Best antivirus software 2021: Stay safe online with premium and free software

Best antivirus software 2021: Stay safe online with premium and free software

The best antivirus software provides essential protection for your devices, keeping them safe from harmful computer viruses and other malware. We spend a lot of time online these days, so it pays to keep yourself protected so you can browse the web, shop, and do your online banking without having to worry about your details being stolen or your computer becoming unusable.

While the best antivirus software was traditionally just needed for home computers and laptops , most of the top providers are now also compatible with smartphones and tablets too, so you can keep all your internet-connected devices safe.

It’s important to keep up to date with the best antivirus software, as the threats that programs face are constantly changing. All of the antivirus programs that we review are consistently updated through patches and support, while many of them also have yearly installments that add new features. Since new malware is being developed all the time, you can’t get away with just buying one antivirus program and using it for life.

Editor’s Choice: Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2020

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is the best antivirus software right now. It delivers watertight security, has excellent extra features, and it’s very easy to use. It’s extremely good value for money, too! VIEW DEAL ON Bitdefender

Most of the best antivirus programs these days operate on a yearly subscription model, meaning you’ll pay a yearly fee in exchange for the latest version of that software and all it’s updates will be free. You can also find some free antivirus software which is surprisingly effective, but these will often be lacking in features compared to the paid options. Premium antivirus software often comes with extras like firewalls, password managers, VPNs, and identity theft protection that free programs lack.

If you need an even more comprehensive security suite for your device, then you can also check out the best internet security software . These are enhanced versions of antivirus programs that pack in extra security features and offer coverage for a larger number of devices.

Antivirus software explainer

Malware is short for malicious software, and it’s a catch-all term to cover various types of threats that your device faces, including viruses, worms, trojan horses, spyware, adware etc.

A firewall is a network security device on your computer that monitors incoming and outgoing network traffic, and blocks unauthorized or dangerous traffic. Windows and Mac computers have built-in firewalls, but many antivirus programs come with their own firewall program too.

VPN stands for virtual private network. These programs offer you a way to stay anonymous online, by encrypting your network signal and bouncing it off another server. This prevents websites from knowing where you are. They can also be used to access content that is region-locked. Some antivirus and internet security programs come with VPN access included.

Best antivirus software

1. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus: Best antivirus software overall

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus

The best antivirus software overall. Period.

Operating system: Windows, Mac | Maximum devices covered: 10 | Stand out features: VPN, Safe Files, File Shredder, Password Manager

Excellent protection
East to use
Plenty of extras
Mac antivirus gets fewer extras

It was a tight contest, but in our opinion BitDefender edges it as the best antivirus software on the market. With the basic antivirus package, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus you get protection against viruses, spyware, ransomware and just about any other malicious kind of ware there is (no word on how it handles Tupperware). 

And while it’s all very well saying your product protects against these threats, Bitdfender backs up its claims with between 99.5 and 100% of malware attacks set against it when tested by industry experts.

Alongside this stellar protection against malware and viruses, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus also comes with access to a VPN to help you stay anonymous and safe online, along with Bitdefender’s Safe Files feature which can safeguard specific, important files further. Pricing is competitive too, with costs starting at $19.99 for the first year’s cover.

  • Read the Bitdefender Antivirus Plus review .

2. Norton 360 Antivirus Plus: Best antivirus for performance

2. Norton 360 Antivirus Plus

Great value antivirus software that won’t slow you down

Operating system: Windows, Mac | Maximum devices covered: 1 | Stand out features: Cloud storage, password manager, online threat protection.

Great antivirus protection
Variety of tiers
Easy to use
Multi-device coverage limited to higher tiers.

It really was a close contest for our top spot, but nipping right at the winners heels was Norton 360 Antivirus Plus. Again, you get an exceptional antivirus suite that protects you against all kinds of online threats including viruses, spyware and ransomware. And again, Norton can back up those claims with excellent results in industry antivirus tests from experts like AVTest and AV Comparatives where Norton 360 scored perfect marks in the most recent round of testing.

On the extras front, you also get access to a password manager along with 2GB of online cloud storage to help protect your most vulnerable files that could otherwise be lost if your home computer was compromised.

  • Read the Norton 360 Antivirus Plus review

3. Kaspersky Anti-Virus: Best antivirus protection

3. Kaspersky Anti-Virus

The best antivirus software for pure protection

Operating system: Windows | Maximum devices covered: 5 | Stand out features: Exceptional performance blocking malware

Exceptional protection
Very easy to use
Cheaper than most
No bonus features
No Mac coverage in basic tier.

Another huge name when it comes to antivirus software and with good reason, Kaspersky Anti-Virus is one of the best antivirus suites we’ve ever seen – in fact the only reason it doesn’t top out our list is the lack of extras and add ons. But as an antivirus program first and foremost, Kaspersky is peerless.

