The best antivirus software 2021 | Tom’s Guide

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imageEDITOR’S NOTE: The winners of the 2021 Tom’s Guide Awards have been announced, and Kaspersky Total Security has won Best Antivirus Software.Bitdefender Total Security is the runner-up.Head to the Tom’s Guide Awards 2021 Best Products for Working From Home page to see all the winners and recommended runners-up.

Got a Windows PC? You’ll need one of the best antivirus programs, free or paid.Windows gets attacked much more often than any other software platform, and using a PC without antivirus software is asking for trouble, especially if that computer is always online.

Thankfully, Windows 8.1, Windows 10 and Windows 11 all come with the built-in Microsoft Defender Antivirus (aka Windows Defender), which just a few years ago was terrible but now is one of the best free antivirus programs available.

If all you want to do is keep out malware, Microsoft Defender will do it.

But it can’t match the extra protections and features that come with the best paid antivirus software and even some of the other free programs.

If you’ve got kids at home and you want to see what they’re up to online, you need a VPN provider or you want to manage all your passwords, then paying for a full-featured antivirus security suite may save you money.Many include parental controls, unlimited VPN service and password managers.

Paid antivirus software also adds dedicated defenses against ransomware and webcam hijacking, builds in extra functions like file shredding or encryption, and sometimes even includes cloud-backup solutions and identity-theft protection.

Each brand’s antivirus programs normally share a single malware-detection “engine,” but features and functions get added as the subscription prices rise.

Kaspersky, for example, offers the free Kaspersky Security Cloud, the basic Kaspersky Anti-Virus, the midrange Kaspersky Internet Security and the premium Kaspersky Total Security.

Norton LifeLock has eight plans mixing in various levels of protection against malware and identity theft.These are aimed at customers according to their needs and spending power, which we explore further at the end of this page.

Here’s our list of the best paid antivirus software.Don’t forget to check out our list of the best free antivirus software halfway down this page.

The top 3 best antivirus brands

1.

Kaspersky provides the best antivirus protection overall

Kaspersky Total Security combines one of the world’s top-rated malware-detection engines with a ton of useful features.It’s the best antivirus software you can buy today.

Click here if you’re in the U.S.

Click here if you’re in the U.K.(or anywhere else)

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2.Bitdefender offers the best value in antivirus software

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus combines great malware protection with an assortment of useful features and an easy-to-use interface, all at a very affordable price.

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3.Norton packs in everything but the kitchen sink

Norton’s antivirus products offer a password manager, unlimited VPN data, identity theft protection, parental controls and even online storage.If you’re willing to pay full freight, you’ll get almost every kind of digital security you could ever need.View Deal

Best Mac antivirus software Best Android antivirus apps Best free antivirus software What is the best antivirus software? Best Antivirus: Top 7 1.Kaspersky Total Security

2.

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus

3.Norton 360 Deluxe

4.McAfee Internet Security

5.Trend Micro Maximum Security

6.ESET Smart Security Premium

7.

Sophos Home Premium

Our first choice for best antivirus software is Kaspersky Total Security.It delivers excellent malware protection, a full complement of extra features and an easy-to-use interface.

Right behind that are the entry-level Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, which may be the best bargain in antivirus software, and Norton 360 Deluxe, which offers excellent protection and a ton of extra features, including unlimited VPN service and LifeLock identity protection.

Any of these three would serve you well, but the ideal choice depends on your circumstances.See our section on how to choose the best antivirus software below, or our stand-alone antivirus buying guide .

For the best free antivirus protection, we like Kaspersky Security Cloud Free , which sailed past Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition for the top spot.

Both offered excellent protection against malware without system slowdowns, but Kaspersky’s free program lets you schedule scans, has a quick-scan option, adds a ton of useful extras and had the smallest system impact we’ve ever seen.

Our free rankings immediately follow our paid rankings below.

The best antivirus software you can buy today

(Image credit: Kaspersky) 1.

Kaspersky Total Security The best antivirus protection overall.Specifications 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 Reasons to buy + Excellent malware protection + New stalkerware protection + Password manager, parental controls Reasons to avoid – Limited VPN usage – Microphone protection hard to enable Kaspersky’s Windows products have excellent malware-detection scores and a light-to-moderate system-performance impact, the two most important criteria in our rankings.

The entry-level program, Kaspersky Anti-Virus (starting at £12.49 UK/$29.99 US), has dedicated ransomware protection, a virtual keyboard and a convenient online account portal.But it’s beaten by Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, which has even more features.

Kaspersky Internet Security (£17.49 UK/$39.99 US) is our top choice among midrange packages.It has a secure browser, anti-theft protection for laptops, webcam protection and a limited-use VPN client that kicks in when you connect to an open Wi-Fi network.It also includes software for macOS, Android and iOS.

