Let's not kid ourselves, our operating system's built-in firewall is no match for modern-day digital threats. No matter how safe we think we are when we're online, only the best antivirus protection stands a chance of keeping your computer safe.
It's no coincidence that rates of hacking, digital identity theft, and other forms of cybercrime are on the rise while antivirus and malware protection software sales have declined.
These days, we're more vulnerable than ever to hackers thanks to our growing list of devices, including our phones, laptops, tablets, smart devices, and the countless free apps from third-party devs.
To keep your data safe, there's no denying that you need the best antivirus software in your corner. Luckily for you, we got our hands on dozens of paid and free antivirus programs and spent time testing out each of them. Below, we've listed our top antivirus software picks based on their overall value and all-around internet security benefits.
ESET Smart Security
Kaspersky Internet Security
Bitdefender Total Security
Norton AntiVirus Plus
100% Free. Removes all Viruses, Malware, Spyware & Adware.
Fast SmartScan detection
Doesn't require heavy system resources
Excellent test scores
Highly accurate anti-malware detection
Best-in-class malware detection
At the top of our list is Total AV, the bonafide number one software choice for the casual, enthusiast, or enterprise-level user who wants the best antivirus protection on the market. The latest version of Total AV features a revamped look and several improved features to make your device virtually bulletproof against a wide variety of internet security threats.
When we first installed Total AV let's just say we were more than skeptical. After all, in an industry dominated by big-name players such as McAfee, Norton and Kaspersky, relative small fries like Total AV are hardly a blip on the radar. To say our experience with Total AV surprised us would be a heck of an understatement—there simply isn't any other antivirus software that we've tested this year that measures up.
In an industry saturated with tech giants and legacy cybersecurity firms, Total AV is the new kid on the block. To be sure, what Total AV lacks in experience, it makes up for in its engineering. Founded in 2016, Total AV provides full-spectrum security coverage for your digital devices as freeware or paid licensing options.
The paid version of the software, Total AV Essential Antivirus, provides real-time protection that's sorely lacking from its free-to-use version. In other words, Total AV offers automatic protection against suspicious activity while you're browsing the web or downloading files. Using an advanced proprietary algorithm, Total AV sniffs out malicious objects before they're accessed or opened, which keeps your system clean and intruder-free.
The latest iteration of Total AV dropped in late 2019 and, since then, the program has been a rock-solid replacement for some of our older antivirus applications. Whether you're a passive or hands-on user, Total AV offers a host of options to customize the antivirus software in a way that suits your involvement preferences and technological skills.
Total AV's paid Essential Antivirus service offers real-time protection against adware, spyware, ransomware, and malware. A robust anti-malware engine screens incoming objects and data packets before your system can process them, which acts as a screen between your device and the digital world. Total AV passively checks every install, executable, and downloaded file for suspicious content and blocks access to any flagged data before it can infect your system.
New in the 2019 version of the software is a comprehensive URL blocker, which shuts out your web browser from potentially harmful websites. If any malicious websites slip through the cracks, Total AV's secondary security features—such as a heuristic file reputation system, phishing screening, and sandbox detection—eliminate any chance of infection.
Rootkit screening and early detection is a standout feature for Total AV. Thanks to the software's comprehensive stealth detector, any attempts to enable a rootkit to hijack your device's administrative access are quickly eliminated. Total AV uses a signature-based anti-rootkit screening system to disable rootkit viruses even if the program tries to unload itself.
Although the current version of Total AV does not offer email protection, the antivirus software boasts an in-depth browser manager to improve the security features of your browser program. The result is a safe web browsing experience that didn't lead to any noticeable system slowdowns.
Total AV Essential Antivirus offers a handful of scanning options. We first tested a basic system scan, which yielded a 35-minute screen that detected and disarmed seven advanced threats and three minor ones. Of all the virus files we planted in our system, Total AV successfully detected each of them with the exception of one boot sector virus that it caught in a follow-up scan.
The user experience of this antivirus software is easy and hassle-free. Usually, Total AV runs quietly in the background without prompting the user to push notifications or alerting them. Total AV provides a sleek, lightweight antivirus system that looks elegant and minimalist in its design, and also doesn't create workflow interruptions by spamming alerts or update requests.
