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.

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.

Antivirus software in comparison

 

Bitdefender

Norton

Avira

Kaspersky

McAfee

Version

Plus

Plus

Pro

Anti-Virus

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)

£14.99

£14.99

£29.99

£19.99

£27,49

*Free extension

 

Malwarebytes

ESET

SecureAnywhere

F-Secure

Version

Premium

NOD 32

AntiVirus

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)

From £2.50/month

£29

£22.49

£19.95

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. Occasionally, there are exceptions that 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 (around £72), Premium Security (around £108) or Total Security (around £72) 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 offers special 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
  • 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
  • Dark Web Monitoring monitors the darknet for personal user data and alarms the users if third-parties attempt to steal sensitive data

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 many 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 Pro, Avira Internet Security, and Avira Prime are good options for private users. Avira also offers packages for businesses such as the Avira Antivirus for Endpoint and Avira Antivirus for small business 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
  • 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

Some 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. Licenses (available separately or in packs of 3 and 5) need to be renewed every 12 months or every 24 months.

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 for secure surfing
  • Weak spot protection detects security weaknesses in Windows and apps
  • Simple management of system firewall
  • Shredder enables users to delete data permanently and not re-constructable

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

Mobile apps are battery-intensive

User-friendly

High pop-up frequency

Functions for data encryption

 

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)

Many solutions by Malwarebytes are suitable for Windows and macOS operating systems as well as iOS and Android, and Chromebook. The version for Apple notebooks and desktop computers is severely limited compared to the Windows option.

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 against cyber attacks
  • Secure online shopping and secure payments online
  • Extensive network security
  • Password manager
  • Encryption of private data
  • Smartphone Finder helps to find Android devices
  • 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

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 blocks harmful websites
  • Monitoring of firewall and network connections
  • Ultra-fast malware scans
  • Ransomware protection
  • Protection for passwords and log-in data
  • 25GB online storage space (only included in most expensive package)

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 solution for mobile devices

 

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 for secure online banking
  • 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


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