The Best Antivirus Protection Software of 2021

Our team tested 40 antivirus software providers, and these were the ones that stood out.

By
&
Aliza Vigderman Gabe Turner Chief Editor
Last Updated on Jan 20, 2021
By Aliza Vigderman & Gabe Turner on Jan 20, 2021

This article is long enough, so let’s cut to the chase: which antivirus software is the best? Over the past 12 months, our team has tested 40 of the top antivirus software to try and answer that very question. And our answer? Well, it ultimately depends on the user, but there were eight antivirus software companies that particularly stood out. This review focuses on those softwares and why they are the best of the best.

Our Top Picks Our Top 10 Picks

Norton Antivirus

Editor's Rating
9.9
/10
Editor's Rating
9.9
/10
There are plenty of reasons why Norton is considered a top player in the digital security space. Its mobile apps were incredibly easy to use, it performed well when it came to detecting viruses and malware, and the subscription cost didn't break the bank.

Kaspersky Antivirus

Editor's Rating
9.6
/10
Editor's Rating
9.6
/10
We believe that antivirus software doesn't need to be expensive to be effective. Case in point: Kaspersky. The Kaspersky Security Cloud Free is free, but it offers the same level of malware detection as Kaspersky's paid-for products.

While these two— Norton and Kaspersky— garnered the highest ratings from us based on our tests, Bitdefender, Trend Micro, Avast, McAfee, ESET, and Vipre also performed remarkably well. We like to give our readers options, so keep going if you’d like to see which of these eight antivirus software is best for you.

The Best Antivirus Software At A Glance

System
Norton Antivirus
Kaspersky Antivirus
Bitdefender Antivirus
Trend Micro Antivirus
Avast Antivirus
McAfee Antivirus
ESET Antivirus
Vipre Antivirus
Ranking 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th
Ratings 9.6/10
Best Free Antivirus
9.5/10
Best for Malware Detection
9.1/10
Best for Web Protection
9.0/10
Best for Mac
8.8/10
Most Affordable
8.7/10
Best for Windows
8.7/10
Best with No Contracts
Price Range (1 year subscription) $29.99 - $49.99 $29.99 - $44.99 $29.95 - $69.95 $39.99 - $49.99 $19.99 - $39.99 $39.99 - $99.99 One-time fee of $29.74- $69.99
Number of Devices 1-5 3-15 1-10 1-10 1-10 1-5 1
Free Trial/Version Free version with limited features (Kaspersky Security Cloud) or free trial of full version for 30 days Free on one device (Android or Mac) with limited features 30-day free trial of PC and mobile apps or seven days free trial of Android antivirus Free version with limited features 14 days free trial of Windows app or 30 days free trial of iOS app 30-day free trial 30-day free trial
Operating Systems Windows, Mac, iOS, Android Windows, Mac, iOS, Android Windows, Mac, iOS, Android Windows, Mac, iOS, Android Windows, Mac, iOS, Android Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
Virus Detection
Malware Detection
Firewall X ✓* with Advanced Security or Ultimate Security
On-Demand Malware Scan
On-Access Malware Scan
Behavior-Based Detection
Money-Back Guarantee 30 days 30 days 30 days 30 days (for licenses purchased from their website or Google Play) 30 days 30 days X
Customer Support Live chat, phone, email, online ticket, and online support center Email, call, live chat, online help center, and expert community forum Live chat, phone, email, online help center, and Facebook Messenger chat Online help center (FAQs) and online forms 24/7 live chat, email, and online help center Live chat, phone, email, and online help center Online help center, phone, email
Read Review Kaspersky Antivirus Review Bitdefender Antivirus Review Trend Micro Antivirus Review Avast Antivirus Review McAfee Antivirus Review ESET Antivirus Review Vipre Antivirus Review

FYI: With on-access scanning, the app continuously scans for malware and viruses whenever it’s running. In contrast, on-demand scans are user-initiated.

