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The 5 Best Antivirus for PC (2023 Update)
By Tibor Moes / Updated: September 2023
Do you need an antivirus program on your PC? Yes, you do. Your security and privacy are in danger.
- Malware is everywhere: If you visit the wrong website, connect a USB stick, install free software, or open an email attachment, it might already be too late. You could have infected your PC with malware.
- You can infect others: Some malware, like computer worms, are designed to spread. Once they are in your PC, they will automatically infect other computers and phones you connect with.
- Your privacy is not guaranteed: Search engines, social networks, and other advertisers follow you across the web. They track what you visit, download, and watch so that they can show you personalized ads.
By buying the best antivirus for PC, you secure your devices, safeguard your privacy, and restore your peace of mind. Malware won’t be able to infect your devices. Advertisers won’t be able to track you online. Hackers can’t steal your passwords. And your children will be safe from dangerous websites.
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 antivirus for your PC.
- Malware protection: 100%. In the last 10 tests, Norton removed all malware. 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 antivirus for PC
We have reviewed antivirus software since 2014. Based on our in-depth tests of 28 antivirus brands in 2023, these are the best antivirus for PC:
- 🥇 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.
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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 antivirus software of 2023?
Yes, Norton is the best antivirus program in our test.
Modern security software needs to offer far more than just anti-malware 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 antivirus 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.
Let’s dissect the features of these selected products:
- Norton 360 Standard
- Bitdefender Internet Security with the Premium VPN
- McAfee Basic
- Panda Dome Premium
- Kaspersky Plus
These are the most budget-friendly options from each brand that provide basic protection for a minimum of one PC, including indispensable security features such as Anti-Malware, Anti-Phishing (Web Security), Firewall, Password Management, and unrestricted VPN (no data constraints).
Test score comparison
Our comparative study features the latest ten test scores from all antivirus brands, as conducted by AV-Test, a renowned German anti-malware testing agency. The evaluation is based on three criteria:
- 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.
In calculating the overall score, we used their outcomes and this formula:
Final Score = 60% Protection + 20% Performance + 20% Usability.
Non-featured brands in the table did not participate in the AV-Test review, which is typically a red flag. Apart from Panda, ESET, and Sophos, most esteemed brands engage in these evaluations.
We compared the pricing of the most popular antivirus solutions for Windows. In order to create a balanced comparison, we estimated the expense of securing a Windows PC with these key features:
- Anti-phishing (web protection)
- Password manager
- Unlimited VPN (no data limit)
- Some brands lack certain features, diminishing their cost-effectiveness.
- Prices shown are the rates for the second year in the USA, without considering first-year promotional offers.
- Prices are approximated to the next dollar (e.g., $99.99 is rounded to $100) for simplicity.
Each brand may have different pricing outside the USA, which can be found on their respective websites.
We’ve scrutinized the customer reviews for all antivirus brands, utilizing the scores and review quantity from TrustPilot, a reputable user feedback platform. However, we advise interpreting these results cautiously as some brands may actively seek to enhance their ratings.
We’re skeptical of unusually high ratings, particularly from brands like TotalAV, known for its assertive marketing and sales strategies.
We perceive scores ranging from 4.0 to 4.5 as commendable and realistic. Any score above this is questionable, while lower scores may suggest potential issues with the product or customer service. For example, the scores for McAfee raise some concerns.
Antivirus software buying guide
Below we cover a range of topics:
- What is antivirus software?
- How does antivirus software work?
- Does a PC need 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 is a type of computer program designed to safeguard your computer or network from cybersecurity threats. These threats include viruses, worms, trojans, ransomware, spyware, adware, and other types of malicious software, collectively known as malware.
Antivirus software functions as the first line of defense, acting as a sentinel that continuously monitors for potential threats. It is also responsible for quarantining and eliminating any detected threats, protecting your system’s data integrity and user privacy. Beyond these protective measures, modern antivirus software also offers additional features such as firewalls, email protection, and safe browsing tools.
For more, read our blog post on what antivirus software is.
How does antivirus software work?
Antivirus software uses various methods to detect and neutralize threats. It primarily relies on three mechanisms: signature-based detection, heuristic analysis, and behavior-based detection. Each of these mechanisms provides a unique approach to identifying potential threats.
Signature-based detection is one of the earliest and most straightforward methods employed by antivirus software. Each piece of malware has a unique piece of code or “signature” that distinguishes it from others. Antivirus software maintains a vast database of these known malware signatures.
