Whether it’s browser hijackers grabbing your search page, or the latest ransomware encrypting all your files, every PC (and even your smartphone!) needs a sterling antivirus package to keep threats at bay.
Don’t rely on Microsoft’s very own Windows Defender to keep you safe. Sure, it’s free and easy to use, but independent tests show its protection rates can dip to 95%, sometimes even lower, compared to 99.x% for the leading competition.
This doesn’t mean you have to start spending big money. Experienced users in particular can build great solutions by combining free antivirus tools with other free and open source security products.
Commercial packages usually (but not always) deliver the best-rated protection, though, and sometimes include extras like password managers, web filtering, antiphishing tech and more. If you’re looking for the maximum security, at least consider parting with some cash.
1. BitDefender Antivirus Plus 2018
Rock-solid and reliable protection
Can be resource-hungry
In a world packed with free security software, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2018’s annual $39.99 fee may look expensive. Especially as this now only covers you for a single device, down from three last year.
Still, there are compensations. Bitdefender’s engine is one of the most accurate and reliable around, for instance, loved by all the big independent testers.
Web filtering blocks access to malicious sites, a secure browser keeps your online financial transactions safe, and there’s a password manager which auto-completes credit card details in web forms.
An excellent anti-phishing module alerts you to malicious links in your search engine results, and blocks access to dangerous sites.
There are one or two issues – it grabs more resources than average, and might conflict with some programs – but Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2018 is still a likeable package which offers excellent detection rates, great performance, and more than enough bonus features to justify the price.
Alternatively, you can purchase the Total Security 2018 edition for not much more. It adds a firewall, parental control, antispam, file encryption and more, and covers up to five PCs, Macs and Android devices (iOS is ‘coming soon’).
2. ESET NOD32 Antivirus
Expert-level antivirus for the more experienced user
Device access control
Not for beginners
If you judge an antivirus on the length of its feature list, ESET NOD32 Antivirus might be a disappointment. There’s no firewall, password manager, file shredder, vulnerability scanner or any of the bundled extras you’ll often find elsewhere.
This doesn’t mean the package is short on power, it’s just more focused on the antivirus fundamentals. ESET NOD32 Antivirus comes with real-time malware protection, an anti-ransomware layer, exploit protection, URL filtering to block malicious websites, and modules to prevent attacks using PowerShell and malicious scripts.
A Device Control module limits the risk of infection from other devices by controlling access to USB sticks, external hard drives, optical storage media, even devices connecting by Bluetooth and FireWire. It’s an unusual extra, but could make a difference if others are regularly plugging devices into your PC.
ESET NOD32 Antivirus isn’t aimed at beginners. The interface is clumsy sometimes, some features are very advanced, and even the Help isn’t always exactly helpful.
Experienced users will appreciate ESET’s power and configurability, though. Above-average protection does a good job of keeping you safe, and a lightweight design ensures the package won’t slow you down.
3. F-Secure Antivirus
Prone to false positives
If you’re tired of the junk that weighs down some antivirus tools, F-Secure Anti-Virus will make a refreshing change. There are no unnecessary extras here, no bonus features you’ll never use: you just get straightforward real-time browsing and antivirus protection.
Keeping things simple doesn’t mean compromising your safety. The package typically receives maximum marks for protection from AV-Test, and generally scores highly with AV-Comparatives, too. They also say it can generate significantly more false positives than most of the competition, but how that affects you will vary depending on how you use your computer.
The interface is a major plus. It’s extremely easy to use, lightweight, and for the most part you can just leave the app alone to look after your PC. The program has minimal effect on your system performance, and if you do need to intervene then you can generally solve any issues in a couple of clicks.
Competitors like Bitdefender and Kaspersky offer better protection and more features, but F-Secure Anti-Virus remains an appealing package: fast, lightweight, and able to run alongside many other security tools without conflict. It’s good value, too.
4. Kaspersky Antivirus 2017
Trustworthy security for beginners and experts alike
One of the best performing security packages
Supremely easy to use
Kaspersky’s full suites are better value
Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2017 is a stripped-back security package which focuses on the core security essentials: web filtering blocks dangerous URLs, an accurate antivirus engine detects and removes threats, smart monitoring technologies track and reverse malicious actions, and that’s about it.
Fortunately, what you do get works well. Very, very well. We’ve consistently found Kaspersky to be amongst the best at blocking malware, and removing it from an infected system, plus it’s regularly top-rated at sites like AV-Comparatives.
The program is easy to use, too. A well-designed interface has just the right number of buttons and options – not too basic, but not complicated or intimidating, either – and there are plenty of on-screen instructions to explain how everything works. Even a beginner will be at home right away.
The price is average at best. If you’re looking for better value, check Kaspersky’s Total Security product. Not only is it a full security suite with privacy protection, encryption, password management, parental controls and more, but due to some bizarre licensing quirk it’s even cheaper than Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2017 in some configurations (check the comparison table here).
But if you just need accurate, reliable and consistent malware protection, Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2017 will serve you well.
5. Norton AntiVirus Basic
Quality protection that won’t slow you down
Blocks even brand new malware
Low impact on system resources
Browser extension extras can be unreliable
Norton AntiVirus Basic is a top quality malware hunter which can automatically protect your PC all on its own, but also offers plenty of tweaks, options and settings for those who need them.
One of the best URL blockers around keeps you away from malicious websites, for instance. If that misses something, an excellent file reputation service recognises suspect downloads immediately. And if malware still finds a way through, intelligent behaviour monitoring kills it at the first sign of trouble.
If you’re a more hands-on type, you can easily run scans on demand. Maybe set up and save custom scans to check just the areas you need. Even schedule them to run at a particular time, but only if your system is idle, and it’s not running on battery power.
There can be problems with some of the browser extensions. The bundled Norton Identity Safe is a capable password manager when it’s running properly, but we’ve found the Chrome version sometimes stops working for no apparent reason. We’ve seen plenty of reviewers reporting similar problems, so there does seem to be a real issue here.
Still, you don’t have to use Identity Safe at all, and Norton AntiVirus Basic’s main functions deliver on all fronts: it’s easy to use, has the configuration options experts need, comes highly rated by the testing labs, and is carefully designed to have the least possible impact on your system performance.
6. Panda Antivirus Pro
A user-friendly and very well-featured antivirus solution
Lots of features
Easy to use
Real-time malware detection, speedy cloud-based scanning, URL filtering to block malicious websites: Panda Antivirus Pro has all the goodies you’d expect from a top antivirus package.
That’s just the start. A simple two-way firewall helps to keep your system secure. An application control system can define exactly what runs on your PC, stopping even some brand new and undiscovered malware. A virtual keyboard helps you enter confidential data without it being intercepted by keyloggers. There’s even a tool to build a bootable USB rescue disc, ready to remove even the most stubborn threats.
Some of these bonus features are relatively basic. The Panda firewall does its job and can make you more secure, for instance, but it doesn’t compete with the standalone firewall competition. Experienced network users will probably want more.
The simplicity does at least keep everything very easy to use. Options are organised in a straightforward Windows 10-like interface, with all the main modules just a click or two away. Even the firewall doesn’t need to know anything more than your current network location: Home, Work or Public Place.
There’s not a lot of Panda test results from the independent labs around right now, but the figures we’ve seen show the company delivers above average protection, and overall Panda Antivirus Pro does a good job of keeping malware at bay.
7. Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security
Might slow you down
Higher than average false positives
Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security is a capable antivirus package that’s simple to use with above average antispam and an effective ‘Folder Shield’ module to block ransomware.
How good is it? The top testing labs all rate it highly for protection, although there’s some disagreement on the details. In particular, AV-Comparatives says it gives a high number of false positives, which could be a real nuisance. But AV-Test reports high levels of accuracy and no issues with false positives at all.
If there’s a problem here, it’s likely to be performance impact. PassMark’s March 2017 Performance report assessed 15 security products on various performance-related benchmarks, and Trend Micro came bottom of the list.
Our experiences with the product are a little more favourable: protection levels appear similar to Bitdefender, false positives are only marginally higher, and it doesn’t slow down our system noticeably more than anything else.
We’d recommending running the trial for its full 30 days before you buy, then, to see if you notice any problems. But if you’re unaffected, its high levels of detection and excellent bonus features make Trend Micro a good choice.
8. Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus
The most lightweight antivirus around
Extremely light on system resources
No testing data from the top labs
Just about every antivirus tool claims to be ‘lightweight’, but Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus is the only one to really deliver on this front. Installation takes seconds, the program files barely grab 2MB of your hard drive, RAM footprint is tiny, and there are no bulky signature updates to tie up your bandwidth.
There’s no compromise on features, though. Along with the core antivirus protection, there’s smart behaviour monitoring, accurate real-time antiphishing, a firewall and network connection monitor, enhanced anti-ransomware, and other interesting extras.
It’s not easy to compare Webroot’s accuracy with the competition, as the big testing labs rarely evaluate the company’s products. But when they are reviewed, they generally score well, and our own tests show solid and reliable protection.
There’s a lot to like about SecureAnywhere AntiVirus, and Webroot’s 70-day 100% money-back guarantee suggests it’s confident in the product, too. If you’re tired of overly complicated and bloated antivirus engines, Webroot must be on your shortlist.
Panda is offering a massive 50% discount on both their Antivirus Pro and Internet Security packages. Use code TECHRADAR50
Kaspersky is offering its Total Security 2017 package for £34.99 via Amazon. It covers up to 10 devices for a year.