These days, there’s no question that keeping your computer safe from malware and other threats should be a top priority. We’ve tested more than 30 premium AV packages to help you choose the one that’s right to protect your PC.
If you don’t install antivirus software, you risk having your PC taken over by ransomware or losing personal data to a sneaky Trojan. But which antivirus should you use? We’ll help you decide.
We call these utilities “antivirus,” but in fact they protect against a huge range of malicious programs, including ransomware, spyware, adware, keyloggers, rootkits, Trojans, and more. Lucky for us, there’s also a huge range of products designed to fight these nasties. PCMag has reviewed over 30 different commercial antivirus utilities, and that’s not even counting free antivirus tools. Ten of the for-pay versions proved effective enough to earn an excellent four stars or better. Another eleven earned at least three stars.
Almost all of these products are traditional, full-scale antivirus tools, with the ability to scan files for malware on access, on demand, or on schedule. A couple are outliers, tools meant to enhance the protection of a traditional antivirus. As for just relying on the antivirus built into Windows 8.x, that’s not such a good idea. According to both our tests and independent lab tests, Windows Defender won’t keep you safe.
Listen to the Labs
I take the results reported by independent antivirus testing labs very seriously. The simple fact that a particular vendor’s product shows up in the results is a vote of confidence, of sorts. It means the lab considered the product significant, and the vendor felt the cost of testing was worthwhile. Of course, getting good scores in the tests is also important.
Note, though, that good scores must be obtained honestly, or else there’s no point in testing. Recently, several prominent labs revealed that one vendor haddeliberately weakened protection to get a better performance score. Anothersupplied a different version for testing than ordinary users could download. PCMag doesn’t condone any kind of chicanery aimed solely at raising test scores.
I follow six labs that regularly release detailed reports: West Coast Labs, Virus Bulletin, ICSA Labs, Dennis Technology Labs, AV-Test Institute, and AV-Comparatives. Tests by the first three are based on simple threat-recognition, while the last three attempt to simulate real-world malware-attack scenarios. I’ve devised a system for aggregating their results to yield a rating from 0 to 5. As you can see, none of these products earned an aggregate lab score less than 4.
Hands-On Antivirus Testing
I also subject every product to my own hands-on test of malware blocking, in part to get a feeling for how the product works. Depending on how thoroughly the product prevents malware installation, it can earn up to 10 points for malware blocking.
Some products earn absolutely stellar ratings from the independent labs, yet don’t fare as well in my hands-on tests. In such cases, I defer to the labs, as they bring significantly greater resources to their testing.
Multi-Layered Antivirus Protection
Antivirus products distinguish themselves by going beyond the basics of on-demand scanning and real-time protection. Some rate URLs that you visit or that show up in search results, using a red-yellow-green color coding system. Some actively block processes on your system from connecting with known malware-hosting URLs, or with fraudulent (phishing) pages.
Software has flaws, and sometimes those flaws affect your security. Prudent users keep Windows and all programs patched, fixing those flaws as soon as possible. The vulnerability scan offered by some antivirus products can verify that all necessary patches are present, and even apply any that are missing.
You expect an antivirus to identify and eliminate bad programs, and to leave good programs alone. What about unknowns, programs it can’t identify as good or bad? Behavior-based detection can, in theory, protect you against malware that’s so new researchers have never encountered it. However, this isn’t always an unmixed blessing. It’s not uncommon for behavioral detection systems to flag many innocuous behaviors performed by legitimate programs.
Whitelisting is another approach to the problem of unknown programs. A whitelist-based security system only allows known good programs to run. Unknowns are banned. This mode doesn’t suit all situations, but it can be useful. Sandboxing lets unknown programs run, but isolates them from full access to your system, so they can’t do permanent harm. These various added layers serve to enhance your protection against malware.
Firewall protection and spam filtering aren’t common antivirus features, but some of our top products include them as bonus features. In fact, some of these antivirus products are more feature-packed than certain products sold as security suites.
Among the other bonus features you’ll find are: secure browser for financial transactions; secure deletion of sensitive files; wiping traces of computer and browsing history; credit monitoring; virtual keyboard to foil keyloggers; and more. And of course I’ve already mentioned sandboxing, vulnerability scanning, and application whitelisting.
We’ve named not one but three Editors’ Choice products for premium antivirus protection, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015, Kaspersky Anti-Virus (2015), and Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus (2015). Each shines in its own way. Kaspersky floats at the top in all the independent lab tests. Bitdefender gets great lab scores too, and it’s wonderfully unobtrusive. Webroot’s unusual detection technique doesn’t lend itself to most lab testing, but it’s absolutely the tiniest antivirus around. For that matter, the rest of the products featured here are quite good, and some have unusually rich feature sets. Read the reviews for full details, then make your choice.