Although the free version of the software is admittedly quite limited, the Essentials package provides a wide range of performance optimization perks. For instance, Total AV Essentials boasts encrypted browsing, anti-geoblocking, and multi-device support to enhance your web browsing experience without causing processing slowdowns or runtime errors.
The Total AV Essentials package is a safe bet for power-users and casual hobbyists alike. If you're looking for customizable antivirus software that delivers on all fronts, Total AV is the total package. Unlike its competitors, Total AV offers advanced real-time protection without interrupting your workflow or causing system slowdowns.
If you want a premium antivirus software solution that lets the whole family or office access a license, look no further than PC Protect. This antivirus software is a speedy, bloat-free solution for removing malware and spyware at their source, and providing general system maintenance to block harmful objects and digital threats in real-time.
With a 99.9 percent VB100 score from Virus Bulletin, PC Protect is guaranteed to screen 99.5 percent of all malware samples "in the wild" and generate less than 0.01 percent as false positives. In other words, PC Protect is a highly accurate anti-malware system that rarely fails to block system threats or filter out suspicious packages.
PC Protect claims its stake among the top ranks of the antivirus market due to its simplicity and user-friendliness. New users can download PC Protect and run their diagnostic Smart-Scan within minutes to pinpoint system vulnerabilities and schedule recurring antivirus scans. From there, you can "set it and forget it" without having to think twice about booting the user interface.
Cross-platform compatibility is another main selling point for PC Protect since the whole family can access the platform concurrently. Multiple devices, including tablets, Android and iOS phones, and Mac and Windows laptops and desktops can run PC Protect while sharing a license, making it an affordable antivirus for the whole family.
PC Protect boasts an advanced two-way firewall to guard your data and personal information, as well as real-time security and system-boosting control apps. Plus, new customization options, including the fast QuickScan feature, make PC Protect easy to tailor to your needs.
Although the PC Protect free antivirus scanner has limited features, the premium version bundles several valuable tools. The latest paid version of PC Protect features a variety of useful proprietary features including System Boost, Enhanced Firewall, Tune-Up, Password Manager, and Browser Manager.
The all-new Browser Manager feature lets users customize the settings of their web browser to optimize total system performance. Within the Browser Manager, users can permanently wipe their history as well as the cache data supporting it in addition to tracking cookies. Although most web browsers allow these settings to be changed individually, PC Protect provides a convenient, centralized hub to make these changes in one click.
PC Protect's Enhanced Firewall builds on top of the Windows or iOS antivirus framework by adding an extra layer of network security against incoming traffic threats. The result is a dedicated application layer that provides deeper inspections of inbound data than traditional operating system-based firewalls. Using this feature reduced our system's susceptibility to denial-of-service attacks and malware.
If you're short on time, you don't have to spend hours running a full system virus scan using PC Protect. Instead, you can run PC Protect's SmartScan feature to check only the most vulnerable areas of your computer's disk drive. Not only does SmartScan save you time, but it also keeps your device running faster than it otherwise would during a full antivirus scan.
After having used PC Protect's premium service for several weeks, there's no denying that this product provides stellar cybersecurity for beginners and advanced users alike. When web browsing using PC Protect, the antivirus detected eleven malicious threats and successfully eliminated each of them without crashing or causing the system to slow.
Although the SmartScan feature allowed us to scan our entire hard disk after only 15 minutes, the full system scan took much longer (a whopping three and a half hours). During the full scan, we also noticed a performance reduction and processing slowdown. For this reason, we suggest only running full scans during the nighttime hours when the system isn't in use.
Our independent testing with seven malware samples came back near-perfect, with six of the seven detected and eliminated by PC Protect. When we reran the test minutes later, the remaining sample virus was found and discarded, which made up for the initial error. As an aside, we were surprised to see that a large portion of our RAM was taken up by PC Protect's antivirus test scans (approximately 30 percent).
