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The 5 Best Antivirus (2023) // Comparison of September *
By Tibor Moes / Updated: September 2023
- Infection is dangerously simple: Open an email attachment, visit a website, connect a USB drive, or install software. That’s all it takes. You may have, unknowingly, infected your device with malware.
- Once infected, you become a spreader: Specific malware, such as computer worms, spread automatically. Once your device is infected, they will replicate onto any unprotected device you connect with.
- Online privacy is a myth: Surveillance is the business model of the internet. Social networks, cell phone providers, and search engines track what you do online to send you personalized ads.
When you buy the best antivirus software of 2023, you will restore your security, privacy, and peace of mind. Your devices will be safe from malware. Your passwords will be secure from hackers. Your internet activity will be private from advertisers. And your children will be shielded from inappropriate 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 of 2023.
- 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 of 2023
We have reviewed antivirus software since 2014. Based on our in-depth tests of 28 antivirus brands in 2023, these are the best antivirus of 2023:
- 🥇 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 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.
Below, we compare the following products:
- Norton 360 Standard
- Bitdefender Internet Security with the Premium VPN
- McAfee Basic
- Panda Dome Premium
- Kaspersky Plus
These represent the most cost-effective solutions from each brand, permitting the protection of at least one PC with key features such as: Anti-Malware, Anti-Phishing (Web Protection), Firewall, Password Manager, and Unlimited VPN (no data limit).
Test score comparison
We’ve assessed the 10 most recent scores of all antivirus brands, based on tests conducted by AV-Test, the German anti-malware testing institute. They employ three parameters:
- Protection (1-6): The ability to defend against malware attacks.
- Performance (1-6): The extent of system slowdown caused.y the software.
- Usability (1-6): The frequency of false alarms and interruptions.
We use their results, and the following formula, to compute the final score:
Final Score = 60% Protection + 20% Performance + 20% Usability.
Brands not displayed in the table did not partake in the AV-Test analysis. Generally, this isn’t an encouraging sign, as most well-regarded brands, with the exceptions of Panda, ESET, and Sophos, participate in the test.
We’ve compared the prices of leading antivirus solutions for Windows. To ensure an equitable comparison, we examined the costs involved in protecting a Windows PC equipped with the following crucial features:
- Anti-phishing (web protection)
- Password manager
- Unlimited VPN (no data limit)
- Some brands lack features, thereby reducing their value for money.
- Prices are second-year costs in the USA, exclusive of first-year discounts.
- Prices are approximated for clarity (for instance, $99.99 is rounded to $100).
Brands may offer different prices outside the USA. For those, refer to their respective websites.
We’ve evaluated user reviews from all antivirus brands, primarily leveraging data from TrustPilot, a renowned platform for user reviews. However, please interpret these results cautiously, as some brands actively strive to boost their ratings.
We approach remarkably high scores with a degree of skepticism. This skepticism is particularly targeted at brands like TotalAV, notorious for its aggressive marketing and sales maneuvers.
We deem scores ranging between 4.0 and 4.5 to be satisfactory and believable. Scores that surpass this range are questionable, while scores below it suggest potential issues with the product or customer service of the brand. The scores of McAfee, for instance, raise concerns.
Antivirus software buying guide
Below we cover a range of topics:
- What is antivirus software?
- How does antivirus software work?
- Do you 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, often referred to as anti-malware software, is a type of utility developed for detecting, preventing, and eliminating malicious software or “malware.” This includes viruses, which are a specific type of malware, along with other harmful threats such as worms, trojans, ransomware, spyware, and more.
This software forms a crucial part of a defense-in-depth strategy for cybersecurity, designed to provide protection at multiple layers. These tools offer real-time scanning of data as it arrives at your system, perform scheduled and on-demand system scans, and provide remediation services to remove or quarantine detected threats.
By doing this, antivirus software helps keep your devices safe from cyber threats, thereby securing your personal and sensitive information.
For more, read our blog post on what antivirus software is.
How does antivirus software work?
Antivirus software operates using a range of detection strategies to identify harmful threats. These methods usually incorporate signature-based detection, heuristic analysis, and behavior-based detection. Let’s explore each of these mechanisms in detail.