Summary of the Best Antivirus Software

  • Norton - The Best Antivirus Software Overall
  • Kaspersky - The Best Free Antivirus Software
  • Bitdefender - The Best Antivirus Software for Malware Detection
  • Trend Micro - The Best Antivirus Software for Web Protection
  • Avast - The Best Antivirus Software for Mac
  • McAfee - The Most Affordable Antivirus Software
  • ESET - The Best Antivirus Software for Windows
  • Vipre - The Best Antivirus Software With No Contracts

Feature Highlight

  • 1. Norton - The Best Antivirus Software Overall

    Editor's Rating
    9.9
    /10
    Pros
    • Affordable introductory prices starting at only $14.99
    • 24/7 phone and live chat support
    • Highly-rated iOS and Android apps
    • Lots of extras (cloud backup, parental control features, etc.)
    Cons
    • Prices will more than double after the first year
    • A history of class-action lawsuits due to alleged security breaches
    • Not the best desktop app experience
    • Collected a ton of user data and shared it with third parties
    Norton App Home Page
    Norton App Home Page

    Mobile Device Protection At Its Finest

    Although we liked the Mac version of the antivirus software, we were particularly impressed by how well Norton performed in the mobile app category. For starters, both the iOS and Android apps had an average of 4.7 out of five stars rating. The apps received much praise for being easy to install and use and for offering a high level of protection. On top of that, independent audits performed by AV-TEST in September showed that Norton detected 100 percent of all prevalent Android malware between the months of May and August 2020. So performance-wise, Norton stood taller than the rest. Of course, we tested Norton’s mobile apps ourselves as well, and they were indeed a lot better than their desktop counterparts in terms of usability.

  • 2. Kaspersky - The Best Free Antivirus Software

    Editor's Rating
    9.6
    /10
    Pros
    • Comprehensive set of features even for the free version
    • Behavior-based malware detection
    • 100 percent detection in our virus detection test
    • Extra features like password manager and VPN
    Cons
    • Alleged ties to the Russian government
    • No phone or live chat support for free users
    • iOS app has limited features
    • 2019 security flaw that allowed hackers to spy on users’ browsing data1
    Kaspersky Antivirus Support Webpage
    Kaspersky Antivirus Support Webpage

    Antivirus Protection for $0.00

    For the sake of our tests, we purchased a Kaspersky Anti-Virus license. But for budget-conscious consumers, there’s a very capable free edition that can get the job done and then some. We say it’s capable because it was the only software aside from Bitdefender that aced our virus detection test. This free version, called the Kaspersky Security Cloud Free, offered the same level of protection as the paid versions, including on-demand and on-access malware detection and behavioral detection. It had bonus features, too, although they’re more toned down compared to the paid versions. For instance, the free password manager stored up to 15 passwords and the VPN only allows up to 200 MB usage per day. Still, considering that it’s free, we appreciated that Kaspersky went out of its way to offer premium protection.

  • 3. Bitdefender - The Best Antivirus Software for Malware Detection

    Editor's Rating
    9.5
    /10
    Pros
    • Perfect score in our virus detection test
    • Protects up to 15 devices
    • Affordable pricing starting at $29.99 for the first year
    • Behavior-based malware detection
    Cons
    • History of security breaches that affected customers’ privacy
    • Low iOS app ratings
    • No free trial but has a free version with limited features
    • Price likely to increase after the first year
    Bitdefender Dashboard
    Bitdefender Dashboard

    No Place to Hide for Viruses and Malware

    One of the highlights of our antivirus software tests was the virus detection test, wherein we played a game of hide-and-seek with each software. We downloaded five virus-infected files, hid them deep in our hard drives, and then performed a full scan to see how many they could detect. Of the 40 software we used, Bitdefender was one of the only two that detected all five files. That goes to show that Bitdefender is a cut above the rest when it comes to detecting cyber threats. And, on top of that, it’s affordable, considering that it can protect up to 15 devices and that there’s a free version of the software that is just as capable of detecting viruses.

  • 4. Trend Micro - The Best Antivirus Software for Web Protection

    Editor's Rating
    9.1
    /10
    Pros
    • Great Windows, iOS, and Android apps
    • Social media privacy scanner
    • “Firewall booster” for Windows
    • Monthly and yearly subscriptions
    Cons
    • Clunky Mac app
    • Requires way too many computer restarts when installing or updating
    • The full scan option was buried deep beneath the app’s settings
    • No firewall
    Trend Micro Folder Shield
    Trend Micro Folder Shield

    “Oversharer Protection”

    We, like most millennials, tend to overshare on our social media profiles, which is why we appreciated Trend Micro’s Privacy Scanner feature. Basically, it checked our Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn’s settings to check for privacy concerns. In our case, we were advised to change our Facebook privacy settings because, as it turned out, anyone who visited our profile could find our phone number and email address. Trend Micro didn’t make any changes by itself; we still had to manually change who could see our personal information, but it’s nice to have a feature that looks for such possible concerns.

