We earn commissions from links on this site.
The 5 Best Security Apps (2023): Guarding Your Digital Life
By Tibor Moes / Updated: August 2023
Do you need a security app? Yes, you do. In today’s fast-paced digital world, a security app is not an optional extra, it’s an essential tool for safe navigation.
- Unseen dangers lurk: The internet is full of unseen threats. A robust security app can identify and neutralize these threats, protecting your personal data from falling into the wrong hands.
- Evolving threats: Cyber threats are always evolving. A top-notch security app will keep pace with these changes, constantly updating its algorithms to meet the newest threats head-on.
- Peace of mind: When it comes to online safety, peace of mind is priceless. A dependable security app provides the assurance that your personal and financial information is secure, letting you browse with confidence.
By investing in the best security app, you’re not just buying software; you’re securing your digital life, giving yourself peace of mind, and taking control of your online safety in the evolving digital landscape of 2023.”
Ranked #1 of 28 antivirus
- Malware Protection 100% 100%
- Speed Impact 100% 100%
Norton has the best device, privacy, and identity protection for phones and tablets.
- Malware protection: 100%. Norton removed all malware in the last 10 protection tests. It will keep your devices safe and secure.
- Speed impact: 100%. Norton had no negative speed impact in the last 10 performance tests. It will keep your devices quick and capable.
- Features: 100%. Norton offers anti-phishing, app security, an unlimited VPN, ad tracker blocking, dark web monitoring, and more.
Try it risk-free, thanks to its 60-day return policy.
Ranked #5 of 28 antivirus
- Malware Protection 100% 100%
- Speed Impact 100% 100%
Kaspersky offers excellent protection on Android, but lacks Norton’s unlimited VPN.
- Malware protection: 100%. Kaspersky scored near-perfect results in the last 10 protection tests. It is excellent at removing malware.
- Speed impact: 100%. Kaspersky had no negative speed impact in the last 10 tests. It does not slow down your smartphone.
- Features: 90%. It offers anti-phishing, anti-theft, app lock, safe kids, and more. But the VPN is limited to 300 / MB per day.
Try it risk-free, thanks to its 30-day return policy.
The best security apps of 2023
We have reviewed security software since 2014. Based on our in-depth tests of 28 brands in 2023, these are the best security apps of 2023:
- 🥇 Norton Antivirus – The #1 in 2023
- Kaspersky Antivirus
- Bitdefender Antivirus
- McAfee Antivirus
- Panda 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 Mobile Security is the best security app of 2023. It ticks all the boxes by combining anti-malware, web protection, an identity theft scanner, and an unlimited VPN.
On top of that, it has a range of bonus features, including an app advisor, WiFi scanner, vulnerability scanner, anti-tracker, and SMS security checker.
Most importantly, its VPN doesn’t have a data limit. By contrast, all other antivirus apps have a VPN limited to a few hundred MB / day. When you frequently surf on public Wi-Fi networks, Norton’s unlimited VPN will keep you safe on those unsecured connections.
We, therefore, highly recommend Norton for anyone who spends a lot of time surfing, socializing, shopping, or banking on their phone. It is the best security app for both Android and iOS.
Discount: Temporarily save up to 70% 🔥
Norton Mobile Security Review
There are 4 things you need to know about Norton’s security app:
- The Security Features
- The Privacy Features
- The Identity Features
- The difference between Norton Mobile Security and Norton 360
Let’s dive in.
Norton packs a lot of security features into its app. Outside of the big yellow “scan now” button at the top, which scans your mobile phone for malware, there are five security features:
- App Security: Set up the App Advisor, which tells you which apps are safe to download from the Google Play Store. It also scans your existing apps for suspicious behavior (a classic indicator of malware), privacy risks, and intrusive ads.
- Internet Security: Install the Safe Web Browser to block fraudulent websites. You can also add Norton Safe Search to your home or notification screen. This is Norton’s custom search engine, in partnership with Ask.com, that filters malicious websites out of the search results.
- Wi-Fi Security: Scan your Wi-Fi network’s password strength and encryption standard and get notified if the network is unsafe.
- Device Security: Check your smartphone for multiple security risks, such as untrusted certificates, KRACK vulnerabilities, USB debugging, and whether you have correctly set up your lock screen and fingerprint scan.
- SMS Security: Allow Norton to check your text messages for phishing links that try to steal your data.