When a file or program is accessed, the antivirus software scans it, comparing its code against the database of known malware signatures. If it finds a match, it flags the file or program as a threat. This method is highly effective at detecting and removing known malware but falls short when it comes to new, unknown malware variants, also known as zero-day threats.
To overcome the limitations of signature-based detection, antivirus programs use heuristic analysis. Instead of looking for a specific signature, heuristic analysis aims to identify previously unknown malware or new variants of known malware by examining the file’s structure and behavior.
The software dissects the suspect file, examining the code for behaviors or instructions that are commonly associated with malware, such as code that attempts to modify system files or transmit data to an external server. While this method significantly improves detection rates for new malware, it is also more prone to false positives – flagging legitimate programs as potential threats.
Behavior-based detection, also known as behavior blocking, goes beyond static code analysis. It monitors the behavior of applications in real-time. If a program starts to exhibit suspicious behavior, such as trying to access protected files or modify system settings, the antivirus software flags it as potentially malicious and takes appropriate action.
This method is particularly effective against malware that may evade signature and heuristic analysis, such as polymorphic or metamorphic viruses that can alter their code to avoid detection. Behavior-based detection is also helpful against sophisticated threats like rootkits or fileless malware that reside in system memory instead of installing themselves as regular files.
It’s worth noting that while behavior-based detection can detect previously unknown threats, it may also produce false positives, and hence, should be combined with other methods to ensure accuracy and reliability.
For more, read our blog post on how antivirus software works.
Does a PC need antivirus software?
Does a PC Need Antivirus Software?
A PC, or Personal Computer, is a multi-purpose computer whose size, capabilities, and price make it feasible for individual use. PCs are intended to be operated directly by an end user, rather than by a computer expert or technician. They are powered by various operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows, Apple’s macOS, and Linux distributions, among others.
Particularly when it comes to Windows-powered PCs, there is a pressing need for antivirus software. Windows holds a substantial market share in the global operating system landscape, making it a popular target for cybercriminals.
Its wide adoption by both personal users and businesses further elevates the potential reward for cybercriminals, driving a significant volume of malware to be developed specifically to exploit vulnerabilities in the Windows ecosystem.
Security on Windows 8 PCs
Windows 8 was the first version of Windows to introduce a significant upgrade in built-in security measures. This included Windows Defender, a built-in antivirus tool, and features like SmartScreen, which helped protect users from phishing and malware attacks online.
However, while these features provided a basic level of protection, they did not offer the comprehensive coverage that standalone antivirus software can offer. Windows 8 systems remained vulnerable to zero-day threats, ransomware, and advanced cyber-attacks due to limited detection methods and absence of advanced protective features like a secure firewall or VPN.
Security on Windows 10 PCs
Windows 10 further bolstered the security features with enhancements to Windows Defender, making it a more robust tool. It introduced a host of additional features, such as ransomware protection, frequent security updates, and Windows Hello for passwordless sign-ins.
Despite these enhancements, security risks persisted, with Windows 10 systems still falling prey to sophisticated phishing attacks, complex malware, and targeted cyber-attacks. Built-in tools often lag behind dedicated antivirus software in terms of real-time protection, heuristic threat detection, and user privacy protection.
Security on Windows 11 PCs
With Windows 11, Microsoft has taken another step forward in built-in security measures. It mandates hardware-based isolation, secure boot, and TPM 2.0, making it more challenging for malware to infiltrate the system. It also introduces Microsoft Pluton, an integrated hardware security chip.
Despite these advances, potential security risks persist. Cybercriminals continuously evolve their methods, creating more advanced, targeted threats. These evolving threats necessitate the additional layers of protection that dedicated antivirus software offers.
In conclusion, while Windows continues to improve its security features, standalone antivirus software plays an indispensable role in bolstering system security. Antivirus software offers comprehensive, real-time protection against a wide range of threats and sophisticated malware that built-in security tools may not detect or effectively handle.
Additionally, antivirus software often provides extra features like VPN for secure browsing, advanced firewall protection, and tools for secure financial transactions, further enhancing overall system security and user privacy.
For more, read our blog post on whether Windows 11 needs antivirus.
How do we test antivirus software?
