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The 5 Best Antivirus with VPN (2023 Update)

By Tibor Moes / Updated: May 2023

Why buy an antivirus with a VPN? Your security and privacy are at risk. 

  • Contracting malware is alarmingly easy: By opening an email attachment, browsing a website, inserting a USB drive, or installing software, you could expose your device to malware without even realizing it.
  • Once infected, you become a carrier: Certain types of malware, such as computer worms, can replicate and spread automatically to any unprotected device you connect to.
  • Digital privacy is a myth: The internet is built on a surveillance business model. Social networks, cell phone providers, and search engines track your online activity to send you personalized ads.

With the best antivirus with a VPN, you can secure your devices from malware and keep your browsing history private from advertisers and hackers. Don’t take chances online.

Short on time? These are the best antivirus of 2023:

Norton - The best antivirus of 2023

Norton Antivirus

Ranked #1 of 20 antivirus software

Anti-malware: 100%. It eliminates all malware.
Performance: 100%. It has no impact on your PC speed.
Features: 100%. Everything is included for free (see list).

Trusted by 50 million users.

Bitdefender - The second best antivirus of 2023

Bitdefender Antivirus

Ranked #2 of 20 antivirus software

Anti-malware: 95%. It eliminates nearly all malware.
Performance: 100%. It has no impact on your PC speed.
Features: 95%. Some, like the VPN, cost extra (see list).

The best antivirus of 2023

We have tested antivirus software since 2014. Below are the best 5 from over 20 paid and free antivirus software:

  1. 🥇 Norton Antivirus - The best antivirus software of 2023.
  2. Bitdefender Antivirus
  3. McAfee Antivirus
  4. Panda Antivirus
  5. Kaspersky Antivirus

Scroll down for the reviews or compare them in our comparison table.

Norton Antivirus

Norton Review

Ranked #1 out of 20 Antivirus

Norton Antivirus Review


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.

Password Manager

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.

Bonus Features

  • 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.

Bitdefender Antivirus

Bitdefender Review

Ranked #2 out of 20 Antivirus

Bitdefender Antivirus Review


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.

Password Manager

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.

Bonus Features

  • 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.

McAfee Antivirus

McAfee Review

Ranked #3 out of 20 Antivirus

McAfee Antivirus Review


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.

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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.

Password Manager

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.

Bonus Features

  • 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.

Panda Antivirus

Panda Review

Ranked #4 out of 20 Antivirus

Panda Antivirus Review


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.

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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.

Password Manager

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.

Bonus Features

  • 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.

Kaspersky Antivirus

Kaspersky Review

Ranked #5 out of 20 Antivirus

Kaspersky Antivirus Review


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.

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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.

Password Manager

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.

Bonus Features

  • 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.

However, its VPN privacy policy is disappointing. A VPN is a privacy product and shouldn't be used for marketing. On top of that, Kaspersky struggles with the tensions between the West and Russia, due to the war in Ukraine.

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.

Specification comparison

Below, we compare the following products:

  • Norton 360 Standard
  • Bitdefender Internet Security with the Premium VPN
  • Panda Dome Premium
  • McAfee Basic
  • Kaspersky Plus

These are the most affordable products at each brand, which allow you to protect at least 1 PC with the most essential features: Anti-Malware, Anti-Phishing (Web Protection), Firewall, Password Manager and Unlimited VPN (no data limit).

#1 of 20
#2 of 20
#3 of 20
#4 of 20
#5 of 20
Speed impact
1st year price
$ 39.99 / year
$ 54.99 / year
$ 29.99 / year
$ 66.99 / year
$ 36.99 / year
2nd year price
$ 89.99 / year
$ 129.99 / year
$ 89.99 / year
$ 133.99 / year
$ 75.99 / year
Operating software
Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
Money back
60 days
30 days
30 days
30 days
30 days



Password manager

Unlimited VPN

Test score comparison

We've compared the 10 most recent test scores of all antivirus brands. The tests were performed by AV-Test, the German anti-malware test lab. They use three factors:

  • Protection (1-6): Antivirus protection against malware attacks.
  • Performance (1-6): System slowdown caused by the antivirus.
  • Usability (1-6): Frequency of false alarms and disruptions.

We used their results, and this formula, to calculate the final score:

Final Score = 60% Protection + 20% Performance + 20% Usability.

Brands not listed in the table haven't participated in the analysis by AV-Test. This is usually not a good sign. Because most reputable brands, except Panda, ESET, and Sophos, partake in the test.

Final Score

Price comparison

We've compared the prices of the top antivirus products for Windows. To make it a fair comparison, we looked at what it would cost us, to protect a Windows PC with the following essential features:

  • Anti-malware
  • Anti-phishing (web protection)
  • Firewall
  • 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 have different prices outside the USA. See those on their website.

