Everyone still calls it antivirus software, but while viruses still exist, there are many more threats besides those. And it isn’t simply a case of protecting the files and data on your laptop or PC from these threats: you’ve got to watch out for fake websites (and links in messages that lead to these sites) which are after your login details, personal information and your money.
In fact, it’s your money and identity that the criminals are after: they don’t create viruses and other malware for fun. They also know that you – the user – are the easiest target. It’s far simpler to trick you into clicking on a link in a WhatsApp message than to code a sophisticated virus. But modern security software will alert you if you’re about to log in to a fake website and prevent dangerous websites from loading when you tap on those dodgy links.
This is why you need to install such security software on your phone as well as your laptop to help protect your money and your identity, along with your photos, documents and other important files.
It’s still possible to buy antivirus software that only detects and blocks malware, but we recommend opting for a full security suite that includes the protections mentioned above, and also tends to come with useful extras such as password manager and VPN.
In this article, you’ll find everything you need to know about choosing and buying security software. It’s all subscription based, and each of the packages here can be installed on several devices, whether they’re PCs, phones, laptops or tablets.
Our current pick of the best antivirus is Norton 360 and McAfee Total Protection. Read on below the reviews for more in-depth buying advice.
Note: Authorities such as the FCC and BSI currently discourage the use of Kaspersky products, and Tech Advisor owner Foundry has also suspended its business partnerships with Russian companies. Although we haven´t removed the content about Kaspersky from our websites, you won´t find any purchase links for these products.
Also, note that Bullguard has been bought by Norton LifeLock, and has been discontinued so it’s no longer possible to buy a subscription. Any existing subscriptions will continue until they expire. For more, see Bullguard’s FAQ.
Best antivirus reviews
1. Norton 360 Deluxe
Excellent malware protection
Backup only for Windows
Limited features on iOS and macOS
Norton 360 Deluxe is so called because it really does offer all-round security that can protect your key devices as well as alert you if your logins are ever found for sale on the dark web, giving you an early heads-up of potential trouble and the opportunity to change your passwords.
Available for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, some of the highlights include top-notch antivirus performance, phishing protection, and warnings of dangerous websites, a no-limits VPN service and a password manager, plus cloud backup storage and performance tools to help speed up your computer.
However, not all of those features are available on all devices. You won’t find parental controls for macOS, for example, and cloud backup is only for Windows. As usual, there aren’t a whole lot of features for iPhones.
The good news is that the core malware protection is superb. In AV-Test’s most recent report, Norton 360 scored top marks for protection, performance and usability.
The price of this protection is £29.99 for the first year, which is £5.99 per device). As with almost all antivirus software, that’s a discounted rate for the first year: upon renewal it will cost you £89.99 (£18 per device), which is a little higher than some of its rivals.
In the US Norton 360 Deluxe costs $49.99 for the first year ($9.99 per device) and $104.99 thereafter.
Read our full
Norton 360 Deluxe review
2. McAfee Total Protection
ID protection service
Ineffective parental controls
No kill switch in VPN
McAfee Total Protection has an airy, easy-to-understand user interface and an integrated VPN service which offers 50 locations and unlimited data. Many security suites have a VPN which limits you to just a few hundred MB per day.
McAfee’s malware protection is among the best, and it’s easy to know when you need to do something to protect your PC (such as updating apps) thanks to useful, comforting alerts.
With UK subscribers now benefitting from ID protection, and subscription options covering all your devices, Total Protection can be great value if you have that many to protect. The price above is for five devices, but the extra cost to protect more is very reasonable.
Get McAfee Total Protection here. If you’re in the US, get Total Protection here.
Read our full
McAfee Total Protection review
3. Bitdefender Total Security
Excellent malware protection
Useful management portal
VPN limited to 200MB per day
No identity protection
Bitdefender’s Total Security is an excellent product. Like most rivals, Bitdefender charges a lot less than the standard price for the first 12 months, bringing it down to £34.99/$39.99 and this covers up to five devices.
In AV-Test’s latest report, Bitdefender’s Internet Security failed catch 100% of the 0-day malware attacks thrown at it, but that was only in March 2022, and has a strong record aside from this blip. It still scored top marks for overall protection and performance.
In terms of extra features you get a cross-platform password manager, but parental controls are basic, and there’s still no ID protection. The VPN is really only a trial version that lets you have 200MB of data per day, which means it’s hard to recommend Bitdefender over McAfee and Norton given that it costs the same.
