Popular Antivirus Software
- $59.99 & Up
- Free Version
- Operating Systems
- Windows, macOS, Android
- $59.99 & Up
- Free Version
- Operating Systems
- Windows, macOS, iOS, Android
- $59.99 & Up
- Free Version
- Operating Systems
- Windows, macOS, iOS, Android
Cybersecurity threats come in a dizzying number of ever-changing forms, from an increasing variety of sources. These threats include malicious programs like:
- Viruses, which infect your computer with unwanted and potentially damaging software
- Adware, which displays or downloads ads when you’re online
- Spyware, which can transmit personal information from your computer
- Ransomware, which locks up your computer until you pay a “ransom” for someone to unlock it
- Other forms of malware, like remote access trojans.
Additional types of attacks include phishing (fraudulent emails that can trick you into revealing personal information), worms (software that can modify or delete files and spread to other computers), and a host of other creative ways of stealing your data or otherwise causing major headaches.
Antivirus software combats these threats by scanning the information and files coming to and from your computer via surfing the web, emailing, and other online activities. Antivirus programs also use virtual private networks (VPNs), firewalls, and parental controls to protect children.
Antivirus software companies often use their own terms for these features, which can make it challenging to compare different software packages. However, don’t get too caught up in the terminology. Generally speaking, all major antivirus software companies offer solutions that not only address today’s most pressing security problems, but are also designed to update themselves to defend against new attacks, such as the growing number of threats from online scams and spam emails.
Antivirus software combats these threats by scanning the information and files coming to and from your computer via surfing the web, emailing, and other online activities.
“I don’t think users should probably worry too much about how different threats are categorized by the security industry,” says Simon Edwards, CEO of security testing company SE Labs. “Whether it’s a virus, Trojan, or phishing email, they’re all bad for your wallet and computer’s health. A good internet security application should handle all or most of these types of threats.”
To purchase antivirus software:
In this guide, we’ll explain these steps in more detail. We’ll also explain why you need antivirus software, what it does, how much it costs, and the differences between free, basic, and premium-priced antivirus packages. In addition, we’ll go over mistakes to avoid when buying antivirus software and list the Best Antivirus Software of 2022.
Buying antivirus software isn’t as complicated as it may seem. Below we take you step-by-step through the process, outlining the major considerations along the way.
There are three factors to consider when choosing antivirus software: performance/reliability, pricing/value, and comfort/ease of use.
Performance/Reliability: Make sure the antivirus program you’re considering is able to block viruses, adware, phishing attempts, and other threats. We’ve done the work for you on this score; all of the antivirus programs in our Best Antivirus Software of 2022 and Best Antivirus Software for Mac 2022 ratings are effective and reliable.
Pricing/Value: Next, check the price of the products and what each package includes. Don’t focus too much on the initial discounted sign-up price, which is only good for the first year. The annual renewal price is more important. The deeper the initial sign-up discount is or the more prominently it’s displayed, the more wary you should be.
While lower-priced “basic” packages are tempting, a more expensive premium package may be a better value. Protection from malware, viruses, adware, spyware, and ransomware are usually included in basic packages, along with assurances of protection against new, unknown threats. But given the scale and rate of new hacker attacks, consider the benefits of premium products that include extras like VPNs, firewalls, webcam security, and financial account protections. Recovering from a successful attack – say, if your bank account or Social Security number is stolen – will be far more expensive than a small additional monthly fee. Note that some companies offer certain benefits like a VPN as a separate product.
Next, make sure that the antivirus product you’re considering offers protection for all the devices you want to use it with. If your devices run different operating systems (Windows, macOS, iPhone iOS, and/or Android), purchase an antivirus solution that covers them all. Also note that some antivirus software limits the total number of devices you can install it on simultaneously.
Comfort/Ease of Use: You can gauge how easy an antivirus program is to use in a variety of ways. First, look at how information is presented on the company’s website. Are the package options laid out clearly, and are the features, benefits, and protections easy to understand? Is there a clear comparison between the various options? Do you understand the list of protections and solutions, or are they loaded with obscure jargon? How clearly a vendor describes its products could indicate how much effort the company devotes to making its products easy to install and use.
Next, take advantage of a free trial. You’ll find out if the software is easy to use, if it slows down your PC, how often it fails to remove an infection, and how often you need to interact with it.
Finally, make sure the company provides 24/7 customer support. If there’s a problem, you don’t want to be stuck sending an email and hoping for a response whenever someone gets around to it.
Creating an Account
While downloading a free trial or free version of antivirus software doesn’t require you to identify yourself to the vendor, you likely will have to create an account when you buy a subscription license.
Opening an account allows you to more easily adjust privacy, subscription, and payment settings; configure features of various devices on which you’ve installed the software; receive updates and other product changes; enable scanning permissions; and otherwise manage your subscription. The only reason to not open an account is if you don’t trust the vendor, in which case you should buy another product.
Opening an account allows you to more easily adjust privacy, subscription, and payment settings, and otherwise manage your subscription.
e Antivirus Software
Antivirus software installs in various ways once you download it from the vendor’s website, depending on the device you’re installing it on.
On a Windows computer, the primary antivirus package is downloaded as a typical Windows .exe file that’s stored in Windows Explorer’s program folder. Run the .exe file as prompted to open and run the software’s installer. The .exe file should include the long license key or serial number so you can avoid having to type it in during installation, but keep the license key handy just in case.
If your antivirus software also extends protection to web browsing, an extension will be added to your web browsers. Some protections, such as for email and identity, are mostly cloud-based and aren’t added to your system.
Few vendors sell physical copies of their software. Most software boxes in electronics stores include only a product or license key to enter when you download the software. If your box includes a DVD or other physical media, you’ll be instructed how to install the software and then download the most recent updated version.
the Licensing Agreement
After installing the antivirus software, you’ll have to consent to the user or licensing agreement. Some vendors operate online user communities to help solve problems, and permission to access this vast online user community may be part of the authorization process.
r Computer if Required
Your new software will immediately begin operating, and it’s unlikely you will have to reboot your computer. The only time a reboot will be necessary is if you have to uninstall previous antivirus software, including any free trials you may have been auditioning.
Computer for Viruses
We recommend conducting an initial scan of your computer once your new antivirus software is installed. This initial scan could take more than an hour, depending on how many files the software has to examine. The software will let you know how much time the scan will take and if you can use your computer while it’s being conducted. Subsequent on-demand scans usually take only a few minutes.
Antivirus software automatically updates itself with new virus definitions and security features. This usually happens multiple times a day, depending on how many new threats the software vendor or software identifies. If you allow it, your antivirus software anonymously transmits unknown or evolving threats that you and other users encounter to the vendor for analysis. All users’ software is then updated accordingly. These updates are conducted in the background, completely invisible to the user.
You will be prompted if occasional patches or a new version of the antivirus software becomes available. All patches and updates should be installed without delay to make sure your computer remains protected.
Antivirus or anti-malware software continually scans incoming files to your computer for potential threats from a variety of sources – primarily malware contained in email attachments, websites, and file downloads. It then cleans or eliminates infected files or malicious programs from your system. According to Hawes, antivirus software acts like “a really good security guard – not just sitting in a booth watching a grainy CCTV screen, but patrolling everywhere at once, tracking all the people who should be there and comparing unidentified visitors to a massive list of known bad guys and characteristics of various types of bad guy, keeping an eye on all doors and windows to see if any are opened unexpectedly, listening and sniffing for unexpected sounds or smells.”
Experts agree that all PC users should use some sort of antivirus protection.
Antivirus software companies maintain continually updated databases of known and potential viruses, suspicious behaviors, and trustworthy and suspicious websites. Using this information, an antivirus program conducts a wide range of tests to determine the safety of each downloaded file, online activity, and website. It then warns you of, blocks, and/or eliminates a potential threat. The specific techniques used depend on the type of threat. For instance:
- Signature-based detection searches for a “fingerprint” of an existing or known threat, similar to the way antibodies in the bloodstream detect and attack known viruses.
- Heuristic-based scanning uses sets of rules that match multiple types of malware to identify “polymorphic viruses,” malicious code that constantly changes and adapts to avoid detection.
- Machine learning uses computing power to process data on vast numbers of known files – both harmless and harmful – to detect patterns that can help identify unknown threats.
- In-memory scanning examines a potentially infected file after it’s loaded into a computer’s memory.
- Behavior monitoring lets suspicious files run but stops them when they do something that could be harmful – usually with the power to roll back any changes those files made to the computer.
- “Sandboxing” involves segregating suspicious encrypted files in a safe part of the operating system, where they’re opened and examined to make sure they’re safe.
All of these activities are conducted in the background while you’re working. With good antivirus software, it’s unlikely you’ll notice a difference in your computer’s performance.
“Most malware these days is single-use – items are repackaged to look a little different each time someone downloads them,” Hawes says. “Larger security vendors use this to their advantage. Because they have huge customer bases, they can safely assume anything they’ve not seen anywhere else is probably bad, which effectively reversed the race and made the rapid changing of samples something easy to spot.”
Experts agree that all PC users should use some sort of antivirus protection. However, this software should complement, but not replace, safe online behaviors.
“Having good antivirus software doesn’t make you safe from everything,” says John Hawes, Chief Operating Officer of the international nonprofit Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization (AMTSO). “It’s like driving a car – just because you’ve got your seatbelt on and your car has good crumple zones, it doesn’t mean you can drive with your eyes shut.”
Safe online behaviors include:
- Not clicking on links or opening attachments in an email unless you’re absolutely sure of the safety of the source. Even if the sender is familiar and the email looks authentic, check the actual email address behind the one displayed. If the URL in the email is not from the entity it claims to be from, the email is from a hacker.
- Not providing private information, such as Social Security or bank account numbers, in email responses or on online forms you navigated to from clicking on an email link.
- Using email addresses for different activities and people you communicate with – for example, one for family and friends, one for work, one for your banking and bills, and one for shopping and other online activities. If you use your personal email for banking but get an email at work that’s supposedly from your bank, you’ll know it might not be authentic.
- Using unpredictable passwords with capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and punctuation marks. Use different passwords for different sites. Consider using a password manager that randomly creates and organizes passwords.
- Avoiding open or unlocked Wi-Fi networks, or at least not using them to send or receive personal information.
- Installing all Windows and other software updates as soon as they’re available.
- Using two-factor authentication – where a site sends you an email or text message with a code after you type in your password – if that service is offered.
The term antivirus software can be misleading, because these programs address many more types of cybersecurity threats than just viruses, like ransomware and remote access trojans. All of these threats fall under the general category of “potentially unwanted applications” (PUA), or simply “malware.”
Antivirus or anti-malware software continually scans incoming files to your computer for potential threats from a variety of sources
“Malware is the generic term for every threat which is malicious,” says Peter Stelzhammer, co-founder and chief operating officer of testing lab AV-Comparatives. Other types of malware include worms, viruses, trojans, and ransomware. These can be used individually or in combination, depending on the sophistication and goals of the attacker. Andreas Marx, a managing director at testing lab AV-Test, says his company is seeing more than 350,000 new and unique types of malware every day – or about four every second.
Computer security experts also want to debunk the myth that Windows is more vulnerable than Apple’s macOS to hacker attacks. While “macOS is arguably better designed from a security viewpoint,” according to Hawes, most hackers find it easier to take advantage of poor email, social media, and web browsing behaviors by the vastly larger number of Windows users than trying to exploit potential Windows or Mac security flaws.
Understanding that the breadth of Windows adoption makes its users – not necessarily Windows itself – more vulnerable to attack, Microsoft has strengthened its own free security product called Microsoft Defender Antivirus. This is pre-installed in Windows 10 and Windows 11, which is one reason for users to upgrade from older Windows versions.
Antivirus software is typically sold via annual license subscriptions, usually with two or three levels of features. Most basic packages include real-time protection from and on-demand scanning for malware, adware, spyware, and ransomware. Premium packages usually add a variety of extras, such as specialized protection for web browsing, email, and financial accounts; a VPN; iOS or Android protection for mobile devices; cloud storage; a password manager; system optimization or tune-ups; and/or live customer support.
A basic antivirus software package usually costs less than $50 for the first year. You’ll pay more, but usually less than $100. Premium packages will initially cost you between $50 and $100, then jump to their regular price upon renewal, which is usually less than $150.
Some suppliers offer discounts for renewals and monthly or multiyear subscriptions. For an additional fee, you can install the software on more than one Windows or Mac computer, as well as mobile phones and tablets.
Unfortunately, the price of an antivirus program doesn’t necessarily indicate its effectiveness. “I’m not sure price would be a reliable guide to quality because there are too many other factors involved,” Hawes says. “Vendors will charge what they think people will pay, which may be a better reflection of their marketing budget than the level of protection provided.”
Windows Antivirus Software Price Comparison
Below are the prices of Mac antivirus software we rated.
Mac Antivirus Software Price Comparison
Most antivirus software suppliers offer either a 14- or 30-day free trial. Most don’t require you to enter a credit card number to download the trial software; you’re merely reminded when the trial is about to end and prompted to sign up for a paid subscription.
A few antivirus software suppliers offer no-frills free versions that usually provide only real-time malware detection, virus scanning, and malware removal for a single user and one device. Free software may be supported by advertising, which means you’ll see pop-up or banner ads. Worse, these plans also might track your data for the security company to sell.
Arguably the best free option requires no special download: Windows Defender, which is included with Windows 10. But like other free antivirus software, Windows Defender has its limitations, Stelzhammer notes. In particular, it only protects against malware and doesn’t guard against other fraudulent behavior like phishing. The other downside of Windows Defender is that it potentially could suppress demand for more expensive third-party antivirus software that offers wider protections. “If everyone in the world uses Defender, the other antimalware products will go away,” Edward warns. “Then the hackers will have only one security product to worry about, and we as users will have no alternatives.”
The greatest mistake when buying antivirus software is getting less protection than you need.
The greatest mistake when buying antivirus software is getting less protection than you need. Top-tier antivirus software doesn’t cost much more than a basic version, and you will get more protection from a more advanced package.
Another mistake is to focus just on price. Instead, look for software that has the security features and performance you need. Use reviews like the Best Antivirus Software of 2022 to guide you in selecting the software that best meets your requirements, and then use price as an additional determining factor.
Also remember that other online security measures are critical in additional to installing antivirus software. “Antimalware software is like a bulletproof vest,” Edwards says. “[It’s] sensible to have and, should something terrible happen, it might save you. But don’t do risky things and expect [antivirus software] to completely save you each and every time without any injury.”
One of the most important cybersecurity measures you can take is to install a VPN and password manager. A VPN disguises your IP address and the physical location of your device, making your online activity very difficult to track. A VPN is best for protecting you when connected to an open Wi-Fi network that doesn’t require a password, like in a hotel, coffee shop, or airport. If you don’t use a VPN on an open Wi-Fi network, any hacker with minimal skills and cheap software can monitor your internet traffic or intercept your data, which could lead to identity theft. Some antivirus software companies include a VPN or offer one for an additional fee. As for password managers, these are critical to ensure that you use unique, hard-to-guess passwords for all the websites you access online, without having to remember them.
Still looking for more information about antivirus software or trying to find the best antivirus software for you? Explore the directory below to learn more.
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Why You Can Trust Us: 37 Antivirus Companies Researched
At U.S. News & World Report, we rank the Best Hospitals, Best Colleges, and Best Cars to guide readers through some of life’s most complicated decisions. Our 360 Reviews team draws on this same unbiased approach to rate the products that you use every day. To build our ratings, we researched more than 37 antivirus companies and analyzed 16 antivirus reviews. Our 360 Reviews team does not take samples, gifts, or loans of products or services we review. All sample products provided for review are donated after review. In addition, we maintain a separate business team that has no influence over our methodology or recommendations.
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