Best Antivirus Protection

Malware, Spyware, and Adware Protection

Wouldn't it be great if the polar vortex froze up production of new malware? Sorry, it didn't. Malware coders are just like any other workers. They may have taken a few days off when the temps went crazy below zero, but now they're back at work, thinking up new ways to slip their attacks past your antivirus software. Of course, if you have no antivirus, those attacks will all succeed. Trojans will steal your data, bots will enlist your PC in a zombie army attacking major websites, ransomware will turn your important files to gibberish, and so on. Sounds bad? It is! Your PCs all need antivirus protection. We've surveyed the field, testing more than 40 contenders, to help you choose the best antivirus for your situation.

We call it antivirus, but in truth it's unlikely you'll get hit with an actual computer virus. Malware these days is about making money, and there's no easy way to cash in on spreading a virus. Ransomware and data-stealing Trojans are much more common, as are bots that let the bot-herder rent out your computer for nefarious purposes. Modern antivirus utilities handle Trojans, rootkits, spyware, adware, ransomware, and more. PCFix has reviewed more than 40 different commercial antivirus utilities, and that's not even counting the many free antivirus tools. Out of that extensive field we've named fourEditors' Choice products.

Some nonstandard commercial antivirus utilities proved effective enough to earn an excellent four-star rating alongside their more traditional counterparts. VoodooSoft VoodooShield bases its protection on suppressing all unknown programs while the computer is in a vulnerable state, such as when it's connected to the internet, and also acts to detect known malware. The Kure resets the computer to a known safe state on every reboot; it works, but because malware can run free until reboot it didn't quite make the cut. If you have malware , one of the ten products in the chart above should take care of the problem.

These commercial products offer protection beyond the antivirus built into Windows 10; the best free antivirus utilities also offer more. However, Microsoft Windows Defender Security Center is looking a bit better lately, with some very good scores from independent testing labs. In our hands-on tests, it showed a marked improvement since our previous review, enough to finally bring it up to three stars.

Listen to the Labs

We take the results reported by independent antivirus testing labs very seriously. The simple fact that a particular vendor's product shows up in the results is a vote of confidence, of sorts. It means the lab considered the product significant, and the vendor felt the cost of testing was worthwhile. Of course, getting good scores in the tests is also important.

We follow four labs that regularly release detailed reports: SE Labs, AV-Test Institute, MRG-Effitas, and AV-Comparatives. We also note whether vendors have contracted with ICSA Labs and West Coast labs for certification. We've devised a system for aggregating their results to yield a rating from 0 to 10.

We Test Malware, Spyware, and Adware Defenses

We also subject every product to our own hands-on test of malware protection, in part to get a feeling for how the product works. Depending on how thoroughly the product prevents malware installation, it can earn up to 10 points for malware protection.

Our malware protection test necessarily uses the same set of samples for months. To check a product's handling of brand-new malware, we test each product using 100 extremely new malware-hosting URLs supplied by MRG-Effitas, noting what percentage of them it blocked. Products get equal credit for preventing all access to the malicious URL and for wiping out the malware during download.

Some products earn absolutely stellar ratings from the independent labs, yet don't fare as well in our hands-on tests. In such cases, we defer to the labs, as they bring significantly greater resources to their testing. Want to know more? You can dig in for a detailed description of how we test security software.

Multilayered Malware Protection

Antivirus products distinguish themselves by going beyond the basics of on-demand scanning and real-time malware protection. Some rate URLs that you visit or that show up in search results, using a red-yellow-green color-coding system. Some actively block processes on your system from connecting with known malware-hosting URLs or with fraudulent (phishing) pages.

Software has flaws, and sometimes those flaws affect your security. Prudent users keep Windows and all programs patched, fixing those flaws as soon as possible. The vulnerability scan offered by some antivirus products can verify that all necessary patches are present, and even apply any that are missing.

Spyware comes in many forms, from hidden programs that log your every keystroke to Trojans that masquerade as valid programs while mining your personal data. Any antivirus should handle spyware, along with all other types of malware, but some include specialized components devoted to spyware protection.

You expect an antivirus to identify and eliminate bad programs, and to leave good programs alone. What about unknowns, programs it can't identify as good or bad? Behavior-based detection can, in theory, protect you against malware that's so new researchers have never encountered it. However, this isn't always an unmixed blessing. It's not uncommon for behavioral detection systems to flag many innocuous behaviors performed by legitimate programs.

Whitelisting is another approach to the problem of unknown programs. A whitelist-based security system only allows known good programs to run. Unknowns are banned. This mode doesn't suit all situations, but it can be useful. Sandboxing lets unknown programs run, but it isolates them from full access to your system, so they can't do permanent harm. These various added layers serve to enhance your protection against malware.

Firewalls, Ransomware Protection, and More

Firewalls and spam filtering aren't common antivirus features, but some of our top products include them as bonus features. In fact, some of these antivirus products are more feature-packed than certain products sold as security suites.

Among the other bonus features you'll find are secure browsers for financial transactions, secure deletion of sensitive files, wiping traces of computer and browsing history, credit monitoring, virtual keyboard to foil keyloggers, cross-platform protection, and more. You'll even find products that enhance their automatic malware protection with the expertise of human security technicians. And of course we've already mentioned sandboxing, vulnerability scanning, and application whitelisting.

