The Best Antivirus Software for 2024

Deeper Dive: Our Top Tested Picks

Best Overall

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus

  • Perfect scores in independent lab tests
  • Excellent defense against fraudulent and malicious sites
  • Multi-layered ransomware protection
  • Isolated browser for banking safety
  • Prevents advertisers from tracking you
  • Many security-centered bonus features
  • Unlimited VPN access requires a separate subscription
  • Slow first full scan

You can buy an antivirus utility that does everything an antivirus should, or you can buy one that does more—way more. That would be Bitdefender Antivirus Plus. The Plus, in this case, represents a multitude of features. Ransomware protection, a hardened browser for your financial transactions, VPN protection for your connections, a feature that smacks down ad trackers, automatic detection of missing security patches…the list goes on. While its name says antivirus, this program’s feature list beats many security suites.

Not only that, but it’s also a good antivirus. The independent testing labs routinely grant it perfect or near-perfect scores, and it aces many of our hands-on tests. Its ransomware-specific defense system proved itself in testing, too. And its Autopilot feature means that all this happens with minimal bother for you, the user.

Oh, there are a few minor nits. For example, the first full scan after installation can be slow. And if you want unlimited use of the VPN, you must pay a bit extra. But, overall, this is a marvelous choice for antivirus protection.

If you want comprehensive protection with little interaction, just fire up Bitdefender Antivirus Plus and turn on its Autopilot. Now you can sit back and do, well, anything you want!

Best Antivirus From a Well-Known Brand

Norton AntiVirus Plus

  • Excellent scores in independent lab tests
  • Data Protector foils ransomware attacks
  • Online backup enabled out of the box
  • Intelligent firewall protection
  • Includes vulnerability scan and other suite-level features

Quick, name three antivirus companies. Was one of them Norton? Probably. Norton’s antivirus prowess has developed over decades, and Norton AntiVirus Plus is the pinnacle of that evolution. It gets excellent scores from the independent labs and aces many of our hands-on tests, including a test using a dozen real-world ransomware samples.

There’s more to this program than just antivirus, though. Its firewall protects against outside attacks and betrayal from within without bombarding the unsuspecting user with confusing popup queries. A separate module enhances firewall protection by detecting and blocking exploit attacks. Other bonus features include a backup system that can archive your files locally or in the provided online storage, a spam filter for those who still need such a thing, a software updater tool, and more.

At one time, Norton was one-device wonder, protecting just a single Windows system. You can now get a five-device subscription to protect Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices. That makes the app even more inviting.

Norton’s technology has been fighting viruses and other malware for ages, dating back to MS-DOS days. If you want protection from a known brand that has established its chops over decades, Norton AntiVirus Plus is just what you need.

McAfee AntiVirus

Best for One-PC Households

McAfee AntiVirus

  • Perfect lab test scores
  • Excellent scores in our hands-on tests
  • Virus protection pledge
  • Missed one hand-tweaked ransomware sample
  • Windows-only protection with no volume discount
  • Many long-standing features now absent

McAfee no longer offers the cross-platform antivirus protection of McAfee AntiVirus Plus, but the basic McAfee AntiVirus is a powerful choice for a single Windows PC. Single is an important word here, as you don’t find the usual volume discounts for three, five, or 10 licenses. You must buy the software again for each new device you want to protect.

The independent labs adore McAfee’s malware-fighting technology. Three of the four labs we follow include McAfee in their analysis, and all three award it the maximum possible score. It earned excellent scores in our hands-on tests, too. And it goes beyond basic antivirus features with a ransomware protection system, a simple firewall, a system to foil cryptojacking, and more.

With the shift from unlimited protection on all platforms to securing a single Windows PC, McAfee AntiVirus appeals to a different audience than its predecessor. But there are people out there who just want to protect that one all-important PC. If you’re one of them, you should give McAfee a look.

G Data Antivirus

Best Breadth of Features

G Data Antivirus

  • Good score on our hands-on malware protection test
  • Protects against banking Trojans, keyloggers, ransomware, and exploits
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Includes spam filter
  • Only one recent lab score available

The G Data website states that G Data released the first antivirus program in 1985. Whether or not it was the very first, G Data Antivirus has a long and storied history. Two of the four independent labs we follow usually include this venerable tool in their tests. AV-Test routinely gives it the top possible rating, while its scores in tests by AV-Comparatives range from passing to perfect. G Data scored close to the maximum in our hands-on malware protection and malicious download defense tests.

Throughout its evolution, this antivirus tool has picked up many bonus security tools. With the regular antivirus disabled, its behavior-based ransomware protection layers detected half the samples we threw at it. An exploit detection component scored better than most competitors in testing. Other bonus features include spam filtering, BankGuard protection for financial transactions, active defense against keyloggers, and fine-grained control over startup programs.

