Antivirus software: Which software is best?

Antivirus programs are included as basic components of most computers these days to ensure that systems are secured against malware attacks. The Internet harbours countless threats: viruses, worms, and Trojan horses represent only a fraction of malicious attackers. These days, malware attacks take on many different forms and are becoming increasingly more complex as technologies advance. If a computer system is attacked, users could lose valuable data including their passwords, bank data or other personal data.

Choosing the right antivirus software – what criteria to look out for?

To find a suitable antivirus program for your computer system, you need to evaluate its various features and functions. Should the software provide basic security or do you require more advanced security features? Maybe you need specialist tools such as extra protection for online banking or additional encryption of highly sensitive data. Your personal usage needs play an important role in determining a suitable antivirus software. This may also determine whether you should opt for a free or fee-based software. However, don’t expect the most expensive program to offer the best protection. When it comes to antivirus programs, it’s best to consider the advantages and disadvantages of your top choices and choose an option that matches your security needs.

Antivirus software comparison: An overview of the best software available

There are countless antivirus software options available such as Bitdefender, NortonLifeLock, Avira, Kaspersky, AVG, Avast, and Trend Micro to name just a few. As the number of providers grows, so does the competition to provide the best quality. When it comes to security, performance, operation and support the differences become harder to differentiate. Even free antivirus programs rely on high standards and have become viable alternatives to established, fee-based software. Our detailed comparison of antivirus software shows you which additional tools and features exist, and how free software differs from paid-for programs.

Tip

When choosing an antivirus software make sure to select the correct operating system. Many providers now offer all-around protection for well-known operating systems. A few exceptions may include Linux, macOS, Android and iOS.

Bitdefender

Bitdefender is a Romanian cybersecurity company which provides different antivirus packages for private users and businesses. It provides cross-platform products such as Small Office Security ($99.98/around £77.00), Premium Security ($149.99/around £115.00) or Total Security ($99.99/around £77.00) promising high quality in terms of security, features and ease-of-use. Prices vary depending on the number of devices you need to secure, but they are generally fairly high. The software is easy to use and includes a dashboard that’s nicely laid out which makes using it on touch-based devices much easier. The features that make Bitdefender stand out include:

  • Real-time scanner: delivers an always-on security shield and offers strong performance thanks to the integrated cloud scanner without burdening system performance
  • Automatic updates: programs are updated hourly and achieve a higher hit rate to detect different types of malware
  • Safepay: additional security for financial transactions
  • Spam protection: filters irrelevant messages in email inbox
  • Weak point scanner: shows weaknesses in a computer system

One of the main disadvantages of Bitdefender is that its spectrum of features depends on the package – the higher the price, the more features are included. For example, the cheapest version of the antivirus software does not include spam protection, firewall, mobile protection or additional encryption technologies.

Advantages Disadvantages
Numerous individual security solutions for private users and businesses Support could be expanded
Up-to-date malware protection Confusing product portfolio
Operation optimised for mobile devices Costly

Norton by NortonLifeLock

Norton is an antivirus program series by US software developer NortonLifeLock (previously Symantec). The company acquired Peter Norton Computing in 1990 and kept the Norton product name ever since. Norton Security products are of a high-quality standard and provide customers with a wide range of security features for multiple device types. The products aren’t free, but they offer great performance, user-friendly interfaces and direct support at a low cost. The most important features of the Norton Security antivirus software are:

  • Real-time protection against all types of malware attacks
  • Intelligent firewall for Windows and Mac
  • All-around protection for up to 10 devices (Premium Edition)
  • Exclusive Norton expert support and virus protection guarantee (money return guarantee in case of irremovable virus attack)
  • Password manager
  • Cloud backup (10GB, 50Gb or 75GB depending on the edition)
  • SafeCam function to block foreign access to webcam

One of the disadvantages of the software is that peer-to-peer (P2P) network worm protection is missing. Protection for instant messaging attachments is only available for Apple mail and Apple messages.