Norton’s mobile security app offers you two outstanding privacy features:
- VPN: A VPN (Virtual Private Network) hides your IP (Internet Protocol) address and encrypts your internet connection. This makes you anonymous online and safe on public Wi-Fi networks. Norton is the only antivirus app that includes an unlimited VPN.
- Ad Tracker Blocking: By blocking and removing tracking cookies from your devices, Norton ensures that marketing and data companies can’t follow your movements around the web.
Norton’s identity protection feature, Dark Web Monitoring, does what its name suggests: It scans the Dark Web for your data and will inform you if any of it is being traded. It searches for your home address, driver’s license, insurance information, email accounts, credit cards, bank accounts, and phone numbers.
Note that this feature is not part of the actual app. To access it, you can either log in to your account at my.norton.com or download Norton’s separate app called Norton LifeLock Identity.
Norton Mobile Security vs. Norton 360
If you buy Norton’s app on their website, in the Google Play Store, or in Apple App Store, you will get Norton Mobile Security. This app allows you to protect a single Android or iOS device. For most users, this is the perfect solution.
However, there is another version available called Norton 360. This is the app you will get if you buy one of Norton’s 360 products; Standard, Deluxe, or Premium.
Norton Mobile Security and Norton 360 are nearly identical, with two exceptions:
- Norton Mobile Security does not include the password manager, which Norton 360 does.
- Norton Mobile Security’s VPN automatically selects a VPN server for you; it does not allow you to choose a server location. The VPN included with Norton 360 does offer the sever selection option.
As Norton Mobile Security is cheaper, it is the best option to protect a single tablet or phone. If, however, you want to protect multiple devices, we recommend Norton 360 Deluxe. It protects up to 10 gadgets (across Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS) and offers you access to the full-featured VPN and password manager.
Is Norton Mobile Security the best security app of 2023?
Yes, Norton is the best security app of 2023. Although we miss the anti-theft features other brands offer, Norton makes up for it by including an unlimited VPN, which its competitors don’t. The VPN will keep you safe and private on unsecure networks like public WiFi, which is crucial in the modern world.
Ranked #5 out of 28 Antivirus
Kaspersky is one of the best security apps that we’ve tested. Although its VPN is limited to 300 MB / day, whereas Norton’s VPN is unlimited, Kaspersky compensates by having a complete feature set and a slightly lower price.
It covers all the core features, including anti-malware, web protection, anti-theft tools, an identity theft scanner, a VPN, and a range of bonus features. These include a call filter, safe messaging, app lock, settings scan, parental controls, and app permissions scan.
Still, if you frequently surf on public Wi-Fi networks, we believe Norton is the better security app because its unlimited VPN will protect you on those unsafe networks.
Discount: Save up to 50%
Kaspersky Internet Security Review
Kaspersky is one of the best security apps of 2023. It is both beautifully designed as well as incredibly complete.
Let us talk you through the feature set:
- Scan: Run a quick, custom, or full scan of your phone or tablet.
- Update: Manually update the malware database of the antivirus app and directly run a quick scan after.
- Real-Time Protection: Turn adware detection on or off and get an update on the security status of your device.
- Call Filter: Block phone numbers so they can’t reach you.
- Anti-Theft: Lock and locate your phone if it gets stolen. You can also trigger an alarm, take a photo with the front camera, or wipe the device’s hard drive. All remotely from Kaspersky’s website.
- App Lock: Set a four-digit code to specific apps on your phone, ensuring that no one but you can access them.
- Safe Messaging: Let Kaspersky scan your text messages for phishing links that try to hijack your data.
- Internet Protection: You can add a layer of protection to your browser to block dangerous websites known for phishing, spoofing, and other forms of cybercrime.
- Data Leak Checker: Instruct Kaspersky to scan the Dark Web for your data, such as email addresses, credit cards, and social security numbers.
- Weak Settings Scan: Check your device for vulnerable settings that can cause security risks.
- My Apps: Check what apps can access your calendar, camera, contacts, location, microphone, and more.
And if that wasn’t enough, you can install Kaspersky’s other security apps as well:
- VPN: A VPN will encrypt your internet connection and hide your IP address, making you anonymous online and safe on public Wi-Fi networks. You’ll get 300 MB / day for free.
