can sometimes slow down your system due to the resources it uses. It’s essential to select a product that provides robust protection without significantly impacting your device’s performance. Review performance test results and user feedback to gauge the software’s effect on system speed.
Even the best antivirus software can present challenges, especially for non-tech-savvy users. Availability of reliable customer support is crucial. Look for software that offers robust support, including live chat, email, and phone support, as well as extensive online resources.
First-year and second price
As you evaluate cost, be aware that many antivirus products offer substantial discounts for the first year, which can significantly increase in the second year. Ensure you’re comfortable with the full, non-discounted price, and check if the cost aligns with the software’s features and performance level. Remember, the best value often comes from a balance of price and quality.
If you have a specific operating system that you would like to protect, we probably have a dedicated antivirus comparison for it:
- The best antivirus of 2023 – For all OS.
- The best antivirus for Windows 11 – For Microsoft’s latest desktop OS.
- The best antivirus for macOS – For Apple’s desktop OS.
- The best antivirus for Android – For Google’s mobile OS.
- The best antivirus for iPhone – For Apple’s mobile OS.
- The best antivirus with a VPN – For both security and privacy.
- The best VPN providers – For a dedicated privacy solution.
Click the links to be taken to your comparison of choice.
What cyber threats can antivirus protect you from?
Antivirus software serves as a crucial line of defense, shielding users from a broad spectrum of cyber threats. While not an absolute solution for every potential attack, antivirus software provides robust protection against the most common and damaging threats. Let’s delve into what these threats entail:
‘Malware’ is a broad term encompassing various malicious software designed to harm or exploit devices, networks, or services. This includes viruses, worms, ransomware, and spyware. Antivirus software can detect and remove such threats, shielding your system from unauthorized access or data loss.
Adware is a form of software that displays intrusive and often unwanted advertisements on your device. While some adware is merely annoying, others can have malicious characteristics, such as tracking your online activities or redirecting your browser to harmful sites. Antivirus software can block and eliminate adware.
Botnets are networks of infected computers, often controlled by cybercriminals without the users’ knowledge. They can be used for various malicious activities, including DDoS attacks and spamming. Antivirus software can detect botnet-related malware, preventing your device from becoming part of such a network.
Keyloggers are malicious programs that record keystrokes on a computer, often used to steal personal information like usernames and passwords. A reliable antivirus can detect and neutralize keyloggers before they compromise your data.
Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts files on a victim’s computer, demanding a ransom for their release. Advanced antivirus software not only detects and removes ransomware threats but also includes anti-ransomware technology to protect your files from being encrypted.
Rootkits are stealthy forms of malware designed to provide continued privileged access to a computer while actively hiding their presence. Detecting rootkits can be challenging, but high-quality antivirus software employs specific technologies to uncover these hidden threats.
Spyware is malicious software that covertly collects information about a user’s activities without their consent. It can steal personal and financial data, leading to identity theft and financial loss. Antivirus software can detect and remove spyware, safeguarding your privacy.
Trojans are deceptive forms of malware that appear legitimate but perform malicious activities once installed. They can provide backdoor access to cybercriminals or launch destructive actions. Antivirus software provides effective defense against Trojans.
Viruses are malicious programs that can self-replicate by modifying other computer programs, inserting their own code. They can cause serious harm, like corrupting data or taking over system resources. Antivirus software is specifically designed to identify and eliminate computer viruses.
Worms are a type of malware that can spread across networks without user interaction, often exploiting vulnerabilities in operating systems. They can cause extensive damage by consuming bandwidth or overloading web servers. Antivirus software plays a pivotal role in preventing worm infections.
What cyber threats can antivirus not protect you from?
While antivirus software is a crucial component of online safety, it’s not an absolute shield against all types of cyber threats. Certain threats rely on manipulating user behavior or exploiting yet unknown vulnerabilities, making them challenging for antivirus solutions to tackle. Let’s look at these threats in detail:
Phishing involves the use of deceptive emails or websites designed to trick individuals into providing sensitive data such as usernames, passwords, or credit card details.
Antivirus software can help filter phishing emails and warn about suspicious websites, but it can’t prevent users from willingly entering their details on a fraudulent site. User awareness and education remain essential for effective phishing prevention.
Online scams come in many forms, from lottery scams to tech support fraud, and they rely heavily on manipulating human psychology. They often coax victims into transferring money, revealing personal information, or downloading malicious software.
While antivirus software can block known malicious sites or downloads, it can’t entirely prevent users from falling for scams. Again, user vigilance and knowledge play crucial roles here.
For more, read our blog post on online scams.
Social engineering is a method where cybercriminals manipulate individuals into revealing confidential information or performing actions that compromise security. Techniques involve impersonation, pretexting, baiting, and quid pro quo, among others.
Antivirus software provides no real defense against these kinds of manipulative tactics. As a countermeasure, users should be educated about the signs of social engineering attacks and how to respond.
For more, read our blog post on social engineering.
Zero-day exploits refer to vulnerabilities in software that are unknown to the people who should be interested in mitigating the vulnerability (including the vendor of the target software). Until the vulnerability is mitigated, hackers can exploit it to adversely affect a computer program, data, or network.
Because antivirus software relies on virus definitions and abnormal behavior detection to identify threats, they may not immediately recognize a zero-day exploit. Advanced antivirus solutions may use heuristic analysis and artificial intelligence to detect such unknown threats, but these methods are not infallible. Regular software updates and patch installations are vital to protect against zero-day exploits.
For more, read our blog post on zero-day exploits.
What antivirus software have we tested?
We have tested 28 antivirus brands, ranging from entry-level free antivirus programs, to mid-range paid antivirus software and full-featured internet security suites. Below is the list of the 20 most important brands:
- Bitdefender Antivirus
- McAfee Antivirus
- Microsoft Defender (Windows Defender)
- Norton Antivirus
- PC Matic
- Trend Micro
The best antivirus programs are Norton 360 Deluxe, Norton 360 Advanced, and Bitdefender Total Security. By comparison, the other antivirus software cost too much, offer less capable protection from malware threats, or have no unlimited VPN access.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are the most frequently asked questions.
What is the best anti-spyware software?
Do you need anti-spyware software?
Anti-spyware is vital; it’s a crucial part of antivirus that shields your PC from stealthy threats.
How does anti-spyware software work?
Anti-spyware software scans and eliminates threats. It uses various detection methods for maximum protection.
Will anti-spyware software slow down your device?
Quality anti-spyware software like Norton or Bitdefender won’t affect your device’s speed, but inferior options might.
Is free anti-spyware software safe?
Free anti-spyware is often risky, lacking in depth of protection. Investing in a paid version guarantees better security.
Is Kaspersky still safe?
Kaspersky remains a safe choice for anti-spyware, despite being Russian. No evidence suggests it poses a security risk.
Languages and sources
Similar pages in other languages on SoftwareLab.org:
Below are the sources and tools we’ve used to test the antivirus software:
- Apple Platform Security
- AV-Comparatives Consumer
- AV-Test Android
- AV-Test macOS
- AV-Test Windows
- GRC Firewall Test
- Microsoft Defender
- SpeedTest VPN
- Trustpilot Security Software
Author: Tibor Moes
Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab
Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.
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