Advantages Disadvantages
Money-back virus protection guarantee Weak offline security
Firewall and SafeCam function across all editions Partially unusable, disruptive messages
Very user-friendly No P2P worm protection

Avira

Avira is a well-known German software company that offers various antivirus software products for private users and companies. It provides both free and fee-based products for PC, Mac, Android, and iOS. Avira Antivirus Pro ($44.99/around £35.00), Avira Internet Security ($57.99/around £45.00), and Avira Prime ($99.99/around £77.00) are good options for private users. Avira also offers packages for businesses such as the Avira Antivirus for Endpoint ($142.00/around £110.00) and Avira Antivirus for small business ($208.00/around £160.00) editions. All packages provide good protection and excellent support at a fair price. The company’s Free Security Suite has been ranked among the best free antivirus programs for years. It includes the most important essential protection features. The key features Avira packages offer include:

  • Automatic software and driver updates
  • Real-time protection and repair function
  • Security for online transactions and credit card payments (Avira Prime only)
  • Intelligent ad blocker
  • Smart home security
  • Protection for data server (Business solutions)

The dashboard can be a little confusing due to multiple menu options and will be more appropriate for experienced users. Support is available in multiple languages and includes FAQs, tutorials, handbooks, forums, and a “Virus Lab” which provides an overview of the latest malware threats.

Advantages Disadvantages
Provides a free edition with solid security features Unclear menu overview
Version upgrades are possible at any time All pay-for editions only cover up to five devices
Regular software updates  

Kaspersky

With establishments in over 30 countries, a team of more than 4,000 highly qualified specialists and expertise in security software since 1997, Russian software company Kaspersky Lab has a lot of experience in producing high-quality software security solutions for private users and businesses. The company’s product portfolio ranges from classic antivirus software for the family desktop to complex enterprise protection for businesses with more than 1,000 employees. Some of its editions such as Security Cloud and Internet Security also incorporate cross-platform support, whilst others have been adapted to suit operating systems including Windows, macOS, Android or iOS.

Among the most important features of Kaspersky products are:

  • Browser encryption for secure online shopping and banking (Windows or macOS)
  • Webcam and phishing protection
  • Intelligent VPN security for unsafe WLAN (up to 200 MB/ 500 MB data traffic per day)
  • Password manager (not included in all editions)
  • Special protection for servers and workstations (Business edition)

Knowing that it ranks among the most reliable and top-rated antivirus software makers of the last years, the cost of Kaspersky products is slightly higher. The company requires eachindividual device to obtain a license which is valid for one to two years and will need to be renewed thereafter.

Advantages Disadvantages
Clearly laid out user interface Comparatively expensive
Added protection for unsecure WLAN networks Computationally intensive
Centuries of experience in fighting malware  

McAfee

McAfee also counts among the best-known developers of computer security software. Like many other service providers of antivirus programs, the US software company offers special editions for private users, small businesses and enterprises. Licenses for McAfee packages can be purchased for one person or one device or any number of clients. Each license lasts one year and requires renewal thereafter.

The most important features for cross-platform solutions (Windows, macOS, iOS, Android) include:

  • Password manager
  • Function to encrypt data (128-bit)
  • Browser protection
  • Weak spot protection
  • Simple management of system firewall
  • Money-back guarantee (30 days)

McAfee’s experience within the antivirus software space is evident when it comes to ease-of-use. Users of the desktop versions and mobile apps benefit from uncluttered, and intuitively designed user guidance.

Advantages Disadvantages
Good price-performance with money-back guarantee Automatic licensing renewal
User-friendly High pop-up frequency
Functions for data encryption Mobile apps are battery-intensive

Malwarebytes

Another software developer addressing malware and cyber criminality is Malwarebytes. The US company has been producing security solutions for home and business use since 2009. It also provides a free antivirus software, but Malwarebytes recommends installing its free edition only as an extension to other antivirus programs, because the software cleans up infected devices but doesn’t provide any preventative protection. Its cloud-based Enterprise products can be used by up to 10,000 devices. Core features of Malwarebytes antivirus products include:

  • Protection against ransomware
  • Central dashboard which flags threats (Business edition)
  • Automatic, regular updates of security package
  • Browser protection for secure surfing (Windows and Android only)
  • Detection of scams and harmful links in SMS (Android)

Many solutions by Malwarebytes are suitable for Windows and macOS operating systems as well as iOS and Android, and the Linux-based Chrome OS.

Advantages Disadvantages
Cloud-based Enterprise solutions for up to 10,000 devices Functionality for private users is heavily restricted
Exclusive security features for Android smartphones No firewall solutions
  Frequent upgrade reminders in the free version

ESET

Founded in Bratislava in 1992, Slovakian software company ESET now operates in over 200 countries. Most of its security solutions, which include antivirus programs for private and business customers, have been developed for Microsoft Windows. ESET also provides adequate protection solutions for Android, Linux and macOS devices. The free ESET NOD32 Antivirus edition – the classic antivirus software by the company – provides the most important protective measures against computer viruses and other malware. For extended security options, customers should choose a premium package such as ESET Internet Security or Smart Security Premium. Enterprise solutions by ESET are a good choice for businesses.