Total price
Missing features
$ 60
No firewall and password manager
$ 65
No firewall, password manager, and VPN
$ 90
$ 90
No firewall
$ 100
$ 130
No password manager
$ 179
No firewall

User reviews

We’ve compared the user reviews of all antivirus brands. We’ve used the scores and review count of TrustPilot, a leading user review platform. However, take these results with a grain of salt, as some brands actively attempt to increase their ratings.

Personally, we are wary of exceptionally high scores. Especially those by brands such as TotalAV, known for aggressive marketing and sales tactics.

We consider scores between 4.0 and 4.5 good and realistic. Higher scores are dubious, and lower scores indicate that the brand might have a poor product or customer service. McAfee’s scores, for instance, are worrying.

Review score
Review count

How we test the best antivirus with VPN of 2023:

In 2023, the best antivirus software with VPN goes beyond protecting Windows PCs from malware. Instead, it offers virus protection, identity theft protection, and privacy protection, across all major operating systems, in a user-friendly interface at a reasonable price.

On top of that, it defends against a plethora of cyber threats, including data breaches, phishing attempts, privacy invasions, ransomware, and more. We put top antivirus providers through rigorous 15 tests to find the one that truly offers the best value for your money.

> Test 1: Anti-malware protection test

Anti-malware protection is the core component of antivirus software.

Malware includes various online threats such as adware, keyloggers, ransomware, spyware, trojans, viruses, and worms. These threats can be known (encountered before by the antivirus software) or unknown (new).

Unknown threats are especially dangerous because they have not been encountered before. This means their malware signatures, also called virus definitions or digital fingerprints, have yet to be added to any database.

As classic real-time protection uses these malware signatures to detect known threats, this method is ineffective in detecting new malware. To tackle this problem, the best anti-malware software uses heuristic analysis, which is a fancy way of saying behavior monitoring.

This method enables the antivirus software to scan the behavior of apps for suspicious patterns, like rapid file replication or modifications to the operating software, and detect malware before its virus definition is added to the cybersecurity databases.

To find the best malware removal software, we run our own tests and analyze results from independent antivirus testing labs, like AV-Test, SE Labs, and AV-Comparatives.

> Test 2: False positives test

False positives occur when antivirus software mistakenly identifies legitimate software or safe websites as malware. It’s a common occurrence for all antivirus programs, but when it happens frequently, it can be frustrating. AV-Test conducts a large-scale analysis of false positives in its usability test, and we use those findings in our research.

> Test 3: System performance test

Antivirus software should protect your device while not consuming too many resources. We measure the CPU load during scans to determine how much performance is left for other tasks.

We also consider AV-Test’s performance section, which measures the slowdown caused by antivirus software on the loading of websites, and the downloading and installing of software, to gauge the impact on device performance.

> Test 4: Firewall test

A two-way firewall sits between your computer and a network, such as a local area network (LAN) or the internet, and filters incoming and outgoing data streams to keep malware and hackers out.

Firewalls can be software-based, hardware-based, or sold as a service. Software-based firewalls, as found within antivirus software, consume some of your PC’s CPU and RAM.

Still, they offer a high degree of protection against malware, can filter incoming and outgoing traffic, and provide precise control over the connectivity of each program on your computer.

We test whether the firewall successfully blocks all ports on our test PC using the ShieldsUP! test of the Gibson Research Corporation, and we test whether custom rules can be set for various network types, such as home, work, and public networks.

> Test 5: Password manager test

A password manager is a software tool that helps users store and organize their passwords and other sensitive information, such as credit card numbers and personal identification numbers (PINs). The stored data is protected using ultra-strong (AES-256) encryption.

On top of that, password managers can generate strong, unique user passwords, which are kept in the password manager’s vault. Users only need to remember their master password to access the vault. This can help them avoid reusing passwords and make it easier to create and remember strong passwords.

Finally, password managers can automatically fill in login information on websites and apps, saving time and reducing the risk of typos. Password managers can also alert users if their passwords have been compromised in a data breach and offer a way to change them easily.

Overall, a password manager is a convenient and secure way to manage your online credentials and protect against identity theft and cyber threats.

> Test 6: Virtual Private Network (VPN) test

We test the VPN in-depth on a wide range of aspects:

Logging policy:

A logging policy is a statement by VPN service providers about what data they collect and how long it is retained. For example, some providers track browsing history and location, which can be sold to data brokers and advertisers.

These policies can be challenging to understand and may put your privacy at risk. Therefore, we read and evaluate each VPN provider’s policy to ensure they are not collecting and storing data that would compromise user privacy.


Ownership refers to the company or companies that have legal control over a VPN service. This can include a primary company that owns the VPN service and a parent company above that. Ownership structure can create conflicts of interest, as the parent company may have different data retention laws and can access user data.