- Safe Kids: Monitor and protect your children online with a basic version of Kaspersky’s parental controls.
The unlimited versions of the VPN and Safe Kids apps are available as separate purchases or as part of Kaspersky Security Cloud, which will also include the excellent password manager.
Is Kaspersky Internet Security the best security app of 2023?
It depends. If you frequently surf public Wi-Fi networks, Norton beats Kaspersky due to the inclusion of the unlimited VPN. However, we believe Kaspersky is the best security app if you prefer anti-theft features over an unlimited VPN.
Ranked #2 out of 28 Antivirus
Bitdefender Mobile Security covers all the core features: Anti-malware, web protection, anti-theft tools, an identity theft scanner, and a VPN. However, it can’t match the security apps by Norton or Kaspersky.
Norton and Kaspersky have a more comprehensive range of security features, a better design, and a higher data limit on their VPN. While Bitdefender’s VPN is limited to 200 MB / day, Norton’s VPN is unlimited.
Unless you’re a big fan of the Bitdefender brand, we believe Norton and Kaspersky are better security apps.
Discount: Save 50% on this secret page
Bitdefender Mobile Security Review
Bitdefender Mobile Security isn’t a great-looking app. It certainly can’t match the design excellence of its American rivals, Norton and McAfee. This is a shame. Because feature-wise, it checks most boxes.
Let us walk you through each:
Bitdefender’s first menu item, Dashboard, informs you of the security features that must be installed. These include the Scam Alert, App Lock, Web Protection, and Anti-Theft features. Once all of them are installed and active, the sole purpose of the Dashboard is to inform you that you are safe.
The second menu item, Malware Scanner, allows you to scan your phone for malicious apps. It checks visible and invisible apps for a wide range of malware, including ransomware, adware, spyware, or crypto miners.
The third menu item, Web Protection, focuses on browser protection. It will scan your online activities and incoming traffic to shield you from malicious intent. What’s excellent about it is that it works with an extensive range of browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Edge, Brave, Samsung Internet, Huawei Browser, and Dolphin.
The fourth menu item, Scam Alert, looks for malicious text messages containing links to scams and phishing attacks.
The fifth and last menu item, More, includes a wide range of features:
- VPN: A VPN encrypts your internet connection and hides your device’s IP address. This makes you anonymous online and safe on unsecured Wi-Fi connections. You can use the built-in VPN, but we recommend downloading Bitdefender’s separate VPN app, which is considerably better. Note that Bitdefender’s free VPN is limited to 200 MB / day. By contrast, Norton’s VPN is unlimited, and Kaspersky offers a daily limit of 300 MB.
- Anti-Theft: Bitdefender’s anti-theft feature lets you remotely locate, lock, and wipe your phone. On top of that, the phone will take a photo with the front camera after three failed login attempts.
- Account Privacy: Similar to the Dark Web Monitor by Norton, Bitdefender checks whether your data, like email addresses, has been compromised and is traded on the internet.
- App Lock: Protect sensitive apps with a pin code or your gadget’s biometrics scanner (face or fingerprint).
Is Bitdefender Mobile Security the best security app of 2023?
No, it’s not. Although it covers all the features you need from a security app, its design is disappointing, and its VPN data limit of 200 MB / day is among the lowest in our test.
We believe that Norton, with its unlimited VPN, is the best security app for users who frequently surf on public Wi-Fi networks. And for those who prefer anti-theft features over an unlimited VPN, we think Kaspersky is the best security app, as it’s more complete than Bitdefender.
Ranked #3 out of 28 Antivirus
McAfee has a beautiful design and covers most of the features we want in a security app. It includes anti-malware, web protection, an identity theft scanner, and a VPN limited to 500 MB / day. But it lacks anti-theft tools, and its bonus features only include a Wi-Fi security checker.
We prefer Norton for its unlimited VPN for users who frequently use public Wi-Fi networks. And for users who want an affordable yet complete security app with anti-theft tools, we believe Kaspersky is a great option.
Discount: Save 70% on this secret page
McAfee Mobile Security Review
McAfee’s Mobile Security is a beautifully designed app divided into three tabs, which you can access at the bottom of the screen.
In the most left tab, McAfee aims to educate (“how can unsecured Wi-Fi affect me?”) and inspire action (“Let’s protect you from risky websites – get safe browsing”).