When evaluating antivirus software, we adhere to a detailed, rigorous testing process. We focus on six core elements, each carrying varying degrees of weight in our overall assessment:
- Anti-malware protection (30%)
- Security and privacy features (30%)
- Speed impact (10%)
- False positives (10%)
- Price (10%)
- Ownership and reputation (10%)
This multifaceted approach ensures that we assess antivirus software from all angles, focusing not only on its protective capabilities but also on its influence on system performance, pricing structure, and company reputation.
Anti-malware protection (30%)
Anti-malware protection is crucial to antivirus software, and therefore, it forms a substantial 30% of our evaluation weight. We measure this aspect through a combination of in-house testing and examination of external testing agency results, namely those from AV-Test.
In our own testing labs, we conduct thorough examinations of each antivirus product’s anti-malware prowess. Our process involves intentionally infecting a controlled test PC with hundreds of known malware samples via a USB drive. We then assess how effectively the antivirus software can detect and neutralize these threats.
We also simulate real-world malware attacks by executing malicious files and initiating ransomware attacks to measure the software’s real-time defense capabilities. These tests aim to mimic the threats users might encounter during regular computer usage, providing a realistic gauge of the antivirus software’s performance.
Supplementing our in-house testing, we analyze results from AV-Test, a respected independent testing agency. We scrutinize their assessments of antivirus products for Windows, Mac, and Android, focusing particularly on their findings regarding malware protection.
AV-Test’s comprehensive evaluations include exposure to thousands of malware samples, providing a broader perspective on the antivirus software’s capabilities. This external data enriches our own findings, allowing us to offer a more rounded judgement on the effectiveness of each antivirus product’s anti-malware features.
Security and privacy features (30%)
Beyond basic malware protection, the comprehensive suite of security and privacy features offered by an antivirus product is a significant determinant of its overall quality and effectiveness. We devote 30% of our evaluation weight to these features. Below, we delve into each feature’s functionality and our testing process.
Web protection (anti-phishing)
Web protection tools, or anti-phishing capabilities, safeguard users from fraudulent websites that aim to steal sensitive information. During testing, we expose the antivirus software to a variety of known phishing sites and assess whether it successfully blocks access and alerts the user.
A firewall is a digital barrier that prevents unauthorized access to a network or system. We evaluate the antivirus’ firewall by attempting to breach it using various methods and tracking its response.
Password managers store, manage, and auto-fill passwords securely. We test this feature by using it across various sites and devices, evaluating its ease of use, security, and effectiveness in handling password-related tasks.
Virtual private network (VPN)
VPNs establish a secure, encrypted connection for safe online browsing. We test the antivirus’ VPN for connection speed, server selection, and efficacy in masking IP addresses and protecting user privacy.
Parental controls help monitor and limit children’s online activities. We test this feature by setting up various restrictions and monitoring tools, then attempting to bypass them.
Identity theft protection
Identity theft protection tools monitor for signs of identity theft, like unusual credit report activity. We test this feature by assessing the breadth of its monitoring capabilities and its alert system.
Secure cloud storage (cloud backup)
Secure cloud storage allows users to back up data safely online. We test its ease of use, encryption standards, and restoration capabilities after intentionally deleting some files.
Anti-ransomware tools protect against malware that encrypts files until a ransom is paid. We test this feature by launching simulated ransomware attacks and measuring the software’s response.
Dark web monitoring
Dark web monitoring services scan the dark web for signs of the user’s personal information. We evaluate its effectiveness by cross-verifying any alerts it provides with known data breaches.
In each of these testing areas, our goal is to mimic real-world scenarios to gauge how well these features work and the level of security and convenience they offer to the end user.
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 speed impact of antivirus software on your device is an essential factor in our evaluation process, contributing to 10% of our overall weight. Antivirus software should protect your system without significantly slowing it down. For this, we turn to the performance tests conducted by AV-Test.
These tests evaluate how much the antivirus software impacts system performance during common tasks such as loading websites, downloading software, installing and running programs, and copying files. We analyze these results to understand how much lag the antivirus program might introduce into a typical user’s day-to-day operations.
False positives (10%)
False positives occur when an antivirus program erroneously identifies a safe file or action as harmful. These false alarms can disrupt user experience and lead to a disregard of legitimate threats over time. Thus, we allot 10% of our evaluation to the frequency of false positives, using AV-Test’s usability tests for guidance.