PC Protect bundles many premium features into a minimalist yet slightly non-intuitive interface. Ultimately, the program is worth its price given its advanced internet security capabilities. However, expect the software to hog most of your system's resources when running hard disk scans, unless you're running 16 gigabytes of RAM or more.
ESET is a Windows-only antivirus software suite that performs all the basics that you expect from a premium internet security package at a fraction of the price. Although there is a high degree of variation in quality between the features offered by ESET, their award-winning Smart Security Premium suite does everything you need from an antivirus with ease.
Before your Windows device boots, ESET Smart Security begins running diagnostic tests and pre-screens your system to ensure that your hard disk and operating system are running optimally.
As a premium security software, ESET Smart Security is not a free antivirus. Instead, Smart Security is ESET's top-of-the-line cybersecurity product—and it shows. Once you load ESET's dashboard, you can encrypt your file folders and data with a one-click toggle button and can make adjustments to your web browser's deep security settings. Designed for experts and beginners alike, ESET Smart Security is an all-in-one security package to keep Windows PCs free from malware, ransomware, and malicious websites.
At first glance, there isn't much to be amazed by when it comes to ESET Smart Security. However, the value of this product becomes clearer when you tinker with the advanced interface and play with the enhanced settings.
Within the Device Control module, ESET users can reduce your system's exposure to external threats from USB drives, CD-ROMs, and other physical media. Together, these features combine to provide a safety net against security threats from both web and physical media sources.
ESET Smart Security features a lightweight user interface that had no noticeable effect on the speed of our processor, even when running a full system scan. Although ESET is a serviceable anti-malware software, it is noticeably lacking in web security essentials such as a firewall or a password manager. These missing features are regular inclusions in other web security suites from its competitors, which makes us question why they left these crucial tools out.
Ultimately, ESET Smart Security is undoubtedly a serviceable antivirus tool for advanced users and hobbyists. Although it's lacking in a handful of key features, it makes up ground with its high-end ransomware shield and EUFI scanner, which block security threats during the system boot cycle.
Where ESET Smart Security shines is its real-time malware detection program, which uses machine learning to detect security threats and suspicious data packet content before it arrives. In the latest version, ESET Smart Security is bundled with an advanced antiphishing algorithm that sniffs out malicious emails and messages before you open any links. Plus, ESET's antiphishing detector runs during social media browsing so you can avoid any hostile links in social posts.
The ESET dashboard provides a clunky yet easy-to-use interface for toggling user settings. Directly from the dashboard, users can add URLs to the program's protected website list, which enables security protocols to keep your personal information safe from trackers and keyloggers. Also, websites added to the protected list are subject to encryption protocols that scramble sensitive data shared by your device, rendering it virtually undecipherable.
We were let down by ESET's parental control features, which performed no better than Window's or macOS's built-in web censors. Within the main control module, ESET provides three buttons: the malware scan feature, network analyzer, and the safe browser. The safe browser features allows users to access their web browser under a VPN and heavy encryption so they can access banking applications and other sensitive networks without having their information tracked.
ESET performs well when put to the test. Of our two malware tests, ESET caught every sample file and appropriately flagged it as a threat. When subjected to an external malware sample test, ESET scored an impressive 97 percent based on several hundred threats. This score places ESET roughly in the middle of the pack among the top antivirus programs on the market.
ESET Smart Security has a light-to-moderate impact on our desktop operating system. When running a full system scan, there were noticeable hiccups and slowdowns for about 30 minutes before the program reverted to sleep mode and stopped consuming as much RAM. ESET requires fewer than 700 megabytes of HDD space and only 150 megabytes of RAM when the program is running in the background. However, RAM usage can jump up to 500MB during peak use.
The ESET user interface is sleek and minimalistic, with an all-white dashboard that features three blue buttons at the bottom. These three buttons provide easy access to the main tools for most casual and hobbyist-level users. On the left side of the module, a secondary button panel lets users schedule scans, configure tools, and install updates. Ultimately, the ESET UI/UX is intuitive and requires very little time to master.
