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The 5 Best Malware Removal & Protection Software (2023)
By Tibor Moes / Updated: September 2023
Do you need malware removal software? Yes, you do. The cyber world today is like a vast ocean, teeming with a myriad of hidden dangers. Unexpected malware threats lurk beneath its surface, ready to wreak havoc on your digital life. Investing in one of the best malware removal tool isn’t just a good idea – it’s a necessity.
- First, it serves as your personal cyber bodyguard, warding off malicious entities that aim to steal your sensitive information.
- Secondly, the sophistication of cyber threats is continuously evolving, often beyond human detection, but reliable anti-malware software stays one step ahead, assuring your peace of mind.
- Lastly, it offers a blanket of protection for your entire system – not only against malware but other cybersecurity threats as well.
By buying the best malware protection software, you will swim safely in the vast ocean of the internet, knowing you’re secure from the unseen dangers below.
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 anti-malware 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 malware removal and protection software
We have reviewed security software since 2014. Based on our in-depth tests of 28 brands in 2023, these are the best malware removal and protection 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.
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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 malware removal software of 2023?
Yes, Norton is the best malware removal 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 anti-malware software of 2023?
Bitdefender is one of the best anti-malware 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 malware protection software of 2023?
McAfee is one of the best malware protection 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 malicious files.
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 malware removal software of 2023?
Panda is one of the best malware removal tools 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 malware protection software of 2023?
Kaspersky offers excellent malware 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 malware removal products:
- Norton 360 Standard
- Bitdefender Internet Security with the Premium VPN
- McAfee Basic
- Panda Dome Premium
- Kaspersky Plus
Their common capabilities include Anti-Malware, Anti-Phishing, Firewall, Password Manager, and an unrestricted VPN – vital tools for your digital fortress.
Test score comparison
We’ve evaluated the ten latest test scores from all malware protection software, courtesy of the German lab, AV-Test. The assessment criteria are:
- 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.
Absence in this evaluation is typically ominous, as prominent brands, bar Panda, ESET, and Sophos, actively participate.
We’ve squared up the prices of leading anti-malware solutions for Windows PCs. We compared costs based on these essential features:
- Anti-phishing (web protection)
- Password manager
- Unlimited VPN (no data limit)
A few notes:
- Some brands are missing features, lowering their value for money.
- Prices are second-year prices in the USA, without first-year discounts.
- Prices are rounded up for readability (e.g., $99.99 becomes $100).
Bear in mind that prices may differ outside the US. Check the respective websites for details.
In our quest for insights, we turned to TrustPilot, a prominent user review platform, comparing scores and counts for all antivirus brands. Do approach these scores skeptically, as some brands make concerted efforts to boost ratings.
Extreme high scores raise eyebrows, particularly from brands like TotalAV, notorious for pushy sales strategies. Scores ranging from 4.0 to 4.5 are realistic and commendable. Anything higher is suspicious, while lower scores hint at potential product or customer service issues – a red flag evident in McAfee’s ratings.
Antivirus software buying guide
Below we cover a range of topics:
- What is anti-malware software?
- How does anti-malware software work?
- What’s the difference between anti-malware and anti-virus software?
- How do we test anti-malware software?
- How to choose the best malware removal software?
- What cyber threats can anti-malware protect you from?
- What cyber threats can anti-malware not protect you from?
- What malware protection software have we tested?
Clicks the links to be taken to the one of your choice:
What is anti-malware software?
Anti-malware software, also known as antivirus software, is an essential component of contemporary security suites. Its primary role is to safeguard your digital environments from malicious software (malware), such as viruses, worms, ransomware, spyware, and more. It acts as the first line of defense in protecting your computer and its data.
Despite the terminology, modern security software now encompasses a range of protective measures, and anti-malware tools are a critical part of this broader protective spectrum. In an era where cyber threats are becoming increasingly advanced and sophisticated, having robust anti-malware software is an essential component of any security strategy.
For more, read our blog post on what anti-malware software is.
How does anti-malware software work?
Anti-malware software operates through a variety of detection methods to identify and neutralize threats. They continuously monitor your system, scrutinize files and programs for potential hazards, and take necessary action if malicious software is found. Let’s delve into three core detection methods: Signature-based detection, Heuristic analysis, and Behavior-based detection.
Signature-based detection is one of the most traditional techniques used by anti-malware software. Every piece of malware has a unique string of code or a “signature.” Anti-malware software uses a database of known malware signatures to compare against files on your system. If it finds a match, the file is identified as malware.