Signature-based detection is one of the oldest and most common methods used by antivirus software. It works by comparing files against a database of known malware signatures – essentially, unique pieces of code identified in previous malware samples.
When a file is scanned, the antivirus software searches for sequences of code that match these stored signatures. If a match is found, the file is flagged as malicious.
This method is highly effective against known threats but struggles with newly emerging malware, for which no signature exists yet. Therefore, antivirus vendors constantly update their signature databases to stay current with evolving threats.
Heuristic analysis is a more sophisticated approach designed to detect new or modified malware that might evade signature-based detection. Instead of relying on known signatures, heuristic analysis looks at the structure and characteristics of a file to determine if it behaves like malware.
Heuristics can identify suspicious or abnormal behavior patterns, such as code that attempts to hide itself, manipulate other programs, or exploit system vulnerabilities. While this method is potent against previously unknown threats, it can sometimes result in false positives, where legitimate files are incorrectly marked as malicious.
Behavior-based detection, also known as behavioral analysis, focuses on the actions and behaviors of programs rather than their code. This method monitors program activities in real-time, looking for behaviors typical of malware, like attempts to modify system settings, delete essential files, or monitor keystrokes.
If a program begins to act suspiciously, the antivirus software can block it immediately, potentially preventing an infection. This method can effectively tackle zero-day threats and ransomware, which are often missed by other detection techniques. However, as with heuristic analysis, behavior-based detection can also yield false positives.
For more, read our blog post on how antivirus software works.
Do you need antivirus software?
The question of whether you need antivirus software is one that invites varied opinions. However, looking at the current digital landscape, the argument favoring antivirus software becomes more compelling. Here’s why:
In an increasingly connected world, the risk of encountering malware, viruses, and other cyber threats grows exponentially. Every day, new forms of malware emerge, designed to infiltrate systems, steal personal data, or cause harm to software and hardware. And while built-in security features in modern operating systems have improved significantly, they often fail to counter advanced threats.
This is where the role of antivirus software becomes crucial. Antivirus programs offer a comprehensive security layer that goes beyond the capabilities of built-in protections. They employ advanced detection techniques, like heuristic and behavior-based analysis, to identify and block emerging threats that could otherwise bypass standard security measures. By providing real-time protection, antivirus software minimizes the risk of infection and shields sensitive data from cyber threats.
Additionally, antivirus software comes with features designed to improve your digital security further. This includes firewalls to monitor network traffic, VPNs for private browsing, password managers to secure your online accounts, and parental controls to ensure a safe online environment for kids.
Regular system scans conducted by antivirus software can also help optimize system performance. They can identify and remove unwanted software or ‘bloatware’ that may be slowing down your system.
However, it’s also important to remember that antivirus software is just one part of a holistic approach to online safety. It cannot substitute for responsible online behavior, such as avoiding suspicious links, regularly updating software, or using strong, unique passwords for online accounts.
In conclusion, while antivirus software might not be a foolproof solution to all digital threats, it serves as an essential protective layer in the fight against malware and cybercrime. Given the rapid evolution of online threats, the value of this additional layer of defense is hard to overstate.
For more, read our blog post on whether Windows 11 needs antivirus.
How do we test antivirus software?
When testing antivirus software, we apply a thorough and systematic methodology, which includes six factors, each with a different weighting:
- Anti-malware protection (30%)
- Security and privacy features (30%)
- Speed impact (10%)
- False positives (10%)
- Price (10%)
- Ownership and reputation (10%)
Each of these factors plays an essential role in our overall assessment of an antivirus software, thus enabling us to present a comprehensive, well-rounded review for our readers.
Anti-malware protection (30%)
When it comes to testing antivirus software, our process is comprehensive, rigorous, and designed to mimic the real-world threats that users face every day. Our approach is two-fold, encompassing both our own proprietary in-house tests and an analysis of independent test results from the respected AV-Test institute.
In our own in-house tests, we recreate the conditions under which a typical computer might come under attack. We expose the system, which is guarded by the antivirus software under test, to hundreds of malware samples. These malware samples are delivered via a USB drive to simulate threats from external storage devices, a common source of infections.
After introducing the malware, we check if the antivirus software’s malware scanner successfully identifies and eliminates each threat. This test is crucial in understanding the antivirus’s ability to detect and neutralize threats present in a system.