The premium antivirus suite, Kaspersky Total Security (£19.99 UK/$44.99 US), adds backup software, parental controls, file encryption, a file shredder and an unlimited password manager.We think it’s the best antivirus software you can buy today.

As mentioned earlier, Kaspersky Total Security has won Best Antivirus Software in the 2021 Tom’s Guide Awards .

Read our full Kaspersky Total Security review .

The best antivirus software you can buy

Kaspersky offers excellent malware protection, lots of useful extra features and a light system impact with an easy-to-use interface.

Click here if you’re in the U.S.

Click here if you’re in the U.K.(or anywhere else)

(Image credit: Bitdefender) 2.Bitdefender Antivirus Plus The best value antivirus software currently available.

Specifications 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 TODAY’S BEST DEALS Bitdefender Antivirus Plus $19.99 Visit Site at Bitdefender Reasons to buy + Very good malware protection + Lots of useful extra features + Light system impact with active scans Reasons to avoid – Heavy background system impact Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is our top choice among entry-level antivirus products.It has very good, if not perfect, malware-detection scores.Its active scans don’t add much to the background system impact, but that background load is a bit heavy.

It also 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 — features often found only with pricier antivirus packages.

The midrange Bitdefender Internet Security adds parental controls, webcam protection and a two-way firewall, while Bitdefender Total Security tops off the lineup with an anti-theft feature for laptops, a system optimizer and licenses for Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac and Bitdefender Mobile Security for Android.

A fourth product, Bitdefender Premium Security, is basically Total Security with unlimited VPN usage and priority tech support.

(The other programs limit you to 200MB of Bitdefender VPN usage per day.)

But the best deal is the Bitdefender Family Pack, which puts Total Security on up to 15 devices for (a frequently discounted) $120 per year.

As mentioned above, Bitdefender Total Security has merited a Highly Recommended mention for Best Antivirus Software in the 2021 Tom’s Guide Awards .

Read our full Bitdefender Antivirus Plus review .

(Image credit: Norton) 3.Norton 360 Deluxe Almost everything you could ever need.Specifications Anti-theft: No Backup software: Yes Firewall: Yes Game mode: Yes Hardened browser: No Parental controls: Yes Password manager: Yes Ransomware rollback: No Webcam protection: Yes VPN: Unlimited TODAY’S BEST DEALS Norton 360 Deluxe $24.99 /year Visit Site at Norton Reasons to buy + Excellent malware protection + Parental controls, backup software, online storage, password manager, webcam protection, unlimited VPN + LifeLock identity protection with top tiers Reasons to avoid – Heavy slowdown during full scans – Pricey All nine of Norton’s antivirus products offer excellent malware protection, and the once-heavy system-performance load is much lighter.The number of extra features each program has varies according to price, but the sweet spot in the lineup is Norton 360 Deluxe.

It includes a password manager that works on all major platforms, unlimited VPN service, dark-web personal-data monitoring, parental controls and up to 50GB of online storage space.Two retail-only offerings, Norton 360 Premium and Norton 360 Platinum, give you more online storage and expand the antivirus and VPN coverage to 10 and 20 devices, respectively.

If you want full-on identity protection, Norton offers three bundles with varying degrees of LifeLock service and even more online storage space.Their annual subscription prices run well into the triple digits, but still cost less than if you were to buy the identity protection, password manager, cloud-backup storage and antivirus software separately.

Unlike some of the other best antivirus software makers, Norton doesn’t offer a file shredder, file encryption or secure web browser with any of its products.Yet every other digital-protection service you could possibly ask for is included with at least some of its bundles.

Read our full Norton 360 Deluxe review .

(Image credit: McAfee) 4.

McAfee Internet Security A bargain for big families, but not perfect protection Specifications Anti-theft: No Backup software: No Firewall: Yes Game mode: Yes Hardened browser: No Parental controls: No Password manager: Yes Ransomware rollback: Yes Webcam protection: No Virtual keyboard: No VPN: No TODAY’S BEST DEALS McAfee Total Protection – 1 Device $24.99 /year McAfee Total Protection – 10 Devices $29.99 /year McAfee Total Protection – 10 Devices $39.99 /year Visit Site at McAfee Reasons to buy + Protects lots of machines for cheap + Password manager + Improving malware protection Reasons to avoid – Very heavy performance hit – No parental controls on mid-priced tier McAfee’s malware detection has improved greatly in the past couple of years, but it’s still not quite top-of-the-line.

Despite that, the entry-level McAfee AntiVirus Plus is a bargain: $60 per year buys software for up to 10 (in practice, unlimited) devices, whether they run Windows, macOS, iOS or Android, and the software comes with a file shredder and a two-way firewall.

