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The 5 Best Antivirus with VPN (2023 Update)
By Tibor Moes / Updated: September 2023
- 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.
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 an unlimited VPN.
- 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 without a data limit, 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 unlimited VPN and password manager cost extra.
Try it risk-free, thanks to its 30-day return policy.
The best antivirus with VPN
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 VPN:
- 🥇 Norton Antivirus – The #1 in 2023
- Bitdefender Antivirus
- McAfee Antivirus
- Panda Antivirus
- Kaspersky Antivirus
We have tested their anti-malware protection, security features, speed impact, false positives, and price. Scroll down to read the in-depth reviews.
Norton has the best device, privacy, and identity protection. It has all the security features you need and a great price too.
- Malware protection: 100%. Norton averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 protection tests. It is excellent at detecting and removing malware.
- Speed impact: 100%. Norton averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 performance tests. It does not slow down your PC.
- Features: 100%. Norton offers anti-malware, anti-phishing, firewall, unlimited VPN, password manager, parental controls, and more.
- Price: 95%. Norton offers better value for money than all competitors, except for Kaspersky, which is slightly cheaper.
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Norton 360 Antivirus Review
Norton offers the best antivirus protection on all operating systems.
Norton is one of the few brands with a 100% malware protection score. Its real-time malware protection tool, called SONAR, is the best.
To get to this score, we averaged the last 10 test scores by AV-Test, an independent test lab. We also ran our own tests, during which Norton was able to detect malware attacks and phishing attempts in real-time.
Norton SONAR applies heuristic analysis and machine learning to spot known and unknown security risks. This means it identifies new threats through suspicious behavior rather than malicious computer code.
Norton’s Smart Firewall checks incoming and outgoing connections for suspicious behavior. It stops any attack before it becomes a problem.
By contrast, Windows’ firewall only checks incoming connections. It does not monitor whether the software on your computer makes suspicious outgoing connections to other devices.
And that’s not all. Norton’s firewall also cloaks inactive ports, so hackers can’t find them through hacking techniques like port scanning.
Norton’s unlimited VPN (Virtual Private Network) is outstanding. It is fast, secure (AES-256 & OpenVPN), private (no logs), allows torrenting (P2P), and features auto-connect, a kill switch, ad tracker blocking, and a split tunnel.
Most VPN services, like those by Bitdefender, have a daily data limit of 200 MB. To remove the data limit, you’ll have to pay extra. Norton, however, includes its unlimited VPN for free.
Norton’s password manager is excellent. Creating passwords is easy. Auto-filling them is accurate. And you can access your password vault using biometrics scanners (fingerprint or facial recognition).
Prices & Packages
- Norton Antivirus Plus costs € 15 (Europe) or $ 20 (USA). It offers antivirus, a firewall, and a password manager. It protects 1 PC or Mac.
- Norton 360 Standard costs € 30 (Europe) or $ 40 (USA). It adds a VPN and dark web monitoring. It protects 1 (Europe) or 3 (USA) devices.
- Norton 360 Deluxe costs € 35 (Europe) or $ 50 (USA). It adds a privacy monitor and parental controls. It protects 5 devices.
- Norton 360 Advanced costs € 40 in Europe and is not sold in the USA. It adds identity theft protection and protects 10 devices.
- Norton 360 Select + LifeLock costs $ 99 in the USA and is not sold in Europe. It adds LifeLock identity theft protection and protects 10 devices.
In some countries, Norton 360 Advanced is called Norton 360 Premium. This is essentially the same product, without identity theft protection.
- Web protection: Block malicious websites via the Safe Web extension.
- Cloud backup: Back up important files in secure cloud storage.
- Parental controls: Monitor and protect your kids online.
- Privacy monitor: Scan data brokers for your personal information.
- Webcam protection: Prevent unauthorized access to your webcam.
- Dark web monitoring: Scan the dark web for your personal information.
- LifeLock identity theft protection: Discover and restore identity theft.
Note: Norton’s identity protection features are only available in the USA.
Conclusion: Is Norton the best antivirus software of 2023?
Yes, Norton is the best antivirus program in our test.
Modern security software needs to offer far more than just anti-malware protection. By combining device security, online privacy, and identity theft protection, Norton is the best internet security suite you can buy.
You can try Norton risk-free, thanks to its 60-day return policy.
Ranked #2 out of 28 Antivirus
Bitdefender offers excellent protection and bonus features. However, it’s pricey if you want the VPN and password manager.
- Malware protection: 95%. Bitdefender averaged 5.95 out of 6 in the last 10 protection tests. It is excellent at removing malware.
- Speed impact: 100%. Bitdefender averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 performance tests. It does not slow down your PC.
- Features: 95%. It offers anti-malware, anti-phishing, firewall, parental controls, and more. But the VPN and password manager cost extra.
- Price: 75%. If you only want the antivirus, Bitdefender offers great value. But if you want all features, Norton offers a better deal.
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Bitdefender Antivirus Review
Bitdefender’s antivirus engine is famous for its outstanding protection, many security features, and multi-layer ransomware protection, while being light on system resources.