You get protection from viruses, spyware, malware, ransomware, Delaware, and a whole host of common hacking techniques. When tested recently by antivirus experts at AV Test and AV Comparatives, Kaspersky Anti-Virus scored perfect marks, blocking every single malicious file that was sent against it.

The only reason to look elsewhere is if you value some of the added extras that other programs bring, like VPNs and password managers, or if you only need to cover a single device. Kasperksy Anti-Virus stars at $29.99 for the first year to cover three devices, but there is no single device option so competitors are cheaper for single device users.

  • Read the Kaspersky Anti-Virus review

4. Avast Free Antivirus: Best free antivirus

Avast Free Antivirus

The best free anitvirus on the seven seas.

Operating system: Windows, Mac | Maximum devices covered: No limit | Stand out features: Free, password manager.

Great antivirus performance
Slows your computer down

What would you say if we told you that one of the best antivirus softwares on the market costs absolutely nothing? Nada, zilch, bupkis. Well it’s true, because Avast Free Antivirus is, as the name suggests, completely free. There are no hidden fees or delayed costs. It’s just free.

But surely it can’t be as good as the other antivirus programs out there, right? Wrong. Avast Free Antivirus offers you the same levels of protection as many of the other big names in the field, covering your devices from attacks by viruses, spyware and various other forms of malware. It performs excellently too, blocking between 99.7 and 100% of attacks levied at it by experts during their latest rounds of testing.

The downside is that it doesn’t run as efficiently as some premium antivirus software, so you may experience noticeable slowdown on your computer, especially if you’re using an older device. A small price to pay, when you’re not paying any price at all though.

  • Read the Avast Free Antivirus review

5. McAfee Total Protection: Best antivirus for technophobes

McAfee Total Protection

McAfee Total Protection takes a one size fits all approach.

Operating system: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS | Maximum devices covered: 10 | Standout features: VPN, Identify theft protection, password manager, firewall.

One size fits all
Extensive feature set
No standalone antivirus
Better options out there

While other companies have tiered their offerings, McAfee only offers a single antivirus solution called McAfee Total Protection. This is more of a full blown internet security software in truth, but it does include antivirus protection so we’d be remiss not to mention it here.

When it comes to antivirus protection, McAfee has been one of the big names for years now and it still offers a great product, though some of the competition might have started to pull away. The antivirus stood up to between 97.8 and 98.4 % of attacks in the most recent round of expert tests, which is excellent, but falls short of some of the other antivirus programs on our list.

You get a ton of other features rolled into the package, including a firewall, password manager, file shredder, and a secure VPN. But these aren’t freebies or extras, they’re part of the security package that you’re paying for. Pieces start at $29.99 for single device coverage for a year. That’s not bad, but if you just need an antivirus program you can get more devices covered for cheaper elsewhere.

  • Read the McAfee Total Protection review

6. F-Secure Antivirus SAFE: An easy to use antivirus

F-Secure Antivirus SAFE

The easiest antivirus software to use

Operating system: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS | Maximum devices covered: 3 | Stand out features: Browsing and banking protection, Family Rules, ransomware protection

Very easy to use
Great value
Some issues with false positives

F-Secure Antivirus SAFE is quite the serious piece of antivirus software. It comes with fantastic additional features to keep your system secure, such as banking protection for safe online shopping, and safety tools to protect your entire family, including time limits and content blocking. This protection extends beyond your desktop computer, too, with a device finder that can help you track down a lost Android or iOS device – and remotely lock or wipe it too, to keep data safe.

F-Secure Antivirus SAFE delivers premium antivirus protection, receiving high marks after testing by major labs, including AV-test. It’s worth pointing out that some noted more false positives were generated than other antivirus software packages, but whether that affects you will depend on how you use your computer. 

We like that this antivirus software program runs lightly – making it ideal for an older system. Another pro is the clean, easy-to-use interface. F-Secure Antivirus SAFE is an impressive package, and well-deserving of a place in our best antivirus software guide.

  • Read the F-Secure SAFE review .

7. Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security: Best antivirus for ransomware protection

Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security

Strong antivirus software with great ransomware protection

Operating system: Windows only | Maximum devices covered: 1 | Stand out features: Ransomware protection, advanced AI learning, email scam safeguarding, Pay Guard

Excellent malware detection
Simple to use
Could be resource intensive

Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security delivers highly effective protection. The antivirus software scores particularly well for anti spam, and comes with an effective ‘Folder Shield’ module to block ransomware. It has a reputation for being easy to use too.  

Although the best testing labs agree that its protection is very good, there’s some inconsistency to the details. AV-Comparatives, for example, reports a comparatively high number of false positives; while AV-Test found very high accuracy and no issues with false positives. One issue some agree on though is that Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security may be more resource intensive than others, making this antivirus software better suited to newer, more powerful systems.