In a separate test, we conduct what we term as ‘active attacks.’ These involve running malware files and launching ransomware attacks on the system. Our aim here is to gauge the software’s real-time protection capabilities. We’re looking to see whether it can promptly identify and halt these attacks, thus safeguarding the system.
Analyzing AV-Test Results
In addition to our in-house tests, we also factor in results from the AV-Test institute. AV-Test is a highly reputable independent testing organization that evaluates antivirus software across multiple platforms, including Windows, Mac, and Android.
AV-Test scores antivirus software on three key parameters: Protection, Performance, and Usability. Protection assesses how well the software shields a system from malware attacks. Performance looks at the system slowdown caused by the antivirus, while Usability measures the frequency of false alarms and interruptions caused by the software.
By incorporating both our in-house tests and AV-Test’s comprehensive evaluations, we ensure our antivirus software reviews are as accurate, reliable, and thorough as possible. Our goal is to provide readers with a comprehensive view of the capabilities and potential shortcomings of each antivirus software.
Security and privacy features (30%)
When it comes to antivirus software, the range of security and privacy features is critical. These features contribute to a comprehensive defense strategy, bolstering the primary function of malware detection and removal. Here’s a breakdown of the major features we examine and how we go about testing them:
Web protection (anti-phishing)
Web protection is all about safeguarding you as you navigate the internet. Anti-phishing tools are especially important, as they help thwart attempts to steal sensitive information through deceitful websites or emails. We test this feature by attempting to visit known phishing sites or opening phishing emails to see whether the software alerts us to the danger.
Firewalls monitor all incoming and outgoing network traffic and can block unauthorized access. We test this feature by attempting to access the protected system via different network protocols. The software should detect and block these attempted intrusions.
Password managers securely store all your passwords, often with encryption, and can auto-fill forms when you log in. We assess the password manager by storing multiple passwords and checking how effectively and accurately it auto-fills login forms. We also examine how secure the encryption process is.
Virtual private network (VPN)
A VPN encrypts your internet connection, ensuring your online activities remain private and protecting you from snooping. To test a VPN, we evaluate the speed, encryption technology, server locations, privacy policies, and whether it effectively masks our IP address.
Parental controls allow parents to monitor and control their child’s internet usage. We evaluate these features by setting various restrictions and observing if they’re correctly enforced. We also assess how detailed and helpful the monitoring reports are.
Identity theft protection
This feature monitors personal information online to detect potential identity theft. We test it by checking how effectively it alerts us when our personal information appears in a risky context online, such as on data breach databases or the dark web.
Secure cloud storage (cloud backup)
Secure cloud storage provides an offsite backup for your valuable data, protecting it from local threats like ransomware or hardware failure. We test it by backing up and restoring various types of files, assessing both the ease of use and speed of the process.
Anti-ransomware tools protect your files from being encrypted and held hostage by ransomware. We test this feature by running ransomware simulations and checking if the antivirus can detect and block them before any files get encrypted.
Dark web monitoring
Dark web monitoring services scour dark web forums and databases for your personal data, alerting you if it’s found. We test this feature by observing how promptly and accurately it alerts us when our information appears 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%)
A vital aspect of antivirus software is the impact it has on a device’s performance. The most effective antivirus software offers robust protection without noticeably slowing down your device.
To evaluate this, we rely on the performance tests conducted by AV-Test, a reputable independent organization. These tests simulate everyday activities like launching programs, downloading and installing applications, copying files, and browsing websites while the antivirus software is running.
From these tests, we get a clear understanding of how each antivirus software might affect the performance of your device during daily use.
False positives (10%)
The term “false positive” refers to when antivirus software incorrectly identifies a harmless file or action as malicious. While it’s crucial that antivirus software is vigilant, too many false positives can be disruptive and lead to a user potentially overlooking a genuine threat.
To assess the frequency of false positives, we refer to the usability tests conducted by AV-Test. These tests monitor the antivirus software as it operates on a system, taking note of how often it mistakenly flags safe files or activities. A low rate of false positives is an indicator of a precise and reliable antivirus program.