Bitdefender antivirus has a 95% malware protection score. This is the average of the 10 most recent protection tests by AV-Test. It puts Bitdefender ahead of all competitors, except Norton, McAfee, and Kaspersky.
Bitdefender’s real-time protection feature, Advanced Threat Defense, offers solid virus protection and advanced ransomware protection.
It does not rely on traditional malware detection methods, which use virus signatures. Instead, it continuously monitors the behavior of apps. The apps are blocked if Bitdefender spots an anomaly, such as code injection.
This method offers excellent malware detection rates while having a low number of false positives. During our own tests, Bitdefender detected the latest malware types instantly.
Bitdefender’s firewall can block inbound and outbound connections on local networks and the internet. On top of that, Bitdefender detects and blocks port scans that hackers use to find open ports on your device.
Bitdefender’s free VPN has a data limit of 200 MB / day. That equals 5 minutes of streaming at 720p or the opening of 100 websites.
Bitdefender uses Aura’s VPN tech but has built its own apps. The VPN is fast, secure (AES-256 & HydraVPN), private (no logs), allows torrenting, and has a few extra features: start-up, auto-connect, kill switch, and split tunneling.
You will have to buy Bitdefender Premium VPN or Bitdefender Premium Security, for unlimited data transmission.
Bitdefender’s password manager is sold separately. It is not included with Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, Internet Security, or Total Security. To get it, you have to buy it separately or buy Bitdefender Premium Security.
Prices & Packages
- Bitdefender Antivirus Plus starts at € 15 (Europe) or $ 15 (USA). It offers antivirus and anti-phishing. It protects 1 to 10 PCs.
- Bitdefender Internet Security starts at € 19 (Europe) or $ 25 (USA). It adds a firewall and parental controls. It protects 1 to 10 PCs.
- Bitdefender Total Security starts at € 35 (Europe) or $ 40 (USA). It adds an optimizer and support for other OS. It protects 5 to 10 devices.
- Bitdefender Premium Security starts at € 55 (Europe) or $ 60 (USA). It adds an unlimited VPN and password manager. It protects 10 devices.
Note: There is also Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition, the free version of Antivirus Plus. This is the best free antivirus software. But honestly, it’s very basic and not much better than the built-in Microsoft Defender. So instead, we recommend Bitdefender’s paid antivirus software. It’s worth it.
- Online threat prevention: Anti-phishing protection for malicious sites.
- Vulnerability scan: Scan the operating system, apps, and network.
- Ransomware remediation: Restore files encrypted by ransomware.
- Anti-spam: Customize anti-spam for Outlook and Thunderbird.
- Safepay: Open a secure browser for online banking protection.
- Video and audio protection: Webcam and microphone protection.
- Anti-tracker: Remove tracking cookies via this browser extension.
- Parental advisor: Monitor the digital activities of your kids.
- Anti-theft: Locate and wipe your devices remotely.
- One-click optimizer: Clean up your hard drive and browsers.
- Data protection / file shredder: Permanently remove files.
Conclusion: Is Bitdefender the best antivirus software of 2023?
Bitdefender is one of the best antivirus software in our test. Its anti-malware, firewall, password manager, and VPN are highly advanced. On top of that, there are tons of extra features.
However, Bitdefender can be expensive. It sells its password manager and unlimited VPN separately or as part of its Premium Security suite. This makes it pricey if you want all security features.
By contrast, Norton includes these features for free.
You can try Bitdefender risk-free, thanks to its 30-day return policy.
Ranked #3 out of 28 Antivirus
McAfee offers excellent device, privacy, and identity protection. However, some features are only available in the USA.
- Malware protection: 100%. McAfee averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 protection tests. It is excellent at detecting and removing malware.
- Speed impact: 85%. McAfee averaged 5.85 out of 6 in the last 10 performance tests. So it has a minimal impact on your PC’s speed.
- Features: 100%. McAfee offers anti-malware, anti-phishing, firewall, unlimited VPN, password manager, parental controls, and more.
- Price: 95%. McAfee offers better value for money than most competitors, except Kaspersky, which is slightly cheaper.
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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.
McAfee’s cross-platform password manager, True Key, is one of the best.
Creating and storing passwords is easy. Auto-filling them is accurate. And you can use biometrics (facial recognition and fingerprint scanner) to log in. As a result, it can compete with the best password managers, like Dashlane.
Prices & Packages
- McAfee Basic costs € 30 (Europe) or $ 30 (USA). It offers antivirus, anti-phishing, firewall, password manager, and VPN. It protects 1 device.
- McAfee Essential (called McAfee Plus in Europe) costs € 40 (Europe) or $ 40 (USA). It adds no additional features but protects 5 devices.
- McAfee+ Premium costs € 45 (Europe) or $ 45 (USA). It adds a personal data cleanup and protects unlimited devices.
- McAfee+ Advanced costs € 65 (Europe) or $ 80 (USA). It adds identity theft protection and protects unlimited devices.
- McAfee+ Ultimate costs $ 190 (USA) and is not sold in Europe. It adds more identity theft protection features and protects unlimited devices.
McAfee is in the process of renaming its products. So in some countries, you’ll be shown McAfee Total Protection instead, which has the same features as McAfee Basic and Essential.