For instance, a few companies own a majority of the VPN services:

  • Kape Technologies, based in the U.K., owns Zenmate, ExpressVPN, CyberGhost VPN, and Private Internet Access (PIA).
  • Gaditek, based in Pakistan, owns PureVPN, Ivacy VPN, and Unblock VPN.
  • Ziff Davis, from the U.S., owns StrongVPN, IPVanish, Buffered VPN, Encrypt.me, and Perimeter 81, among others.
  • Aura/Pango, another United States company, owns JustVPN, Hotspot Shield, and TouchVPN. They also provide VPN technology for various other VPN providers like Bitdefender, Kaspersky, Panda, and others.
  • CyberSpace, a Dutch company, owns NordVPN, Surfshark, and Atlas VPN.

We investigate the owner of each VPN service, their country of registration, and data retention laws to ensure users’ privacy is respected. We also examine the company’s history to see if it has been involved in any scandals or controversies.

Independent audit:

An independent audit examines the VPN provider’s server infrastructure and privacy policies. It is carried out by an external, independent body, which ensures that the VPN service operates securely and responsibly and that its systems meet industry best practices.

A recent example is the audit by Deloitte of NordVPN’s privacy policy and server infrastructure in 2022. Other VPN providers, like ExpressVPN, also frequently undergo independent audits.

These audits can provide peace of mind that a VPN connection is trustworthy and reliable. We check if a VPN provider has undergone an independent audit and take particular interest in any flaws uncovered during the audit.

VPN Protocols:

  • A VPN protocol is a set of instructions to establish a secure connection between two devices. Different protocols have their advantages and disadvantages:
  • PPTP is fast but needs to be more secure.
  • L2TP/IPsec is a balance between speed and security.
  • SSTP is fast and secure but only available on Windows.
  • OpenVPN is the most secure and open source but can be slow.
  • WireGuard is a next-gen protocol that’s faster and easier to audit.

Some VPN providers have created their own protocols. For instance, NordVPN has created NordLynx, a version of WireGuard. And ExpressVPN has created LightWay, which connects very quickly.

Encryption standard:

An encryption standard is a set of instructions used to encode and decode digital data, ensuring the privacy of sensitive information. The most common encryption standards are Data Encryption Standard (DES) and Advanced Encryption Standard (AES).

AES is a more secure and efficient version of the Rijndael block cipher, using a block size of 128 bits and a key length of 128, 192, or 256 bits. Therefore, AES-128 or AES-256 in GCM or CBC versions are considered suitable options for VPN protocols that are both fast and secure.

During testing, we check the default encryption standard used by the VPN service and if alternatives are offered.

Other things we test for:

We test the advanced security features like a kill switch, split tunneling, ad-blockers, anti-trackers, malicious website blockers, dedicated IP addresses, double VPN, obfuscated servers, GPS location overrides, and RAM-only servers.

We test for various data leaks that could undo the VPN protection, such as IP leaks, DNS leaks, and WebRTC leaks. And we run download speeds while connected to the most used VPN protocols, OpenVPN and WireGuard.

We test whether the server infrastructure consists of actual physical servers or whether the VPN provider uses virtual servers (Servers located in a different country that still provide a local IP address).

We also check whether the VPN services use their own DNS servers to provide maximum DNS leak protection. And, although it goes without saying, we analyze whether the VPN offers unlimited bandwidth (unlimited VPN data).

Finally, we test whether the streaming service works with popular streaming services, such as Netflix, Amazon, Disney, Hulu, HBO, Apple, BBC, and more. And whether the VPN service allows you to download torrents on their VPN servers.

> Test 7: Parental control test

We test the effectiveness of parental control features such as screen time rules, website and app blocking, and location tracking by installing them on a test device and attempting to circumvent them. We also check if the parental control admin accurately and promptly reports our activity on the test device.

> Test 8: Anti-phishing protection test

We test antivirus browser extensions by attempting to visit dangerous URLs. We check whether the web protection feature blocks malicious sites before they can open to prevent them from stealing sensitive data

> Test 9: Ransomware protection test

We test the multi-layer ransomware protection features of security suites by attempting to deliver and execute ransomware on a test device. We check if the suite can prevent the attack at both the delivery and execution stages by detecting vulnerabilities and malicious encryption patterns.

> Test 10: Bonus features test

Antivirus software often includes additional features beyond basic virus protection. These can include things like spam filters, secure browsers, and secure online storage. While there are many different features that can be included, some of the more valuable cybersecurity tools to consider are those that provide extra security tools beyond just basic virus detection:

  • Ad Blocker
  • Anti-theft
  • Dark web monitoring (identity protection)
  • Email protection
  • File encryption
  • File shredder
  • Gaming mode
  • Microphone protection
  • PC maintenance features
  • Secure browser (hardened browser to protect your online banking)
  • Secure cloud storage (cloud backup)
  • Spam filter
  • Startup optimizer
  • Tune up tools
  • Virtual keyboard
  • Webcam protection

> Test 11: Operating system and multiple devices test

Antivirus software should protect a variety of devices across different operating systems. Some security suites only protect one device, while others protect up to 10. However, not all antivirus software support all operating systems; some focus on Windows, and not on Mac or Android.