The cost of antivirus software is a key consideration. While protection is important, it’s also crucial to achieve good value for money. In our evaluation, we analyze the pricing structure of each product, bearing in mind that there can be significant differences between the first and second-year prices.
Some antivirus providers offer significant discounts for the first year, which can increase substantially in the following years. We present a transparent and comprehensive overview of these costs to help you make an informed decision.
Ownership and reputation (10%)
An antivirus company’s reputation and ownership are fundamental aspects to consider. After all, you are entrusting them with the security of your sensitive data.
Not all companies operate with the same level of transparency and respect for user privacy. For instance, Avast faced a significant scandal when it was discovered they were selling user data through a subsidiary called Jumpshot. This violation of trust significantly tarnished their reputation.
We take a close look at the ownership structure and past conduct of each company to provide a detailed perspective on their ethical standing in the industry. By examining these factors, we ensure that the recommended antivirus software comes from reliable and trustworthy sources.
For more, read our blog post on how we test antivirus software.
How to choose the best antivirus software?
Selecting the ideal antivirus software can feel like a daunting task, given the multitude of options available in the market. However, by focusing on a few critical aspects, you can make an informed decision that suits your specific needs and circumstances. Here are the primary considerations:
Reliable protection from malware
At the core of any antivirus software is its ability to reliably protect your devices from a wide variety of malware. This includes viruses, trojans, worms, ransomware, spyware, and more. An efficient antivirus solution will consistently detect and neutralize these threats. Checking independent test scores, like those provided by AV-Test, can provide a clear picture of an antivirus program’s efficacy against various types of malware.
Cyber threats are continuously evolving, and new malware is being developed daily. To keep up with these threats, your antivirus software must offer regular and prompt security updates. These updates ensure that your antivirus software is equipped with the latest virus definitions and can protect against the newest threats.
In addition to basic malware protection, look for antivirus solutions that offer additional security features. These can include web protection (to guard against phishing attacks), a firewall (to monitor network traffic), a password manager (to safeguard your online credentials), a VPN (for anonymous browsing), and more. Choose a solution that offers the security features that best fit your requirements.
Even the most secure antivirus software is of little use if it significantly slows down your device. Look for software that offers robust protection with minimal impact on your device’s performance. Check the performance test scores provided by independent testing labs like AV-Test to understand the potential impact on your system.
Even the most technologically adept users may sometimes need assistance with their antivirus software. Reliable and accessible customer support is essential. Look for antivirus providers that offer multiple support channels (like phone, email, live chat) and provide 24/7 assistance.
First-year and second price
Last but not least, consider the cost. While it’s important not to skimp on security, it’s also vital to ensure you’re getting good value for money. Look closely at the first-year and subsequent year prices, as they may differ substantially. Some providers offer a discounted introductory price that can increase dramatically in the second year. Understanding the long-term cost can help you make a more informed decision.
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 a critical tool in your defense against various forms of cyber threats. While it’s important to note that no solution offers absolute protection, antivirus software can significantly reduce your risk from a vast range of harmful software or malicious activities. Let’s take a closer look at some of these threats:
Malware, short for malicious software, is a broad term that encompasses various types of harmful software. This includes viruses, trojans, worms, ransomware, spyware, and more. Malware typically aims to damage or disrupt computers, networks, or servers, or to gain unauthorized access to systems to steal, encrypt, or delete your data.
Adware is a type of software that automatically delivers unwanted and intrusive advertising material, such as pop-up ads, to a user’s computer or browser. While not always harmful in itself, adware can be incredibly annoying, disrupt your user experience, and sometimes come bundled with spyware, which can track your online activities.
A botnet is a network of compromised computers, which are controlled by a third party and used to carry out coordinated functions. This might include spreading malware, launching Denial of Service (DoS) attacks, or sending spam emails. Antivirus software can detect and remove botnet malware before it takes control of your system.
Keyloggers are a type of spyware that tracks and records your keystrokes. Cybercriminals can use this data to steal sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, and other confidential information. Antivirus solutions with anti-spyware capabilities can detect and eliminate keyloggers.
Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts a user’s files or locks the computer, then demands a ransom to restore access. Antivirus software can help prevent ransomware infections by blocking the malware before it can encrypt files and by removing the malicious software.