However, this method can only detect threats that have been previously identified and cataloged in its database.
To counter the limitations of signature-based detection, heuristic analysis steps in. It is a more proactive and predictive approach that doesn’t merely rely on known malware signatures. Instead, it analyzes the attributes and behavior of files and programs, identifying potential threats based on suspicious characteristics or activities.
While this approach can identify previously unknown threats (zero-day exploits), it can also lead to more false positives compared to signature-based detection.
Behavior-based detection, also known as behavioral analysis, takes things a step further. Instead of solely examining files or programs, it monitors their behavior within the system. For instance, if a program tries to access sensitive files or modify system settings without authorization, it’s flagged as potential malware.
This method is particularly effective against complex and evolving threats, including polymorphic malware that changes its code to evade signature-based detection. However, like heuristic analysis, it may also result in false positives.
For more, read our blog post on how antivirus software works.
What’s the difference between anti-malware and anti-virus software?
The terms “anti-malware” and “anti-virus” are often used interchangeably in the context of digital security, leading to some confusion. Although they originated with different goals in mind – anti-virus software focused on viruses, while anti-malware was broader, encompassing various forms of malicious software – the distinction between them has largely blurred in today’s cybersecurity landscape.
Most modern security software, whether labeled as anti-virus or anti-malware, now offers comprehensive protection against a wide array of threats, including viruses, worms, trojans, ransomware, spyware, adware, and more. Hence, in the contemporary sense, both anti-malware and anti-virus software aim to safeguard your digital assets against the entire spectrum of malicious software, making them essentially synonymous.
Additionally, contemporary security solutions offer more than just malware detection and removal. They now come equipped with multiple layers of protection and tools to enhance your digital safety. These features often include real-time scanning, firewall protection, phishing prevention, secure browsing tools, password managers, VPNs, and more. Consequently, modern “anti-malware” or “anti-virus” software serves as an all-inclusive security suite, committed to providing extensive protection for your digital world.
For more, read our blog post on what antivirus software is.
How do we test anti-malware software?
To assess the efficacy of anti-malware software, we adopt a comprehensive testing approach, focusing on six crucial elements. Each element has a different weightage, reflecting its significance in the overall performance of the software:
- Anti-malware protection (30%)
- Security and privacy features (30%)
- Speed impact (10%)
- False positives (10%)
- Price (10%)
- Ownership and reputation (10%)
This multi-faceted evaluation ensures that we measure the software’s holistic performance, from its core malware detection capabilities to its impact on system performance and cost-effectiveness.
Anti-malware protection (30%)
Anti-malware protection is the cornerstone of any antivirus software, hence why it holds a significant 30% weightage in our testing method. We employ both in-house testing and rely on AV-Test results to examine this element.
In our proprietary testing, we expose our test PCs to hundreds of malware samples via USB to evaluate the malware scanner’s effectiveness. We ascertain whether the software can identify and neutralize all these threats accurately. In a separate test, we mimic real-world scenarios by executing malware files and instigating ransomware attacks.
This process helps us measure if the software’s real-time protection can robustly defend against such assaults. The meticulous nature of these in-house tests ensures that we put every facet of the software’s anti-malware protection to the test.
Apart from our internal evaluations, we also consider the independent assessments carried out by AV-Test, a renowned anti-malware test lab. We analyze their protection test results for Windows, Mac, and Android devices to get a comprehensive understanding of the software’s performance across different platforms.
These impartial results provide an additional layer of credibility and depth to our assessments, complementing our in-house findings.
Security and privacy features (30%)
In our evaluations, security and privacy features constitute 30% of the total weightage, underscoring their importance in a comprehensive security suite. We test each feature meticulously to determine its effectiveness in safeguarding your digital life.
Web protection (anti-phishing)
Web protection, or anti-phishing, plays a pivotal role in safeguarding you from phishing attacks and malicious websites. We test this feature by directing the software towards a series of known malicious websites and phishing attempts, examining whether it can accurately detect and block these threats in real-time.
A robust firewall regulates your device’s incoming and outgoing network traffic, thwarting unauthorized access. We subject the firewall to various penetration tests and simulated cyber-attacks to assess its capability to prevent intrusions.
A password manager securely stores your passwords, alleviating the risk of using weak or reused passwords. We assess the feature’s security levels, ease of use, and added functionalities like autofill and password generation.
