We earn commissions from links on this site.
The 5 Best Antivirus with a Free Trial (2023 Update)
By Tibor Moes / Updated: September 2023
Do you need antivirus software? Yes, you do. Here’s why.
- Protection From Threats: In our increasingly digital world, cyber threats are ever-evolving and incredibly stealthy, from viruses to spyware, ransomware to phishing attacks.
- Safeguarding Personal Data: Your personal information is the ultimate prize for cybercriminals. Good antivirus software not only safeguards your computer but also defends your sensitive data.
- Secure Transactions: As we indulge in more online transactions, financial data become vulnerable. A trustworthy antivirus is your first line of defense, ensuring safe and secure online dealings.
By investing in the best antivirus software, you’re not just buying a product; you’re ensuring peace of mind. Secure your digital life from malicious intrusions and let your cyber world be as safe and sound as your real one. The key to your online safety is just a click away!
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 with a free trial.
- 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 with a free trial
We have reviewed antivirus software since 2014. Based on our in-depth tests of 28 antivirus brands in 2023, these are the best antivirus with a free trial:
- 🥇 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.
Length of Norton’s free trial: 60-day return policy.
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 with a free trial 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.
Length of Bitdefender’s free trial: 30-day return policy.
Discount: Save 50% on this secret page
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 with a free trial 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.
Length of McAfee’s free trial: 30-day return policy.
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 with a free trial 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.
Length of Panda’s free trial: 30-day return policy.
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 with a free trial 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.
Length of Kaspersky’s free trial: 30-day return policy.
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 with a free trial 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 options represent each brand’s most cost-effective solution that delivers key features such as Anti-Malware, Anti-Phishing (Web Protection), Firewall, Password Manager, and an unrestricted VPN (no data cap).
Test score comparison
We’ve evaluated the latest 10 test scores from all antivirus brands. These tests were conducted by the esteemed German anti-malware test lab, AV-Test. They consider 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.
We used their results, and this formula, to calculate the final score:
Final Score = 60% Protection + 20% Performance + 20% Usability.
Brands omitted from the table didn’t participate in AV-Test’s examination. This lack of participation is generally alarming as renowned brands, except for Panda, ESET, and Sophos, typically take part.
We’ve pitted the prices of leading antivirus products for Windows against each other. In an effort to make a balanced comparison, we scrutinized the cost of protecting a Windows PC with essential features:
- Anti-phishing (web protection)
- Password manager
- Unlimited VPN (no data limit)
A few notes:
- Some brands are missing features, lowering their value for money.
- Prices are second-year prices in the USA, without first-year discounts.
- Prices are rounded up for readability (e.g., $99.99 becomes $100).
Brands may offer different prices outside the US. Refer to their official website for accurate prices.
We’ve evaluated user feedback across all antivirus brands. We’ve utilized the ratings and number of reviews from TrustPilot, a prominent user review platform. However, these results should be interpreted cautiously as some brands may try to artificially inflate their ratings.
We are skeptical of exceptionally high scores. Brands like TotalAV, notorious for their aggressive marketing strategies, are one such example.
Scores ranging between 4.0 and 4.5 are deemed good and reliable. Anything higher raises eyebrows, and lower scores suggest potential issues with the product or customer service. For instance, McAfee’s ratings are cause for concern.
Antivirus software buying guide
Below we cover a range of topics:
- What is antivirus software?
- How does antivirus software work?
- What do the best antivirus include in their free trial?
- 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 specialized program designed to safeguard your computer and digital assets from a wide array of threats such as viruses, malware, spyware, ransomware, and phishing attempts. Its primary purpose is to detect, prevent, and eliminate these threats, ensuring that your computer and the data stored within it remain secure.
In our interconnected world where online activities are integral parts of our daily lives, having an effective antivirus software installed on your devices is indispensable.
For more, read our blog post on what antivirus software is.
How does antivirus software work?
Antivirus software employs several techniques to protect your system from malicious entities. Let’s explore three significant methodologies: signature-based detection, heuristic analysis, and behavior-based detection.
Signature-based detection is the traditional method employed by antivirus programs. It involves identifying malware by comparing the data in your computer files to a library of known malware ‘signatures.’ A signature is a unique piece of code or pattern that indicates a specific virus or type of malware.
If a match is found, the antivirus software either removes the malicious code or quarantines the infected file to prevent the malware from spreading.
