As the degree to which people rely on their digital devices has increased, so too has the threat from viruses and malware. More and more sophisticated malware infection methods mean that being careful where you browse and which links you click is not going to be enough to prevent your devices from being targeted and compromised.
Antivirus software can range from relatively simple to offering dozens of tools and protections for every area of your digital life. But it doesn’t matter if you need the basic or the complex, there are a few key things to look for in any antivirus software you choose.
The malware landscape is constantly changing, so using antivirus software that keeps up with the latest threats will mean fewer nasty surprises. That makes real-time scanning and automatic updates extremely important for keeping your device secure.
You should also look at how much impact the software may have on your system, no matter if you have an ultra-fast laptop or a phone that is 5 years old. Some antivirus applications consume more resources than others and will slow down your devices, so it’s important to pick one with solid performance.
Email and anti-phishing defenses are essential, as are advanced browser protections. The different ways scammers try to steal your information are multiplying. Even if you don’t explore the obscure reaches of the Internet, knowing that you can browse, shop, and communicate safely online is important.
Value for money is also an important consideration. There are malware security suites that run into the hundreds of dollars per year, but if you only need a fraction of the tools they offer, you are wasting your money. Think about your digital security needs and find antivirus software that meets those needs. If you don’t need webcam protection and a password manager, why pay extra for them?
Both Windows 10 and Windows 11 include a great set of malware protection tools in the built-in Windows Security app, which includes Microsoft Defender antivirus—formerly known as Windows Defender. It is easy to overlook this built-in free anti-malware solution in favor of premium antivirus software, but it’s very effective at catching malware. On a modern Windows PC, it’s already protecting your computer out of the box before you even install additional antivirus software. If you don’t want extra bells and whistles, it may be all you need.
What you won’t find below is an antivirus recommendation for iPhone or iPad. While it seems like a glaring omission, the fact is that those using iOS or iPadOS won’t get any benefit from installing antivirus software on their devices. Mac users, however, can still benefit from antivirus software. We have an Android antivirus pick if you want one of those, too—it can be useful.
There are a large number of antivirus and digital security tools available to choose from. We’ve highlighted our favorite ones to help streamline your decision process.
What Is Antivirus Software?
Do I Really Need It?
Can I Have Multiple Antiviruses Running?
In most cases, it’s not a good idea to have multiple antivirus programs running at the same time in the background. They can interfere with each other and cause system problems, like crashes and slowdowns. When you install most antivirus programs, Windows will automatically disable Microsoft Defender so it doesn’t get in the way. Some programs are designed to run alongside Microsoft’s antivirus, however: Malwarebytes is one of them. You can always run a manual system scan with a second antivirus to get a “second opinion” as long as that secondary antivirus isn’t trying to provide real-time protection at the same time as your first antivirus.
Do Older Antiviruses Work on New Viruses?
Antivirus software is designed to be constantly updated to detect and stop new malware. Most antivirus programs automatically download new “definitions” every single day, giving them an up-to-date list of the new viruses and other malware to look for. An older version of an antivirus program may not be receiving definition updates, which means it won’t spot new viruses. Even if it’s getting definition updates, a modern antivirus will be faster, work better with modern operating systems, and be better at catching and stopping malware. Most antivirus programs are now sold as always-up-to-date subscription products. (Or, if you don’t want to spend money, you can download a free one or use the built-in Microsoft Defender software.)
Does Antivirus Software Remove Viruses Automatically or Only When Ran?
Do I Need Antivirus Software for My Phone?
What Do I Need Next After Antivirus Software?
- ✓ Excellent malware detection
- ✓ Useful additional tools and features
- ✓ Easy to set up and use
- ✓ Reasonable yearly subscription cost
- ✗ Can be slightly slow when scanning
Bitdefender has made a name for itself as a leader in antivirus and malware protection in recent years. The company has several different security software packages available for as well as Windows PCs and Macs as well as Android devices, iPhones, and iPads. The best of these for all-around malware protection is Bitdefender Internet Security.
The first thing to mention is the wide array of tools and features this software includes. Along with real-time malware protection, browser security, and anti-spam tools, you also get anti-phishing defenses, ransomware protection, and a strong firewall. Added to these core services are a whole range of performance and privacy tools.