AV-Test’s usability tests scrutinize antivirus software for instances where they incorrectly warn about actions undertaken while installing and using legitimate software, or when they block certain actions performed using legitimate software. By reviewing these results, we can form an understanding of how likely an antivirus program is to disrupt a user’s activities with unwarranted warnings.
Price is a fundamental aspect of any purchasing decision, contributing to 10% of our assessment. While looking at the price, we focus on value for money – a balance between the cost and the features provided.
It’s worth noting that there can be significant differences between first and second-year prices, as many companies offer attractive discounts for the initial subscription, which significantly rise upon renewal. We factor in these variations to provide a realistic outlook on the product’s long-term cost.
Ownership and reputation (10%)
The reputation of the company behind the antivirus software is a critical factor in our evaluation, representing 10% of our overall weight. Not all companies uphold the same ethical standards, and their reputation can give valuable insights into their reliability and trustworthiness.
For instance, the scandal with Avast selling user data through a subsidiary, Jumpshot, raised significant questions about the company’s commitment to user privacy. Such incidents inevitably impact a company’s reputation, and we consider them carefully when assessing the trustworthiness of the antivirus software in question.
We believe in a user’s right to privacy and transparency, and we consider any violations of these principles to be a serious concern.
For more, read our blog post on how we test antivirus software.
How to choose the best antivirus software?
Choosing the best antivirus software requires a nuanced consideration of various elements. Each product offers a different combination of features, performance, and pricing, all of which can significantly impact your overall experience and security. Here’s a breakdown of the primary elements you should consider:
Reliable protection from malware
At its core, antivirus software should reliably shield your devices from a wide range of malware, including viruses, trojans, ransomware, and spyware. It’s essential to ensure the antivirus has robust real-time protection that actively monitors your system and intercepts threats as they occur. Consider antivirus software that consistently performs well in independent lab tests conducted by entities like AV-Test.
Timely security updates are a crucial component of an effective antivirus solution. With new malware threats emerging daily, an antivirus that doesn’t update its threat database regularly can leave your system vulnerable. Look for software that offers automatic updates to ensure continuous protection against the latest threats.
While basic malware protection is non-negotiable, additional security features can enhance your digital safety. These may include a firewall, password manager, VPN, parental controls, and more. Evaluate your needs and choose software that offers the most comprehensive and relevant set of security features for your circumstances.
While an antivirus software’s primary function is to protect, it shouldn’t significantly slow down your system. Performance impact varies widely between products, and a program that excessively drains system resources can be disruptive. Choose an antivirus that provides robust protection with minimal performance impact, as confirmed by independent testing labs.
Top-notch customer support can make a significant difference, especially in moments of crisis. Look for companies that offer round-the-clock support, multiple contact methods (like phone, email, live chat), and a robust knowledge base for self-help. The availability of support can greatly ease the process of troubleshooting or resolving any issues you might encounter.
First-year and second price
Finally, pricing is an essential factor in any purchasing decision. However, don’t be immediately swayed by discounted first-year prices. Many antivirus companies offer attractive first-year discounts but have considerably higher renewal prices. Compare the initial and subsequent costs and ensure that the product offers good value for money over the long term.
By paying close attention to these aspects, you can select an antivirus solution that delivers reliable, comprehensive protection while fitting your budget and performance requirements.
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 is designed to safeguard users from a broad spectrum of cyber threats. While it’s crucial to note that antivirus software isn’t a panacea for all cybersecurity threats, it can provide a formidable line of defense against many prevalent types of cyberattacks. Here’s a closer look at the various threats that antivirus software can help you combat:
Malware is a blanket term for malicious software designed to damage or gain unauthorized access to a computer system. It includes viruses, ransomware, spyware, and more. Antivirus software can detect and eliminate various malware forms, thus preserving your device’s health and your digital safety.
Adware is a type of software that automatically delivers or displays unwanted advertisements on a user’s device. While not always harmful, adware can become a nuisance and may even serve as a conduit for more malicious threats. Antivirus solutions can identify and remove adware, maintaining a cleaner, safer digital environment.
Botnets are networks of computers infected with malicious software and controlled as a group without the owners’ knowledge. They are often used to launch large-scale attacks, including DDoS attacks and spam campaigns. Antivirus software can detect botnet-related malware, preventing your device from becoming part of a malicious network.