We didn’t notice any performance problems, however. We found protection levels to be similar to Bitdefender, false positives were only marginally higher, and it didn’t slow down our system noticeably more than anything else.

Happily, there’s a free 30-day trial – which we’d advise running to check how the program performs on your system. If there are no noticeable issues, Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security is one of the best antivirus software programs you can choose.

  • Read the Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security review .

8. VIPRE Advanced Security: A great antivirus for saving system resources

VIPRE Advanced Security

An easy to use, non-invasive antivirus software

Doesn’t drag on your system
Doesn’t have a password manager

VIPRE Advanced Security is the easiest antivirus software program to install and use among the antivirus programs we tested. It’s easy to find the tools, functions and folders you need because they are clearly marked with large icons and big text. 

Subfolders and tools, like the quarantine folder and custom scan settings, are in the main folders where you would expect them to be, so it’s not hard to navigate this program. Also, setting up VIPRE doesn’t take a lot of guesswork, and it doesn’t cause much slowdown of your computer while its running, even during deep virus scans.

While third-party test laboratories don’t test VIPRE very often, we checked out how well it protects against malware and were happy to see it blocked 99 percent of the over-300 live malware samples we used for testing.

  • Read the review: VIPRE Advanced Security

9. Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus: A good lightweight option

Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus

The most lightweight antivirus software around

Operating system: Windows and Mac | Maximum devices covered: 1 | Stand out features: Always-on security, identity protection, real-time anti-phishing, firewall monitor

Very light on system resources
Extremely fast
Advanced features
No data from top labs

If you’re looking for a truly lightweight tool, Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus is the best antivirus software you can choose. Sure, most other products claim to be lightweight, but Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus is the only one to really live up to the claim: it’s tiny – and it’s exceptionally fast.  

It takes just seconds to install, and the program files are barely 2MB in size (some antivirus software can more than 700MB), with no bulky signature updates to hog your bandwidth. But just because it’s light on space, it doesn’t mean Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus is light on features. Aside from the core protection, it comes with smart behaviour monitoring, accurate real-time antiphishing, a firewall and network connection monitor, enhanced anti-ransomware, and other bonus features.

The top testing labs don’t evaluate Webroot’s products very often, so it’s tough to directly compare this program’s accuracy with that of the other best antivirus software programs. But when they are tested, they score well – and certainly our tests revealed solid, reliable protection.

The company is so confident you’ll like it, Webroot has given SecureAnywhere AntiVirus a generous 70-day 100 per cent money-back guarantee. If you’re fed up of bloated engines, Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus is a very good product and worth a shot.

  • Read the review: Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus

How we tested antivirus software

We have thoroughly researched antivirus packages and security software from a wide range of companies including all of the big names in internet security. Norton, Bitdefender, McAfee, Kaspersky – they’re all here along with a few names that you maybe haven’t heard of too.

We’ve put hours into researching what each antivirus software offers, collating pricing information and feature lists while also digging deep into how these programs actually perform in the wild.

We regularly turn to industry experts like the teams over at AV Test , and AV Comparatives and other laboratories and use their research when deciding on our overall antivirus ratings. These facilities test for zero-day threats, false positives and other security protections that we’re not fully equipped to test, so their findings are important to consider.

We also regularly update our reviews to take the latest rounds of testing into account, so you can be sure that our reviews are reflective of the current antivirus landscape.

Can antivirus software remove existing viruses?

Antivirus programs are able to find some viruses that already exist on your computer, but most malware is hard to detect once it’s in your system. This is because many of these threats are designed to block antivirus software, and others are disguised to look like real programs so they’re difficult to spot. In addition, while antivirus software can remove some existing malware, it can’t repair the damage the threat may have caused.

If your computer is infected with malware, we recommend seeking out a professional to help remove the viruses. Most local computer stores have professionals on hand who can remove malware for you or can recommend someone close by. Larger retailers usually have dedicated teams who can repair your device, like Best Buy’s Geek Squad, though they often require membership sign ups.

Once your computer is clean, you should install a good antivirus program like Bitdefender Antivirus Plus . This will keep the system clean by blocking malware from downloading and infecting your computer, to begin with. Norton 360 comes with a virus-free guarantee – if your computer becomes infected with malware while either program is installed, one of the developer’s experts will clean it off. If they can’t you get your money back. McAfee also offers a similar money back guarantee.

How much does good antivirus software cost?

Basic antivirus software generally costs between $20 and $50 per year, but this varies between brands and depending on how many devices you want to cover. Also bear in mind that these prices are usually introductory offers and the price will increase in subsequent years. It’s often best to jump to another provider every year to keep taking advantage of these deals.

More inclusive security suites are available for around $80. These typically come with three or more user licenses and include additional protection features like password managers, safe banking features, VPNs and mobile security.