- Secure Apps: A vulnerability scanner for security updates.
- App Boost: A performance boost for apps you frequently use.
- Browser Security: An anti-phishing browser extension.
- Web Boost: A browser extension that stops videos from auto-playing.
- Tracker Remover: A feature that deletes tracking cookies.
- ID Protection: A dark web scanner for your personal data.
- File Shredder: A shredder that can delete files securely.
- File Lock: An app that creates password-protected file vaults.
- Anti-Spam: An anti-spam feature for Outlook and Thunderbird.
- Safe Family: A parental control feature to monitor and protect kids online.
Conclusion: Is McAfee the best antivirus software of 2023?
McAfee is one of the best antivirus software in our test. Its virus protection gets perfect scores, its password manager is excellent, its unlimited VPN is included for free, and its design is both user-friendly and beautiful.
On top of that, its premium and advanced plans allow you to protect an unlimited number of devices and offer extensive privacy and identity protection features, especially in the United States.
You can try McAfee risk-free, thanks to its 30-day return policy.
Ranked #4 out of 28 Antivirus
Panda offers excellent protection and has flexible pricing. However, it’s expensive if you want the unlimited VPN.
- Malware protection: 99%. Panda averaged 99.9% in the malware protection tests. It is excellent at detecting and removing malware.
- Speed impact: 99%. Panda averaged 99% in the performance tests. So it has almost no impact on your PC’s speed.
- Features: 100%. Panda offers anti-malware, anti-phishing, firewall, unlimited VPN, password manager, parental controls, and more.
- Price: 75%. Panda offers the most flexible pricing of all brands. But, if you want all the security features, Norton is more affordable.
Discount: Save 50% on this secret page
Panda Dome Antivirus Review
Panda offers the most flexible pricing for its antivirus packages.
Panda antivirus scored 99.9% in the real-world protection tests. However, it does have with a higher number of false positives than its competitors, which means that it frequently mistakes harmless software for malware.
This result is the average of all tests by AV-Comparatives since 2020. Usually, we quote AV-Test, another independent test lab. However, Panda does not take part in their tests. Both labs independently test the malware scanning capabilities of free and premium antivirus programs.
Panda combines big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to scan all apps on your device. This allows it to counter known malware and advanced emerging threats like zero-day malware, ransomware, and API’s.
Panda’s firewall filters incoming and outgoing connections on local networks and the internet. It automatically assigns permissions to each application based on its risk level. But you can edit the rules per app.
Panda includes a free VPN with its antivirus products. However, this built-in VPN is limited to 150 MB / day, which isn’t a lot. That equals about 4 minutes of streaming at 720p or the opening of 75 websites.
Like Bitdefender, Panda’s VPN uses Aura’s technology. This means that the VPN is fast, secure (AES-256 & HydraVPN), private (no logs), and allows torrenting. However, it lacks extra features like a kill switch, making its € 50.00 price expensive.
Panda’s password manager is excellent. Generating and storing passwords is easy. Auto-filling them is accurate. And both two-factor authentification and biometrics login is supported.
The design of the browser extension for Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox is identical to the apps on Android and iOS, which gives it a seamless experience across all major operating systems.
Prices & Packages
- Panda Dome Essential starts at € 17 (Europe) or $ 24 (USA). It offers antivirus and a firewall.
- Panda Dome Advanced starts at € 23 (Europe) or $ 28 (USA). It adds anti-phishing and parental controls.
- Panda Dome Complete starts at € 35 (Europe) or $ 43 (USA). It adds a password manager and system optimizer.
- Panda Dome Premium starts at € 60 (Europe) or $ 67 (USA). It adds an unlimited VPN and update manager.
All of Panda’s plans can be upscaled to an unlimited number of devices.
- Safe browsing: Block malicious URLs and phishing sites.
- Dark web scanner: Search the dark web for your email address.
- PC cleanup: Delete cookies or files with the system optimization tools.
- Wi-Fi protection: Check and improve the security of your Wi-Fi network.
- Anti-theft: Locate your PC if it is lost or stolen.
- File encryptor: Encrypt sensitive files with a password.
- File shredder: Securely and permanently delete files.
- USB protection: Scan a USB drive for malware.
Conclusion: Is Panda the best antivirus software of 2023?
Panda is one of the best antivirus software in our test. We really like the password manager and flexible pricing.
But we prefer Norton, because it includes an unlimited VPN at a lower price. And because it offers better protection for Macs and mobile devices.
However, if you only have a Windows PC to protect, Panda’s excellent internet security suites are a great choice.
You can try Panda risk-free, thanks to its 30-day money-back guarantee.
Ranked #5 out of 28 Antivirus
Kaspersky has excellent protection at a low price. But the war in Ukraine raises concerns about its ties to the Russian government.
- Malware protection: 100%. Kaspersky averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 protection tests. It is excellent at removing malware.
- Speed impact: 100%. Kasperksy averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 performance tests. So it does not slow down your PC.
- Features: 100%. Kaspersky has anti-malware, anti-phishing, firewall, unlimited VPN, password manager, parental controls, and more.