Although its iRobot-inspired mascot gives us the creeps, the ESET Smart Security suite is a formidable top-tier antivirus program for Windows, Mac, and Linux users. If you need enhanced protection for online banking and shopping, ESET provides a user-friendly platform for encrypting your information and keeping it shielded from watchful eyes. However, the suite sorely lacks an advanced firewall and password manager which holds it back from achieving a top ranking.
Released by Kaspersky Labs since 2006, Kaspersky Internet Security (KIS) is an all-in-one web security system that offers a stripped-down version of their flagship Kaspersky Total Security. Families and small business users alike will find that Kaspersky's one-license system offers excellent value for their money by allowing multiple users to access its security features on a single account.
Kaspersky Internet Security performs exceptionally well when it comes to anti-malware and phishing tests. Best of all, the software is accessible to casual users and non-experts thanks to its intuitive and de-cluttered user interface. However, there are a handful of drawbacks to the software, mainly having to do with under powered secondary features.
Kaspersky's latest KIS suite provides a perfect middle-ground solution that isn't too technical nor rudimentary for casual or expert users. Ease of use is perhaps Kaspersky Internet Security's main selling point, with an intuitive six-panel user interface.
The product dashboard features six buttons that let users scan their hard disk, update the software, adjust privacy settings, and more. When the dashboard is green, the program hasn't detected any threats and transitions to orange when action is required by the user. The color-coordinated interface reduces workflow disruptions by minimizing the number of push notifications and alerts.
It's clear why Kaspersky Internet Security has remained one of the bestselling antivirus software suites. From malware protection to webcam and web browsing safeguards, KIS performs all the tasks you would expect from a premium antivirus program with the speed and efficiency of a browser extension.
The 2020 version of KIS offers several unique perks that aren't included in other similarly-priced antivirus programs. For instance, KIS boasts a drive-by cryptocurrency mining antivirus protocol to protect crypto-miners from security threats. Also, KIS offers standard features such as automatic full system scans and quick HDD scans that can be scheduled on a recurring basis. Beyond that, Kaspersky also packs real-time malware detection, smart monitoring, and URL filtering options.
When browsing the web using Kaspersky's Safe Money mode, a green border wraps around your web browser's window. The green color code indicates that Kaspersky is isolating the browser from other web processes that may expose the user to security threats. In other words, Safe Money mode provides a seamless, non-disruptive interface in which users can shop online or access their bank account without having to worry about security vulnerabilities.
There was a slight performance dip when running a routine full system scan using KIS. However, no noticeable performance changes occurred when the program ran passively in the background or when we used the Safe Money web browser. When we tested the Kaspersky firewall with 60 sample exploits, we found that 92 percent of our sample threats were successfully intercepted and neutralized—an impressive score compared to some of its rivals.
The Kaspersky user interface is clean and simplistic, offering a platform that beginners can pick up and easily adjust to right out of the box. The sheer simplicity of the software, from initialization to enhanced setting configuration, lends itself well to entry-level antivirus users.
However, to unlock the full potential of Kaspersky Internet Security, you've got to dig into the personalization settings found in the control panel—at this level, beginners may find themselves in over their heads. For example, activating the URL blocker and quarantine tool requires manual input from the user.
As expected, Kaspersky's Safe Money mode did not result in slowdowns or any marked increases in RAM or processor usage. The way that KIS integrates security features into the user's existing programs and web browser makes it appropriate for beginner-level users who might not have the expertise for more hands-on software suites.
Kaspersky is a worthwhile Windows and macOS internet security program that performs well under scrutiny. However, it's questionable whether it's worth investing in Kaspersky Internet Security when the fully-loaded Total Security program is only a minor cost increase.
Bitdefender Total Security 2020 is a multi-device cybersecurity product that delivers expert-level protection in an intuitive and user-friendly interface. Although Bitdefender's latest offering hogs more system resources than we would've liked, the software remains one of the best all-around web security solutions for protecting against malware, ransomware, identity theft, and more.
There are few downsides to Bitdefender's 2020 Total Security package. Between their bundled VPN service, Safepay web browser, and intelligent Vulnerability Recommendation features, Bitdefender offers everything you would expect from intermediate antivirus software. It's also worth noting that Bitdefender now offers Total Security to Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS users, making it a worthwhile upgrade from their Windows-only Internet Security product.