In the second tab, the security elements appear. These include five components:
- Antivirus Scan: Scan your apps, files, photos, and videos for malware and dangerous apps.
- Identity Protection: Give McAfee your email addresses, credit card details, and other personal data to scan the Dark Web for these.
- Secure VPN: Activate the VPN to surf anonymously and privately across the web. McAfee’s VPN is limited to 500 MB / day, which is more generous than Bitdefender’s 200 MB / day and Kaspersky’s 300 MB / day but falls short of the unlimited data provided by Norton.
- Wi-Fi Security Scanner: Test your Wi-Fi network’s encryption and password strength.
- Safe Browsing: Add anti-phishing protection and a web advisor to your browser.
Is McAfee Mobile Security the best security app of 2023?
No, it’s not. Although the design is excellent, and its VPN data limit of 500 MB / day is generous, there are better options.
For privacy-minded users, we recommend Norton for its unlimited VPN. And for users who worry about theft, we prefer Kaspersky due to its excellent anti-theft features.
Ranked #4 out of 28 Antivirus
Panda covers some security features, including anti-malware, a VPN, and anti-theft features. But it misses web protection and an identity theft scanner.
However, it offers a few bonus features, like a call blocker, app locker, and permissions scan. Especially the last one, the permissions scan, is a rare feature we would like to see more often in other antivirus apps.
On the plus side, the core of Panda’s offering (anti-malware, VPN, anti-theft, and the permissions scanner) is available in the app’s free version. This makes Panda the best free antivirus for android in our test.
However, if you’re willing to part with a few dollars, we believe that Norton offers better protection for users who frequently use public Wi-Fi networks, thanks to its unlimited VPN.
Discount: Save 50% on this secret page
Panda Dome Antivirus for Android Review
Panda offers two versions of its antivirus app for Android, a free and paid version. And although the paid version offers a few extra handy features, we think most of the value is provided by the free app. So let us talk you through the characteristics of each.
Panda’s free antivirus app includes the following:
- Antivirus: Scan your apps, files, and SD cards for malware, either manually or automatically, at regular intervals.
- VPN: Hide your IP address and encrypt your internet connection to restore online anonymity. Panda’s VPN is limited to 150 MB / day, the lowest data limit in our test.
- Privacy Auditor: Scan the permissions of all apps on your phone to see which can track your location, access your media files, and more. You can delete any overly intrusive apps from within Panda’s app.
- Anti-Theft: Locate and lock your phone when lost or stolen. You can also remotely erase all the data on your hard drive.
Panda’s paid antivirus app includes everything above and adds the following:
- Advanced Anti-Theft: Remotely trigger an alarm or take a photo using the front camera of your phone or tablet.
- Call Blocker: Block specific, unknown, and hidden phone numbers from reaching you.
- App Lock: Add an extra layer of security to your most sensitive apps in the form of a 4-digit pin code.
Is Panda Dome Antivirus the best antivirus app for Android?
It depends. If you want one a free antivirus app for android, Panda has a compelling offer. For free, you can get the core of its features, including anti-malware, VPN, basic anti-theft, and permissions scan. We, therefore, think that Panda is the best free antivirus for Android in our test.
If, however, you want the best protection, it’s not found in a free Android security app. Instead, the paid options by Norton and Kaspersky are both considerably better. In addition, each offers more security features, such as anti-phishing web protection and a higher VPN data limit.
In the following section, we delve into a side-by-side comparison of the security apps for Android. The key attributes we examine include anti-malware capability, web protection against phishing, anti-theft features, dark web monitoring for identity theft scanning, and an unrestricted VPN offering.
Our anti-malware rankings derive from both our proprietary tests and the results from AV-Test, an independent German testing lab. Similarly, our evaluation of each software’s impact on device speed also relies on data from AV-Test’s performance testing for Android.
Regrettably, Panda doesn’t participate in AV-Test’s evaluations, leaving us without objective measures to assess its anti-malware effectiveness and impact on speed.
We’ve scrutinized user reviews across all cyber security brands, relying on ratings and review count from TrustPilot, a prominent user review platform. However, it’s important to approach these results with skepticism, as certain brands may seek to inflate their ratings artificially.
We maintain a degree of caution towards extremely high scores, particularly from brands like TotalAV, known for their assertive marketing and sales tactics.