Bitdefender scores are very high in both zero-day threat and real-world protection tests at AV-Test, an established organization that tests antivirus software. Despite being tested against tens of thousands of well-known and widespread malware threats, the software consistently achieves a 100% blocking rate.
As with most modern antivirus software, malware protection happens in real-time, detecting threats to your computer or mobile device as they appear. Behavioral detection does the same with your apps and software, monitoring them closely for anything suspicious.
It provides this high level of protection with very few false positives and without impacting your system resources too much. In fact, according to the most recent tests by AV-Comparatives, another testing organization, it has one of the lowest system impact scores of any premium security software.
The bundled VPN is a welcome addition, as are the parental controls and performance tuning tools. With the recent increases in remote working and video meetings, webcam security has jumped up the list of many people’s concerns. Bitdefender has that covered too, with dedicated webcam and microphone protection tools included.
For software offering such a wide collection of tools and features, the dashboard is pleasingly user-friendly, and just as accessible for beginners as for more experienced users. If you want to go deep and tweak settings, you can. But equally, you can just install it and forget it.
If price is a factor in your choice of antivirus software, the cost of Bitdefender Internet Security is going to be another plus point. An extremely attractive first-year price—followed by a renewal price that is as much as half that of some comparable software—makes it great value for money.
As a complete malware protection service, Bitdefender Internet Security is hard to beat. We believe this is currently the best option for most home computer users, even when set alongside more established brands and higher-priced antivirus software.
- ✓ Fast and efficient malware scans
- ✓ Great selection of extra security tools
- ✓ Low system impact
- ✓ Very easy to set up and use
- ✗ Sometimes displays false positives
Using free antivirus software to protect your digital devices is still a good option for many people. You just need to understand the level of malware protection you need, and which tools you will need to achieve it. Although some software has become persistent in trying to upsell extra features, if you choose the right free antivirus solution, there may be no need to go down the premium route.
Avira Free Security, which was previously called Avira Free, is the latest free offering from the well-respected German company. At its core is an extremely efficient real-time antivirus scanning engine. This is the same engine Avira’s premium version uses, and it’s always near the top in virus detection tests. You also get access to powerful browser protection tools and a very solid firewall.
On top of these core features, Avira gives you a free VPN, allowing you to anonymize your online activity. This is limited to 500MB of data a month, so it isn’t suitable for heavy streaming or other high-data activities but is still a great feature in a free antivirus package. You also get a simple password manager, a speed booster, a PC cleaner, and several other performance tools.
Avira Free Security includes features that even some premium software doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean it is complicated to use. The previous version of the free Avira antivirus could be slightly confusing and clunky, but as of April 2022, the latest dashboard is very well thought out and easy to use. Checking your protection status is simple, and starting a smart scan or full system scan is equally easy.
But what really makes Avira Free Security such an attractive option is how fast it scans and how little impact it has on your system performance. Smart scans are very fast, and even full scans don’t take too long. You might expect a free security solution to be less efficient and optimized than premium software, but this isn’t the case here.
There might be free antivirus tools that perform slightly better in some areas, but Avira Free Security really hits the sweet spot between the number of features, protection level, and low system impact.
- ✓ Very user-friendly software
- ✓ Fast and accurate virus scans
- ✓ Works well alongside Windows Security
- ✗ Few additional security tools included
- ✗ System impact could be lower
Malwarebytes Premium for Windows is one of those pieces of software that just works. It isn’t overly complicated to use or set up, and it doesn’t try to cram in dozens of extra unwanted features. It just runs quietly in the background, protecting your computer without fuss.
The premium software features all of the security tools you would expect, including real-time protection, spyware defenses, browser security, and malicious link scanning. It works well against ransomware and zero-day exploits and gives you protection from brute force attacks.
Malwarebytes is well known for its ability to detect threats that may be missed by other antivirus tools and the software often scores at or near the top in real-world and malware detection tests. The system impact test scores aren’t quite so favorable but fall well within acceptable limits. If you want to improve on the in-built security on your Windows PC, Malwarebytes is a great option.
Windows Security is a very viable security option for most casual Windows PC users, even when used on its own. It is easy to overlook the Windows security tools, but it is certainly worth checking out exactly how well your PC is already protected.