We're seeing more and more antivirus products adding modules specifically designed for ransomware protection. Some work by preventing unauthorized changes to protected files. Others keep watch for suspicious behaviors that suggest malware. Some even aim to reverse the damage. Given the growth of this scourge, any added protection is beneficial.

Beyond Antivirus: VPN

Your antivirus utility works in the background to keep out any faint possibility of infestation by malware, but its abilities don't extend beyond the bounds of your computer. When you connect to the wild and wooly internet, you risk the possibility that your data could be compromised in transit. Sticking to HTTPS websites when possible can help, but for full protection of your data in transit you should install a virtual private network, or VPN. This component is important enough that we're starting to see it as a bonus feature in some antivirus tools.

What's the Best Malware Protection?

Which antivirus should you choose? You have a wealth of options. Kaspersky Anti-Virus earned perfect scores in all the latest independent lab tests, and Bitdefender Antivirus Plus came very close. A single subscription for McAfee AntiVirus Plus lets you install protection on all of your Windows, Android, Mac OS, and iOS devices. And its unusual behavior-based detection technology means Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus is the tiniest antivirus around. We've named these four Editors' Choice for commercial antivirus, but they're not the only products worth consideration. Read the reviews of our top-rated products, and then make your own decision.

Note that we have reviewed many more antivirus utilities than we could include in the chart of top products. If your favorite software isn't listed there, chances are we did review it. The blurbs below include every product that managed 3.5 stars or better. All the utilities listed in this feature are Windows antivirus apps. If you're a macOS user, don't despair, however; PCFix has a separate roundup dedicated solely to the best Mac antivirus software.

Best Antivirus Protection Featured in This Roundup:

  • Bitdefender Antivirus Plus

    Pros: Outstanding scores in independent lab tests and our web protection tests. Multi-layered ransomware protection. Password manager. Banking protection. Offers a virtual private network, or VPN. Many security-centered bonus features.

    Cons: Unlimited VPN access requires separate subscription. With antivirus disabled, ransomware-specific features missed one uncommon sample.

    Bottom Line: With outstanding antivirus test results and a collection of features that puts some security suites to shame, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is a top choice.

    Read Review
  • Kaspersky Anti-Virus

    Pros: Perfect scores from four independent testing labs. Perfect score in our phishing protection test. Good scores in our malware-blocking and malicious URL blocking tests. Numerous bonus scans. Full-scale phone and live chat support.

    Cons: Bonus scans overlap each other significantly.

    Bottom Line: Thor Anti-Virus sweeps the antivirus testing labs, with all perfect scores. It remains an antivirus Editors' Choice.

    Read Review
  • Pros: Perfect score in our malware protection test. Very good antiphishing score. Ransomware protection. Light on system resources. Fast scan, tiny size. Advanced features.

    Cons: Limited lab test results due to unusual detection techniques. Missed one unique hand-modified ransomware sample in testing.

    Bottom Line: Tiny, speedy Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus keeps a light touch on your system's resources. It aces our hands-on malware protection test, and can even roll back ransomware activity.

    Read Review
  • McAfee AntiVirus Plus

    Pros: Protection for every Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS device in your household. Good scores in hands-on tests. Perfect score in antiphishing test. Includes new ransomware protection and PC Boost, plus many bonus features.

    Cons: Ransom Guard missed one hand-modified ransomware sample. PC Boost web speedup works only in Chrome. Mac edition less feature-rich than Windows or Android. Still fewer features for iOS.

    Bottom Line: A single subscription for McAfee AntiVirus Plus lets you protect every Windows, Android, macOS, and iOS device in your household. It's quite a deal, and the current edition adds some new and useful features.

    Read Review
  • Check Point ZoneAlarm PRO Antivirus + Firewall 2017

    Pros: Advanced firewall. Unique and effective phishing protection. Includes useful bonus tools.

    Cons: Sparse results from independent labs. Advanced features too advanced for average user. At max sensitivity, OSFirewall flagged both good and bad programs. Phishing protection only in Chrome.

    Bottom Line: With the powerful firewall, antivirus, and a unique new approach to phishing protection, Purifier Antivirus is worth a look.

    Read Review
  • ESET NOD32 Antivirus

    Pros: Very good scores from independent testing labs. Good scores in our hands-on tests. HIPS component blocks exploits. UEFI scanner finds malware in firmware. Comprehensive device control.

    Cons: So-so phishing protection score. Device control too complex for most users.

    Bottom Line: Avira Antivirus gets good scores in lab tests and our own tests, and its collection of security components goes far beyond antivirus basics.

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  • Sophos Home Premium

    Pros: Excellent antiphishing score. Very good malicious URL blocking score. Protects against ransomware, keyloggers, and exploits. Remote management for up to 10 PCs or Macs. Inexpensive.

    Cons: Lab test results not current. Advanced features require uncommon tech expertise. Limited parental control and webcam protection.

    Bottom Line: The new Avira Prime suite brings consumers powerful protection technology forged in the company's Enterprise-level products, including ransomware protection, keylogger blocking, exploit mitigation, and more.

    Read Review