Popular Antivirus Software
Although surfing the web or watching a video can seem harmless, there are dangers to your computer lurking all over the internet. Various types of malicious software, otherwise known as malware, can be used to monitor what you do online and perhaps steal your personal information. The specific types of malware that hackers use changes frequently but can include:
- Viruses, which alter your computer's software in harmful ways
- Adware, which causes intrusive ads to appear on your screen
- Spyware, through which someone can monitor your computing activities
- Ransomware, which can lock up your computer and render it unusable until you pay a fee, or "ransom"
- Worms, which are bits of software code that can spread from one computer to another
Hackers use other ploys as well. One common technique is called "phishing," in which someone tries to trick you into using a fake website (such as one that looks like your bank's website) to steal your personal data.
The good news is that antivirus software can help protect you and your computer from these and other threats (although there's no substitute for using strong passwords and other common-sense internet security measures). Antivirus software scans the information and files sent to and from your computer when you're surfing the web, sending emails, streaming videos, or doing anything else online. The software will warn you not to click on any website or file that may be a threat. In addition, if you accidentally download malware to your computer, antivirus software will try to quarantine and delete it before it causes any harm. Many antivirus programs also include a virtual private network (VPN), which disguises your online activities; a firewall, which monitors network traffic; and parental controls to protect children.
To help protect your Windows computer, here's the Best Antivirus Software of 2021:
Best Antivirus Software of 2021
|Bitdefender Antivirus - PC »|
4.3 out of 5
|$39.99 & Up||Up to 10 Devices||View Plans »|
|Kaspersky Antivirus - PC »|
4 out of 5
|$59.99 & Up||Up to10 Devices||View Plans »|
|Webroot Antivirus - PC »|
3.9 out of 5
|$39.99 & Up||Up to 5 Devices||View Plans »|
|Norton Antivirus - PC »|
3.9 out of 5
|$59.99 & Up||Up to 5 Devices||View Plans »|
|Trend Micro Antivirus - PC »|
3.8 out of 5
|$39.95 & Up||Up to 10 Devices||View Plans »|
To help you narrow down your search for an antivirus program for Windows, we've researched the Best Antivirus Software of 2021. These programs are designed for computers running Windows 10, Windows 7, or another version of Windows. When two prices are listed with a slash between them, the first price refers to the first year and the second price refers to subsequent years.
Bitdefender: Bitdefender has five different antivirus packages, each with different prices depending on the number of devices (usually three, five, or 10) and subscription length (one, two, or three years). Prices for these packages start at $19.99/$39.99 for one device for one year for Antivirus Plus. The most expensive plan costs $89.99/$149.99 for 10 devices for one year for Bitdefender Premium Security. On the downside, Bitdefender includes only limited VPN services and no identity theft protection.
Kaspersky: Kaspersky antivirus software packages are available with three-, five-, 10-, or 20-device coverage and in one-, two-, or three-year subscriptions. Introductory discounts of 50% are available for all versions except the top-tier Security Cloud antivirus package, which has a 40% introductory discount. Annual prices range from $29.99 for three devices for the Windows-only Anti-Virus plan ($59.99 upon renewal) to $74.99 for 10 devices for Kaspersky Total Security ($149.99 upon renewal). None of Kaspersky's packages include a full VPN or identity theft protections.
Webroot: Webroot sells three antivirus software packages at prices lower than most other antivirus software vendors. They start at $29.99/$39.99 for a single year and a single device with basic malware protections and a few extras. At the high end, these plans cost up to $179.99/$239.97 for a more complete set of protections, a password manager, and 25 GB of cloud storage covering up to five devices for three years.
Norton: Norton has five primary antivirus/identity theft protection packages that range in price. Norton 360 Standard costs $39.99 for the first year and $79.99 thereafter. On the upper end is Norton 360 with LifeLock Ultimate Plus, which costs $299.99/$349.99. If you just want antivirus protection, consider Norton Antivirus Plus for $19.99/$59.99.
Trend Micro: Trend Micro antivirus offers a range of antivirus software. On the cheaper side, it costs $29.95 for one year of the Windows-only Antivirus+ Security. The Maximum Security package covers up to 10 devices and costs $154.95 for a two-year subscription. Trend Micro's antivirus programs include minimal identity theft protection and lack a VPN, although the company sells a separate VPN.
McAfee: McAfee antivirus software ranges in price from $29.99 for one device for the first year ($79.99 upon renewal) for McAfee Total Protection to $39.99 for McAfee LiveSafe, which covers an unlimited number of devices for one year ($119.99 upon renewal).
ESET: ESET sells three antivirus software configurations in one-, two- or three-year subscriptions. The cheapest option costs $39.99 a year for basic malware defense for one device. The most advanced option is the Smart Security Premium package, which starts at $59.99 for one device for one year. Subscriptions cover a specific number of devices rather than a set number (such as five or 10), which is more common in antivirus plans.
Avast: Avast offers completely free antivirus software along with two paid antivirus software packages under both the Avast and AVG brands. Avast also sells Omni, a separate combined hardware/antivirus protection subscription solution to protect smart home/Wi-Fi networks. Prices range from $39.99 to $69.99 for the first year for a single device, and from $69.99 to $119.99 a year thereafter to protect 10 devices.
Learn more in our Avast review.
AVG Technologies: AVG sells two paid subscription antivirus software packages. AVG Internet Security runs on Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. Subscription prices range from $39.99 ($69.99 after the first year) for one computer to $49.99 ($89.99 after the first year) for up to 10 devices. AVG's Ultimate package includes a VPN and AVG PC TuneUp. It covers 10 devices for one year for $79.99 ($119.99 thereafter). AVG sells a separate VPN as well.
Sophos: Sophos sells a single antivirus software package, Sophos Home Premium, in one-, two-, and three-year subscriptions. Home Premium on a one-year plan costs $44.99 a year. A two-year plan costs $74.99, and a three-year plan costs $104.99. The free version, Sophos Home Free, protects a combination of up to three computers.
The antivirus programs in our Best Antivirus Software of 2021 list is designed for Windows computers. However, Macs also need antivirus software, as they are just as vulnerable to malware and other online threats as Windows computers. To help you choose, here is our list of the Best Antivirus Software for Macs of 2021. Each company name will take you to a review of that company.
Although antivirus software may seem complicated, purchasing it isn't difficult if you follow a few simple steps.
- Choose an antivirus program: To choose an antivirus program, select one that works with your computer's operating system, is easy to use, fits your budget, and detects and removes viruses, spyware, phishing emails, worms, and other malware. For help, check out our lists of the Best Antivirus Software of 2021 and the Best Antivirus Software for Macs of 2021. All of these products are reliable, effective, and user-friendly. Note that although a free antivirus program may be tempting, these usually have major limitations that reduce their effectiveness. For example, free software often sets limits on the number of protected devices and the types of threats they protect against. On balance, you're better off with a paid product.
- Create an account: You'll probably be asked to create an account when you purchase a subscription to antivirus software. This provides a way to configure the software on various devices, adjust privacy settings, set or change your payment method, and receive notifications from the company about the product.
- Download the antivirus software: On Windows computers, antivirus software comes as a downloadable .exe file that's stored in the Windows’s File Explorer folder. To install your antivirus program, click on the .exe file and follow the step-by-step instructions. The .exe file should include a license key or serial number, which you should write down for future reference. Like most software sold today, antivirus software can usually only be downloaded. A few programs are still sold on physical media like DVDs, and these will come with their own installation instructions.
- Consent to the licensing agreement: After the antivirus software is installed, it will ask you to consent to the user or licensing agreement.
- Restart your computer if required: In most cases, your antivirus software should now be working. However, if you had to uninstall previous antivirus software or a free trial of your current software, you will be prompted to restart your computer. At that point, your new software will be able to operate properly.
- Scan your computer for viruses: After you install your antivirus program, run an initial scan of your computer. Depending on how many files the software has to examine, this could take more than an hour. The software will tell you how long the scan will take and whether you can use your computer in the meantime. Subsequent scans usually take only a few minutes.
- Update the antivirus program if prompted: Antivirus software is automatically updated with new virus definitions and security features, usually many times per day. Most of these updates should be invisible to you. However, you may be asked to install some updates yourself.
For more information, see How to Buy Antivirus Software.
Windows Antivirus Software Price Comparison
You need antivirus software, but it’s important to still follow safe online behaviors or replace unsafe habits. According to John Hawes, chief operating officer of the international nonprofit Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization (AMTSO), doing risky things online while relying on antivirus software to protect you is like driving an otherwise safe car "with your eyes shut" – it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Always make sure you're using common-sense precautions, like implementing hard-to-guess passwords, refraining from opening email attachments from people you don't know, not giving out your Social Security number or other personal data, and not sending private data over public Wi-Fi networks without a VPN connection.
Even if you follow all of these precautions, you still need antivirus software to protect you from malware and other online threats. Peter Stelzhammer, co-founder and chief operating officer of testing lab AV-Comparatives, notes that many online threats are difficult or impossible to defend against without antivirus software. That's partly because these attacks can be used individually or in combination, depending on the sophistication and goals of the hacker.
Moreover, new threats are being invented all the time. Andreas Marx, a CEO and founder of 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. Antivirus software can identify both novel and existing threats, providing a critical layer of security.
When purchasing antivirus software, look for the following features and characteristics:
Performance/Reliability: Any antivirus program should be able to detect, block, and remove all types of threats, including viruses, adware, worms, and phishing attempts. For a list of effective antivirus programs, see our Best Antivirus Software of 2021 and Best Antivirus Software for Macs of 2021 ratings.
Pricing/Value: It's important to get antivirus software that you can afford and provides the features you need, while avoiding extraneous features you don't want to pay for. Focus on the annual renewal price, which is what you'll pay annually after the first year. Your antivirus software should cover all of your computers, tablets, and phones.
Comfort/Ease of Use: Most antivirus software comes with a free trial, and you'll want to take advantage of it. Use this trial to make sure the software is easy to use and doesn't slow down your computer. Also verify that customer service is helpful and available 24/7.
Stelzhammer, of AV-Comparatives, notes that the term antivirus software is a bit of a misnomer. That's because this type of software doesn't just protect against viruses; it also scans for and guards against many types of malware, including worms, adware, and ransomware. An antivirus program also looks out for phishing attempts, where someone may send you an email with a link to a fake (but real-looking) website that will steal any personal information you type into it.
Different types of internet threats require different antivirus solutions. These include, among others:
Signature Analysis: This technique is similar to fingerprinting. The antivirus software analyzes various types of malware it encounters and records the malware's unique signature in a database. It then uses that database to help identify new threats.
Heuristic Analysis: Because many hackers know how to get around signature analysis, antivirus programs also use heuristic analysis. This approach looks for suspicious characteristics in a potentially malicious file that might match those of known malware.
Sandbox Detection: If a file looks suspicious but isn't obviously malware based on signature and heuristic analysis, some antivirus software will open and run it in a secure area called a "sandbox." That way, if the program turns out to be malware, it won't harm your computer.
Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence: Machine learning and artificial intelligence – two ways computers "learn" about the outside world – are relatively new technologies that can help identify malware and other new threats. The software then adds information about these threats to its detection database.
Behavior Monitoring: Hawes, of the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization, explains that behavior monitoring involves watching the traffic between your computer and various devices like disk drives and printers to "stop them when they do something suspicious" and even undo any authorized changes these external devices make.
For more information, see our How Does Antivirus Software Work? guide.
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.
Other Ratings from 360 Reviews
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The purpose of 360 Reviews by U.S. News & World Report is to evaluate products and services from multiple, diverse vantage points. We make recommendations based on an assessment of what matters to consumers, experts, and the community of professional reviewers. We convey what’s most important about antivirus software based on an unbiased evaluation of products commonly in the consideration set. Our overarching goal is to empower consumers with the information and tools needed to make their own informed decisions.
The following describes our 360 approach to researching and analyzing Antivirus Software companies to provide guidance to potential customers in the market for an Antivirus Software.
1. We researched the companies and products people care most about.
U.S. News analyzed and compared a variety of publicly available data, including internet search data, to determine which antivirus software companies consumers are most interested in. After additional analysis of consumer and professional reviews, we narrowed the list down to the ten Best Antivirus Software Companies of 2020 and the nine Best Antivirus Software Companies of 2020 for the Mac Operating System(OS). We then researched and explained the most important features of Antivirus Software to help readers with their purchasing decisions.
2. We created objective 360 Overall Ratings based on an analysis of third-party reviews.
Our scoring methodology is based on a composite analysis of the ratings and reviews published by credible third-party professional and consumer review sources. The ratings are not based on the personal opinions, tests, or experiences of U.S. News. To calculate the ratings:
(a) We compiled two types of third-party ratings and reviews:
- Professional Ratings and Reviews: Many independent sources have published their assessments of Antivirus Software companies and products online. We consider several of these third-party reviews to be reputable and well-researched. However, professional reviewers often make recommendations that contradict one another. Rather than relying on a single source, U.S. News believes consumers benefit most when these opinions and recommendations are considered and analyzed collectively with an objective, consensus-based methodology.
- Consumer Ratings and Reviews: U.S. News also researched published consumer ratings and reviews of Antivirus Software Companies. Sources with a sufficient number of quality consumer ratings and reviews were included in our scoring model. The sufficiency was determined using the 10th percentile of review count for each product from a given source as an exclusion threshold for that review.
Not all professional and consumer rating sources met our criteria for objectivity. Those that did not were excluded from our model.
(b) We standardized the inputs to create a common scale.
The third-party review source data were collected in a variety of forms, including ratings, recommendations and accolades. Before including each third-party data point into our scoring equation, we had to standardize it so that it could be compared accurately with data points from other review sources. We used the scoring methodology described below to convert these systems to a comparable scale.
The 360 scoring process first converted each third-party rating into a common 0 to 5 scale. To balance the distribution of scores within each source’s scale, we used a standard deviation (or Z-Score) calculation to determine how each company that a source rated was scored in comparison to the source’s mean score. We then used the Z-Score to create a standardized U.S. News score using the method outlined below:
- Calculating the Z-Score: The Z-Score represents a data point's relation to the mean measurement of the data set. The Z-Score is negative when the data point is below the mean and positive when it's above the mean; a Z-Score of 0 means it's equal to the mean.To determine the Z-Score for each third-party rating of a company, we calculated the mean of the ratings across all companies evaluated by that third-party source. We then subtracted the mean from the company’s rating and divided it by the standard deviation to produce the Z-Score.
- Calculating the T-Score: We used a T-Score calculation to convert the Z-Score to a 0-100 scale by multiplying the Z-Score by 10. To ensure that the mean was equal across all data points, we added our desired scoring mean (between 0 and 10) to the T-Score to create an adjusted T-Score.
- Calculating the common-scale rating: We divided the adjusted T-Score, which is on a 100-point scale, by 20 to convert the third-party rating to a common 0-5 point system.
(c) We calculated the 360 Overall Score based on a weighted-average model.
We assigned “source weights” to each source used in the consensus scoring model based on our assessment of how much the source is trusted and recognized by consumers and how much its published review process indicates that it is both comprehensive and editorially independent. The source weights are assigned on a 1-5 scale. Any source with an assigned weight less than 2 was excluded from the consensus scoring model.
Finally, we combined the converted third-party data points using a weighted average formula based on source weight. This formula calculated the consensus score for each product, which we call the 360 Overall Rating.
U.S. News 360 Reviews takes an unbiased approach to our recommendations. When you use our links to buy products, we may earn a commission but that in no way affects our editorial independence.