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The 5 Best Internet Security Software (2023 Update)
By Tibor Moes / Updated: September 2023
Do you need internet security software? Yes, you do. In our digital age, every click, tap, or swipe exposes us to potential cyber threats.
- Firstly, consider the value of your sensitive data. From banking information to private emails, robust internet security software shields your private life from prying eyes.
- Secondly, think about the endless cyber risks out there. Malware, ransomware, phishing – the list goes on. A strong security software acts as your digital bodyguard, tirelessly fending off these attacks.
- Lastly, imagine the peace of mind you’ll have. Knowing your digital world is safe, lets you browse, shop, and socialize online without fear.
By buying the best internet security software, you will secure your cyber presence, ward off harmful threats, and enjoy your digital life with confidence and serenity.
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 internet security software of 2023.
- Malware protection: 100%. In the last 10 tests, Norton removed all malware. It will protect you against all threats.
- Speed impact: 100%. In the last 10 tests, Norton had no impact on the speed of the test PC. It will not slow you down.
- Features: 100%. Anti-phishing, firewall, VPN, password manager, identity protection, cloud backup, and more.
Try it risk-free, thanks to its 60-day return policy.
Ranked #2 of 28 antivirus
- Malware Protection 95% 95%
- Speed Impact 100% 100%
Bitdefender offers excellent protection and bonus features. However, it’s expensive if you want the VPN and password manager.
- Malware protection: 95%. In the last 10 tests, Bitdefender removed nearly all malware. It offers great protection.
- Speed impact: 100%. In the last 10 tests, It had no impact on the speed of the test PC. It will not slow you down.
- Features: 95%. Anti-phishing, firewall, and more. But the VPN and password manager cost extra.
Try it risk-free, thanks to its 30-day return policy.
The best internet security software
We have reviewed security software since 2014. Based on our in-depth tests of 28 brands in 2023, these are the best internet security software:
- 🥇 Norton Antivirus – The #1 in 2023
- Bitdefender Antivirus
- McAfee Antivirus
- Panda Antivirus
- Kaspersky Antivirus
We have tested their anti-malware protection, security features, speed impact, false positives, and price. Scroll down to read the in-depth reviews.
Norton has the best device, privacy, and identity protection. It has all the security features you need and a great price too.
- Malware protection: 100%. Norton averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 protection tests. It is excellent at detecting and removing malware.
- Speed impact: 100%. Norton averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 performance tests. It does not slow down your PC.
- Features: 100%. Norton offers anti-malware, anti-phishing, firewall, unlimited VPN, password manager, parental controls, and more.
- Price: 95%. Norton offers better value for money than all competitors, except for Kaspersky, which is slightly cheaper.
Discount: Temporarily save up to 70% 🔥
Norton 360 Antivirus Review
Norton offers the best antivirus protection on all operating systems.
Norton is one of the few brands with a 100% malware protection score. Its real-time malware protection tool, called SONAR, is the best.
To get to this score, we averaged the last 10 test scores by AV-Test, an independent test lab. We also ran our own tests, during which Norton was able to detect malware attacks and phishing attempts in real-time.
Norton SONAR applies heuristic analysis and machine learning to spot known and unknown security risks. This means it identifies new threats through suspicious behavior rather than malicious computer code.
Norton’s Smart Firewall checks incoming and outgoing connections for suspicious behavior. It stops any attack before it becomes a problem.
By contrast, Windows’ firewall only checks incoming connections. It does not monitor whether the software on your computer makes suspicious outgoing connections to other devices.
And that’s not all. Norton’s firewall also cloaks inactive ports, so hackers can’t find them through hacking techniques like port scanning.
Norton’s unlimited VPN (Virtual Private Network) is outstanding. It is fast, secure (AES-256 & OpenVPN), private (no logs), allows torrenting (P2P), and features auto-connect, a kill switch, ad tracker blocking, and a split tunnel.
Most VPN services, like those by Bitdefender, have a daily data limit of 200 MB. To remove the data limit, you’ll have to pay extra. Norton, however, includes its unlimited VPN for free.