We deem scores in the range of 4.0 to 4.5 as credible and commendable. Anything higher can raise suspicion, while lower scores may suggest that the brand could have issues with product quality or customer service. For example, the scores for McAfee are cause for concern.
Security app buying guide
Below we cover a range of topics:
- What is a security app?
- How does a security app work?
- Do Android devices need security apps?
- Do iOS devices need security apps?
- How do we test security apps?
- How to choose the best security app?
- What cyber threats can security apps protect you from?
- What cyber threats can security apps not protect you from?
- What security apps software have we tested?
Clicks the links to be taken to the one of your choice:
What is a security app?
A security app is a type of software designed to protect your digital devices from various threats, including malware, viruses, phishing attacks, and more. These applications aim to secure your devices and the data they hold, providing robust defense against cybercriminal activities.
Besides safeguarding your devices, security apps often provide additional features like secure web browsing, VPN services, password management, and sometimes even system optimization tools to enhance device performance.
For more, read our blog post on what antivirus software is.
How does a security app work?
Security apps employ several sophisticated techniques to provide all-around protection for your digital devices. They work by continuously monitoring, detecting, and eliminating potential threats before they can cause harm. These techniques may include signature-based detection, heuristic analysis, and behavior-based detection.
Signature-based detection is one of the most traditional methods that security apps use to identify threats. This technique works by comparing files on your device against a database of known threat signatures, or ‘definitions.’ A signature is like a digital fingerprint that uniquely identifies a specific piece of malware. If the software finds a match, it flags the file as a threat and takes action to neutralize it.
However, this method can only detect threats that have been previously identified and added to the database, making it less effective against zero-day attacks or new, unknown threats.
To combat the limitations of signature-based detection, security apps use heuristic analysis. This method does not rely on known threat signatures; instead, it examines files and programs for suspicious behavior or code structure that might indicate a potential threat. Heuristic analysis can identify new or modified malware that has not yet been catalogued in the signature database, making it a crucial tool for catching emerging threats.
However, it may sometimes result in false positives, flagging harmless files as potentially malicious.
Behavior-based detection, also known as anomaly detection, is another method that security apps use to spot threats. This technique monitors the behavior of applications in real-time. If an app starts to behave unusually—for example, trying to access protected files or modify system settings without permission—the security software flags it as potentially malicious. Behavior-based detection can detect zero-day threats and even file-less malware, which doesn’t write files on the hard disk, a feature that traditional detection methods might miss.
This method strengthens the defense offered by security apps, providing a multi-layered approach to your device’s safety.
For more, read our blog post on how antivirus software works.
Do Android devices need security apps?
Absolutely, Android devices indeed require security apps. While Android’s in-built security measures have improved significantly over time, they alone may not provide comprehensive protection against the myriad of ever-evolving threats that exist in the digital world.
Firstly, Android’s open-source nature and its vast, diverse user base make it an attractive target for cybercriminals. Secondly, the Google Play Store, despite its screening efforts, occasionally lets through apps with malicious intent, resulting in potential security risks.
Security apps can offer a robust layer of defense on top of Android’s existing security measures. They protect against a range of threats, including malware, phishing attacks, ransomware, and spyware. Security apps can also offer invaluable anti-theft features, allowing users to locate, lock, or wipe their devices remotely in case of theft or loss.
Furthermore, many security apps include VPN services for secure internet browsing, safeguarding user data from prying eyes on unsecured networks. They also frequently offer identity theft protection, monitoring the dark web for instances of your personal information being misused.
Considering the growing threat landscape and the increasing reliance on mobile devices for sensitive activities such as online banking, investing in a high-quality security app for your Android device is a wise choice to fortify your digital safety and protect your valuable data.
For more, read our blog post on whether Android needs a security app.
Do iOS devices need security apps?
Certainly. Despite the widely held belief that iOS devices are invincible to malware and other security threats, it’s not entirely accurate. Although Apple’s stringent app review process and the closed-off nature of the iOS ecosystem make it less vulnerable than its counterparts, no platform is completely immune to cyber threats.
Firstly, while it’s harder for malicious software to infiltrate the App Store, it’s not impossible. Cybercriminals are continually evolving their tactics and creating more sophisticated methods of attack. Additionally, even seemingly harmless apps can sometimes harvest excessive personal data or use it in ways you might not be comfortable with.