- Price: 100%. Kaspersky Plus is the most affordable way to protect a Windows PC with all essential features, including an unlimited VPN.
Discount: Save up to 50%
Kaspersky Anti-Virus Review
Kaspersky offers exceptional online security at a low price.
Kaspersky antivirus has a 100% malware protection score. This was its average in the independent tests by AV-Test since October 2016. This puts it ahead of all other antivirus companies, except Norton and McAfee.
It can offer such excellent malware protection through its triple-layer protection system:
- Locate vulnerabilities and threats proactively via heuristic analysis.
- Block cyber threats in real-time.
- Instantly isolate and remove dangers.
Kaspersky has one of the most advanced firewalls in the industry. It will filter incoming and outgoing network activity on local networks and the internet. And although it works perfectly on the default settings, there are plenty of customization options too.
Kaspersky includes an unlimited VPN for free with Plus and Premium.
Like Bitdefender’s VPN, it uses Aura’s technology. Therefore, the VPN is fast, secure (AES-256 & HydraVPN), and allows torrenting (P2P). It also features several extra features: Auto-connect, kill switch, smart protection, and website protection.
However, by default, Kaspersky will collect information on your device, location, VPN server, and WiFI network (including IP and DNS settings). It does this to improve product quality, send ads and create marketing offers.
Kaspersky’s password manager is excellent. Creating and storing passwords is easy, and auto-filling them is accurate. Unlike Norton and McAfee, Kaspersky’s password manager is a desktop app rather than a web app. But that doesn’t get in the way of a great user experience.
Prices & Packages
- Kaspersky Standard starts at € 20 (Europe) or $ 28 (USA). It offers antivirus, anti-phishing, and a firewall. It protects 1 to 5 devices.
- Kaspersky Plus starts at € 26 (Europe) or $ 37 (USA). It adds a firewall and an unlimited VPN. It protects 1 to 5 devices.
- Kaspersky Premium starts at € 32 (Europe) or $ 48 (USA). It adds identity protection and parental controls. It protects 1 to 20 devices.
Kaspersky has replaced the old product names Kaspersky Anti-Virus, Internet Security, and Total Security, with Standard, Plus, and Premium.
- Internal scan: Scan for worms, spyware, rootkits, and other malware.
- External scan: Scan external drives, like a hard disk or USB drive.
- Vulnerability scan: Scan your device for security risks.
- Kaspersky protection: A hardened browser extension for secure banking.
- Parental controls: Monitor and protect your children online.
- Webcam protection: Block programs from accessing your webcam.
- Private browsing: Block and remove tracking cookies in your browser.
- Backup and restore: Backup files to cloud backup storage.
- File encryption: Lock sensitive files in a secure vault.
- File shredder: Permanently delete files via advanced protocols.
Conclusion: Is Kaspersky the best antivirus software of 2023?
Kaspersky offers excellent antivirus protection. Its anti-malware is industry-leading, its firewall and password manager are excellent, and it provides a wide range of extra features.
Therefore, we prefer Norton, which includes an unlimited VPN for free in its antivirus suite, doesn’t track what you do online, and isn’t caught up in a geopolitical struggle.
You can try Kaspersky risk-free, thanks to its 30-day return policy.
In this section, we will closely examine the following software solutions:
- Norton 360 Standard
- Bitdefender Internet Security with the Premium VPN
- McAfee Basic
- Panda Dome Premium
- Kaspersky Plus
These software selections represent each brand’s most cost-effective offerings that provide essential security measures for a minimum of one PC. Key features include Anti-Malware, Anti-Phishing (Web Protection), Firewall, Password Manager, and Unlimited VPN with no data restrictions.
Test score comparison
We’ve evaluated the last 10 scores from antivirus testing across various brands. The testing was performed by AV-Test, an esteemed German anti-malware laboratory, with three key aspects under scrutiny:
- 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.
The final score is derived from the following formula:
Final Score = 60% Protection + 20% Performance + 20% Usability.
Brands not included in the table did not participate in AV-Test’s analysis, generally a red flag. Most renowned brands, except Panda, ESET, and Sophos, engage in these tests.
We’ve examined the pricing structure of the top antivirus software for Windows. To ensure a fair assessment, we considered the cost associated with safeguarding a Windows PC with fundamental features such as:
- Anti-phishing (web protection)
- Password manager
- Unlimited VPN (no data limit)
- Certain brands lack features, reducing their overall value proposition.
- The prices considered are for the second year in the USA, exclusive of any first-year discounts.
- For simplicity, prices have been rounded up (e.g., $99.99 is considered as $100).
Pricing differs outside the USA, and respective brand websites should be consulted for such information.
We’ve compared the user reviews of all antivirus brands, using TrustPilot, a renowned review platform, as our source. However, treat these results with caution as some brands may actively work to boost their ratings.
We tend to view extremely high ratings with skepticism, particularly for brands such as TotalAV, notorious for their aggressive marketing strategies.
We deem scores between 4.0 and 4.5 as good and realistic. Ratings above this range are suspicious, while those below might suggest inferior product quality or customer service. For example, the scores for McAfee are cause for concern.
Antivirus software buying guide
Below we cover a range of topics:
- What is antivirus software?