Norton’s password manager is excellent. Creating passwords is easy. Auto-filling them is accurate. And you can access your password vault using biometrics scanners (fingerprint or facial recognition).
Prices & Packages
- Norton Antivirus Plus costs € 15 (Europe) or $ 20 (USA). It offers antivirus, a firewall, and a password manager. It protects 1 PC or Mac.
- Norton 360 Standard costs € 30 (Europe) or $ 40 (USA). It adds a VPN and dark web monitoring. It protects 1 (Europe) or 3 (USA) devices.
- Norton 360 Deluxe costs € 35 (Europe) or $ 50 (USA). It adds a privacy monitor and parental controls. It protects 5 devices.
- Norton 360 Advanced costs € 40 in Europe and is not sold in the USA. It adds identity theft protection and protects 10 devices.
- Norton 360 Select + LifeLock costs $ 99 in the USA and is not sold in Europe. It adds LifeLock identity theft protection and protects 10 devices.
In some countries, Norton 360 Advanced is called Norton 360 Premium. This is essentially the same product, without identity theft protection.
- Web protection: Block malicious websites via the Safe Web extension.
- Cloud backup: Back up important files in secure cloud storage.
- Parental controls: Monitor and protect your kids online.
- Privacy monitor: Scan data brokers for your personal information.
- Webcam protection: Prevent unauthorized access to your webcam.
- Dark web monitoring: Scan the dark web for your personal information.
- LifeLock identity theft protection: Discover and restore identity theft.
Note: Norton’s identity protection features are only available in the USA.
Conclusion: Is Norton the best internet security software of 2023?
Yes, Norton is the best internet security 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 brands
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 internet security software of 2023?
Bitdefender is one of the best internet security 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 brands
McAfee offers excellent device, privacy, and identity protection. However, some features are only available in the USA.
- Malware protection: 100%. McAfee averaged 6 out of 6 in the last 10 protection tests. It is excellent at detecting and removing malware.
- Speed impact: 85%. McAfee averaged 5.85 out of 6 in the last 10 performance tests. So it has a minimal impact on your PC’s speed.
- Features: 100%. McAfee offers anti-malware, anti-phishing, firewall, unlimited VPN, password manager, parental controls, and more.
- Price: 95%. McAfee offers better value for money than most competitors, except Kaspersky, which is slightly cheaper.
Discount: Save 70% on this secret page
McAfee Antivirus Review
McAfee allows you to protect an unlimited number of devices.
McAfee is among the few brands with a 100% anti-malware test score. It has improved its cybersecurity tools a lot in recent years. Since April 2020, it has achieved a perfect 100% score in every protection test by AV-Test.
In our tests, McAfee offered reliable protection against malicious software and cyber threats. Which means that it successfully detected and removed all offline and online threats.
McAfee can reach these results because of its Scan Engine:
- It runs antivirus scans and matches files with malware samples.
- It executes malicious code in a safe environment, called a sandbox.
- It applies heuristic techniques to recognize new malicious threats.
- It removes dangerous code from corrupted files.
McAfee’s excellent firewall filters both in- and outgoing traffic. On top of that, McAfee hides open ports so that hackers can’t identify unused ones with their port scanning techniques.
McAfee’s VPN, Safe Connect, is free and offers unlimited data. It’s fast, secure (AES-256), private (no activity logs), has servers in 45 countries, works with Netflix on many servers, and allows torrenting.
However, it’s not perfect. For instance, not all security features (like the kill switch and split tunnel) are available on all operating systems. And if you turn off auto-renew, the VPN is limited to 500 MB / day.
McAfee’s cross-platform password manager, True Key, is one of the best.
Creating and storing passwords is easy. Auto-filling them is accurate. And you can use biometrics (facial recognition and fingerprint scanner) to log in. As a result, it can compete with the best password managers, like Dashlane.
Prices & Packages
- McAfee Basic costs € 30 (Europe) or $ 30 (USA). It offers antivirus, anti-phishing, firewall, password manager, and VPN. It protects 1 device.
- McAfee Essential (called McAfee Plus in Europe) costs € 40 (Europe) or $ 40 (USA). It adds no additional features but protects 5 devices.