Some folks lean toward the newest, shiniest antivirus protection, while others prefer a mature program that’s had plenty of time to shake out any weaknesses. G Data Antivirus is a full-grown utility with several security bonuses. It’s just the thing for those seeking a well-aged antivirus tool.

Malwarebytes Premium Security

Best for Speedy Scans

Malwarebytes Premium Security

  • Top malware detection score in our hands-on test
  • Very good protection against malicious and fraudulent sites
  • Excellent scores from one independent lab
  • Effective ransomware protection
  • Few features beyond basic antivirus
  • Some scores down from previous review

For years, the cleanup-only Malwarebytes Free has been the go-to solution when your regular antivirus can’t do the job, but it was always a specialty tool, not for everyday use. On the other hand, Malwarebytes Premium offers all the features you expect in a full-scale antivirus, starting with scanning on demand and on schedule, as well as on file access. Its full scan is speedy and uses various real-time protection techniques, including behavior-based detection, ransomware activity detection, and protection against exploit attacks.

It’s true that lab results for Malwarebytes are mixed, with some great and some so-so. The company contends that its advanced detection techniques aren’t a perfect fit for standardized tests. In our own hands-on tests, it proved highly effective, earning 9.8 of 10 points for malware protection (the best score among products tested with our current malware samples) and excellent scores for defending against malicious and fraudulent web pages.

Anyone who’s used Malwarebytes Free to remedy another antivirus tool’s slip-up will appreciate the full-powered Malwarebytes Premium. Even if you never needed that kind of rescue, this app’s speedy scan and excellent hands-on test results are a big draw.

Sophos Home Premium

Best for Thrifty Users

Sophos Home Premium

  • Excellent scores in some of our hands-on tests
  • Effective ransomware protection
  • Remotely manages up to 10 PCs or Macs
  • Inexpensive
  • Limited results from testing labs
  • Ineffective parental control
  • No longer offers mobile management or keylogger protection
  • Advanced features require uncommon tech expertise

Sophos is a big name in business-level antivirus, with remote management to keep the IT team in charge of security. Sophos Home Premium brings that same remote management to you, the consumer. You can install antivirus protection for your family and friends, whether they’re across town or the country, and manage all the installations without leaving your lair. Best of all, it’s seriously inexpensive, with a 10-license price that matches what many competitors charge for just three licenses.

This antivirus only has one recent lab test score, but it’s a good one—AAA certification from SE Labs. When last challenged by our hands-on malware protection test, it managed 100% detection and scored 9.9 of 10 possible points. It also earned 100% for defending against malware-hosting web pages. But its protection doesn’t stop there. Packed into its tiny local agent program are effective ransomware protection, defense against exploit attacks, an admittedly less-effective parental control content filter, protection for your financial transactions, webcam hijack prevention, and more.

As noted, you can manage all your installations from a convenient online console. More recently, Sophos has extended that remote control ability to apps for Android and iOS, meaning you can exercise your remote control powers from anywhere.

Are you the default security expert for your extended family or circle of friends? Are you tired of driving across town to rescue your beloved uncle after he clicked something he shouldn’t have? With Sophos Home Premium, you can take good care of your peeps from wherever you happen to be.

Webroot AntiVirus

Best for a Small Footprint

Webroot AntiVirus

  • Fast scan, tiny size
  • Light on system resources
  • Can remediate ransomware damage
  • Advanced features
  • No longer offers remote monitoring and configuration
  • Imperfect protection against hand-modified ransomware
  • Limited lab test results
  • Advanced features require uncommon expertise
  • No volume discount
  • Firewall settings can be confusing

Without question, Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus is the smallest antivirus we’ve seen. Back when diskettes were standard, you could fit it on just one. Webroot’s local presence can be tiny because its intelligence is in the cloud. Like most antivirus tools, it wipes out known malware on sight, but unknowns get special treatment. It sends details about any unknown program to the cloud and lets that program run in a bubble, virtualizing any system changes so they don’t become permanent. Cloud analysis can take a little time, but if it determines the program is malicious, Webroot wipes out the program itself and rolls back any system changes.

However, this delayed-action detection isn’t a good fit for most standardized tests. The labs mostly expect that an antivirus will determine immediately or not at all. Webroot’s presence in lab reports is sporadic, with a wide range of scores. But in our hands-on tests, it routinely earns excellent scores.

Some of Webroot’s advanced features require above-average expertise, so it doesn’t hurt if you’re the security expert for your family or circle of friends. Whether you’re an expert or not, you’re sure to appreciate its tiny size and ultra-fast scans.

Buying Guide: The Best Antivirus Software for 2024

What Are Viruses, Malware, and Ransomware?