- How does antivirus software work?
- How does a VPN work?
- How do we test antivirus software?
- How do we test VPN services?
- How to choose the best antivirus software?
- What cyber threats can antivirus protect you from?
- What cyber threats can antivirus not protect you from?
- What antivirus software have we tested?
Clicks the links to be taken to the one of your choice:
What is antivirus software?
Antivirus software is a type of program designed to safeguard your computer or network from malware, including viruses, ransomware, trojans, and other malicious software. Initially, these programs were created to detect and remove computer viruses, hence the term ‘antivirus’. However, modern antivirus software has evolved beyond these initial capabilities, now offering protection against a wide range of cybersecurity threats.
The primary goal of antivirus software is to detect threats before they can cause harm. It serves as a digital watchdog, constantly scanning your device and network for signs of malicious activities. Additionally, antivirus software often includes additional features such as firewall protection, secure browsing, spam filtering, and protection against phishing attacks, further bolstering your device’s overall security.
For more, read our blog post on what antivirus software is.
How does antivirus software work?
Antivirus software employs a variety of sophisticated techniques to detect and neutralize threats. These techniques can be categorized into three primary methods: Signature-based detection, Heuristic analysis, and Behavior-based detection.
Signature-based detection is the traditional method used by antivirus software. In this approach, the software maintains a vast database of ‘virus signatures’. These signatures are unique bits of code found in known malware.
The antivirus software continually scans your device, comparing files against this database. If it finds a file that matches a known virus signature, it flags the file as a potential threat and takes appropriate action, such as quarantine or deletion.
While signature-based detection is effective against known threats, it struggles with new, unknown malware, also known as ‘zero-day’ threats. This is where heuristic analysis comes in. Instead of looking for known virus signatures, heuristic analysis is designed to identify new or modified malware by analyzing the structure and behavior of files.
It looks for suspicious patterns or characteristics within the file’s code that might indicate malicious intent. While it’s a more proactive approach than signature-based detection, it also runs a higher risk of false positives, marking harmless files as potential threats.
Behavior-based detection, also known as behavioral monitoring, takes a different approach. Rather than examining the structure of files, this method focuses on how applications and processes behave on your system. It continually monitors system activities for unusual behavior that might indicate a malware infection, such as unauthorized access to sensitive files, unexpected changes to system settings, or excessive network traffic.
If the software detects such behavior, it can take immediate action to halt the potentially malicious process. This approach is particularly effective against previously unknown threats and sophisticated malware that can evade signature-based and heuristic detection.
For more, read our blog post on how antivirus software works.
How does a VPN work?
A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is a powerful tool that safeguards your online privacy and ensures secure internet browsing. It operates by establishing a secure, encrypted connection between your device and a server located elsewhere in the world, thereby keeping your online activity private and safeguarding your data from potential eavesdroppers.
Here’s a more detailed explanation of how it works:
When you use a VPN, the software on your device (referred to as the VPN client) establishes a secure connection with a VPN server. This server could be located anywhere globally, depending on the server locations offered by your VPN provider.
Once the connection is established, all your internet traffic—whether it’s browsing data, emails, downloads, or uploads—gets routed through this secure server connection.
One of the key aspects of a VPN is the use of robust encryption protocols. Encryption is the process of encoding information so that only authorized parties can read it. When your data leaves your device, it’s encrypted, sent through your ISP to the VPN server, and only there is it decrypted before heading to its final destination on the web.
This encryption prevents third parties, like your Internet Service Provider (ISP), hackers, or government entities, from viewing your online activities or intercepting your data. It’s particularly useful when using public Wi-Fi networks, which are often unsecured and can expose your data to potential hackers.
IP address masking
Another significant aspect of VPNs is their ability to mask your IP address. Your IP address is a unique identifier assigned to your device by your ISP, providing your device’s location and other information.
When you connect to a VPN server, your device is assigned the IP address of that server, effectively hiding your actual IP address. This gives the appearance that your internet traffic is coming from the VPN server’s location, not your device, thereby preserving your anonymity and allowing you to access location-restricted content.
For more, read our blog posts on VPN:
- What is a VPN?
- What is a VPN kill switch?
- What is a VPN protocol?
- What is VPN split tunneling?
- What is a VPN tunnel?
- VPN types.
In essence, a VPN creates a private, encrypted tunnel for your online activity, providing a higher level of security and privacy than a standard, unencrypted internet connection. It’s an essential tool in the current digital age, where data breaches and privacy concerns are increasingly common.
How do we test antivirus software?
The evaluation of antivirus software requires a comprehensive analysis considering various critical factors. Our method involves assessing antivirus software on six different elements, each carrying its own weight in the final evaluation:
- Anti-malware protection (30%)
- Security and privacy features (30%)
- Speed impact (10%)
- False positives (10%)
- Price (10%)
- Ownership and reputation (10%)
Our goal with this weighted system is to create a holistic and balanced view of each software’s strengths and weaknesses, providing our readers with the most accurate information to make informed decisions.
Anti-malware protection (30%)
Anti-malware protection is one of the most critical aspects of any antivirus software, and it significantly contributes to our scoring system. This facet of our review process involves two key components: In-house testing and analysis of AV-Test results.