- McAfee+ Premium costs € 45 (Europe) or $ 45 (USA). It adds a personal data cleanup and protects unlimited devices.
- McAfee+ Advanced costs € 65 (Europe) or $ 80 (USA). It adds identity theft protection and protects unlimited devices.
- McAfee+ Ultimate costs $ 190 (USA) and is not sold in Europe. It adds more identity theft protection features and protects unlimited devices.
McAfee is in the process of renaming its products. So in some countries, you’ll be shown McAfee Total Protection instead, which has the same features as McAfee Basic and Essential.
- Secure Apps: A vulnerability scanner for security updates.
- App Boost: A performance boost for apps you frequently use.
- Browser Security: An anti-phishing browser extension.
- Web Boost: A browser extension that stops videos from auto-playing.
- Tracker Remover: A feature that deletes tracking cookies.
- ID Protection: A dark web scanner for your personal data.
- File Shredder: A shredder that can delete files securely.
- File Lock: An app that creates password-protected file vaults.
- Anti-Spam: An anti-spam feature for Outlook and Thunderbird.
- Safe Family: A parental control feature to monitor and protect kids online.
Conclusion: Is McAfee the best internet security software of 2023?
McAfee is one of the best internet security 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 internet security software of 2023?
Kaspersky offers excellent internet security protection. Its anti-malware is industry-leading, its firewall and password manager are excellent, and it provides a wide range of extra features.
Therefore, we prefer Norton, which includes an unlimited VPN for free in its antivirus suite, doesn’t track what you do online, and isn’t caught up in a geopolitical struggle.
You can try Kaspersky risk-free, thanks to its 30-day return policy.
Below, we compare the following products:
- Norton 360 Standard
- Bitdefender Internet Security with the Premium VPN
- McAfee Basic
- Panda Dome Premium
- Kaspersky Plus
These products offer the best bang for your buck in their respective brands, covering a minimum of 1 PC and providing vital features like Anti-Malware, Anti-Phishing (Web Protection), Firewall, Password Manager, and Unlimited VPN without data restrictions.
Test score comparison
We’ve examined the latest ten test scores from all antivirus brands, as evaluated by the German anti-malware test lab, AV-Test. They rate each product on three criteria:
- Protection (1-6): Antivirus protection against malware attacks.
- Performance (1-6): System slowdown caused by the antivirus.
- Usability (1-6): Frequency of false alarms and disruptions.
We used their results, and this formula, to calculate the final score:
Final Score = 60% Protection + 20% Performance + 20% Usability.
Brands missing from the table did not participate in AV-Test’s evaluation – often a red flag. Most reputable brands, except Panda, ESET, and Sophos, usually take part in the test.
We’ve evaluated the price tags of top-tier antivirus software for Windows. For a balanced comparison, we considered the cost to safeguard a Windows PC with key features:
- Anti-phishing (web protection)
- Password manager
- Unlimited VPN (no data limit)
A few notes:
- Some brands are missing features, lowering their value for money.
- Prices are second-year prices in the USA, without first-year discounts.
- Prices are rounded up for readability (e.g., $99.99 becomes $100).
Prices may vary outside the US. Visit the brand websites for international pricing.
We’ve collected and analyzed user reviews from all antivirus brands, primarily focusing on scores and review counts from TrustPilot, a leading customer feedback platform. It’s worth treating these results with some skepticism, as certain brands may try to artificially inflate their ratings.
We approach extremely high scores with caution. This is particularly true for brands like TotalAV, noted for their aggressive marketing and sales strategies.
We believe scores ranging from 4.0 to 4.5 are good and realistic. Higher scores raise suspicions, and lower scores suggest potential issues with the product or customer service. For instance, McAfee’s scores give cause for concern.
Internet security software buying guide
Below we cover a range of topics:
- What is internet security software?
- How does internet security software work?
- What’s the difference between internet security and antivirus?
- How do we test internet security software?
- How to choose the best internet-security software?
- What cyber threats can internet security protect you from?
- What cyber threats can internet security not protect you from?
- What internet security software have we tested?