Rootkits are a type of software designed to provide unauthorized access to a computer or an area of its software that would not otherwise be allowed (for example, to an administrator). They are hard to detect, as they can camouflage themselves as necessary parts of the operating system. Antivirus software with rootkit detection can uncover these threats.
Spyware is software that secretly monitors and collects information about users without their knowledge or consent. It can gather a variety of information, such as internet surfing habits, and can interfere with user control of the computer in other ways. Antivirus software can help detect and remove spyware, keeping your data secure.
Trojans are malicious programs that disguise themselves as legitimate software. Users are typically tricked into loading and executing Trojans on their systems, and once activated, cybercriminals can access your systems to steal sensitive data or harm your computer. Antivirus software can scan for and remove Trojans from your device.
A computer virus is a type of malicious code that replicates by copying itself to other programs, computers, or files. Viruses can damage your system software, corrupt or delete your data, and spread to other computers via network connections or email. Antivirus software can prevent, detect, and remove viruses.
Worms are a type of malware that can replicate and spread themselves to other computers over a network, without any user action. They can consume bandwidth or overload a system’s resources, slowing it down or causing it to crash. Antivirus software can help detect and eliminate worms, preventing their spread and the damage they can cause.
What cyber threats can antivirus not protect you from?
While antivirus software plays a vital role in securing your digital environment against various types of malware, it’s crucial to acknowledge its limitations.
There exist several cyber threats which an antivirus may not effectively protect against. These threats often revolve around tricking the user rather than directly exploiting system vulnerabilities, making human awareness and vigilance crucial. Here are some examples:
Phishing is a type of online scam where cybercriminals impersonate legitimate organizations in emails, text messages, or other communication forms, aiming to trick individuals into providing sensitive data. This could include login credentials, credit card numbers, or social security numbers.
Antivirus software can sometimes detect phishing attempts if they involve known malicious websites or file attachments. However, they can’t fully protect against phishing because this threat primarily exploits human vulnerabilities rather than technical ones. Therefore, education about recognizing and avoiding phishing attempts is essential.
Similar to phishing, online scams often rely on deception and manipulation rather than malicious software. These can range from advanced fee scams, where you are promised a large sum of money in return for a small upfront payment, to romance scams, where the scammer forms a relationship with their victim to exploit them financially.
While antivirus software can block known scam websites, it can’t protect you from scams that occur via email, social media, or other platforms, or make judgments about the trustworthiness of online offers or relationships. This is where personal vigilance and internet safety knowledge become critical.
For more, read our blog post on online scams.
Social engineering attacks exploit human psychology to trick users into revealing confidential information or performing actions that compromise security. These manipulative tactics can occur via phone, email, social media, or even in person. Examples include pretexting, baiting, and tailgating.
While antivirus software can offer some protection against malware that might be used in conjunction with social engineering, it can’t protect users from the manipulation tactics themselves. Once again, user awareness and education play a crucial role in defending against these threats.
For more, read our blog post on social engineering.
Zero-day exploits are attacks that take advantage of a security vulnerability on the same day that the vulnerability becomes generally known. There are zero days between the time the vulnerability is discovered and the first attack. Since antivirus software relies on known threat signatures for detection, it often struggles to protect against zero-day exploits.
Some advanced antivirus solutions offer heuristic analysis and behavior-based detection techniques to catch such threats, but these methods are not always successful. To minimize the risk of zero-day exploits, regular software and system updates, along with a robust security infrastructure, are highly recommended.
For more, read our blog post on zero-day exploits.
What antivirus software have we tested?
We have tested 67 antivirus software companies, 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 of 2023?
Do you need antivirus software on Windows 11?
Absolutely, antivirus software is essential for maintaining your digital security against numerous cyber threats.
How does antivirus software work?
Antivirus software scans your device for known malware signatures, tracks suspicious behavior, and blocks potential threats.
Will antivirus software slow down your device?
High-quality antivirus solutions like Bitdefender and Norton won’t slow your device down, but lesser quality ones might.
Is free antivirus software safe?
Free antivirus software often lacks comprehensive protection and may compromise your privacy, thus it’s not recommended.
Is Kaspersky still safe?
Despite its Russian origin, Kaspersky remains secure and reliable, with no proven ties to any untrustworthy activities.
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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