Our personal devices such as desktops, laptops, mobile phones, etc. are all carrying tons of personal information about us, and in most cases, we do not want this information to fall into anyone’s hands. Unfortunately, with the growing popularity of the internet, this is becoming harder and harder to do. It seems like every website you visit (but not VPN Surf) is trying to collect as much personal information about you as possible, but this is a discussion for another time.
What is definitely more concerning for the average internet user is the copious amount of malware being spread on the internet. There are countless types of malicious software present on the web and just as many ways of spreading it. Some will simply gain access to your personal data on the device while others can lock you out from accessing certain files or even using the device to its full functionality (such as ransomware). There have even been cases of viruses that destroyed the actual hardware of personal computers by making them overheat and disabling the safety mechanisms that prevented thermal damage to the components.
This whole situation sounds quite dire, however, do not be alarmed. Simply by being more cautious when surfing the web, you can decrease the chance of accidentally installing malware on your devices. This should be your main line of defense, as avoiding visiting non HTTPS sites, downloading from untrusted sources and opening email links should be enough to keep you from installing malware on one or multiple of your devices.
The second line of defense you have is an antivirus software. Although we call it an antivirus, in truth, it is highly unlikely that your device will be infected with an actual computer virus. Most malware creators and distributors are in the game to earn some easy money, and there is almost no easy way to cash in on spreading a more traditional virus. There is a much higher chance that you will be affected by either a Trojan or ransomware or even bots that will rent out your system’s resources for malicious purposes, without you even knowing it.
To many people’s great relief, most modern antivirus utilities can easily handle Trojans, rootkits, spyware, adware, ransomware, and more. We have picked several of these software that we believe should take care of nearly any malware problem you might have.
However, before getting to the comparison, let’s have a better understand what exactly is an antivirus software.
What’s an Antivirus?
Antivirus software is one of the things that keeps your computer or mobile phone safe from malware and cybercriminals. It typically does so by inspecting the network traffic going in and out of your device – be it web pages, files, or applications.
The software also regularly scans the files and programs on your device for malicious activity. It detects known threats and suspicious activity of all the programs and flags those which seem questionable. The flagged programs or behaviors are then promptly blocked or removed from the computer.
What Does an Antivirus Protect From?
Hackers are constantly trying to gain access to or damage your computer or mobile device without your knowledge. That is why we believe it is important to know what types of malicious software are out there and which ones does your antivirus protect from.
Here are some examples of malicious software that any respectable antivirus should be able to protect you from:
- Ransomware: blocks access to sensitive files in order to extort money from the user
- Spyware: gains access to and collects users’ sensitive information
- Worms: inject malicious code into the user’s system and attempts to spread it to other users on the network or via the internet
- Trojan: seemingly an innocent program that promises one thing but instead injects malicious code into your desktop
- Adware: simple ads that pop up annoyingly when attempting to use the computer; sometimes nearly impossible to remove manually
What is Windows Defender?
Microsoft Windows Defender is a Windows built-in antimalware software. Although being available as a downloadable anti-spyware tool since Windows XP, it has only released as a built-in security measure since Windows 8, replacing Microsoft Security Essentials.
Despite being a good method of protection against traditional viruses but may not detect malicious software beyond that scope. For example, it may not protect your computer against a more sophisticated method of attack such as ransomware.
Since Windows defender comes enabled by default together with any currently-supported Microsoft Windows operating system, many people ask whether it is enough to have as a sole antivirus protection method. The answer is maybe. Its effectiveness depends on how vigilant each individual user is when using the internet. For most casual internet users, it is recommended to add on another layer of protection above the already-available Windows Defender.
Do I need an Antivirus if I’m on a Mac?
Although Windows devices are at a much higher risk of being targeted than Macs and other Apple devices, it does not mean that these systems are not at risk of getting malware. It is still always a good idea to have additional antivirus protection. It may be true that at the moment that you are basically safe unless you click on unknown links or attachments and are being careful with your online activities. Nevertheless, it is not a guarantee that things will stay status quo.