There are also free antivirus programs out there to consider. Avast Free Antivirus is the best free antivirus program we tested because it has comparable performance to even the best paid antivirus programs, despite the lack of cost. Other companies that offer a free antivirus solution include Avira and AVG.

The biggest drawback of free antivirus programs, besides the lack of security tools, is the number of pop-up ads asking you to upgrade to the paid version. The protection is the same for free antivirus as it is for the pricier internet security programs offered by the same company, but the paid programs do come with more tools, like a personal firewall, vulnerability detection and password managers.

Using your data to help others

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2020 also has a data sharing program that allows the software to send information about viruses, Trojans, rootkits and other malware found on your computer back to its databases. This is a way to keep tabs on new threats and pass along protection to other Bitdefender users before the malware becomes a cyber outbreak. 

There hasn’t been any evidence of Bitdefender gathering inappropriate or unauthorized information, so we’re confident Bitdefender is safe to use. However, you can turn off this feature altogether from the Bitdefender dashboard if it worries you. 

What is the best mobile security antivirus software? 

Most smartphones come with in-built antivirus and other security measures as part of their operating systems, but you can layer additional security on top of that with some third party programs.

The vast majority of basic antivirus software don’t cover phones though, so if you’re looking to cover your mobile devices alongside your home computer then you should look into getting an internet security software setup. Programs like McAfee Total Protection and Norton 360 Standard offer cover for smartphones, both Android and iOS.

Do I need to uninstall an old antivirus program before installing a new one? 

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Most antivirus software competes with other protection programs, so you need to uninstall your old program before installing a new one. Also, antivirus programs take up substantial memory, and having two installed will cause your computer to run much slower. During the installation process, most programs perform a scan to see if any other antivirus software or components are already installed, and they will either uninstall the old program for you or prompt you to uninstall it manually.

However, there are a couple programs that work in tandem with other antivirus software. Both AVG and Avast work alongside other protection software to add a second layer of security, catching threats your main program may miss. In both programs, you can turn off the virus detection and scan features – your main program can provide those specific service, and you can still take advantage of AVG’s and Avast’s more advanced tools like safe banking and password managers. 

If you install Avast or AVG as a secondary antivirus program, make sure to install it after your main antivirus. Otherwise, your primary program will require you to uninstall it before completing the installation process.

What is the best antivirus for business? 

We found that Kaspersky is the best antivirus solution for small businesses, with excellent malware protection and a program that is easy to install and use, even if you’re not tech savvy. And if you don’t have dedicated IT personnel, Kaspersky has cloud-based programs so it can help you keep the program updated. 

Kaspersky’s Small Business program, which covers up to 25 endpoints, is compatible with both Windows PCs and Mac computers, as well as Android phones and tablets, so all your business devices can be protected. It includes password managers, data backup, both antispam and antiphishing tools, and web controls to keep tabs on what your employees are doing online. 

However, keep in mind that there has been some suspicion about Kaspersky using its security programs to gather sensitive information and spy on government employees, even in their own homes.

Another good business protection program is Avast Business Antivirus. It isn’t much different from the personal computer antivirus program, except it can easily protect more than 350 computers at a time. This program uses a personal firewall and VPN to keep your employees’ identity secure while connected to public WiFi. 

It also includes a vulnerability scanner to help keep all software on your computers updated and plug up any hole where hackers and ransomware could sneak in. Avast also monitors your webcams to ensure no one is accessing them without permission.

What is a personal firewall?

Firewalls inspect the packets of information coming through your internet connection and block those that are harmful. Hardware firewalls are included as part of your internet router. If information comes from a computer or a country known to be dangerous, these firewalls won’t let it through to your computer. But even if a packet of information comes from a trusted source, there still can be a threat inside that the hardware firewall is unable to detect.

Software firewalls, also known as personal firewalls, inspect what’s inside the packets to make sure there’s no malware. Some of the most common threats caught by firewalls are ransomware (viruses that hold files hostage until you pay the developers a fee), and Trojans (files that look legitimate on the outside but inside have another threat like a rootkit inside). 

Both of these threats are used by hackers as a way to get personal information and use it for financial gain, or sometimes just to wreak havoc. Running firewall software is especially important when you’re connected to a public hotspot because these often don’t use hardware firewalls, leaving your computer vulnerable to anyone looking to snatch information.

Firewall software also looks for devices connected to your internet that doesn’t belong to you or your family – a tactic commonly known as piggy-backing. Personal firewalls boot neighbors off your internet and block them from stealing your service in the future.

While you can purchase standalone personal firewall software, we’ve found using an antivirus program with an included firewall much easier, cost-effective and efficient. We’ve tested a number of antivirus packages that include a personal firewall; some of the best are VIPRE Advanced Security , Avira Free Security Suite , and McAfee Total Protection . You can learn more by checking out our reviews of the personal firewall software we tested.