Secondly, iOS users aren’t immune to web-based threats. Phishing attacks, for instance, can occur on any device, regardless of the operating system. A security app can provide an additional layer of protection against such threats by warning users about malicious websites and securing personal data.
Thirdly, iOS devices can benefit from the extra features offered by security apps, such as VPN services that encrypt your internet connection, making it much harder for anyone to intercept your online activities. Similarly, security apps can offer identity theft protection services, monitoring for your personal data appearing in places it shouldn’t.
In conclusion, while iOS devices are indeed more secure by design, a quality security app can further fortify these defenses and protect against evolving threats. So, while perhaps not as essential as on other platforms, a security app on an iOS device can provide valuable peace of mind.
For more, read our blog post on whether iOS needs a security app.
How do we test security apps?
To evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of security apps, we follow a rigorous testing methodology that covers six key aspects, each assigned a different weight depending on its importance:
- Anti-malware protection (30%)
- Security and privacy features (30%)
- Speed impact (10%)
- False positives (10%)
- Price (10%)
- Ownership and reputation (10%)
This methodology allows us to provide a balanced and comprehensive view of each security app’s capabilities, price point, and the trustworthiness of its provider.
Anti-malware protection (30%)
The strength of the anti-malware protection offered by a security app is a key metric in our testing process, accounting for 30% of our overall assessment. We conduct rigorous tests to gauge the app’s ability to defend against malware attacks, relying both on our own in-house tests and analyzing results from AV-Test, an independent testing lab.
In our proprietary tests, we expose a test PC to hundreds of malware samples through a USB device. We then evaluate the app’s malware scanner to see if it can accurately identify and neutralize all these threats.
We also conduct dynamic testing, where we execute malware files and instigate ransomware attacks to assess the strength of the app’s real-time protection. The ability of the app to thwart these simulated attacks offers valuable insights into its real-world defensive capabilities.
Alongside our own tests, we scrutinize the protection test results for Windows, Mac, and Android provided by AV-Test. This German-based independent test lab conducts rigorous examinations of security apps, providing an unbiased evaluation of their effectiveness against known and emerging threats.
These results supplement our findings, giving us a comprehensive understanding of each app’s anti-malware prowess.
Security and privacy features (30%)
The range and effectiveness of security and privacy features in an app make up 30% of our evaluation. We believe that a well-rounded security app should go beyond anti-malware protection and offer comprehensive tools to secure your digital life. Here’s how we assess each of these features:
Web protection (anti-phishing)
Web protection defends users against phishing attacks, which trick them into providing sensitive data like login credentials. We test this feature by attempting to access known phishing websites and see if the app blocks these effectively, thus ensuring safe browsing.
A firewall monitors and controls network traffic based on predetermined security rules. We assess this feature by attempting to connect to different networks and evaluating the app’s ability to block or allow connections based on its settings.
A password manager stores and manages users’ passwords securely. We test this by using it to create, store, and autofill passwords across various websites and noting its efficiency and security.
Virtual private network (VPN)
A VPN encrypts your internet connection, protecting your data from prying eyes. We check the app’s VPN feature for speed, data limits, and security protocols and use it to access geographically restricted content to assess its effectiveness.
Parental controls allow guardians to monitor and limit their children’s online activities. We test this by setting up various restrictions and monitoring features and evaluating their efficacy and ease of use.
Identity theft protection
This feature monitors the web for any unauthorized use of your personal information. We gauge its effectiveness by checking the breadth of its monitoring and the speed and thoroughness of its alerts.
Secure cloud storage (cloud backup)
Secure cloud storage allows users to back up their data securely. We evaluate the ease of use, speed, and security measures of this feature.
Anti-ransomware tools prevent ransomware attacks that lock users out of their own data. We simulate ransomware attacks and gauge whether the app can prevent these and safeguard our data.
Dark web monitoring
Dark web monitoring alerts users if their personal information is found on the dark web. We assess this by checking the depth of the app’s monitoring and the promptness of its alerts.
By thoroughly testing these features, we provide a comprehensive evaluation of the security app’s ability to protect users from a wide range of threats and vulnerabilities.
