Breaking News

The Best Antivirus Protection for 2020


Antivirus software is critical for every PC. Without it, you risk losing your personal information, your files, and even the cash from your bank account. We've tested more than 40 utilities to help you pick the best antivirus protection for your computers.




How to Choose the Right Antiviru
Malware, Spyware, and Adware Protection
As you shelter in place, set aside a little time to think about what dangers might be sheltering in your computer. Sure, you’re anxious to get hold of your economic impact payment, but malware coders also have their eye on that windfall. If a data-stealing Trojan subverts your payment, you won’t be stimulating the economy. And if you’ve taken the widespread advice to write a novel in lockdown, imagine how you’d feel if a ransomware attack stole your first draft. Working from home? You don’t want to be the one who’s poor security caused a company-wide data breach. There’s no doubt; you need antivirus protection. We’ve evaluated more than 40 antivirus utilities to ease the process of picking the one that’s best for you.

We call it antivirus, but in truth it's unlikely you'll get hit with an actual computer virus. Malware these days is about making money, and there's no easy way to cash in on spreading a virus. Ransomware and data-stealing Trojans are much more common, as are bots that let the bot-herder rent out your computer for nefarious purposes. Modern antivirus utilities handle Trojans, rootkits, spyware, adware, ransomware, and more. PCMag has reviewed more than 40 different commercial antivirus utilities, and that's not even counting the many free antivirus tools. Out of that extensive field we've named four Editors' Choice products and honored several more with a four-star rating. If you have malware, one of the products listed above should take care of the problem.

Some nonstandard commercial antivirus utilities proved effective enough to earn an excellent four-star rating alongside their more traditional counterparts. VoodooSoft VoodooShield bases its protection on suppressing all unknown programs while the computer is in a vulnerable state, such as when it's connected to the internet, and also acts to detect known malware. The Kure resets the computer to a known safe state on every reboot, thereby eliminating any malware. These are interesting approaches, but not directly comparable with traditional antivirus tools.

You may notice that one product listed above earned just 3.5 stars. Of the five current products rating 3.5-stars, only F-Secure and G Data have ratings from two labs. F-Secure has the added fillip of costing the same for three licenses as most products charge for just one, so it made its way into the list.

The Best Antivirus Deals This Week*
McAfee Total Protection (10 devices) — $44.99 (List Price $119.99; Save $75)
Norton Antivirus Plus Annual Membership — $19.99 (List Price $59.99; Save $40)
Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus — $18.99 (List Price $39.99; Save $21)
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus — $29.99 (List Price $59.99; Save $30)
ESET NOD32 Antivirus — $59.99 (List Price $79.98; Save $19.99)

These commercial products offer protection beyond the antivirus built into Windows 10; the best free antivirus utilities also offer more than Windows does. However, Microsoft Windows Defender Security Center is looking better and better lately, with some very good scores from independent testing labs. The combination of good lab scores and a great score in our hands-on malware protection test was enough to bring it up to 3.5 stars. It doesn't appear in this roundup of commercial antivirus products, naturally.

Listen to the Labs
We take the results reported by independent antivirus testing labs very seriously. The simple fact that a company's product shows up in the results is a vote of confidence, of sorts. It means the lab considered the product significant, and the company felt the cost of testing was worthwhile. Of course, high scores in the tests are also important.

We follow four labs that regularly release detailed reports: SE Labs, AV-Test Institute, MRG-Effitas, and AV-Comparatives. We also note whether vendors have contracted with ICSA Labs and West Coast labs for certification. We've devised a system for aggregating their results to yield a rating from 0 to 10.

We Test Malware, Spyware, and Adware Defenses
We also subject every product to our own hands-on test of malware protection, 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 protection.

Our malware protection test necessarily uses the same set of samples for months. To check a product's handling of brand-new malware, we test each product using 100 extremely new malware-hosting URLs supplied by MRG-Effitas, noting what percentage of them it blocked. Products get equal credit for preventing all access to the malicious URL and for wiping out the malware during download.

Some products earn stellar ratings from the independent labs, yet don't fare as well in our hands-on tests. In such cases, we defer to the labs, as they bring significantly greater resources to their testing. Want to know more? You can dig in for a detailed description of how we test security software.

Multilayered Malware Protection
Antivirus products distinguish themselves by going beyond the basics of on-demand scanning and real-time malware 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.

Spyware comes in many forms, from hidden programs that log your every keystroke to Trojans that masquerade as valid programs while mining your personal data. Any antivirus should handle spyware, along with all other types of malware, but some include specialized components devoted to spyware protection.

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 it 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.

Featured in This Roundup:
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus
Pros: Outstanding scores in independent lab tests and our web protection tests. Multi-layered ransomware protection. Password manager. Banking protection. Offers a virtual private network, or VPN. Many security-centered bonus features.

Cons: Unlimited VPN access requires separate subscription. With antivirus disabled, ransomware-specific features missed one uncommon sample.

Bottom Line: With outstanding antivirus test results and a collection of features that puts some security suites to shame, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is a top choice.

Kaspersky Anti-Virus
Pros: Perfect scores from four independent testing labs. Good scores in our malware-blocking and malicious URL blocking tests. Numerous bonus scans. Full-scale phone and live chat support.

Cons: Poor antiphishing test scores. Bonus scans overlap each other significantly.

Bottom Line: Kaspersky Anti-Virus sweeps the antivirus testing labs, with all perfect scores. It remains an antivirus Editors' Choice.
Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic
Pros: Perfect scores in our malware and exploit protection tests. Best score in our malicious URL blocking test. Includes spam filter, password manager, and other bonus features.

Cons: First full scan unusually slow. Limited tech support.

Bottom Line: Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic blows the tires off our hands-on tests, and it offers a large collection of bonus features. It remains an antivirus Editors' Choice.

Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus
Pros: Installer and program are incredibly tiny. Very fast scan. Perfect score in my malware-blocking test. Very good score in my malware removal test.

Cons: Bonus antiphishing protection less effective. Bonus security tools too advanced for the average user.

Bottom Line: Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus is tiny beyond belief, yet it achieved perfect scores across the board in my malware-blocking tests. It also did a very good job cleaning up malware-infested systems. This impressive product shares our Editor's Choice honor with Norton AntiVirus 2012.
ESET NOD32 Antivirus
Pros: Very good scores from independent testing labs. Good scores in our hands-on tests. HIPS component blocks exploits. UEFI scanner finds malware in firmware. Comprehensive device control.

Cons: So-so phishing protection score. Device control too complex for most users.

Bottom Line: ESET NOD32 Antivirus gets good scores in lab tests and our own tests, and its collection of security components goes far beyond antivirus basics.

Malwarebytes Premium
Pros: Excellent scores in our hands-on malware protection and malicious URL blocking tests. Includes exploit protection, ransomware protection, behavior-based detection.

Cons: Few and poor independent lab tests scores. Phishing protection ineffective. Ransomware detection results mixed.

Bottom Line: Malwarebytes Premium now functions as a full-blown antivirus and not just second-line protection, as it did previously. It earns excellent scores in some of our hands-on tests, but still doesn't rate well with the independent testing labs.
McAfee AntiVirus Plus
Pros: Cross-platform, multi-device protection. Good scores in hands-on tests. Includes firewall, file shredder, and many other bonus features.

Cons: Some so-so scores from independent labs. WebAdvisor's Site Report didn't work consistently in testing.

Bottom Line: A single subscription for McAfee AntiVirus Plus lets you protect every Windows, Android, macOS, and iOS device in your household. It's quite a deal.