In our rigorous in-house testing procedure, we simulate a real-world scenario by exposing the test computer to hundreds of malware samples via USB. We keenly observe if the antivirus software’s malware scanner can successfully detect and neutralize all threats.
In a separate, more aggressive test, we simulate active malware attacks. We execute malicious files and initiate ransomware attacks on the test system. This test is crucial in determining the software’s effectiveness in providing real-time protection against active threats. The antivirus software’s capability to halt these attacks instantly and efficiently plays a significant role in its final rating.
AV-Test is a globally recognized and independent testing organization for antivirus software. They conduct comprehensive and meticulous tests on antivirus products, providing reliable results on their performance.
We consider the results of AV-Test’s protection tests for Windows, Mac, and Android platforms while evaluating the anti-malware protection capabilities of the software under review.
By incorporating AV-Test results, we ensure our reviews reflect the most recent and comprehensive data about the antivirus software’s protection quality in diverse environments. It strengthens our in-house test results, offering a broader perspective on the software’s overall effectiveness in malware protection.
Security and privacy features (30%)
A comprehensive suite of security and privacy features significantly enhances the efficacy of an antivirus program, making it more than just a malware detector. To determine the software’s robustness and versatility, we assess several key security tools. Here’s a detailed explanation of each feature and how we test them:
Web protection (anti-phishing)
Anti-phishing or web protection mechanisms are designed to detect and block deceptive or malicious websites that aim to steal your sensitive information. We test this feature by navigating to known phishing sites and other dangerous web addresses. The antivirus software should promptly alert us and block access to these sites to pass our test.
A firewall serves as a digital barrier between your device and the internet, blocking unauthorized access and suspicious traffic. We evaluate this feature by running network penetration tests to see if the antivirus software’s firewall can effectively thwart these attempts.
Password managers store and encrypt your passwords, relieving you from remembering complex passwords and enhancing your account’s security. We assess this feature’s functionality and user-friendliness, examining its password generation, auto-fill capabilities, and security standards.
Virtual private network (VPN)
A VPN provides online anonymity and protects your data by establishing an encrypted connection to the internet. We gauge the VPN’s performance in terms of speed, server locations, and its ability to access geographically restricted content. We also scrutinize its encryption standards and data logging policies.
Parental controls allow parents to manage their children’s internet usage and access to inappropriate content. We assess the versatility of these controls, such as filtering options, time limits, and activity tracking.
Identity theft protection
Identity theft protection monitors your personal information on the internet, alerting you if your data appears in potentially unauthorized places. We evaluate its monitoring capabilities, alerts, and remediation services, checking if it effectively safeguards your identity.
Secure cloud storage (cloud backup)
Secure cloud storage provides a safe space to back up important files and data, protecting them from loss due to malware attacks. We test its storage capacity, encryption standards, and the ease of data retrieval.
Anti-ransomware features detect and stop ransomware attacks that encrypt your data and demand a ransom. We run controlled ransomware attacks on our test systems to verify if the antivirus software can thwart these threats effectively and restore encrypted files.
Dark web monitoring
Dark web monitoring scans the dark web for your personal information, notifying you if it appears on illicit platforms. We examine the depth and breadth of its scanning capabilities and the responsiveness of its alert system.
Through these thorough evaluations, we aim to provide a comprehensive view of each antivirus software’s security and privacy features, highlighting their strengths and areas for improvement.
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%)
We consider the performance impact of antivirus software on system speed crucial to our evaluation. Here, we lean on the performance tests conducted by the AV-Test Institute.
These tests measure the system slowdown caused by antivirus software during standard and high-demand operations, such as launching popular websites, downloading and installing frequently-used applications, and running programs in the background. The best antivirus software should provide robust protection without significantly hindering your system’s performance.
False positives (10%)
False positives, instances where antivirus software wrongly identifies benign files or behaviors as malicious, can be frustrating and potentially disruptive. To assess this aspect, we refer to the usability tests conducted by AV-Test.
These tests measure the frequency of false alarms during the execution of software that is typically used by many users, while installing and using legitimate software, and during visits to websites. A lower rate of false positives indicates higher quality antivirus software.
Value for money is another key factor in our evaluation. We compare the features offered against the price charged. It’s crucial to note that there can be significant differences between first-year prices (often discounted) and renewal prices in subsequent years. We aim to highlight this in our analysis, making sure that our readers are well-informed about the ongoing costs of using the software.
Ownership and reputation (10%)
The reputation and track record of the company behind the antivirus software can be telling. Not all companies uphold the same ethical standards or maintain the same commitment to user privacy and data security.
A case in point is the Avast scandal, where user data was sold via a subsidiary named Jumpshot. This incident significantly damaged Avast’s reputation. We delve into the ownership and past conduct of these companies, offering our readers a holistic understanding of who they’re entrusting with their digital safety.
For more, read our blog post on how we test antivirus software.
How do we test VPN services?