An antivirus program can come with various entry-level functions, such as spam filters and secure browsers, and premium options like online storage with enhanced security. We consider the following bonus features worthy of your consideration:
- Ad Blocker
- Email protection
- File encryption
- File shredder
- Gaming mode
- Microphone protection
- PC maintenance features
- Secure browser (hardened browser to protect your online banking)
- Spam filter
- Startup optimizer
- Tune up tools
- Virtual keyboard
- Webcam protection
Speed impact (10%)
The speed impact of a security app refers to its effect on your device’s performance. Ideally, an app should provide robust security without significantly slowing down your device.
We use AV-Test’s performance tests as our guide in this category, which measures the impact of security apps on daily computer activities such as file copying, program installation and uninstallation, and launching applications. Lower impact on speed implies better performance.
False positives (10%)
False positives occur when a security app incorrectly identifies a safe file or program as a threat. This can lead to unnecessary alerts and even the deletion or quarantine of useful files.
To assess this, we look at AV-Test’s usability tests, which record the number of false detections during system scans and during daily usage of software downloaded from the internet. A low number of false positives indicates high usability.
We also assess security apps based on their cost-effectiveness. While cost isn’t a direct indicator of quality, it is crucial to determine whether an app offers good value for money.
We consider both the features offered and the subscription price, noting significant differences between first and second-year prices. Security apps that offer robust protection and a host of useful features at a reasonable price score higher in this category.
Ownership and reputation (10%)
The ownership and reputation of a company are also crucial factors. While most companies strive to protect user data, there have been instances, such as the Avast scandal, where user data was sold through a subsidiary called Jumpshot. Such actions harm the company’s reputation and trustworthiness.
We closely scrutinize a company’s history, transparency, user reviews, and any incidents that could impact user trust. A company with a solid reputation and a commitment to user privacy and security is viewed more favorably in our analysis.
For more, read our blog post on how we test antivirus software.
How to choose the best security app?
Selecting the best security app requires careful consideration of various factors. Each element plays a crucial role in ensuring comprehensive protection for your digital life. Let’s dive into the specifics:
Reliable protection from malware
The primary function of a security app is to safeguard your device from malware, such as viruses, ransomware, and spyware. Consider the app’s detection rate and effectiveness in dealing with malware threats. This includes both its ability to detect known threats (signature-based detection) and its prowess in identifying new, unknown malware (heuristic and behavior-based detection).
The ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats necessitates regular updates to keep your security app up-to-date and effective. An ideal security app offers frequent, automatic updates that bolster its defense mechanisms against the latest malware strains and hacking techniques.
The more security features an app offers, the better it can protect you against various threats. Look for features like web protection, firewall, VPN, password manager, identity theft protection, and more. The efficacy of these features and how well they integrate with each other can significantly impact the app’s overall security performance.
A good security app should protect your device without significantly slowing it down. The app’s performance impact should be minimal, allowing your device to operate smoothly while still ensuring robust protection.
Effective customer support is crucial, especially when dealing with complex security issues. Look for security apps that offer prompt and helpful support, with multiple channels for communication (like email, live chat, or phone), and comprehensive self-help resources.
First-year and second price
Many security apps offer promotional pricing for the first year, which then increases significantly in the second year. Ensure you’re aware of the full cost and whether it offers good value for the services provided. An app might seem attractively priced at first glance, but it’s crucial to consider the price in the long run.
By paying close attention to these elements, you can choose a security app that offers robust protection, minimal performance impact, and great value.
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 security apps protect you from?
Security apps serve as a crucial line of defense, safeguarding users from an array of cyber threats. While it’s essential to note that no security app can guarantee 100% protection, the right software can significantly mitigate risks. Let’s delve into some of these threats:
Malware, or malicious software, is an umbrella term covering various harmful or intrusive software, including viruses, worms, trojans, and more. These programs can damage or disrupt your system, steal your private information, or gain unauthorized access to your device.
Adware is software that downloads or displays unwanted ads when a user is online. While often annoying rather than malicious, some adware programs can be intrusive and can pave the way for other malicious software to infect your device.
Botnets are networks of private computers infected with malicious software and controlled as a group without the owners’ knowledge. Hackers use botnets to send spam emails, distribute malware, and launch Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.
Keyloggers are malware designed to record and store every keystroke a user makes on their device, often without their knowledge. This can lead to the compromise of sensitive data, such as passwords, credit card numbers, or other personal information.
Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts a user’s files and demands a ransom to restore access. It can affect individual computers or entire networks, causing significant disruptions and potential data loss.