What about Free Antivirus Software?
There are a plethora of both free and paid antivirus utilities available online. Many average internet users are accustomed to having most of their tools being free of charge, be it email, social media, online storage, and more. Thus, it is understandable that they would want to have their antivirus be unpaid as well.
A common question among antivirus users is whether the free software provides adequate protection against malware?
If we are talking about a reputable distributor, then yes, it does provide decent protection, however, it will not be on the same level as the paid versions.
Another thing to keep in mind about free antivirus software is: “Is anything really free?”. A great deal of free software (not just antiviruses, but other programs as well) need to make money somehow to be able to support their services. They make this money through advertising and tracking & selling user activity. It is common that these software install adware and other PUPs. If you decide to go the free route, only download an antivirus from a site you completely trust.
There are also other possible features that come with paid antivirus software such as identity theft protection, mobile security, and data security support. These important security features are often not included in free antivirus versions.
Antivirus Software Comparison
Now that you know a bit more about what are antiviruses, how they work, and what to expect from them, we have compiled a list of the ones we believe offer the widest range of tools and best security measures. These are not ranked and thus are not in any specific order. We think they are all potentially good choices for your systems’ security. These summaries are in no way full reviews of said tools but only highlights the distinctive features between the antiviruses.
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2020 is a full security suite that offers essential real-time protection against viruses and ransomware as well as prevents phishing and online fraud when shopping and browsing. It has earned outstanding test results in independent lab tests, earning 6 out of 6 possible points in all three categories in tests performed by the reputable AV-Test Institute.
The suite also offers multilayer ransomware protection. Bitdefender’s Safe Files feature simply prevents all unauthorized modification of files in folders within which users commonly store their files (such as Documents, Pictures, Videos, Downloads, etc.). You can always add new directories to the ‘protected folders’ list.
Although uncommonly found bundled with antiviruses, password management is often found in security suites such as Bitdefender Antivirus Plus. Its Wallet offers storing passwords, personal information, and credit card details for use on websites. It also requires a strong master password which is separate from your Bitdefender Central password.
Overall, this suite is an excellent choice for protecting your devices with a vast collection of features that put many other security suits to shame.
This name has been heard by just about any PC user out there. Kaspersky has been around seemingly forever and only improved over time. It has earned the top or nearly the top score in just about any independent antivirus test. Although the core antivirus protection is the same as Kaspersky’s free antivirus version, the paid edition also includes a useful vulnerability scan and full access to tech support in case anything goes wrong.
Kaspersky offers an interesting feature which is quite unusual for antivirus software. It has a built-in on-screen keyboard. Its purpose is to protect the entry of your sensitive information against any keylogger, even a hardware one.
Since phishing sites do not host malware, most phishing protection relies upon blacklists of sites. A problem arises, however, when a phishing site is too new to have been blacklisted. In these cases, Kaspersky shines as it uses heuristic detection which offers 100 percent protection, tying only with McAfee AntiVirus Plus in independent tests.
The vulnerability scan that is offered with the full version of Kaspersky Anti-Virus is probably the most useful feature within this package as it scans for software vulnerabilities (i.e. missing security patches) in the operating system, browsers, and other popular apps.
Although this antivirus is pretty bare-bone, if you wish to get more features, you can opt-in for either Kaspersky Internet Security or even Kaspersky Total Security.
Another quite recognizable name, ESET NOD32 Antivirus goes above and beyond with their bonus features. One such feature is a UEFI scanner that scans your PC’s firmware for malware. ESET’s standalone antivirus also offers a Host Intrusion Protection System (HIPS) to help block exploits.
Although being mainly known for being light on computer resources and blocking popups and updates when a program is running in full-screen mode, NOD32 also receives quite good scores from independent antivirus tests. Unlike previously mentioned software, the results are not perfect/near perfect but are still very good, being able to land in the top 3.