Since 2001, the Romanian cybersecurity firm Bitdefender has released its flagship Total Security program to critical and consumer acclaim. However, our initial experience with the product left us feeling somewhat disappointed.
For instance, we were unimpressed by Bitdefender's seemingly limited iOS support and lack of advanced parental controls for web browsing. After extended use, however, we found that their standout features such as dedicated ransomware protection and VPN integration made up for their few shortcomings.
Overall, Bitdefender doesn't disappoint. Its range of high-performing features such as the password manager, anti-phishing tool, malware detector, ransomware shield, and VPN service makes Bitdefender a worthwhile investment for those looking to enhance their system security. The downside, however, is that Bitdefender only allows one device to register for their Total Security package per license—each additional device requires its own licensing.
Ultimately, it's no surprise why Bitdefender consistently ranks among the industry's top players. Sure, Bitdefender consumes more RAM and processing power than we would like (roughly 35 percent of active RAM at peak), but it's justified by elite performance metrics and real-time protection benefits.
Among Bitdefender Total Security's premier features are its secure VPN and multi-layer ransomware protection services. One unfortunate drawback of Bitdefender's ransomware protection, however, is that it prevented games from saving to our Document Folder. To sidestep this block, we had to tinker with the program's advanced settings or by turning off the ransomware protector altogether. Alternatively, we found success by whitelisting the game as a trusted application within the program dashboard.
Bitdefender offers a dedicated secure browser for online shopping and banking. Although it loads slower than Chrome or Firefox, the speed difference wasn't so significant to warrant us switching over to another browser.
While using Bitdefender's secure browser, we were able to shop and browse freely with minimal disruptions from the program's security module. Within Bitdefender's browser, all cache, history, and cookies were unrecorded and untraceable, leaving fewer vulnerabilities for hackers and other threats.
The clean, hyper-minimalist Bitdefender interface features four main panels on the left sidebar. It's here that the user accesses the Utilities page, which acts as a control panel for various security features such as the OneClick Optimizer, Startup Optimizer, Disk Cleanup, and Anti-Theft data backup. After running any of these utility features, Bitdefender issues a performance report that specifies any actions taken. Unfortunately, there's no "undo" button to reverse these changes.
In our experience, the Bitdefender Startup Optimizer tool provides incredible value when it comes to streamlining bootup processes. If your device suffers from a glut of bloatware, the Startup Optimizer will neutralize any unnecessary programs so they do not launch during system startup nor constantly run in the background. The result is a much faster device—we noticed a 10 percent speed acceleration at startup after using the Optimizer tool.
Bitdefender Total Security aced both tests we threw at it. Our web-based malware and phishing test resulted in a near-perfect 98 percent success rate. The anti-theft ransomware protector successfully blocked all suspicious sites we attempted to access. Overall, our experience testing Bitdefender was positive and left us with little concern that our system could be exposed to vulnerabilities.
Bitdefender boasts a huge number of web security features alongside system optimization tools. If you're looking for a cybersecurity suite in addition to an advanced PC cleanup suite, Bitdefender Total Security might be the product you need. Be warned, however, that Total Security's dedicated VPN caps out at 200MB monthly, leaving it ineffective for heavy, long-term use.
For decades, Norton AntiVirus Plus has earned a name for itself as one of the premier Windows-only anti-malware and antivirus software suites on the market. As a giant of antivirus innovation, Norton applies heuristic and signature-based detection methods to isolate and neuter security threats before they execute on the host's system. In other words, Norton AntiVirus Plus is a reliable choice for security enthusiasts who want the most advanced protection possible.
Since launching in April 2019, Norton AntiVirus Plus has taken over as Norton's flagship anti-malware service. However, there is a noticeable lack of killer apps and features that make the upgrade from the previous Basic version to the new AntiVirus Plus seem unnecessary. The two main updates to the 2019 version of the software are the inclusion of an all-new password manager, and an additional 2GB of cloud storage capacity.