Keyloggers are malicious programs designed to record every keystroke made on a targeted device, capturing sensitive data such as login credentials, credit card information, and personal messages. Antivirus software can often identify and neutralize keyloggers, thereby protecting your sensitive information.
Ransomware is a form of malware that encrypts a victim’s files, with the attacker then demanding a ransom to restore access to the data upon payment. Antivirus software can prevent ransomware attacks by detecting and eliminating such threats before they infiltrate your system.
Rootkits are designed to provide unauthorized users with privileged access to a computer. They can hide their presence and that of other harmful software. Antivirus programs, especially those with dedicated anti-rootkit features, can detect and remove these threats, protecting your system’s integrity.
Spyware is software that secretly gathers a user’s information through their Internet connection without their knowledge. It collects data ranging from browsing habits to personal data and financial information. Antivirus software can help protect against spyware, ensuring your privacy remains intact.
Trojans are malicious programs that misrepresent themselves to appear useful or benign to trick users into installing them. Once inside a system, they can execute various malicious activities. Antivirus software can protect against Trojans by identifying and eliminating them before they cause harm.
Viruses are a type of malicious software that, when executed, replicate themselves by modifying other computer programs and inserting their own code. They can cause significant damage to your system. Antivirus software is designed to detect, quarantine, and remove viruses, keeping your system safe.
Worms are self-replicating malware that spread to other computers without any user action. They typically cause harm by consuming bandwidth or overloading web servers. Antivirus software can detect and eliminate worms, preventing their spread and mitigating the damage they can cause.
In essence, a robust antivirus solution can provide comprehensive protection against a wide range of cyber threats, preserving both the health of your device and the security of your personal information.
What cyber threats can antivirus not protect you from?
While antivirus software serves as a robust defense against various cyber threats, it’s essential to understand that it is not an all-encompassing solution. Certain cyber threats, particularly those that involve manipulation or deception, may not be wholly prevented by antivirus solutions. Here’s an overview of the various threats that require user vigilance in addition to the security provided by antivirus software:
Phishing involves fraudulent attempts to obtain sensitive data such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in digital communication. It commonly occurs through deceptive emails and websites.
While some advanced antivirus solutions offer anti-phishing tools, they may not catch all phishing attempts, especially more sophisticated ones. Hence, user awareness and caution are critical to thwarting these types of attacks.
Online scams cover a wide range of fraudulent activities, including false auctions, non-existent products, and advanced-fee fraud. These scams rely heavily on human factors such as greed or fear, enticing users into making bad decisions.
While antivirus software can block known scam websites, it cannot fully protect users from falling for scams, especially those conducted via email or social media. Users must remain vigilant about unsolicited communications and too-good-to-be-true offers.
For more, read our blog post on online scams.
Social engineering involves manipulating individuals into divulging confidential information or performing actions that compromise security. These attacks exploit human psychology rather than software vulnerabilities, making them difficult for antivirus software to detect and prevent. Users must stay informed about social engineering tactics and always double-check requests for sensitive data or suspicious links.
For more, read our blog post on social engineering.
Zero-day exploits target vulnerabilities in software that are unknown to those who should be interested in fixing them, such as the vendor. These vulnerabilities are thus unpatched, making them attractive targets for cybercriminals.
Antivirus software may struggle to protect against zero-day attacks since these threats are unknown and do not have a specific signature for the software to identify. This underlines the importance of regularly updating all software, as updates often include patches for known vulnerabilities.
For more, read our blog post on zero-day exploits.
In conclusion, while antivirus software plays a crucial role in securing a digital environment, it cannot fully protect against every cyber threat. Users must supplement their antivirus software with good digital habits, regular software updates, and a healthy dose of skepticism when confronted with unexpected digital communications or offers.
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 antivirus software for PC?
Do you need antivirus software on a PC?
Yes, antivirus software is vital for a PC, providing crucial protection against various cyber threats.
How does antivirus software work?
Antivirus software works by scanning your system for known threats, and uses heuristic and behavior-based detection to identify new ones.
Will antivirus software slow down your device?
High-quality antivirus like Norton or Bitdefender won’t slow your device. Lesser brands may impact performance.
Is free antivirus software safe?
Free antivirus software often lacks in protection and privacy. It’s safer to invest in trusted paid antivirus solutions.
Is Kaspersky still safe?
Despite Kaspersky’s Russian origins, no proof of it being unsafe exists. It continues to provide top-notch antivirus protection.
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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