A truly outstanding feature of the ESET NOD32 Antivirus is its elaborate Device Control feature. Despite being more suitable for business settings than consumer use, it is offered only by a few other security suites. While this feature is active, you can prevent the use of a wide variety of device types and make exceptions for trusted devices. You can create rules for a variety of devices, such as card readers, Bluetooth devices, and external drives.
Generally, this antivirus software is best suited for people who take up tech and computers as a hobby, since the Device Control system is one of the most comprehensive ones out there, however, it does require you to have a decent knowledge of computers to use.
McAfee provides multiple different versions of their antivirus solutions, however, today we would like to focus on McAfee LifeSave as it is quite a unique opportunity for users with a lot of devices that need protection. For only $39.99 (this price applies for the first year only, after it would be $119.99) it provides protection for an unlimited number of devices. This offer includes Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices. This is huge, as most competitors provide licenses for 1, 3, 5, or 10 devices only.
With such an offer, however, there are also certain trade-offs to think about. Researchers found McAfee to have poor handling of real-world ransomware on Windows. According to multiple tests, several samples have gotten past all layers of McAfee protection, including its dedicated Ransom Guard.
Although this is a serious hit to Windows device security, it is nearly impossible to find another antivirus that offers unlimited cross-platform licenses. Other than this slip-up, the software offers a plethora of features for Windows protection, more than most other security suites.
Phishing protection, however, is another strong suit of McAfee LifeSave. It managed a quite impressive 99 percent protection, tying with Bitdefender. Only Kaspersky was able to score a perfect 100 percent on this test.
This antivirus software has a quite unique way of detecting and removing malware. While other antiviruses constantly expand their databases to catch every new attack instantly, Webroot’s antivirus keeps watch of unknown programs and their behaviors until the brain in the cloud decides whether the program is malware or not.
If the program is believed to be a PUP, the local application gets rig of the program and reverses all of the actions it executed. The method is definitely unusual, but as seen from independent testing, very effective.
Due to the way Webroot detects and removes viruses, the client itself does not take up a lot of space; the program only uses 15 Mb from your storage, perfect if you are close to maxing out your drives. Along with requiring low storage space, it also takes a much shorter time to scan your computer.
According to the information on their site, it takes just 20 seconds on average to check your PC due to it being completely cloud-based. This, however, should be taken with a grain of salt as we were unable to find any independent tests that verify this exact number.
The last but definitely not least is Norton AntiVirus Plus. Originally released in 1991, this is name is also quite well known. As can be implied from the name, it offers advanced antivirus protection and a lot more. Among other things, it includes a full-blown firewall, spam filtering, and hosted online backups. The latest edition also has online banking protection, script control, and Wi-Fi security.
Norton is considered to be one of the top-performing antivirus software along with Bitdefender, Kaspersky, and ESET, with independent test results reflecting exactly that. In almost any test, Norton scores within the top 3, and if not, within the top 5.
Another nice plus you get with this version of the antivirus is 2GB of secure online storage, which is not really that much but still probably enough to backup your most essential files. Sadly, the option to purchase more online storage separately is no longer available, so if you wish for more storage, you must upgrade to a better plan. Or simply use a different secure online storage service.
Do not forget a VPN
Some of the antivirus services we mentioned include a VPN and some don’t. Nevertheless, their versions of VPN are designed with one purpose in mind: security. That is not a bad thing, however, having tunnel vision when designing a product does not produce the best possible results.
If you are a returning reader from our other VPN-related blogs, you would know that a good VPN is not only secure but fast, can support a long-lasting, uninterrupted connection to the server, and provides you with a wide variety of locations to choose from.
Unlike the VPNs that come bundled with antivirus packages, VPN Surf provides all that and much more. Check out all of the amazing features we offer with our VPN and join our team.
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