Clicks the links to be taken to the one of your choice:
What is internet security software?
Internet security software is a suite of programs designed to protect your digital world. It acts as a gatekeeper, securing your computer and online activities against a variety of cyber threats such as viruses, malware, spyware, ransomware, phishing attacks, and more.
More than just an antivirus, this software often includes additional features like a firewall, VPN (Virtual Private Network), password manager, and parental controls. By providing a multi-layered shield of defense, it ensures your data stays safe and your online experience remains uninterrupted and secure.
For more, read our blog post on what internet security software is.
How does internet security software work?
Internet security works by constantly monitoring your computer and online interactions for signs of malicious activity. It utilizes various methods to detect and eliminate threats, ensuring your digital world remains safe. These methods typically include signature-based detection, heuristic analysis, and behavior-based detection.
Signature-based detection is one of the most traditional methods used by antivirus software. It works by comparing the files on your system to a database of known virus “signatures” – essentially, the digital fingerprints of identified threats. If a file’s characteristics match a signature in the database, the antivirus software flags it as potentially harmful and takes appropriate action, such as deleting or quarantining the file.
However, signature-based detection is only effective against known threats, which is why it’s often used in combination with other detection methods.
Heuristic analysis adds a proactive layer to antivirus protection. Rather than solely relying on known virus signatures, heuristic analysis attempts to identify new, unknown viruses or variations of existing viruses. It does this by analyzing a file’s structure, behavior, and other characteristics to detect potentially malicious code.
For instance, if a program attempts to write data to an executable file, a heuristic analysis might flag this as suspicious behavior indicative of a virus.
Behavior-based detection, also known as behavioral analysis, further enhances the antivirus’s ability to detect and neutralize threats. It monitors the behavior of applications in real-time, identifying actions that deviate from typical, safe operations. For example, a program trying to modify system files or send data to an unrecognized IP address might trigger the behavior-based detection system.
This method is particularly effective against zero-day attacks, which are new threats that aren’t yet recorded in virus signature databases.
For more, read our blog post on how antivirus software works.
What’s the difference between internet security and antivirus?
While the terms “internet security” and “antivirus” are often used interchangeably, there are key differences to understand. Essentially, all internet security software is antivirus, but not all antivirus software is internet security.
Antivirus software is a program or set of programs designed to prevent, search for, detect, and remove software viruses and other malicious software like worms, trojans, adware, and more. Its main purpose is to safeguard your computer system from potential threats that can damage or disrupt its operation.
Internet security, on the other hand, is a more comprehensive solution. It still includes antivirus protection as a core feature but goes a step further by providing protection against a broader array of threats that you encounter while surfing the internet. These can include phishing attacks, spyware, ransomware, rootkits, and more.
Additionally, internet security suites usually come equipped with a range of other protective features not typically found in basic antivirus software. These can include a firewall to block unauthorized access to your system, a VPN for secure browsing, parental controls for safe web usage by kids, a password manager to store and manage your passwords securely, and anti-spam tools to ward off malicious emails.
In summary, while antivirus software provides necessary protection against specific threats, internet security offers a more comprehensive safety net, covering a wider range of potential cyber risks and providing additional tools for enhanced online safety.
For more, read our blog post on the difference between internet security and antivirus software.
How do we test internet security software?
Our comprehensive approach to testing internet security software hinges on six key elements, each contributing a different weight to our final assessment:
- Anti-malware protection (30%)
- Security and privacy features (30%)
- Speed impact (10%)
- False positives (10%)
- Price (10%)
- Ownership and reputation (10%)
By evaluating these crucial aspects, we ensure an all-around assessment that delves beyond just feature comparison, ensuring that you get a product that’s high-performing, reliable, and value-for-money.
Anti-malware protection (30%)
The core function of any security software is its ability to shield your device from malware threats. To assess this, we utilize a two-pronged approach: in-house testing and analyzing third-party results from AV-Test.
Our in-house tests put antivirus software through rigorous real-world scenarios. We bombard our test PC with hundreds of malware samples via USB to gauge the software’s scanning capability. This test primarily observes if the malware scanner can successfully detect and neutralize all threats.
