Best Antivirus Software 2021 | U.S. News

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Although surfing the web or watching a video can seem harmless, there are dangers to your computer lurking all over the internet. Various types of malicious software, otherwise known as malware, can be used to monitor what you do online and perhaps steal your personal information. The specific types of malware that hackers use change frequently but can include:

  • Viruses, which alter your computer’s software in harmful ways
  • Adware, which causes intrusive ads to appear on your screen
  • Spyware, through which someone can monitor your computing activities
  • Ransomware, which can lock up your computer and render it unusable until you pay a fee, or “ransom”
  • Worms, which are bits of software code that can spread from one computer to another

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Hackers use other ploys, as well. One common technique is called “phishing,” in which someone tries to trick you into using a fake website (such as one that looks like your bank’s website) to steal your personal data.

The good news is that antivirus software like Bitdefender and Norton, which both placed in our ratings of the Best Antivirus Software of 2021, can help protect you and your computer from these and other threats. However, there’s no substitute for using strong passwords and other common-sense internet security measures.

Antivirus software can scan information and files sent to and from your computer in real time when you’re surfing the web, sending emails, streaming videos, or doing anything else online. The software will warn you not to click on any website or file that may be a threat to your internet security. In addition, if you accidentally download malware to your computer, antivirus software will try to quarantine and delete it before it causes any harm.

Antivirus protection packages from companies such as McAfee and Avast offer additional features. These include a virtual private network (VPN), which disguises your online activities, a firewall, which monitors network traffic, parental controls to protect children, and a password manager to encrypt your passwords. Read on to see our full rating of the Best Antivirus Software of 2021.

To help protect your Windows computer, here’s the Best Antivirus Software of 2021:

Best Antivirus Software of 2021

To help you narrow down your search for an antivirus program for Windows, we’ve researched the Best Antivirus Software of 2021. These programs are designed for computers running Windows 10, Windows 7, or another version of Windows. When two prices are listed with a slash between them, the first price refers to the first year and the second price refers to subsequent years.

Bitdefender: Bitdefender has five different antivirus packages, each with different prices depending on the number of devices (usually three, five, or 10) and subscription length (one, two, or three years). Prices for these packages start at $19.99/$39.99 for one device for one year for Antivirus Plus. The most expensive plan costs $89.99/$149.99 for 10 devices for one year for Bitdefender Premium Security, which includes a password manager. On the downside, Bitdefender includes only limited VPN services and no identity theft protection. Read more in our Bitdefender review.

Kaspersky: Kaspersky antivirus software packages are available with three-, five-, 10-, or 20-device coverage and in one-, two-, or three-year subscriptions. Introductory discounts of 50% are available for all versions except the top-tier Security Cloud antivirus package, which has a 40% introductory discount. Annual prices range from $29.99 for three devices for the Windows-only Anti-Virus plan ($59.99 upon renewal) to $74.99 for 10 devices for Kaspersky Total Security ($149.99 upon renewal). None of Kaspersky’s packages include a full VPN or identity theft protection. Read more in our Kaspersky review.

Webroot: Webroot sells three antivirus software packages at prices lower than most other antivirus software vendors. They start at $29.99/$39.99 for a single year and a single device with basic malware protection and a few extras. At the high end, these plans cost up to $179.99/$239.97 for a more complete set of protections, a password manager, and 25 GB of cloud storage covering up to five devices for three years. Read more in our Webroot review.

Norton: Norton has five primary antivirus/identity theft protection packages that range in price. Norton 360 Standard costs $39.99 for the first year and $79.99 thereafter. On the upper end is Norton 360 with LifeLock Ultimate Plus, which costs $299.99/$349.99. If you just want antivirus protection, consider Norton Antivirus Plus for $19.99/$59.99.