Virtual private network (VPN)
A VPN encrypts your online activities, ensuring anonymity and privacy. We evaluate the VPN for speed, server locations, and its effectiveness at masking your IP address. We also check if it maintains a strict no-logs policy.
Parental controls allow you to manage and monitor your child’s internet use. We test these controls for ease of setup, depth of customization, and the effectiveness of their content filtering capabilities.
Identity theft protection
Identity theft protection monitors your personal information online, alerting you to potential identity fraud. We assess the range of information monitored and the responsiveness of the alert system.
Secure cloud storage (cloud backup)
Cloud backup provides an extra layer of protection for your data by securely storing it in the cloud. We test this feature for storage capacity, security, and the simplicity of the backup and recovery process.
Anti-ransomware tools protect your files from ransomware attacks. We simulate ransomware attacks to test the tool’s ability to prevent unauthorized file encryption.
Dark web monitoring
Dark web monitoring alerts you if your personal information appears on the dark web. We evaluate this feature based on the breadth of information it monitors and the speed and clarity of its alerts.
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%)
Performance impact is a vital aspect of anti-malware software evaluation, making up 10% of our test’s weightage. A great security suite should offer robust protection without compromising your device’s performance. To guide our analysis, we refer to AV-Test’s performance tests, which assess how much the software slows down a computer during typical activities such as launching websites, downloading apps, and copying data.
False positives (10%)
False positives — when a program incorrectly flags a safe file or action as harmful — can be both annoying and disruptive. They make up 10% of our testing criterion. We utilize AV-Test’s usability tests to guide our analysis. These tests assess the frequency with which an anti-malware program triggers false warnings or blocks while visiting websites, downloading and installing software, and using legitimate software.
Pricing strategy is also crucial in our assessments, representing 10% of our testing framework. We focus on the value for money, taking into account the number and quality of features offered at a particular price point. It’s important to note that there are often significant differences between first and second-year prices due to initial discounts, so we factor in these variations during our analysis.
Ownership and reputation (10%)
Ownership and reputation constitute a significant 10% of our test’s weightage. A company’s ethical track record and user perception heavily impact our evaluation. For instance, the Avast scandal, where they sold user data via a subsidiary called Jumpshot, is an example of why reputation matters.
In such cases, regardless of the software’s effectiveness, the company’s conduct raised serious privacy concerns, which influenced its overall assessment. Consequently, we consider not only the software’s technical aspects but also the ethical standing of the company behind it.
For more, read our blog post on how we test antivirus software.
How to choose the best malware removal software?
Choosing the right malware removal software is a multifaceted decision that involves several key factors. To ensure you pick a tool that best meets your needs, you’ll need to take into account its malware protection capability, frequency of security updates, range of security features, performance impact, customer support quality, and price, both first and second year.
Reliable protection from malware
Foremost, the software must offer reliable protection against various malware forms, including viruses, trojans, ransomware, and more. The effectiveness of the malware scanner, both in real-time protection and manual scans, is crucial. Look for software that consistently scores highly on independent testing platforms like AV-Test.
Regular security updates are critical to keep up with the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats. The best software frequently updates its virus definitions and algorithms, ensuring that you’re safeguarded against the latest threats. Automatic updates feature can be beneficial, requiring less manual intervention.
Beyond basic malware removal, modern security suites offer a wide range of features, such as firewalls, password managers, VPNs, and more. Based on your requirements, evaluate which features are most essential to you. Remember, a comprehensive security suite can provide well-rounded protection against multiple threat vectors.
While robust protection is vital, it should not come at the cost of your device’s performance. The best malware removal software offers a delicate balance of protection and performance, ensuring your computer does not suffer significant slowdowns during scans or real-time protection.
Even the best software can encounter issues, so having accessible, responsive customer support is crucial. Look for software that offers multiple support channels, such as live chat, email, or phone support. Also, consider the quality of the support offered, looking at factors like response times and the helpfulness of the responses.
First-year and second price
Lastly, the price is a significant factor to consider. Many providers offer attractive first-year discounts but have substantially higher renewal prices. Compare the first and second-year costs, and consider the value for money, ensuring you get the most comprehensive protection 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 anti-malware protect you from?
Anti-malware software is a vital part of any cybersecurity strategy, designed to protect users from an array of cyber threats. While it may not offer complete invulnerability from every possible threat, it significantly mitigates the risk from many prevalent ones. Let’s delve into these common threats that anti-malware software can protect you from:
Malware, or malicious software, refers broadly to any program or file designed to harm a computer, network, or user. This includes viruses, worms, trojans, ransomware, spyware, adware, and more. Anti-malware software can detect and remove these threats, and provide real-time protection against new attacks.