Rootkits are a type of stealthy software, often malicious, designed to hide the existence of certain processes or programs from normal methods of detection. They grant cybercriminals access to and control over a device, often without the user’s knowledge.
Spyware is software that gathers information about a person or organization without their knowledge. This data is then sent to a third party, often a cybercriminal, without the user’s consent.
Trojans are malicious programs that mislead users about their true intent. They often appear harmless or hide within legitimate software but can cause significant damage or allow cybercriminals to access your device once activated.
Viruses are a type of malware that, once executed, replicate by modifying other computer programs and inserting their own code. They can harm your device’s software and data and may also be used to steal information or cause other types of damage.
Worms are standalone malware that replicate without needing to attach themselves to a software program. They often exploit vulnerabilities in operating systems, spreading across networks and causing extensive damage.
A comprehensive security app can provide robust protection against these threats, shielding your device and sensitive data from unauthorized access and damage.
What cyber threats can security apps not protect you from?
While security apps play a crucial role in cyber defense, it’s important to note that they are not a catch-all solution. Certain cyber threats require user vigilance and cybersecurity awareness as the primary means of protection. Let’s take a closer look:
Phishing is a cyber attack that uses disguised email as a weapon. The goal is to trick the email recipient into believing that the message is something they want or need — a request from their bank, for instance, or a note from someone in their company — and to click a link or download an attachment. What really distinguishes phishing is the form the message takes: the attackers masquerade as a trusted entity of some kind, often a real or plausibly real person, or a company the victim might do business with.
Online scams are fraudulent schemes perpetrated through the internet — including on social media, email, websites, and more. Scams can come in many forms, such as romance, lottery, and advance-fee schemes, among others. They aim to trick individuals into providing personal information or sending money. While some security apps may offer limited protection, avoiding online scams primarily requires user awareness and vigilance.
For more, read our blog post on online scams.
Social engineering is the use of deception to manipulate individuals into divulging confidential or personal information that may be used for fraudulent purposes. This can take many forms, including phishing (as mentioned above), pretexting, baiting, and tailgating. Most of these attacks play on human psychology and curiosity. Security apps may have limited capability to detect such threats, and user education is the best line of defense.
For more, read our blog post on social engineering.
A zero-day exploit is a cyber attack that occurs on the same day a weakness is discovered in software. At that point, it’s exploited before a fix becomes available from its creator. While some security apps provide protection using heuristic and behavior-based detection, these threats are particularly challenging to defend against due to their novelty and the lack of time for developers to create and distribute patches.
Although security apps can’t entirely prevent these threats, they can still offer some level of protection, such as identifying phishing attempts or suspicious behaviors. However, user awareness, regular software updates, and vigilant online behavior are equally important in mitigating these risks.
For more, read our blog post on zero-day exploits.
What security apps have we tested?
We have tested 28 iOS and Android security apps, ranging from entry-level free Android antivirus apps, to mid-range paid antivirus software and full-featured internet security suites.
As a general rule of thumb, even the best free iOS and Android antivirus app, like Avast One, cannot compete with the comprehensive malware detection offered by paid solutions, like Norton 360 Deluxe or Bitdefender Total Protection.
Below is the list of the 20 most important iOS and Android apps:
- 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 security app?
Do you a security app?
Absolutely! A robust security app is necessary to shield you from various online threats and safeguard your data.
How does security software work?
Security software works by scanning, detecting, and eliminating threats. Advanced apps use a mix of signature, heuristic, and behavior-based methods.
Will security software slow down your Android device?
While some apps might slow your device, the best ones, like Norton and Bitdefender, are designed to have minimal impact on your device’s performance.
Is a free security app safe?
Beware of free security programs. They often lack essential features and could even pose security risks. Investing in a paid app is a smarter choice.
Is Kaspersky still safe?
Despite being Russian, Kaspersky has not been proven unsafe. It provides robust protection but consider geopolitical factors when choosing
Languages and sources
Similar pages in other languages on SoftwareLab.org:
Below are the sources and tools we’ve used to test the antivirus software:
- Apple Platform Security
- AV-Comparatives Consumer
- AV-Test Android
- AV-Test macOS
- AV-Test Windows
- GRC Firewall Test
- Microsoft Defender
- SpeedTest VPN
- Trustpilot Security Software
Author: Tibor Moes
Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab
Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.
This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.