Trend Micro: Trend Micro antivirus offers a range of antivirus software. On the cheaper side, it costs $29.95 for one year of the Windows-only Antivirus+ Security. The Maximum Security package covers up to 10 devices and costs $154.95 for
a two-year subscription. Trend Micro’s antivirus programs include minimal identity theft protection. The Maximum Security package does not include a VPN, but the more expensive Premium Security Suite does.

McAfee: McAfee antivirus software ranges in price from $29.99 for one device for the first year ($79.99 upon renewal) for McAfee Total Protection to $39.99 for McAfee LiveSafe, which covers an unlimited number of devices for one year ($119.99 upon renewal).

ESET: ESET sells three antivirus software configurations in one-, two- or three-year subscriptions. The cheapest option costs $39.99 a year for basic malware defense for one device. The most advanced option is the Smart Security Premium package, which starts at $59.99 for one device for one year. Subscriptions cover a specific number of devices rather than a set number (such as five or 10), which is more common in antivirus plans.

Avast: Avast offers completely free antivirus software along with two paid antivirus software packages under both the Avast and AVG brands. Avast also sells Omni, a separate combined hardware/antivirus protection subscription solution to protect smart home/Wi-Fi networks. Prices range from $39.99 to $69.99 for the first year for a single device, and from $69.99 to $119.99 a year thereafter to protect 10 devices.

AVG Technologies: AVG sells two paid subscription antivirus software packages. AVG Internet Security runs on Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. Subscription prices range from $39.99 ($69.99 after the first year) for one computer to $49.99 ($89.99 after the first year) for up to 10 devices. AVG’s Ultimate package includes a VPN and AVG PC TuneUp. It covers 10 devices for one year for $79.99 ($119.99 thereafter). AVG sells a separate VPN as well.

Sophos: Sophos sells a single antivirus software package, Sophos Home Premium, in one-, two-, and three-year subscriptions. Home Premium on a one-year plan costs $44.99 a year. A two-year plan costs $74.99, and a three-year plan costs $104.99. The free version, Sophos Home Free, protects a combination of up to three computers.

The antivirus programs in our Best Antivirus Software of 2021 rating are designed for Windows computers. However, Macs also need antivirus software, as they are just as vulnerable to malware and other online threats as Windows computers. To help you choose, here is our list of the Best Antivirus Software for Macs of 2021. Each company name will take you to a review of that company.

Although antivirus software may seem complicated, purchasing it isn’t difficult if you follow a few simple steps.

  1. Choose an antivirus program: Select one that’s written for your computer’s operating system, fits your budget, is easy to use, and can detect and remove spyware, viruses, worms, phishing emails, and other malware. Our rating of the Best Antivirus Software of 2021 and the Best Antivirus Software for Macs of 2021 can help you decide. While antivirus programs differ somewhat, all of our rating products are effective, reliable, and user-friendly. Although free antivirus programs are available, these are much more limited than paid software and provide less protection. For instance, free software often limits the number of devices it protects and the types of threats it detects. It’s well worth the subscription price to get a paid product.
  2. Create an account: When you purchase an antivirus software subscription, you will probably have to create an account. This lets you set up and configure the software on different devices, set or change your payment method, adjust privacy settings, and get product notifications. 
  3. Download the antivirus software: Antivirus software for Windows comes as an .exe file that can be downloaded and stored in a folder in Windows File Explorer. Click on the .exe file and follow the step-by-step instructions to install the program. Write down the software licence or serial number, which should be included with the .exe file, in case you need it later. Most software today, including most antivirus software, can only be downloaded. If by chance your software comes on a physical medium, like a DVD, it will have its own installation instructions.
  4. Consent to the licensing agreement: You will need to do this after the antivirus software is installed.
  5. Restart your computer if required: Most of the time, your new antivirus software will start protecting your computer immediately. However, if you had to uninstall other antivirus software or a free trial of your current software, you will have to restart your computer for the new program to operate properly. 
  6. Scan your computer for viruses: Run an initial scan of your computer right after you install your antivirus program. This could take more than an hour depending on how many files you have, because each one has to be checked for malware. The software will tell you how long the scan will take and if you can use your computer while it’s running. The good news is that future scans will only take minutes.
  7. Update the antivirus program if prompted: Antivirus software companies frequently and automatically update their products with new virus definitions and security features. You usually won’t know these updates are happening, but occasionally, you may have to manually install an update yourself.