We test all antivirus software on every operating system and give bonus points to those offering solid virus protection on each OS.

> Test 12: Ownership and reputation test

We evaluate the reputation of antivirus companies by researching press releases, news articles, and privacy policies. This includes looking into any past incidents of data collection and selling by the company.

A good example is the case of Avast, which was found to have tracked and sold the browsing habits of its users. We want to ensure that the companies we recommend have a good reputation for protecting customer data.

> Test 13: Interface test

For many users, cybersecurity is not a fun subject. Therefore, antivirus software must be quick and easy to install, and intuitive to use. We test the installation speed of every program, their ease of use on default settings, and the complexity of adjusting the advanced settings.

> Test 14: Customer support test

We evaluate the quality of the customer support offered by antivirus companies. We do this by checking the availability of 24/7 live chat, email, and phone support. And by reviewing their knowledge base, forums, and FAQs. We also test their support team’s speed and knowledge by contacting them with a complex question.

> Test 15: Value for money test

We recommend avoiding free antivirus software as they often collect your data and sell it to marketing firms. Instead, opt for paid versions that offer better protection and features than the free versions.

We compare prices and features across the best antiviruses with VPNs and recommend choosing one that offers top-tier anti-malware protection, an unlimited VPN, and a password manager.

How to choose the best antivirus with VPN?

When choosing the right antivirus with a VPN for you, there are three core questions to ask yourself:

  • What operating software are you protecting?
  • What security features will you need?
  • Is it safe to use free antivirus programs? Spoiler Alert: No, it isn’t.

What operating software are you protecting?

Antivirus software typically works well on Windows, but fewer programs offer the same protection on macOS, Android, and iOS.

We recommend Norton as the best antivirus of 2023 for its high malware detection rates and complete security features, including an unlimited VPN and password manager for all operating systems.

Should you want more specific advice for a particular operating system, then we recommend our comparisons below:

What security features will you need?

The features that everyone needs:

  • Anti-malware protects you from viruses, worms, and more.
  • Anti-phishing protects you from malicious links and sites.
  • A two-way firewall blocks dangerous in- and outgoing connections.
  • A password manager creates unique passwords for all your accounts.

The features that you might need:

  • VPN. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a service that encrypts your internet connection and allows you to access the internet anonymously and securely by routing your connection through a server.
  • Ransomware protection. Ransomware protection is a cybersecurity measure that prevents data on a device from being encrypted and held for ransom by malicious actors.
  • Parental controls. Parental controls allow parents to monitor and set limits on their children’s internet usage, such as limiting screen time and blocking certain websites or apps.

Is it safe to use free antivirus programs?

Using free antivirus software may seem like a great way to protect your device without spending any money, but it can actually be incredibly unsafe. One of the main reasons is that free antivirus programs often lack the advanced features and capabilities that paid programs have.

They may only offer basic protection against malware, leaving your device vulnerable to more advanced threats such as ransomware and phishing attacks. Often they don’t even improve on the protection offered by Windows Defender (also known as Microsoft Defender).

Additionally, free antivirus programs may not be updated as frequently as paid programs, meaning that they may not be able to protect against the latest threats.

Another reason why free antivirus software is unsafe is that it can actually put your personal information at risk. Many free antivirus programs collect and sell user data to third-party companies, including sensitive information such as browsing history, location data, and search queries.

This not only puts your privacy at risk, but it can also leave you vulnerable to targeted advertising and phishing attempts. Overall, free antivirus software may seem like a good idea at first, but it’s important to consider the risks and choose a paid program for maximum protection.

What antivirus software have we tested for 2023?

We have tested a wide range of products from 20 different antivirus companies. Where it made sense, we tested the free antivirus program, the paid antivirus software, the paid premium version, and the VPN service.

The free programs usually offered decent malware removal and protection, but not much more. The paid versions were always much better than the free trial and free software.

From all the software above, we believe that Norton, Bitdefender, and Panda are the best premium antivirus programs. Most other antivirus software offers solid protection for Windows devices but only basic protection on other operating systems.

Frequently asked questions

What is the best antivirus with a VPN?

Norton 360 Deluxe is the best antivirus with a VPN included. It offers top-tier anti-malware protection, an unlimited VPN, and a password manager all in one package. Visit our site for an exclusive discount.

Is free antivirus software safe?

We don’t recommend using free antivirus software. They are basic anti-malware tools without extra features. And sometimes, they even spy on you. So stay away from the free version. Buy the paid version instead.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.

Over the years, he has tested most of the best antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.