Importance of Good Antivirus Software
If you have a Windows PC connected to internet, you computer is automatically exposed to potential attacks. Windows 10 has a built-in antivirus program called Windows Defender, and it more than holds its own against other free rivals, but it can’t quite match the features and convenience of the best paid antivirus protection.
The best antivirus paid suites today offer features that go far beyond just basic malware protection. You can get dedicated protection against ransomware and webcam hijacking, extra functions such as internet traffic firewall, safe internet browsing, file shredding, system optimization and features that compete with stand-alone services like password managers, cloud-backup solutions, VPNs or identity-theft protection among others.
At the very least, make sure you have your Windows Defender Firewall turned on so it can help protect your home network and keep your data secure from internet threats. For most users, that should be enough, assuming common sense is followed when interacting with various websites and files online. If however you are inclined to purchase a more specialized security suite with all the bells and whistles, here is a list for you.
Kaspersky Total Security
The best antivirus protection overall.
Anti-theft: Yes | Backup software: Yes | Firewall: Yes | Game mode: Yes | Hardened browser: Yes | Parental controls: Yes | Password manager: Yes | Ransomware rollback: Yes | Webcam protection: Yes | Virtual keyboard: Yes | VPN: Limited upsell | Wi-Fi scanner: Yes
Kaspersky’s Windows products have excellent malware-detection scores and a light-to-moderate system-performance impact.
The entry-level program, Kaspersky Anti-Virus comes with a dedicated ransomware protection and a virtual keyboard, but is feature-wise beaten by Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, which has even more features.
Kaspersky Internet Security is a great choice among midrange packages. It has a secure browser, anti-theft protection for laptops, webcam protection and a limited-use VPN client that starts when you connect to a public Wi-Fi network. It also includes licenses for macOS, Android and iOS.
The premium antivirus suite, Kaspersky Total Security, adds backup software, parental controls, file encryption, a file shredder and an unlimited password manager. It is probably as good of an antivirus software as you can buy today.
Excellent malware protection
New stalkerware protection
Password manager, parental controls
Lots of extra features
Limited VPN usage
Microphone protection hard to enable
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus
The best value antivirus software currently available.
Anti-theft: No | Backup software: No | Firewall: No | Game mode: Yes | Hardened browser: Yes | Parental controls: No | Password manager: Yes | Ransomware rollback: Yes | Webcam protection: No | Virtual keyboard: Yes | VPN: Limited upsell | Wi-Fi scanner: Yes
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is one of the top choices among entry-level antivirus products. According to Toms Hardware tests, it has very good, if not perfect, malware-detection scores. While its active scans don’t add much to the system impact, its overall background load is a bit heavy, especially in comparison to ESET and Kaspersky.
As far as price and features go, the basic version (Plus) offers the most value, with an unlimited password manager, a secure browser with a virtual keyboard, a Wi-Fi network scanner, a file shredder, protection against encrypting ransomware and Bitdefender’s new web-privacy software. Many of these features are usually found only in the pricier antivirus packages.
Their midrange package Bitdefender Internet Security adds parental controls, webcam protection and a two-way firewall, while Bitdefender Total Security further expands their lineup with an anti-theft feature for laptops, a system optimizer and licenses for Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac and Bitdefender Mobile Security for Android.
The also offer Bitdefender Premium Security, which is basically Total Security with unlimited VPN usage and priority tech support, while the other packages limit your Bitdefender VPN usage to 200MB per day.
Most users need not look further than Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, unless they really desire some of the extra features.
The best deal is the Bitdefender Family Pack, which allows you to install their top of the line Total Security suite on up to 15 devices for a discounted price (currently at $120 per year, which comes down to only $8 per device. New costumers get first year of Family Pack for only $49.99).
Very good malware protection
Light system impact with active scans
Heavy background system impact
ESET Smart Security Premium
Great protection with a very light footprint.
Anti-theft: Yes | Backup software: No | Firewall: Yes | Game mode: Yes | Hardened browser: Yes | Parental controls: Yes | Password manager: Yes | Ransomware rollback: No | Webcam protection: Yes | Virtual keyboard: No | VPN: No
+ Very good protection with regular updates
+ Remarkably small system-performance impact
+ File encryption, webcam protection, hardened browser extension
– Does not come with a file shredder or VPN
– Can be a bit more expensive
ESET is one of the biggest antivirus names in Europe, with a very small system-performance load and fast scans.
The entry-level ESET NOD32 Antivirus is good and easy to use, but does not come with a lot of extra features. If antivirus is all you need, NOD32 Antivirus is a good option.
ESET Internet Security is an advanced suite version of their product and adds webcam protection, parental controls and a browser-hardening extension, as well as ESET security-software licenses for Mac, Android and Linux devices.
Their top product ESET Smart Security Premium also offers file encryption and a password manager.
Very good protection with regular updates
Remarkably small system-performance impact
File encryption, webcam protection, hardened browser extension
Does not come with a file shredder or VPN
Can be a bit more expensive
Best FREE Antivirus Software in 2021
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free
Probably the best free antivirus software available currently
People seem to be in agreement that Kaspersky Security Cloud Free Antivirus is probably the best free antivirus program available today.
It comes with excellent malware protection, a plethora of extra functions and features, and a system-performance impact so small that it’s negligible. Not only does it protect you in real-time, but also lets you schedule scans and has a quick-scan option.
Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition
A great set-it-and-forget-it antivirus option
Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition takes care of itself and doesn’t need user intervention, as such it’s probably the best “set it and forget it” free antivirus option currently available. It’s the perfect antivirus software to install on your grandparents’ PC, but also a great option for those who would rather not have to think about antivirus software at all and just let it do its thing in the background.
Windows Defender Antivirus
Small system footprint and great detection rates for free
Another one worthy of a mention is Windows Defender, aka Windows Defender Antivirus, which comes built into Windows 8.1 and 10. It used to be pretty much useless when it first came out, but has since rapidly improved, to a point where it actually became one of the best antivirus programs out there, free or premium.
While Defender is still fairly short on features, especially compared to paid antivirus programs (and some free ones), its malware-detection rates beat those of many paid brands!
Avast Free Antivirus
Lots of features, but not-so-perfect protection
If you want features such as an unlimited password manager or a hardened web browser, then Avast Free Antivirus might be for you, but on top of a heavier performance impact, its malware protection isn’t as good as the other three we mentioned. We believe malware-detection should be ones number one priority when it comes to choosing an antivirus program, and any lack of extra features should not be a major deterrent when it comes to an otherwise great antivirus software.
Works well alongside any antivirus program and keeps your computer clean
We must also mention Malwarebytes Free. While technically not an antivirus program, and should not be used instead of one, it can do wonders for safety and health of your computer.
While antivirus programs attempt to stop your machine from becoming infected by malware, Malwarebytes cleans up your computer and brushes out any adware or potentially unwanted programs that managed to slip through. It works well alongside any antivirus program.