To ensure a thorough evaluation of VPN services, we break down our assessment into nine core elements, each having a different weight in our overall scoring:
- Privacy & Logging Policy (25%)
- Speed (15%)
- Security & Technical Features (15%)
- Streaming (15%)
- Ease of Use (10%)
- Server Locations (5%)
- Torrenting (5%)
- Bypassing Censorship (5%)
- Customer Support (5%)
This method enables us to paint a comprehensive picture of each VPN’s performance, considering all critical aspects a potential user might value.
Privacy & logging policy (25%)
Privacy is a cornerstone of any VPN service, and its logging policy directly affects this aspect. We scrutinize the provider’s logging policy, looking for a strict no-logs policy that ensures no identifiable user activity or personal data is recorded.
Speed can significantly impact a user’s VPN experience. We perform speed tests using various server locations, looking at download and upload speeds and latency. VPNs with minimal speed reductions score higher in our tests.
Security & technical features (15%)
We assess the VPN security features, looking at encryption protocols, kill-switch functionality, DNS leak protection, and any other advanced security features. These factors contribute to how secure your data is while using the VPN.
Many users rely on VPNs for streaming geo-restricted content. We test the VPN’s ability to access popular streaming services like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and others from different server locations.
Ease of use (10%)
A VPN should be user-friendly, with an intuitive interface that simplifies its operation. We examine the setup process, the design of the client software for different platforms, and the clarity of the settings and options.
Server locations (5%)
More server locations offer greater flexibility to users. We look at the number of servers and their distribution worldwide. The ability to provide stable connections and maintain speeds is also considered.
We verify whether the VPN connection allows torrenting and assess its performance in terms of speed and security during P2P file sharing. We also check whether it has dedicated P2P servers.
Bypassing censorship (5%)
A key use of VPNs is to bypass censorship in countries with internet restrictions. We test the VPN’s ability to bypass stringent firewalls like the Great Firewall of China.
Customer support (5%)
Responsive and efficient customer support can enhance a user’s experience with the VPN service. We evaluate the provider’s customer service on responsiveness, availability of live chat, and the quality of help resources.
Our methodology ensures that our VPN reviews are balanced, comprehensive, and truly reflect the quality and performance of the service. We aim to assist our readers in making an informed choice based on their specific needs.
How to choose the best antivirus software?
When it comes to selecting the right antivirus software, there are several crucial factors to consider. These include how effectively the software protects against malware, the frequency and quality of security updates, the range of security features offered, the performance impact on your system, the quality of customer support, and the cost. Let’s delve into each of these elements:
Reliable protection from malware
At the heart of any antivirus software is its ability to provide reliable protection against all types of malware, including viruses, worms, ransomware, and spyware. Look for an antivirus that offers real-time protection, constantly scanning your system for threats. A good antivirus should be able to catch threats before they infiltrate your system, but it should also be able to efficiently remove any malware that has already taken root.
Given the rapidly evolving nature of online threats, it’s essential to choose an antivirus that regularly updates its malware database and software. Regular updates ensure that your antivirus software can recognize and guard against the latest threats. Check whether the antivirus software offers automatic updates for a seamless, uninterrupted protection.
Antivirus software should provide more than just basic malware protection. Additional security features such as a built-in firewall, web protection for safe browsing, a password manager, a secure VPN for online privacy, and parental controls add more layers to your digital safety. Depending on your needs, you might also appreciate features like identity theft protection, dark web monitoring, and secure cloud backup.
Every antivirus software uses some of your system’s resources to operate. However, the best ones are designed to minimize this impact, allowing you to continue using your device smoothly while the software runs in the background. Ensure the antivirus software you choose does not significantly slow down your computer’s performance.
Good customer support can be a lifesaver if you encounter any problems with your antivirus software or if you need help dealing with a detected threat. Look for companies that offer comprehensive customer support, preferably with 24/7 live chat or phone support, an extensive online knowledge base, and responsive email support.
First-year and second price
While free antivirus software is available, paid options often provide more comprehensive protection and additional features. When considering the cost, look beyond the first-year promotional price. Many companies offer significant discounts for the first year, but the renewal price can be much higher. Make sure you are comfortable with the long-term costs before committing.
By evaluating antivirus software on these parameters, you can select a solution that offers robust protection, suits your specific needs, and fits within your budget.
If you have a specific operating system that you would like to protect, we probably have a dedicated antivirus comparison for it:
- The best antivirus of 2023 – For all OS.
- The best antivirus for Windows 11 – For Microsoft’s latest desktop OS.
- The best antivirus for macOS – For Apple’s desktop OS.
- The best antivirus for Android – For Google’s mobile OS.
- The best antivirus for iPhone – For Apple’s mobile OS.
- The best antivirus with a VPN – For both security and privacy.
- The best VPN providers – For a dedicated privacy solution.
Click the links to be taken to your comparison of choice.
What cyber threats can antivirus protect you from?
Antivirus software serves as your first line of defense against a multitude of cyber threats. While not an all-encompassing shield, it can effectively counter numerous types of malicious software and suspicious activities that intend to exploit, damage, or intrude your digital space. Let’s explore these threats in more detail:
Malware is a broad term that encompasses various forms of harmful software, including viruses, ransomware, spyware, and more. It is typically designed to damage or disrupt computers, servers, networks, and the data they contain.