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. As noted, PCMag has reviewed more than 40 different commercial antivirus utilities. We’ve named two Editors’ Choice winners out of that extensive field and honored others with four-star or better ratings. One of the utilities listed in this article should address the problem if you have malware.

It's Surprisingly Easy to Be More Secure Online
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What Is the Most Widely Used Antivirus Software?

Every Windows computer has Microsoft Defender Antivirus installed, making it the most widely installed antivirus. However, if you’ve installed third-party protection, Defender stays on the sidelines. If If there’s no other antivirus present or your existing antivirus expires, Defender steps up.

Commercial antivirus apps offer protection beyond what’s included with Windows, but Defender is looking better lately, with some solid scores from independent testing labs. The combination of good lab scores and a great score in our hands-on malware protection test brought its rating up to 3.5 stars. As it is a free, built-in utility, however, we’re not including it in this roundup of commercial antivirus apps.

What Is the Best Free Antivirus Software?

You’ve come to the wrong place if you’re looking for free antivirus—our list here includes the best antivirus software overall, and they’re not free. Head over to the best free antivirus for our top picks there.

What Is the Best Antivirus for PC?

All of the software listed here will work on your PC. If you’re an Apple user, check out our story on the best Mac antivirus software.

McAfee vs. Norton: Which Is Better?

As for the most-used commercial antivirus software, survey results vary, but Norton and McAfee generally appear at or near the top. Is Norton or McAfee better? Both are good, but of the two PCMag has identified Norton as an Editors’ Choice.

What Is the Best Virus Protection According to Independent Tests?

We take the results reported by independent antivirus testing labs seriously. The simple fact that a company’s antivirus shows up in the results is a vote of confidence, of sorts. It means that the lab considered the program significant, and the company felt the cost of testing was worthwhile. Of course, high scores on 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’ve devised a system for aggregating their results to yield a rating from 0 to 10.

How We Test Malware, Spyware, and Adware Defenses

We also subject every antivirus app to our own hands-on test of malware protection, in part to get a feeling for how the app works. Depending on how thoroughly the antivirus 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 program’s handling of brand-new malware, we test each antivirus using a large collection of extremely new malware-hosting URLs supplied by MRG-Effitas, noting what percentage of them it blocked. Apps get equal credit for preventing all access to the malicious URL and for wiping out the malware during download.

Some apps 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.

What’s the Best Antivirus for Malware Protection?

Antivirus utilities 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 fraudulent (phishing) pages.

All 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 apps can verify 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 masquerading as valid programs while mining your 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 leave good programs alone. What about unknowns, programs your AV can’t identify as good or bad? Behavior-based detection can, in theory, protect you against malware, 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.

Recommended by Our Editors

Allowlisting is another approach to the problem of unknown programs. This type of 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.

What’s the Best Antivirus for Ransomware Protection and Firewall?

Firewalls and spam filtering aren’t common antivirus features, but some of our top picks include them as bonuses. Some of these antivirus programs are even more feature-packed than certain security suites.

Among the other bonus features you’ll find are secure browsers for financial transactions, secure deletion of sensitive files, wiping traces of computer and browsing history, credit monitoring, virtual keyboards to foil keyloggers, cross-platform protection, and more. And, of course, we’ve already mentioned sandboxing, vulnerability scanning, and application allowlisting.

We’re seeing more and more antivirus apps adding modules specifically designed for ransomware protection. Some work by preventing unauthorized changes to protected files. Others keep watch for suspicious behaviors that suggest malware. Some even aim to reverse the damage. Given the growth of this scourge, any added protection is beneficial.

Beyond Antivirus: Install a VPN

Your antivirus utility works in the background to keep out any faint possibility of infestation by malware, but its abilities don’t extend beyond the bounds of your computer. When you connect to the wild and wooly internet, you risk the possibility of your data being compromised in transit. Sticking to HTTPS websites when possible can help, but for full protection of your data in transit, you should install a VPN (virtual private network). This component is important enough that we’re starting to see it as a bonus feature in some antivirus tools.

What Is the Best Antivirus Software Now?

Which antivirus should you choose? While you have a wealth of options, two stand out from the rest. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus holds perfect scores from three independent antivirus testing labs, and it has more features than some security suites. Norton AntiVirus Plus likewise offers many suite-level features, and it gets excellent scores from all four testing labs we follow. We’ve named these two our Editors’ Choice winners for commercial antivirus, but they’re not the only antivirus apps worth consideration. Read the reviews of our top-rated programs, then make your own decision.

Editors’ Note: Due to the censure and criticism of Kaspersky by US government agencies, foreign agencies, and informed third parties, we can no longer recommend its products. We continue to evaluate these products on their merits and report on them for those who wish to decide for themselves.

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