Windows Antivirus Software Price Comparison

Anyone who uses the internet can benefit from antivirus software, as it’s the best (and often only) way to protect your laptop and other devices against viruses and other malware. However, antivirus software is no substitute for safe online behaviors and habits. John Hawes, chief operating officer of the international nonprofit Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization (AMTSO), says that engaging in risky behavior online while assuming that antivirus software will protect you is like driving an otherwise safe car “with your eyes shut” – it’s not smart.

Always take common-sense precautions:

  • Use passwords that are hard to guess
  • Ignore email attachments from strangers
  • Do not disclose your Social Security number online
  • Do not send private data over public Wi-Fi networks unless you have a VPN connection

However, even people who do all of these things need antivirus software to be safe online. Peter Stelzhammer, co-founder and chief operating officer of testing lab AV-Comparatives, says many types of malware can only be detected by antivirus software. In part, that’s because different kinds of malware attacks can be used at the same time if the hacker is skilled and determined.

Moreover, criminals are constantly inventing new threats. Andreas Marx, founder of testing lab AV-Test, says his company finds more than 350,000 new and unique types of malware every day – or about four every second. Antivirus software can be updated to detect malware and help keep you safe online.

When purchasing antivirus software, look for the following features and characteristics:

Pricing/Value: Antivirus software should be affordable and provide only the features you need. The annual renewal price is more important than the (often discounted) introductory first-year price. In addition, get antivirus software that can protect all of your devices, including computers, tablets, and phones.

Comfort/Ease of Use: Take advantage of the free trial that comes with most antivirus software. During the trial, see if the software is easy to use and make sure it doesn’t slow down your computer. Also, talk to a customer service agent to see if they’re courteous and helpful, and find out if the customer service department is available 24/7.

Stelzhammer says the term antivirus software is somewhat misleading because it protects against many types of malware, not just viruses. These can include adware, ransomware, worms, and other threats. An antivirus program also detects phishing attempts. For example, someone may send you an email with a link to a website that appears to be from your bank or another institution or company you’re familiar with. If you go to that website, it will steal any personal information you type there.

Different types of internet threats require different antivirus solutions. These include, among others:

Signature Analysis: This technique is similar to fingerprinting. The antivirus software analyzes various types of malware it encounters and records the malware’s unique signature in a database. It then uses that database to help identify new threats.

Heuristic Analysis: Because many hackers know how to get around signature analysis, antivirus programs also use heuristic analysis. This approach looks for suspicious characteristics in a potentially malicious file that might match those of known malware.

Sandbox Detection: If a file looks suspicious but isn’t obviously malware based on signature and heuristic analysis, some antivirus software will open and run it in a secure area called a “sandbox.” That way, if the program turns out to be malware, it won’t harm your computer.

Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence: Machine learning and artificial intelligence – two ways computers “learn” about the outside world – are relatively new technologies that can help identify malware and other new threats. The software then adds information about these threats to its detection database.

Behavior Monitoring: Hawes, of the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization, explains that behavior monitoring involves watching the traffic between your computer and various devices like disk drives and printers. The next action is to “stop them when they do something suspicious” and even undo any authorized changes these external devices make.

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Still looking for more information about antivirus software or trying to find the best antivirus software for you? Explore the directory below to learn more.

Other Ratings from 360 Reviews

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The purpose of 360 Reviews by U.S. News & World Report is to evaluate products and services from multiple, diverse vantage points. We make recommendations based on an assessment of what matters to consumers, experts, and the community of professional reviewers. We convey what’s most important about antivirus software based on an unbiased evaluation of products commonly in the consideration set. Our overarching goal is to empower consumers with the information and tools needed to make their own informed decisions.