Adware, or advertising-supported software, automatically generates and displays advertisements on your device. While not always harmful, it can be intrusive, hindering your user experience. Some adware may track your online activities and sell your data to third parties, jeopardizing your privacy.
Botnets are networks of computers infected with malicious software and controlled as a group without the owners’ knowledge. Cybercriminals use botnets for various nefarious activities, including distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, sending spam emails, and mining cryptocurrencies.
Keyloggers are a type of monitoring software designed to record keystrokes on a keyboard without the user’s knowledge. They are often used to steal sensitive information like usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, and other private data.
Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts a user’s files. The attacker then demands a ransom from the victim to restore access to the data upon payment. Users are typically shown instructions on how to pay a fee to get the decryption key.
Rootkits are a type of software that allows an unauthorized user to take control of a computer system without being detected. They are often used to hide the existence of certain processes or programs from normal detection methods and allow privileged access to a computer.
Spyware is malicious software that infiltrates your device, stealing your internet usage data and sensitive information. It can record your passwords, credit card details, and other personal information, often transmitting this data to cybercriminals.
Named after the Greek story of the Trojan Horse, a Trojan is a type of malicious software that disguises itself as a normal file or program to trick users into downloading and installing malware.
A computer virus is a type of malicious software that, when executed, replicates by modifying other computer programs and inserting its own code. When this replication succeeds, the affected areas are then said to be “infected”.
Worms are a type of malware that spread copies of themselves from computer to computer. They can replicate without any human interaction and primarily exploit vulnerabilities in an operating system.
Having robust antivirus software can protect your device from these and many other threats, ensuring you can use your device safely and confidently.
What cyber threats can antivirus not protect you from?
While antivirus software is incredibly effective at blocking and removing a variety of cyber threats, there are certain areas where it can’t guarantee complete protection. These threats primarily involve human interaction and exploitation of unknown vulnerabilities, which are difficult for software to predict and mitigate. Let’s take a closer look:
Phishing refers to deceptive attempts, usually through emails or deceptive websites, to steal sensitive information like usernames, passwords, credit card numbers, etc. They masquerade as a trustworthy entity and trick users into divulging their personal information. While some antivirus software includes anti-phishing tools, they cannot prevent a user from voluntarily providing their data to a phisher.
Online scams come in many forms, including false advertisements, fraudulent auctions, or even sophisticated investment opportunities. Antivirus software can often block known fraudulent websites, but it cannot completely protect users from newly created scams or those cleverly disguised as legitimate operations. Vigilance and a healthy skepticism are the best defenses.
For more, read our blog post on online scams.
Social engineering involves the manipulation of individuals into performing actions or divulging confidential information. It plays on human psychology and trust, often convincing victims to bypass security measures themselves. As this involves human judgment and decision-making, antivirus software has limited ability to protect against these types of threats.
For more, read our blog post on social engineering.
A zero-day exploit is a cyber-attack that occurs on the same day a weakness is discovered in software. Because by definition, it occurs before the developer has a chance to create a patch, antivirus software is typically unable to defend against these attacks. However, some security software incorporates behavioral-based detection systems to counter these threats, but these are not always 100% effective.
For more, read our blog post on zero-day exploits.
These vulnerabilities underline the importance of a multi-layered approach to cybersecurity, combining the use of reliable antivirus software with educated and cautious online behavior. Being aware of these threats is the first step in staying protected in the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats.
What antivirus software have we tested?
We have tested 28 antivirus brands, ranging from entry-level free antivirus programs, to mid-range paid antivirus software and full-featured internet security suites. Below is the list of the 20 most important brands:
- Bitdefender Antivirus
- McAfee Antivirus
- Microsoft Defender (Windows Defender)
- Norton Antivirus
- PC Matic
- Trend Micro
The best antivirus programs are Norton 360 Deluxe, Norton 360 Advanced, and Bitdefender Total Security. By comparison, the other antivirus software cost too much, offer less capable protection from malware threats, or have no unlimited VPN access.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are the most frequently asked questions.
What is the best antivirus software with a VPN?
Do you need antivirus software and a VPN?
Antivirus software is essential for safeguarding your data, and a VPN ensures online privacy. Using both provides comprehensive security.
How does antivirus software work?
Antivirus software scans, identifies, and eliminates threats in your system to maintain its safety and efficiency.
Will antivirus software slow down your device?
Is free antivirus software safe?
Free antivirus software often lacks comprehensive protection and could pose risks. We recommend trusted, paid options.
Is Kaspersky still safe?
Kaspersky, although Russian, hasn’t been proven unsafe. It continues to provide reliable antivirus protection.
Languages and sources
Similar pages in other languages on SoftwareLab.org:
Below are the sources and tools we’ve used to test the antivirus software:
- Apple Platform Security
- AV-Comparatives Consumer
- AV-Test Android
- AV-Test macOS
- AV-Test Windows
- BrowserLeaks – Data Leak Test
- Exodus – Privacy Audit Android
- GRC Firewall Test
- Microsoft Defender
- SpeedTest VPN
- Trustpilot Security Software
Author: Tibor Moes
Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab