With so many scams, hacks and breaches every day, you can't afford not to run antivirus software. Although we still call it that, antivirus software (or specifically the security suites we've reviewed here) do a lot more than simply block viruses.
The best products can protect you from dangerous attachments and links, fake websites, ransomware, and will also monitor for and alert you if any of your information is spotted on the dark web, or in breaches. This helps to stop criminals from emptying your bank account and stealing your identity.
Here you'll find everything you need to know about buying antivirus software. You might think that you only need to bother with it on a Windows PC or laptop, but you should run it on all your devices. That's because criminals know the user is 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 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.
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.
Best antivirus reviews
Norton 360 Deluxe
- Excellent malware protection
- ID protection
- Unlimited-use VPN
- 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 £34.99 for the first year, which is £6.99 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 is $49.99 for the first year ($9.99 per device) and $104.99 thereafter. See the deal here.
Read our full Norton 360 Deluxe review
McAfee Total Protection
- Very user-friendly
- Unlimited-use VPN
- 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.
Read our full McAfee Total Protection review
Bitdefender Total Security
- Excellent malware protection
- 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 managed to catch 100% of the 0-day malware attacks thrown at it, and also scored top marks for overall protection and performance.
Several features have been removed in this latest version, but Bitdefender says this was because users simply weren't using them, so you're unlikely to miss them. You get a cross-platform password manager, but parental controls are basic, there are no ID protection features and the VPN is really only a trial version that lets you have 200MB of data per day.
You'd need to upgrade to the full version if you want unlimited data (but there are better choices in our VPN roundup if you're prepared to pay for one).
But if you simply want top-notch malware protection, this is a great choice.
Read our full Bitdefender Total Security 2021 review
BullGuard Premium Protection
- ID protection now included
- Top-notch malware protection
- No VPN
BullGuard Premium Protection is the flagship security suite from the company. It includes dynamic machine learning technology to block all types of malware, and there's anti-ransomware along with a secure web browser which offers extra protection when banking or buying online.
The latest additions include improved identity protection which monitors the dark web for your details, and international phone numbers and bank accounts are now supported. Game Booster has been updated to support platforms with anti-cheat engines.
It usually costs £69.96 / $99.95 for 10 devices, but you'll find it heavily discounted for the first year. Indeed, with this deal you'll get 60% off, making it £28 / $39.99, or £2.80 / $3.99 per device.
And in terms of protection, it achieved perfect scores in AV-Test's latest test, managing full marks for protection, performance and usability.
Read our full BullGuard Premium Protection review
Eset Smart Security Premium
- Solid malware protection
- Lots of settings for power users
- No ID protection
- No VPN
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
Kaspersky Security Cloud
- Excellent malware protection
- ID 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.