Following this, we simulate live malware attacks by executing malware files and initiating ransomware attacks. This tests the real-time protection feature of the software, providing a clear picture of how the antivirus reacts and responds to live threats. Through this robust methodology, we ascertain whether the software is truly effective in thwarting various malware attacks.
We supplement our in-house tests with results from AV-Test, a respected independent testing lab. They run periodic evaluations on a host of antivirus products for Windows, Mac, and Android platforms, providing an objective overview of their protective capabilities.
By integrating their results with ours, we offer a holistic and unbiased perspective on the anti-malware efficacy of each internet security software.
Security and privacy features (30%)
A robust internet security suite goes beyond just antivirus protection. It provides a broad range of additional features to enhance your online security and privacy. We meticulously test each of these features for effectiveness, ease of use, and integration within the overall software package.
Web protection (anti-phishing)
Web protection, or anti-phishing, works by scanning and blocking malicious websites that aim to steal your personal information. We test this feature by attempting to access known malicious websites and observing if the software correctly identifies and blocks them, keeping user data safe from phishing attacks.
A firewall controls network traffic, allowing or denying communications based on predefined security rules. We test the firewall’s effectiveness by simulating various network attacks and checking whether it can efficiently block them without disrupting normal network activities.
A password manager securely stores all your passwords, generating strong and unique passwords when needed. We evaluate the password manager for its encryption standards, ease of use, and the ability to generate and auto-fill passwords across various websites and apps.
Virtual private network (VPN)
A VPN creates a secure, encrypted connection to the internet, ensuring privacy and anonymity. We assess the VPN for its speed, server locations, and effectiveness in protecting your IP address and encrypting your data, especially when connected to public Wi-Fi networks.
Parental controls help safeguard your children online by limiting access to age-inappropriate content and managing screen time. We evaluate the comprehensiveness of these controls, their ease of customization, and how well they enforce the set rules across various devices and platforms.
Identity theft protection
Identity theft protection monitors your personal information, alerting you to potential threats like unauthorized use of your financial details. We gauge this feature by examining the breadth of monitoring, the speed and clarity of alerts, and the assistance provided in case of identity theft.
Secure cloud storage (cloud backup)
Secure cloud storage allows you to back up important files in an encrypted format, safeguarding them from data loss or ransomware attacks. We assess this feature by testing the backup and restore processes, encryption strength, and storage capacity.
Anti-ransomware defends your system against ransomware attacks that encrypt your files and demand a ransom for their release. We test this feature by simulating ransomware attacks to see if the software can prevent them and restore any affected files.
Dark web monitoring
Dark web monitoring scans the dark web for your personal information, alerting you if it appears in potentially malicious contexts. We evaluate this feature based on its ability to detect exposed personal data and alert users promptly, thereby enabling them to take preventative measures.
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%)
One critical aspect of testing internet security software is its impact on system performance. A robust antivirus shouldn’t compromise your system’s speed or hinder your daily tasks.
We rely on AV-Test’s performance evaluations to guide our analysis in this regard. They conduct comprehensive tests by executing common tasks, such as loading websites, downloading files, installing and launching applications, and copying data. These tests provide valuable insights into the potential slowdown a user might experience with the antivirus software active.
False positives (10%)
False positives refer to instances where harmless files or operations are flagged as malicious by the antivirus software. Too many false positives can lead to user frustration and potentially dangerous actions, such as turning off real-time protection.
We use AV-Test’s usability tests, which quantify the frequency of false alarms during system scans and daily usage, including while installing and using third-party software. These results provide a clear indicator of how discerning and accurate the antivirus software is in differentiating threats from non-threats.
When it comes to price, we focus on value for money. Not all antivirus software are priced equally, and a higher cost doesn’t always translate to better protection. We compare the features and performance of each product against its price.
It’s also crucial to note the significant price differences between the first and subsequent years due to introductory discounts. We make sure to consider these aspects to give you a realistic picture of the long-term costs associated with each product.
Ownership and reputation (10%)
The reputation and ethical practices of the company behind the antivirus software are equally important. Trust is a crucial factor in cybersecurity, and not all companies are created equal in this regard.
For instance, the scandal involving Avast selling user data through a subsidiary, Jumpshot, highlighted the potential issues related to data privacy and misuse.
We take into account such instances, along with factors like company ownership, history, customer service quality, and user reviews, to evaluate the overall credibility and reliability of the brand.
For more, read our blog post on how we test antivirus software.
How to choose the best internet security software?
When choosing the best internet security software, it’s crucial to consider multiple elements that contribute to comprehensive protection, usability, and value for money. Each aspect plays a critical role in ensuring that you have an effective defense system that suits your specific needs and usage habits.
Reliable protection from malware
The primary function of any internet security software is to provide reliable protection against various malware types, including viruses, worms, trojans, ransomware, spyware, and more. You want a solution that consistently blocks these threats in real-time and effectively removes any that make it onto your system.
Independent lab test results, such as those from AV-Test, are a good source for unbiased evaluations of an antivirus product’s protective capabilities.
Cyber threats are continuously evolving, and your antivirus software needs to keep pace. Regular security updates are crucial to ensure your software can effectively combat the latest malware variants and exploit strategies. Choose a product that offers frequent, automatic updates to its malware database and software capabilities.
The best internet security software goes beyond basic malware protection. Additional features like a firewall, VPN, password manager, parental controls, and identity theft protection significantly enhance your overall security posture. Look for these features in any solution you consider, and ensure they are both effective and easy to use.
While robust protection is essential, you don’t want software that significantly slows down your computer. An ideal internet security solution balances effective security measures with minimal system impact, ensuring smooth operation of your daily tasks. Again, independent testing labs can provide reliable information on a product’s performance impact.
Quality customer support can be vital when facing security issues or technical challenges. The best antivirus providers offer comprehensive support, including 24/7 live chat, email support, and an extensive knowledge base. Check out user reviews and test the support channels yourself to gauge their responsiveness and effectiveness.
First-year and second price
Finally, price is a significant consideration. While first-year prices are often discounted, the full cost typically kicks in from the second year onwards. It’s essential to consider these prices and compare them against the software’s features and performance to ensure you’re getting good value for your money. Remember, the most expensive product is not always the best one, and there are often excellent budget-friendly options available.
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 internet security software protect you from?
Internet security software plays a crucial role in safeguarding your digital life from a wide array of cyber threats. While it’s important to remember that no solution can guarantee 100% protection, a robust security suite significantly reduces the risk and potential impact of most common cyber threats.
Malware, or malicious software, is a broad term encompassing various harmful programs, such as viruses, worms, trojans, and ransomware. These programs are designed to perform unwanted and often damaging actions on a user’s system. They can steal data, damage files, or take control of certain system functions. Comprehensive internet security software continually scans your system for these threats, eliminating them before they can do harm.
Adware is software that displays unwanted ads on your system, often in the form of pop-ups. While not as harmful as some other types of malware, adware can be extremely annoying, slow down your system, and sometimes bundle other malicious software. Internet security software blocks and removes adware, keeping your user experience clean.
A botnet is a network of computers infected by malware and controlled remotely by a cybercriminal, often without the users’ knowledge. These networks can be used to carry out large-scale attacks like distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. Internet security solutions prevent your system from becoming part of a botnet by blocking the malware that facilitates this control.
Keyloggers are malicious programs that record your keystrokes, capturing sensitive information like passwords and credit card numbers. Advanced internet security software detects and eliminates these threats, thereby protecting your personal information.
Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts your files, rendering them inaccessible. The attacker then demands a ransom for the decryption key. Internet security software offers proactive protection against ransomware threats, preventing unauthorized encryption of your data.
Rootkits are a type of stealthy malware designed to provide continued privileged access to a computer while actively hiding its presence. Internet security suites often have specialized rootkit detection capabilities to find and remove these advanced threats.
Spyware is software that secretly monitors and collects information about users without their knowledge, often resulting in identity theft. Robust internet security software can detect and remove spyware, protecting your private data.
Trojans are malicious programs that disguise themselves as legitimate software. Once on a system, they can carry out various damaging activities like stealing data or giving remote control to the attacker. Internet security software regularly scans for and eliminates these threats.
Viruses are a type of malware that can copy themselves and spread to other computers, often damaging files and system software. They typically attach themselves to executable files or documents. Antivirus components within internet security suites provide strong defense against these threats.
Worms are a type of malware that can spread between computers without any user action, exploiting vulnerabilities in a system’s software. They can cause significant network slowdown and carry payloads that damage host computers. Internet security software helps prevent worm infections by patching software vulnerabilities and removing any worms already on the system.
What cyber threats can internet security software not protect you from?
Even with the most comprehensive internet security software, some threats still require a combination of technology and user awareness to tackle effectively. These are often threats that leverage human interaction or ones that exploit previously unknown vulnerabilities.
Phishing attacks are attempts by scammers to trick you into revealing sensitive information, such as passwords or credit card numbers, by impersonating trustworthy entities via email or other communication methods. While internet security can help identify known phishing sites, it can’t prevent you from voluntarily sharing your information. Thus, understanding and recognizing phishing attempts remains crucial for your online safety.
Similar to phishing, online scams often involve deception to trick users into giving away their money or personal information. This could include fake auctions, non-existent goods for sale, or ‘Nigerian Prince’ scams. While internet security software may block known scam sites, new ones pop up all the time, and it can’t prevent you from falling for a scam conducted through legitimate channels, such as email or social media.
For more, read our blog post on online scams.
Social engineering is a tactic used by cybercriminals that manipulates individuals into revealing confidential information. It may involve impersonating a colleague or a service provider to trick you into granting access to sensitive data or secure areas. Even the most sophisticated internet security software can’t fully protect you from these manipulative tactics – it’s crucial to maintain vigilance and verify requests for information.
For more, read our blog post on social engineering.
Zero-day exploits refer to vulnerabilities in software that are unknown to those who should be interested in mitigating the vulnerability (including the vendor of the software). Since these vulnerabilities are unknown, they’re impossible to defend against until they are discovered.
Therefore, even the most advanced internet security software cannot provide full protection against zero-day attacks. However, many solutions employ behavior-based detection methods to identify and respond to suspicious activity that may indicate a zero-day exploit.
For more, read our blog post on zero-day exploits.
What internet security software have we tested?
We have tested 28 antivirus and internet security programs, ranging from entry-level free antivirus programs, to mid-range paid antivirus software and full-featured internet security suites.
As a general rule of thumb, even the best free malware removal programs, like Avast One, cannot compete with the comprehensive malware protection offered by paid solutions, like Norton 360 Deluxe or Bitdefender Total Protection.
Below is the list of the 20 most important brands:
- Bitdefender Antivirus
- McAfee Antivirus
- Microsoft Defender (Windows Defender)
- Norton Antivirus
- PC Matic
- Trend Micro
The best antivirus programs are Norton 360 Deluxe, Norton 360 Advanced, and Bitdefender Total Security. By comparison, the other antivirus software cost too much, offer less capable protection from malware threats, or have no unlimited VPN access.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are the most frequently asked questions.
What is the best internet security software?
Do you need internet security software?
Yes, investing in internet security software is necessary to ensure online safety and privacy.
How does internet security software work?
Security software works by detecting, blocking, and removing threats, ensuring smooth device operation.
Will internet security software slow down your device?
Top-tier software like Norton and Bitdefender won’t slow your device, but lesser-quality options might.
Is a free internet security software safe?
Free programs can’t match paid options for protection. They often lack necessary features and support.
Is Kaspersky still safe?
Despite being Russian, Kaspersky remains safe to use. No evidence suggests otherwise.
Languages and sources
Similar pages in other languages on SoftwareLab.org:
Below are the sources and tools we’ve used to test the antivirus software:
- Apple Platform Security
- AV-Comparatives Consumer
- AV-Test Android
- AV-Test macOS
- AV-Test Windows
- GRC Firewall Test
- Microsoft Defender
- SpeedTest VPN
- Trustpilot Security Software
Author: Tibor Moes
Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab
Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.
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