To get parental controls or one of the best password managers in the business, you’ll have to spring for McAfee Total Protection or its sibling McAfee LiveSafe, which comes pre-installed on many new PCs.

The multi-device licenses of those two security suites also come with an identity-protection service.But none of the McAfee products have a secure browser or webcam protection, which you often get with other premium antivirus programs.

At the top is McAfee Total Protection Ultimate, which adds unlimited VPN service with no strings attached.

Hardcore PC gamers may consider McAfee Gamer Security, which for $60 per year offers low-overhead protection for a single rig.

Read our full McAfee Internet Security review .

(Image credit: Trend Micro) 5.Trend Micro Maximum Security Solid protection, but scan slowdowns Specifications Backup software: No Firewall: No Game mode: Yes Hardened browser: Yes Parental controls: Yes Password manager: Yes Webcam protection: No Virtual keyboard: No VPN: Yes TODAY’S BEST DEALS Trend Micro Maximum Security $39.95 /year Visit Site at Trend Micro Reasons to buy + Very good malware protection + Secure browser, password manager + Dark Web scans Reasons to avoid – Heavy performance hit during scans – Many false positives on some tests Trend Micro offers very good protection, but its malware-detection engine creates a heavy system load during scans and returns a fair number of false-positive results.

The brand’s entry-level program, Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security, has basic tools but does have a secure web browser.Parental controls, a system optimizer and a file shredder are bundled into the mid-range Trend Micro Internet Security.

Trend Micro Maximum Security adds a password manager, a secure browser and file encryption, while the new Trend Micro Premium Security adds a VPN and dark-web monitoring of personal data.

However, none of Trend Micro’s programs include a two-way firewall or webcam protection, standard with other brands’ midrange offerings.Nor does the premium product have the cloud storage or backup software that some of the best antivirus brands add as enticements to their flagship packages.

Read our full Trend Micro Maximum Security review .

(Image credit: ESET) 6.

ESET Smart Security Premium Very good protection with a very light touch.Specifications 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 TODAY’S BEST DEALS ESET Smart Security Premium $59.99 /year Visit Site at ESET Reasons to buy + Very good protection + Remarkably little system-performance impact + File encryption, hardened browser, webcam protection Reasons to avoid – Lacks file shredder or VPN – Can get expensive ESET is one of the biggest antivirus names in Europe, with a very small system-performance load and fast scans.Its malware-detection rate used to be kind of meh, but has improved markedly in recent lab tests.

The entry-level ESET NOD32 Antivirus is easy to use, but has few useful extra tools.ESET Internet Security adds webcam protection, parental controls and a browser-hardening extension, as well as ESET security-software licenses for Mac, Android and Linux devices.

The top-billed ESET Smart Security Premium tosses in file encryption and a password manager.

However, there’s no VPN client, backup software or file shredder.

ESET’s pricing is per device, which is optimal for users who might have more than a few devices to protect.But if your device count gets into double digits, ESET’s costs can add up.

Read our full ESET Smart Security Premium review .

(Image credit: Sophos) 7.Sophos Home Premium Efficient and inexpensive Specifications Anti-theft: No Backup software: No Game mode: No Hardened browser: No Parental controls: Yes Password manager: No Ransomware rollback: Yes Webcam protection: Yes Virtual keyboard: No VPN: No Wi-Fi scanner: No TODAY’S BEST DEALS Sophos Home Free Sophos Home Premium $45 /year Visit Site at Sophos Reasons to buy + Inexpensive + Encrypts keyboard data Reasons to avoid – So-so malware protection – Moderate performance penalty during scans – Lacks VPN, password manager, file shredder Sophos Home Premium does its job economically, offering reasonable protection from malware at an affordable price.

Because it’s spun off from Sophos’ enterprise software for business clients, Sophos Home Premium lacks many of the bells and whistles other security suites offer, such as a password manager, identity theft protection service or VPN service.

What Sophos Home Premium does have is the essentials: ransomware rollbacks, webcam defenses and protection against keyloggers, malicious websites and boot-sector and fileless malware.It also has a web-filter system for parents and an online management console from which you can tweak most of the settings.

Some people might demand more from an antivirus suite, but anyone who would rather buy only what they need will appreciate Sophos Home Premium’s just-the-basics approach.

Read our full Sophos Home Premium review .

Best antivirus news and updates — Google updated the desktop Chrome browser to fix 11 security flaws, including two zero-days being used in attacks.

— At least 1,400 devices ranging from smartphones to aircraft are affected by Bluetooth security flaws .

— Microsoft fixed more than five dozen security flaws in Windows with September’s Patch Tuesday updates..

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