FEATURED IN THIS ROUNDUP
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015
$39.95 at BitDefenderFew products score better in independent lab tests than Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015, and it totally aced our own antiphishing test. On top of that, it offers significant tools to enhance your privacy and system performance. This feature-rich tool remains an antivirus Editors’ Choice. Read the full review ››
Kaspersky Anti-Virus (2015)
$31.77 at AmazonKaspersky Anti-Virus (2015) made a clean sweep, earning top marks from all of the independent antivirus test labs. It’s a new Editors’ Choice for antivirus protection. Read the full review ››
Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus (2015)
$19.99 at WebrootTwo independent testing labs have given Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus (2015) their top ratings, and it earned a perfect score in our hands-on malware blocking test. Add the fact that it’s the smallest antivirus around and you’ve got a definite Editors’ Choice. Read the full review ››
Emsisoft Anti-Malware 9.0
$49.99 at AmazonEmsisoft Anti-Malware 9.0 focuses on the central task of fighting all kinds of malware. Independent lab tests and our own hands-on testing show that it does quite a good job. Read the full review ››
F-Secure Anti-Virus 2015
F-Secure Anti-Virus 2015 skips the bells and whistles, instead focusing solely on antivirus protection. If that’s the kind of tool you’re looking for, it can be a very good choice. Read the full review ››
Malwarebytes Anti-Exploit Premium
$49.99 at Best BuyMalwarebytes Anti-Exploit Premium shields your system against exploit attacks, even never-before-seen zero-day attacks. Add this new layer of protection to your security arsenal. Read the full review ››
McAfee AntiVirus Plus 2015
$39.99 at DellMcAfee AntiVirus Plus 2015 earns a new top score in our malicious URL blocking test, and it gets good ratings from the independent labs. It comes with a raft of useful bonus tools, though the bonus firewall seemed a bit wobbly in our testing.Read the full review ››
Panda Antivirus Pro 2015
$25.00 at AmazonPanda Antivirus Pro 2015 has the same excellent antivirus protection as Panda Free Antivirus 2015, plus a firewall and a handful of other features. Stick with the free edition for personal use, as the added features don’t justify the cost (except for businesses, which can’t use the free version). Read the full review ››
Trend Micro Antivirus+ 2015
$26.20 at AmazonTrend Micro Antivirus+ 2015 has a completely new look, but the underlying protection hasn’t changed. It’s especially good at blocking fraudulent or malicious URLs, and includes spam filtering, firewall booster, and other bonus features. Read the full review ››
VoodooSoft VoodooShield 2.0
VoodooSoft’s VoodooShield 2.0 supplements your antivirus by blocking execution of unknown files when you’re in a risky state—online, or with a USB drive plugged in. The free edition does a great job of balancing protection and flexibility. Give it a try. Read the full review ››
AppGuard teams up with your existing antivirus to block never-before-seen zero-day malware. Unknown programs in folders commonly used by malware just can’t launch, and programs that do run can’t make changes to sensitive system areas. It definitely works, but you’ll have to do some finagling to install or update valid programs. Read the full review ››
Avast Pro Antivirus 2015
Free at AvastAvast Pro Antivirus 2015 includes an innovative scan for home router security problems, as well as a hardened browser for financial transactions and a number of other useful tools. Even so, you’ll be better off selecting one of our Editors’ Choice antivirus products. Read the full review ››
AVG AntiVirus 2015
$23.99 at DellBusinesses that want to use AVG’s antivirus technology can’t use the free version; they must pay for AVG AntiVirus 2015. With the same amount of cash, however, you could purchase any of our three Editors’ Choice antivirus products. Read the full review ››
ESET NOD32 Antivirus 8
$39.99 at ESET North AmericaThe independent testing labs give ESET NOD32 Antivirus 8 generally high ratings, and it did a great job in our malicious URL blocking test. However, it bombed our hands-on malware blocking test and antiphishing test. Read the full review ››
G Data Antivirus 2015
G Data Antivirus 2015 earned decent scores in our hands-on testing, and rated well with the independent labs that include it in their tests. However, our Editors’ Choice products score even better with the labs. Read the full review ››
Anti-Executable 5.2 blocks execution of any program that isn’t on its whitelist. It can definitely prevent installation of new malware, as long as you don’t erroneously override its block. However, the average user may find managing its protection to be a chore. Read the full review ››
IObit Advanced SystemCare Ultimate 8
If you love tinkering with system utilities, IObit Advanced SystemCare Ultimate 8 has plenty to offer. However, its actual antivirus protection can’t match that of our Editors’ Choice antivirus tools. Read the full review ››
Kromtech PCKeeper Antivirus
Kromtech PCKeeper Antivirus is attractive and easy to use, and it has chat-based help built right in. However, the chat-based help supplied misinformation during testing. Read the full review ››
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Premium 2.0
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Premium 2.0 combines the impressive malware cleanup abilities of the free-for-personal-use Malwarebytes utility with lackluster real-time protection and malicious URL blocking. Businesses buying it should consider pairing it with a more effective real-time antivirus.Read the full review ››
Tiranium Premium Security 2014
Tiranium Premium Security 2014 did well in my hands-on malware blocking test, but the independent labs haven’t weighed in. The bonus firewall didn’t do anything in our tests, though, and the quality of other features varied. It’s a good first effort. Read the full review ››
Valt.X ‘Absolute Security for Windows’ Special Edition
Valt.X ‘Absolute Security for Windows’ Special Edition rolls your system back to a safe, malware-free state on every reboot. However, any malware that does infest your system can run wild until the next reboot, and external actions like false bank transactions or transmission of personal data can’t be rolled back. Read the full review ››