Heuristic analysis is a more advanced technique used to detect new or modified versions of known malware, which may not have established signatures. The antivirus software uses heuristic rules or algorithms to analyze the characteristics and behaviors of suspicious files.
If the software finds a file that behaves similarly to known malware, it flags it as potentially malicious. Heuristic analysis aids in identifying previously unknown threats, thereby improving the overall efficacy of the antivirus software.
Behavior-based detection, also known as behavioral monitoring or anomaly detection, observes the behavior of applications and processes in real time.
Unlike signature-based detection that relies on known patterns, and heuristic analysis that predicts malware-like behavior, this method focuses on detecting abnormal behavior in your system. This could include unexpected attempts to modify system files or unusual network connections. Such abnormal activities often signify a malware infection, enabling the antivirus software to take necessary preventive actions.
For more, read our blog post on how antivirus software works.
What do the best antivirus include in their free trial?
In the world of antivirus software, free trials are a common practice aimed at allowing potential customers to experience the product’s full suite of features before making a purchase. These trials often come in the form of 30 or 60-day return policies.
During this trial period, you get comprehensive access to all the features that the antivirus program has to offer. This typically includes essential features like Anti-Malware, Anti-Phishing (Web Protection), Firewall, and Password Manager. It may also include premium features such as an unlimited Virtual Private Network (VPN) with no data cap, Parental Control features, or advanced identity theft protection.
The trial period is essentially a risk-free way for you to explore and experience the antivirus software in action. You can evaluate how well it performs, how much it slows down your system (if at all), how easy it is to use, and the level of protection it offers against different types of threats.
One of the key aspects to keep in mind here is that these trial periods are not ‘limited versions’ or ‘demo versions’. They provide you with a full-scale antivirus solution for a temporary duration. At the end of the trial, don’t have to do anything to continue enjoying the protection and features provided by the software. And if you don’t like the software, you’ll get your money back, no questions asked.
Remember to read the terms and conditions of the trial to avoid any surprises. It’s also crucial to monitor how the software performs during the trial period, as this will give you a clear idea of whether it’s the right product for your needs before making a purchase.
For more, read our blog post on whether Windows 11 needs antivirus.
How do we test antivirus software?
When evaluating antivirus software, we meticulously test each program based on six distinct elements, each carrying different weights:
- Anti-malware protection (30%)
- Security and privacy features (30%)
- Speed impact (10%)
- False positives (10%)
- Price (10%)
- Ownership and reputation (10%)
This multi-dimensional approach allows us to provide a comprehensive and balanced assessment of each antivirus software’s capabilities and performance.
Anti-malware protection (30%)
At the forefront of our testing lies anti-malware protection, accounting for 30% of our evaluation. For this, we undertake in-depth testing via two different means: in-house testing and scrutinizing results from the esteemed anti-malware test lab, AV-Test.
Our rigorous in-house testing involves exposing our test PCs to hundreds of known malware samples through a USB stick to assess the software’s scanning capabilities. We analyze whether the antivirus software can accurately and effectively identify and neutralize all of these threats.
We believe in putting the software through real-world scenarios, which is why we also conduct separate tests that simulate actual malware attacks. This involves executing known malware files and initiating ransomware attacks to gauge the efficacy of the software’s real-time protection. We take note of how swiftly and efficiently the antivirus software responds to these simulated threats.
Alongside our independent in-house testing, we also closely analyze the anti-malware protection results for Windows, Mac, and Android systems provided by AV-Test.
AV-Test is a reputable independent organization specializing in IT security and anti-virus research. Their exhaustive testing methodology and results provide an authoritative benchmark for anti-malware performance.
By considering these results, we ensure our evaluation of antivirus software is comprehensive and backed by industry-respected insights.
Security and privacy features (30%)
Another integral part of our testing methodology pertains to a suite of security and privacy features. Accounting for 30% of our assessment, these features range from web protection to dark web monitoring. Let’s delve into each.
Web protection (anti-phishing)
Web protection, also known as anti-phishing, safeguards users from malicious websites attempting to steal personal information or install malware. We test this feature by attempting to navigate to known phishing websites and evaluating how effectively the software blocks these sites and alerts the user.
Firewalls act as a security barrier between your computer and external networks, monitoring data traffic and blocking potential threats. We assess firewalls by attempting to infiltrate the system with various types of network-based attacks and observing how effectively the firewall prevents these attacks.
Password managers securely store and autofill your online passwords, enhancing security and convenience. We evaluate password managers for their user-friendliness, security measures (like encryption), and additional features such as password generation or breach alerts.
Virtual private network (VPN)
VPNs secure your online activities by encrypting your data and masking your online identity. We test VPNs for speed, reliability, security, and the number of server locations. We also check if they follow a strict no-log policy.
Parental controls enable parents to monitor and restrict their children’s online activities. We review these for their comprehensiveness (content filtering, screen time management, etc.) and ease of use.
Identity theft protection
This feature provides monitoring services that alert users if their personal information appears in suspicious circumstances online. We evaluate its effectiveness by testing the alert system and analyzing the types of information it monitors.
Secure cloud storage (cloud backup)
Secure cloud storage allows users to backup and encrypt their data in the cloud. We review this feature by examining the ease of backup and restore operations, data encryption, and the amount of storage provided.
Anti-ransomware tools prevent ransomware from encrypting your data and demanding a ransom. We test this feature by executing ransomware attacks in a controlled environment to see if the software successfully prevents them.
Dark web monitoring
Dark web monitoring involves scanning the dark web for the user’s personal information, alerting them if their details are found on this hidden part of the internet. We assess the scope and responsiveness of this monitoring and the guidance offered in the event of a detected breach.
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 can significantly affect the user’s experience. Thus, we evaluate this element by referencing the performance tests conducted by AV-Test.
These tests assess the software’s system impact during everyday activities, such as loading popular websites, downloading and installing commonly used applications, copying files, and running standard computer programs.
A lower impact score indicates a lesser degree of system slowdown, which is crucial for maintaining the computer’s performance while running antivirus software.
False positives (10%)
False positives occur when antivirus software incorrectly identifies legitimate files or activities as threats. This could potentially disrupt users or lead to essential data being quarantined.
To examine this, we rely on AV-Test’s usability tests. These tests measure the frequency of false alarms during system scans, software installations, and in everyday use of the system. A lower rate of false positives translates to a better user experience and fewer unnecessary disruptions.
When it comes to price, our emphasis is on value for money. We evaluate whether the antivirus software’s cost is justified based on its feature set, performance, and user experience.
It’s essential to note that the price often varies between the first and second years, with the first year usually being cheaper due to introductory discounts. We take this into account, and we’re transparent about these differences to provide a comprehensive view of the long-term cost.
Ownership and reputation (10%)
Lastly, we assess the ownership and reputation of the antivirus companies. Not all companies are created equal, and past scandals can have serious implications on their credibility.
A notable example is Avast, who faced backlash after it was revealed that their subsidiary, Jumpshot, had been selling user data. Such instances raise concerns about the handling of user data, privacy policies, and the overall integrity of the company.
Therefore, we scrutinize the company’s history, its stance on user privacy, and any significant controversies to help our readers make an informed choice.
For more, read our blog post on how we test antivirus software.
How to choose the best antivirus software?
Choosing the right antivirus software is an important decision, as it plays a crucial role in protecting your digital life. Here are several key elements you should consider when making your selection:
Reliable protection from malware
First and foremost, the software must provide robust protection against a wide range of malware, including viruses, ransomware, spyware, and other malicious programs. Look for software that not only removes malware but also detects and blocks it in real time. A high detection rate and low false-positive rate are indicators of reliable protection.
Regular security updates are vital to maintain the efficacy of antivirus software. Cyber threats evolve rapidly, and your antivirus needs to stay updated to recognize and combat new threats. Choose a product from a company that commits to frequent and timely updates to their threat database.
The best antivirus software provides more than just basic malware protection. It should also include a variety of security features, such as a firewall, web protection, a password manager, and a VPN. Additionally, look for advanced features like parental controls, identity theft protection, and secure cloud storage, depending on your needs.
An ideal antivirus solution is one that offers high-grade protection without significantly slowing down your system. Look for software with a low system impact, so it doesn’t interfere with your usual activities. AV-Test’s performance tests can provide useful insights here.
Good customer support is critical for dealing with any issues that may arise. Look for companies that offer multiple support channels, including live chat, phone support, and email. Also, consider how responsive and helpful the support team is.
First-year and second price
When considering price, don’t just focus on the first-year discounted rate. Some antivirus software may have a low introductory price but significantly higher renewal rates in subsequent years. Evaluate the long-term costs, not just the initial outlay, to ensure you’re getting a good value for your money.
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 provides a critical line of defense against a broad spectrum of cyber threats. While it cannot eliminate every potential danger, it can significantly reduce your vulnerability to various malicious activities. Here’s a look at some of the threats that antivirus software can help protect against:
Malware, or malicious software, is a broad term encompassing various types of threats, including viruses, worms, trojans, ransomware, spyware, and others. Antivirus software is designed to detect, block, and remove these threats, keeping your system clean and secure.
Adware is a type of software that delivers unwanted advertisements to your device, often in the form of pop-ups. While it’s not always harmful, it can be annoying and may pave the way for other malware. Antivirus can detect and remove adware.
A botnet is a network of computers infected by malware and controlled by cybercriminals without the users’ knowledge. They’re used for various malicious activities, including DDoS attacks. Antivirus software can prevent your device from becoming part of a botnet.
Keyloggers are malicious programs that record your keystrokes, capturing everything from passwords to credit card numbers. Antivirus software can detect and neutralize keyloggers, protecting your sensitive information.
Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts the victim’s files, demanding a ransom to decrypt them. It’s one of the most dangerous types of cyber threats. Antivirus software with a dedicated ransomware protection feature can help prevent these attacks.
Rootkits are designed to gain administrator-level control over a computer system without being detected. They are challenging to find and remove, but advanced antivirus solutions can detect and eradicate them.
Spyware is software that spies on your online activity, collecting information without your knowledge or consent. It’s often used for identity theft. Antivirus software can detect and remove spyware.
Trojans are malicious programs that disguise themselves as legitimate software. They can create a backdoor in your security, allowing cybercriminals to access your system. Antivirus software is designed to detect and eliminate trojans.
Viruses are a type of malware that can copy themselves and spread to other computers, corrupting systems and destroying data. They’re one of the oldest types of cyber threats, and antivirus software is explicitly designed to combat them.
Worms are similar to viruses, but they spread independently without needing to attach themselves to a program. They can rapidly infect an entire network of devices. Antivirus software can detect and stop worms.
What cyber threats can antivirus not protect you from?
While antivirus software is instrumental in maintaining your online safety, it’s not a silver bullet. Certain types of cyber threats require user vigilance, awareness, and discretion to effectively combat. Here’s an exploration of some threats that may bypass even the most robust antivirus solutions:
Phishing is a deceptive practice where cybercriminals impersonate trustworthy entities via email, text messages, or social media to lure individuals into revealing sensitive information like passwords or credit card details. While some antivirus software has anti-phishing features, these aren’t foolproof. User awareness and skepticism towards unsolicited communication are crucial in avoiding phishing scams.
Online scams come in various forms, from fraudulent online stores to fake lotteries and job offers. While an antivirus solution might block known scam sites, it can’t protect you from newly created ones or from your decisions. Carefully verifying the legitimacy of online deals, stores, and offers is a critical step users must take independently.
For more, read our blog post on online scams.
Social engineering refers to psychological manipulation techniques used by cybercriminals to trick individuals into revealing confidential information or taking specific actions. Tactics include pretexting, baiting, and tailgating, none of which can be directly countered by antivirus software. Protection against social engineering relies heavily on personal awareness and education.
For more, read our blog post on social engineering.
Zero-day exploits are attacks launched on the same day a vulnerability becomes known, leaving software vendors no time to create patches. Antivirus software can struggle to protect against these exploits because they’re based on unknown vulnerabilities. Regular software updates and the use of security solutions with proactive defense techniques, such as heuristic analysis, can help minimize this risk.
For more, read our blog post on zero-day exploits.
What antivirus software have we tested?
We have tested 28 antivirus brands, ranging from entry-level free antivirus programs, to mid-range paid antivirus software and full-featured internet security suites.
As a general rule of thumb, even the best free malware removal programs, like Avast One, cannot compete with the comprehensive malware protection offered by paid solutions, like Norton 360 Deluxe or Bitdefender Total Protection.
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 with a free trial?
Do you need antivirus software?
Absolutely! Antivirus software is vital for your online safety.
How does antivirus software work?
Good antivirus software works without slowing down your device, lesser ones might.
Will antivirus software slow down your device?
Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.
Is free antivirus software safe?
Free antivirus programs often lack comprehensive protection and pose safety risks.
Is Kaspersky still safe?
Despite its Russian origin, Kaspersky has not been proven unsafe. It remains a reliable choice.
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.
This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.