But if you don’t want to rely solely on Windows Security, the good news is that Malwarebytes can run alongside it without a problem. This gives you the best of both worlds, with Malwarebytes providing extra security in the areas not covered by the Microsoft security tools.
For example, the Windows Security browser protection only extends to Microsoft Edge. If you use Chrome or Firefox, Malwarebytes can provide protection for those browsers while leaving the Edge browser protection to Microsoft.
- ✓ Created by Mac antivirus experts
- ✓ Excellent virus detection scores
- ✓ Not overly complicated to use
- ✓ Very good intelligent firewall
- ✗ Few additional security tools
- ✗ Scans can be slow at times
It is often said that macOS computers don’t get infected with viruses and therefore don’t need additional antivirus software. While it is true that Apple devices are less at risk from malware than Windows PCs, that complete lack of threat hasn’t been the case for a long time.
The Mac operating system does have several anti-malware defenses built-in, although not in the same way as Windows does with Defender. Services such as Gatekeeper and XProtect work in the background and are essentially out of reach of users. Anyone wanting more control over their Mac security will need to look at third-party software.
That brings us to Intego Internet Security X9, a premium security package that includes both antivirus software and a network shield. Intego isn’t as well-known as some other antivirus providers, but these specialists in Mac antivirus have been around for 25 years.
After installing Intego’s VirusBarrier and NetBarrier, you start by choosing your required level of system protection. The Minimum level focuses on malicious scripts and Mac-specific threats, the Standard level adds phishing and email protection, and the Maximum level adds scanning of attached iOS devices. You can customize the settings for each protection level, or simply choose your desired level and let it run.
The interface is uncluttered and easy to use, making it clear the developers understand Apple computer users. Scans and real-time checks do not stop you from doing what you need to do, although the system impact is not as low as it could be. Scans are generally fast and detection rates are up there with the best alternatives. The intelligent two-way firewall is particularly good and gives you additional protection from spyware.
There are plenty of macOS antivirus options, from well-known names such as Norton, Avira, and Avast, to name just a few. What makes Intego different is that it was built from the ground up for macOS. It doesn’t offer the same amount of extras that some other antivirus packages include.
There is no free VPN or webcam protection, but the most important Mac antivirus and network protection tools are all there and all work brilliantly. If you want a solid, easy-to-use, and reliable Mac defender, Intego Mac Internet Security X9 is a great choice.
- ✓ Excellent virus detection rates
- ✓ Very low system impact
- ✓ Lots of additional security tools
- ✓ Easy to set up and use
- ✗ Lacks fraudulent call protection
As an extremely popular mobile operating system, Android makes an attractive target for anyone wanting to spread malware quickly and easily. Protecting your Android device is as important as protecting your computer, if not more important. If you are looking for top-notch antivirus protection, and a good selection of extra features, Bitdefender Mobile Security is an obvious choice.
Consistently high virus detection and protection test scores from AV-TEST, combined with very low system and battery impact, speak for themselves. Browser security tools make mobile browsing much safer, and links in emails, messages, and notifications are checked in real-time to defend against potential scams.
You don’t necessarily need an Android antivirus thanks to Android’s included security software, but it can be an effective addition to your security arsenal. It’s particularly important on devices without the Play Store or outdated Android phones that aren’t getting security updates. Also, if you find yourself sideloading a lot of apps from outside the Play Store, using an antivirus may be a good idea.
The app automatically scans anything that is installed or updated on your device in the background and without fuss. You can’t schedule scans, but manual scans are easy to initiate and reasonably fast to complete.
Additional features include a VPN, an app lock that lets you protect your most sensitive apps from being accessed, and an online account scanner. Anti-theft and anti-loss tools, which allow you to find, remotely lock or wipe a stolen or lost device, add yet another layer of protection.
The Android OS has seen many security improvements in recent years, but even if you don’t have the latest flagship phone and software version, you can still protect yourself. The Bitdefender app works well on older Android phones and tablets, with OS compatibility going back to Android 5.0, which was released all the way back in 2014.
Many Android phones now warn you if a call seems to be spam or from a fraudulent number. Even so, extra call protection would have been a nice feature to see, especially for those using older phones and Android versions. But for the price, and with the number of premium extras included, Bitdefender Mobile Security is an excellent choice for improving Android security.