You’d need to upgrade to the full version of the VPN if you want unlimited data (but there are better choices in our VPN roundup if you’re prepared to pay for one).
Get Bitdefender Total Security here.
Read our full
Bitdefender Total Security 2021 review
4. Eset Smart Security Premium
Solid malware protection
Lots of settings for power users
On the surface, ESET Smart Security has a simple interface that hides an impressive (but also hugely complex) raft of features.
Of these, only the poor parental controls and in-need-of-an-overhaul firewall configuration let the side down. And it’s worth noting that there’s no provision for identity monitoring / protection, nor a VPN.
Fortunately, the core malware protection – which includes anti-ransomware – is absolutely solid and while there is a bit of a negative impact on performance, the worst is when installing apps – something you won’t do all that often.
You can get
ESET Smart Security Premium for £49.99 here for one device and one year. If you’re in the US,
it’s $59.99 from here. It’s inexpensive to add licences for extra devices, so it’s considerably better value if you need to protect more than one computer. If you don’t need a password manager or the ability to encrypt files, folders and USB drives, then opt for ESET Internet Security which is cheaper.
Read our full
ESET Smart Security Premium 2021 review
5. Kaspersky Security Cloud
Excellent malware protection
Home Network Monitor not that useful
At first sight, there’s little to choose between Kaspersky Security Cloud and Kaspersky Total Security. All the main antivirus tools required are in both products, making them both good choices.
What’s significant about Security Cloud is that it contains adaptive security tech that automatically adjusts your settings based on your current activities. It helps you detect unauthorised devices and dodgy websites, as well as helping you make stronger passwords and manage them safely.
The Cloud version of Kaspersky Security wasn’t included in
AV-Test’s latest test, but the Internet Security version that uses the same engine scored top marks for protection, performance and usability.
It’s £49.99/$89.99 for three devices (including mobile) for a year.
Read our full
Kaspersky Security Cloud review
How to choose the best antivirus software
Internet security software, including antivirus software, detects, and then prevents, disarms or removes malicious apps or programs, which are often referred to as viruses.
While we still refer to it as antivirus, that’s only one feature of modern internet security software. That’s because security is no longer just about countering viruses. Although they very much still exist, viruses are just one type of the malware now prevalent on the web.
Arguably more important is security of your personal information and protection for your files from ransomware. Security exploits aren’t about show-off hackers massaging their egos, anymore, but about making money.
The modern day criminal doesn’t have to be a hard-line hacker, either. They can buy all the software they need on the dark web to do it with almost no effort.
What you need to look for, then, is antivirus that will protect you from viruses, ransomware, other types of malware (such as spyware). The best also include ID protection, but some are much better than others. Check what they actually do: will they monitor for more than just a couple of email addresses?
VPNs are often bundled with security suites, and here you need to check how much data it lets you use per month or per day. Unlimited is best, and 200MB per day is not really useful at all.
It’s rare to find a bundled VPN that will unblock video services, but they do exist (such as McAfee’s).
Beyond this, pick antivirus with the features you want: parental controls, a password manager and other things. But, of course, do read our reviews as well as they will tell you if these features are any good or not.
How we test antivirus software
Every program on this list is worth your investment. The differences between the top few are relatively minor. The critical thing is to install one of them.
Obviously, we install and use the software ourselves to evaluate the user experience as well as testing out all the additional features which go far beyond viruses. Testing the protection offered from malware, however, is a subtle art that requires serious expertise. For this reason we use test results from independent testing houses including the UK’s SELabs as well as Germany’s AV-Test.org and AV-Comparatives. Each rigorously tests antivirus products from a number of leading security companies.
The multifaceted testing procedure looks not only at how well an antivirus product can detect malware using traditional, largely signature-based methods (that is, employing a database of known malware types), but also how well it can block brand-new, unknown malware caught fresh from the wild. These companies also examine how well security products clean up after an infection if a piece of malware does get through.
We’ve focused on paid-for antivirus products here, but you can get free antivirus. Paid-for antivirus usually offers better technical support and more comprehensive protection features than free ones, but free is free and some free packages can still give paid packages a good run for their money. Internet security suites go further still, offering firewalls, parental controls, identity theft protection and more.
If you’re looking to protect a Mac, most of the packages here will also work on Macs. But you can also read our sister site Macworld’s round-up of the best antivirus for Mac.
Related articles for further reading