The following describes our 360 approach to researching and analyzing Antivirus Software companies to provide guidance to potential customers in the market for an Antivirus Software.

1. We researched the companies and products people care most about.

U.S. News analyzed and compared a variety of publicly available data, including internet search data, to determine which antivirus software companies consumers are most interested in. After additional analysis of consumer and professional reviews, we narrowed the list down to the ten Best Antivirus Software Companies of 2020 and the nine Best Antivirus Software Companies of 2020 for the Mac Operating System(OS). We then researched and explained the most important features of Antivirus Software to help readers with their purchasing decisions.

2. We created objective 360 Overall Ratings based on an analysis of third-party reviews.

Our scoring methodology is based on a composite analysis of the ratings and reviews published by credible third-party professional and consumer review sources. The ratings are not based on the personal opinions, tests, or experiences of U.S. News. To calculate the ratings:

(a) We compiled two types of third-party ratings and rev
iews:

  • Professional Ratings and Reviews: Many independent sources have published their assessments of Antivirus Software companies and products online. We consider several of these third-party reviews to be reputable and well-researched. However, professional reviewers often make recommendations that contradict one another. Rather than relying on a single source, U.S. News believes consumers benefit most when these opinions and recommendations are considered and analyzed collectively with an objective, consensus-based methodology.
  • Consumer Ratings and Reviews: U.S. News also researched published consumer ratings and reviews of Antivirus Software Companies. Sources with a sufficient number of quality consumer ratings and reviews were included in our scoring model. The sufficiency was determined using the 10th percentile of review count for each product from a given source as an exclusion threshold for that review.

Not all professional and consumer rating sources met our criteria for objectivity. Those that did not were excluded from our model.

(b) We standardized the inputs to create a common scale.

The third-party review source data were collected in a variety of forms, including ratings, recommendations and accolades. Before including each third-party data point into our scoring equation, we had to standardize it so that it could be compared accurately with data points from other review sources. We used the scoring methodology described below to convert these systems to a comparable scale.

The 360 scoring process first converted each third-party rating into a common 0 to 5 scale. To balance the distribution of scores within each source’s scale, we used a standard deviation (or Z-Score) calculation to determine how each company that a source rated was scored in comparison to the source’s mean score. We then used the Z-Score to create a standardized U.S. News score using the method outlined below:

  • Calculating the Z-Score: The Z-Score represents a data point’s relation to the mean measurement of the data set. The Z-Score is negative when the data point is below the mean and positive when it’s above the mean; a Z-Score of 0 means it’s equal to the mean.To determine the Z-Score for each third-party rating of a company, we calculated the mean of the ratings across all companies evaluated by that third-party source. We then subtracted the mean from the company’s rating and divided it by the standard deviation to produce the Z-Score.
  • Calculating the T-Score: We used a T-Score calculation to convert the Z-Score to a 0-100 scale by multiplying the Z-Score by 10. To ensure that the mean was equal across all data points, we added our desired scoring mean (between 0 and 10) to the T-Score to create an adjusted T-Score.
  • Calculating the common-scale rating: We divided the adjusted T-Score, which is on a 100-point scale, by 20 to convert the third-party rating to a common 0-5 point system.

(c) We calculated the 360 Overall Score based on a weighted-average model.

We assigned “source weights” to each source used in the consensus scoring model based on our assessment of how much the source is trusted and recognized by consumers and how much its published review process indicates that it is both comprehensive and editorially independent. The source weights are assigned on a 1-5 scale. Any source with an assigned weight less than 2 was excluded from the consensus scoring model.

Finally, we combined the converted third-party data points using a weighted average formula based on source weight. This formula calculated the consensus score for each product, which we call the 360 Overall Rating.

U.S. News 360 Reviews takes an unbiased approach to our recommendations. When you use our links to buy products, we may earn a commission but that in no way affects our editorial independence.