ESET Premium users gain access to the following features and functions:

  • Hacker protection
  • Secure online shopping and secure payments online
  • Extensive network security
  • Password manager
  • Encryption of private data
  • Smartphone Finder and protection against harmful apps (Android)

Businesses can choose from specific solutions to secure their end devices (desktop and mobile) or servers (Fileserver, SharePoint, Mailserver, etc.) as well as single products to encrypt and authenticate data.

Advantages Disadvantages
Beginner-friendly user interface Antivirus edition with limited functions
Gaming mode High pop-up frequency
  No own firewall

SecureAnywhere by Webroot/Carbonite

The US-based company Webroot – now a subsidiary of Carbonite Inc. – has been developing performance and security tools for home users since 1997. Its SecureAnywhere product series includes simple antivirus software for Windows and macOS, as well as complex security suites for extended protection on desktop and mobile devices. The pricing structure makes the antivirus solutions suitable for use by businesses, but Webroot is missing a dedicated Enterprise edition. The spectrum of features included in Webroot are:

  • Real-time phishing protection
  • Monitoring of firewall and network connections
  • Ultra-fast, disruption-free scans
  • Ransomware protection
  • Protection for passwords and log-in data (not included in its antivirus software packages)
  • 25GB online storage space (not included in its antivirus software packages)

In our comparison of antivirus software, SecureAnywhere stands out for its slim program code. The security solutions are swiftly installed and only utilise minimal system resources.

Advantages Disadvantages
Antivirus software is minimalist and resource-friendly Antivirus edition is not usable for mobile devices (requires Internet Security Plus or Complete)
Very fast security and malware scans No specific edition for enterprises
  No firewall solution

F-Secure

Among the first companies to combine multiple virus scanning engines in a single antivirus software is the Finnish company F-Secure. The company focuses on virus security and intrusion prevention, with a product portfolio that spans simple antivirus programs and complex security suites for businesses. Its F-Secure Anti-Virus package focuses solely on virus defence and is only available for Windows. Users who require support for other systems such as macOS, Android or iOS, or those in need of broad security features will need to choose the premium editions – F-Secure SAFE or F-Secure TOTAL, or the business solutions.

Functions and features provided by F-Secure include:

  • Browser security including family manager (allows users to restrict surf time and block websites, etc.)
  • Ransomware protection
  • Banking security
  • Private VPN, WLAN security and tracking protection (only F-Secure TOTAL)
  • Central F-Secure account for the administration of all devices

When using F-Secure products in companies, clients can choose to secure all their end devices or the entire cloud. They can also install more complex threat security and install weak spot management.

Advantages Disadvantages
Central account for the management of all secured devices Antivirus edition without additional features and only suitable for Windows systems
Manufacturer with good know-how in the area of virus protection No own firewall
  Support could be improved

Antivirus software in comparison

Note

The table compares the basic editions for private users by each provider of the antivirus software. Listed features may, therefore, differ from those mentioned in the main text.

  Bitdefender Antivirus Plus Norton AntiVirus Plus Avira Antivirus Pro Kaspersky Anti-Virus McAfee Total Protection
Anti-Malware
Ransomware Protection
Password Manager ✓ * ✓ **
Firewall - - - -
Secure Online Banking - - -
Webcam Protection - - - - -
Mail Security - - -
Encryption - - - -
Child Security - - - -
Android/iOS Protection - - - -
Cost (for 1 device in first year) $39.99 / £30.00 $19.99 / £15.00 $30.99 / £24.00 $29.99 / £23.00 $34.99 / £27.00

* free upgrade

** paid-for upgrade

  Avast Free Antivirus Malwarebytes Premium ESET NOD32 Antivirus SecureAnywhere AntiVirus F-Secure Anti-Virus
Anti-Malware
Ransomware Protection -
Password Manager - - - -
Firewall - - - - -
Secure Online Banking - - -
Webcam Protection - - - -
Mail Security ✓ * - - - -
Encryption - - - - -
Child Security - - - - -
Android/iOS Protection ✓ (only Android) - - -
Cost (for 1 device in first year) free $32.99 / £25.00 $39.99 / £30.00 $29.99 / £23.00 $39.99 / £30.00

We’re all in this together. At IONOS we are
#hereforyou
Coronavirus is a challenge we need to face together.
We've created special offers on key products to help
your business keep going.
3 months free
Online Shop
Be where your customers are with your own online store.