It’s not just that AI is in the news everywhere you turn. Sometimes it writes the news or a poem, or a college entrance essay. Even malware coders use AI in devising their nasty creations. But don’t be alarmed. ChatGPT and its ilk aren’t inventing new kinds of malware—they can’t. They just serve as tools to ease basic coding tasks. No matter who wrote it, you can defend against malware by using your human intelligence to select powerful antivirus protection for your devices and keep it up to date.
But which antivirus should you choose? There are so many! We’ve reviewed more than 40 antivirus utilities so you can easily select one that fits your needs. We’ve gathered the top 10 tested products here, along with what to look for when selecting the right antivirus for you, which you can find after the listings below.
Where Did Kaspersky Go?
Kaspersky Anti-Virus has topped the antivirus lab testing charts for many years, garnering perfect scores, or at least near-perfect. It has also held Editors’ Choice honor for countless years. It’s both attractive and effective. And it no longer appears in our list of best antivirus products. Here’s why.
For years, Kaspersky has faced accusations and censure based on its Russian origins, though none of the accusations have come backed by hard evidence of malicious behavior. We focused on the capabilities of the products, not on the brouhaha around the company. However, the current war in Ukraine has raised the stakes. Governments and third parties are cutting ties with Kaspersky. The FCC labeled Kaspersky a national security risk.
After consideration, we can no longer recommend you purchase Kaspersky security products. We’ve left the reviews in place, with a warning, since they provide useful information. But at least for now, we’re removing Kaspersky products from our “Best of” lists.
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, We’ve 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 several Editors’ Choice products and honored others with a four-star rating. If you have malware, one of the products listed in this article should take care of the problem.
These commercial products offer protection beyond the antivirus built into Windows; 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 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.
We Listen to the Antivirus Testing Labs
We take the results reported by independent antivirus testing labs 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’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 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 a large collection of 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.
What’s the Best Antivirus for 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 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 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 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.
Allow-listing 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 Firewalls?
Firewalls and spam filtering aren’t common antivirus features, but some of our top products include them as bonuses. 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 browsers for financial transactions, secure deletion of sensitive files, wiping traces of computer and browsing history, credit monitoring, virtual keyboard to foil keyloggers, cross-platform protection, and more. And of course, we’ve already mentioned sandboxing, vulnerability scanning, and application whitelisting.
We’re seeing more and more antivirus products 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 your data could be compromised in transit. Sticking to HTTPS websites when possible can help, but for full protection of your data in transit you should install a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. 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?
Which antivirus should you choose? You have a wealth of options. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus routinely takes perfect or near-perfect scores from the independent antivirus testing labs, and it has more features than some security suites. A single subscription for McAfee Antivirus Plus lets you install protection on all your Windows, Android, Mac OS, and iOS devices. Its unusual behavior-based detection technology means Webroot Secure Anywhere Antivirus is the tiniest antivirus around. We’ve named these three Editors’ Choice for commercial antivirus, but they’re not the only products worth consideration. Read the reviews of our top-rated products, and then make your own decision.