Adware is a form of malware that bombards you with unsolicited ads, often in your web browser. While not always harmful, it can be incredibly annoying, slow down your system, and sometimes serve as a gateway for other malware. Anti-malware software can block and remove adware.
A botnet is a network of computers infected with malware and controlled by a cybercriminal, often used for distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, sending spam, or mining cryptocurrency. Anti-malware software can detect botnet infections and help you regain control of your system.
Keyloggers are malicious programs that record your keystrokes, often used to steal sensitive information like usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers. Anti-malware software can detect and remove keyloggers, helping to keep your personal information secure.
Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts your data and demands a ransom for its return. This can be particularly devastating, both for individuals and businesses. Anti-malware software can provide real-time protection against ransomware attacks and help to remove the ransomware if your system is infected.
Rootkits are sophisticated malware that hide their presence and activities on your system, often providing a backdoor for other malware. Anti-malware software uses special techniques to detect and remove these hidden threats.
Spyware is malware designed to spy on you, collecting information without your consent, often for identity theft or fraud. Anti-malware software can detect and eliminate spyware, protecting your privacy and personal information.
Trojans are malware that masquerades as legitimate software to trick you into installing them, providing a gateway for other malware or allowing cybercriminals to spy on you. Anti-malware software can identify and remove trojans from your system.
Viruses are a type of malware that can copy themselves and spread to other files or computers, often causing damage or disruption. Anti-malware software provides robust protection against viruses, detecting and eliminating them from your system.
Worms are a type of malware that can replicate themselves and spread across networks, often causing significant damage and network disruption. Anti-malware software can detect and remove worms, protecting your system and network from damage.
What cyber threats can anti-malware not protect you from?
While anti-malware software provides an indispensable line of defense against many online threats, it’s crucial to recognize that it’s not a catch-all solution. Certain types of cyber threats primarily exploit human vulnerabilities rather than software ones, and for these, your best defense is education and vigilance. Let’s examine some of the threats that anti-malware may struggle to protect you from:
Phishing is a method used by cybercriminals to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information, like usernames, passwords, or credit card details. Typically, phishing involves deceptive emails or websites that impersonate legitimate organizations.
Anti-malware software may offer some protection, like scanning emails for known phishing indicators, but it may not catch all phishing attempts, particularly those that are well-disguised.
Online scams are deceitful practices used to defraud internet users. These scams can take many forms, including auction fraud, romance scams, and advance-fee fraud.
Anti-malware software can’t protect you from scams because they don’t involve malicious code. Staying informed about the latest scam tactics and exercising caution online is the best way to avoid falling victim.
For more, read our blog post on online scams.
Social engineering is a manipulation technique that exploits human error to gain private information or access to systems. Instead of targeting technical vulnerabilities, social engineers exploit human vulnerabilities, such as trust and fear.
Since this type of attack doesn’t involve malicious code, anti-malware software can’t protect against it. Again, education and awareness are crucial defenses.
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 its mitigation (like the software vendor).
Since these exploits are unknown, there is no available patch, and anti-malware software may not be equipped to detect or defend against the threat until after the vulnerability is discovered and a patch or update is issued. Regular software updates and patches are your best defense against zero-day exploits.
For more, read our blog post on zero-day exploits.
What malware protection software have we tested?
We have tested 28 antivirus brands, ranging from entry-level free antivirus programs, to mid-range paid antivirus software and full-featured internet security suites.
As a 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.
In the end, if you want a free malware removal tool, simply stick to Microsoft Defender. It will remove malware infections just as well as any free software you can download.
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 malware removal software?
Do you need malware removal software?
Absolutely! Malware removal software is essential in today’s digital landscape, protecting your device from harmful cyber threats.
How does malware removal software work?
It scans your device for harmful files, removes them, and safeguards against potential future threats.
Will malware removal software slow down your device?
Top-tier options like Bitdefender and Norton won’t slow your device down. However, lesser-quality software might impact performance.
Is free malware removal software safe?
Not really. Free malware removal tools often lack comprehensive protection, and some may even contain malware themselves! We recommend avoiding free anti-malware software.
Is Kaspersky still safe?
Despite originating from Russia, Kaspersky has not been proven unsafe. It continues to provide reliable 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
- 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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