Perhaps Norton's foremost claim to fame is its heuristic recognition of suspicious data packets. Through decades of refinement, the Norton antivirus algorithm has acquired an unmatched ability to sniff out malicious websites and downloads. Before the infected files have a chance to contaminate the user's host system, Norton blocks the content instantly and flags the server as malicious. In turn, this speeds up the threat detection and elimination process in future instances.
Norton AntiVirus Plus requires minimal hands-on effort to operate. Although power users can run scans on-demand and edit Norton's filtering options to focus scans on high-priority HDD regions, most of Norton's capabilities are automated. Norton's signature anti-malware system uses deep packet inspection protocols to quarantine security threats and suspicious packages in real-time, essentially eliminating the need for direct user input.
At an affordable price point, Norton AntiVirus Plus offers single-device protection for a Windows or macOS device. Although lacking in online privacy features offered by some of its competitors, AntiVirus Plus remains a rock-solid anti-malware system backed by Norton's Virus Protection Promise, a money-back guarantee against viruses.
The latest version of Norton AntiVirus Plus features a full slate of legacy features of the Norton ecosystem, including a proprietary password manager, smart firewall, and online filtering. There are also new features bundled in the Plus package, including a webmail filter to reduce server-level spam and potential phishing emails.
However, webmail features are exclusive to Microsoft Outlook, with whom NortonLifeLock shares a long standing partnership. Other personal email clients are only compatible with Norton AntiVirus Plus with the installation of custom message diversion rules.
Norton offers revamped Startup Manager and Optimize Disk features in the 2019 version of AntiVirus Plus. These tools streamline your computer's startup launch programs and prevent unnecessary programs from booting with your PC. The result is a significantly faster boot time and a speedier web browsing experience given that a lesser share of your system's resources is dedicated to frivolous background applications.
The Plus package lacks parental controls and only provides 2GB of PC Cloud Backup storage, which runs out quickly compared to the 10GB offered by Norton's 360 Standard suite. Similarly, AntiVirus Plus does not include secure password storage and sharing, digital inheritance features, or multi-factor authentication, which is surprising for a leading cybersecurity software suite.
When put to the test, AntiVirus Plus performs as expected, scoring 95 percent on our sample malware screening tests. Interestingly, after running the same test a second time Norton discovered two additional threats, which garnered a score of 97 percent. Running a routine scan resulted in no noticeable impediments to processing speed, which is surprising given the volume of system resources that Norton requires.
Norton's graphical user interface (GUI) is ultra-minimalistic, featuring a four-panel dashboard corresponding to Security, Identity, Performance, and a settings tab. When the program is up-to-date and hasn't detected a security threat, the dashboard module features green lettering and details. On the other hand, the program switches to yellow or red coloring if a threat is encountered that requires action from the user.
Norton AntiVirus Plus isn't without its share of drawbacks. For example, the My Norton app, which controls the Norton AntiVirus dashboard remotely from mobile devices, is buggy and prone to crashing on current iOS handsets. Also, it's worth pointing out that a standard AntiVirus Plus subscription provides coverage for only one device, with each additional device requiring a new license purchase.
Norton AntiVirus Plus is a veritable anti-malware and antiphishing service that adds an ironclad layer of security on top of your operating system's built-in firewall. However, Norton's Plus package is only compatible with a single device, so it's not an ideal solution for families with multiple computers or businesses with several employees.
The 2020 lineup of antivirus software is stacked with watertight security tools that provide exceptional value for the money. That's why there's no good reason to take a chance on outdated antivirus software—they present too great a risk in the face of modern threats. New malware is programmed every day and the antivirus tools of yesteryear are no match for them.
After careful consideration, we selected Total AV as our number-one antivirus choice for 2020. Total AV packages a heavy-duty anti-malware and real-time protection service in a lightweight design that doesn't result in system slowdowns or workflow disruptions. On top of that, Total AV is the only antivirus program with a patented heuristic file reputation system and anti-rootkit monitor for advanced threat protection.
In a crowded field of premium antivirus suites, Total AV is the clear winner. Trust Total AV to protect your personal and professional devices, and to stay shielded from the latest phishing scams, ransomware attacks, and all other forms of cybercrime.