  • 5. Avast - The Best Antivirus Software for Mac

    Editor's Rating
    9.0
    /10
    Pros
    • Comprehensive virus protection features
    • Easy to install and download on Mac
    • Free version for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android devices
    • Affordable pricing for up to 10 devices
    Cons
    • No phone or live chat support
    • Pop-ups despite paying for the premium version
    • Sold anonymized browsing data of users to third parties
    • Extensive data collection
    Avast Antivirus - Mac is Protected
    Avast Antivirus – Mac is Protected

    Broad Virus and Malware Protection

    We tested both the free and premium versions of Avast, and to our delight, both editions offered protection against viruses, malware, adware, spyware, and ransomware. Now, it’s pretty run-of-the-mill for Windows antivirus tools to offer protection against those types of threats. But for Apple computers, which are more secure than Windows (but still vulnerable to a growing number of attacks), that level of protection is just right. That’s why Avast is the best antivirus software for Mac.

    Did you know: Although there are fewer viruses that target Apple products, the number has grown remarkably over the past few years. In 2017, there was a 270 percent increase in Mac viruses compared to 2016, and the number of threats have increased ever since.2

  • 6. McAfee - The Most Affordable Antivirus Software

    Editor's Rating
    8.8
    /10
    Pros
    • Antivirus packages starting at $19.99
    • Real-time detection of threats
    • Customizable firewall protection
    • Easy to navigate apps
    Cons
    • Lengthy scans
    • Alleged security breach by Russian hackers in 2019
    • Real-time and background scans affected system performance
    • Frequent notifications when you turn off some features
    McAfee Scan Options
    McAfee Scan Options

    Antivirus Protection On A Budget

    If you’re on a budget but you still want premium antivirus protection, then McAfee is the perfect choice. For only $19.99 per year, we downloaded McAfee’s famed Total Protection software into one computer and enjoyed its full features. Now, we know that single device protection isn’t for everybody. If you have more than one computer, or if you want to share your antivirus with a partner or a roommate, then the five-device Total Protection package ($24.99 per year) is another budget-friendly option. To make the deal even sweeter, it includes a VPN, identity theft protection, and web protection features as well. We particularly liked the addition of VPN, as it changed our IP address to protect us from hackers and help retain our online privacy.

  • 7. ESET - The Best Antivirus Software for Windows

    Editor's Rating
    8.7
    /10
    Pros
    • Trustworthy Windows app (NOD32)
    • Detected 80 percent of threats in our virus detection test
    • Email scanning for Windows Live Mail and Outlook
    • 30-day money-back guarantee
    Cons
    • Cluttered user interface makes it harder to access some features
    • Less frequent updates compared to other software
    • NOD32 is pretty basic compared to other ESET products
    • $39.99 per year is expensive for a single device
    ESET Dashboard
    ESET Dashboard

    Best Protection for Windows

    ESET NOD32 and its trademark picture of a human-like robot has been a common sight in Windows computers for decades. And there’s a reason why it’s a preferred Windows antivirus for many (including ourselves). Although NOD32’s features were basic compared to the other security suites offered by ESET, it’s a sturdy and trustworthy antivirus that reliably detected malware, adware, spyware, and ransomware. In fact, in our virus detection test, NOD32 scored a solid four out of five. That’s better than more than half of the other antivirus software we tested. Aside from that, ESET directly integrated a scanning feature into our Windows email apps, namely Live Mail and Outlook. The scan looked for suspicious attachments and prevented us from opening them. Being on the receiving end of countless email chains from co-workers and friends, this was a feature we really appreciated.

  • 8. Vipre - The Best Antivirus Software With No Contracts

    Editor's Rating
    8.7
    /10
    Pros
    • One-time fees instead of contracts
    • Protection for individuals and businesses
    • No history of security breaches, privacy violations or lawsuits
    • Detected 100 percent of widespread malware in past month
    Cons
    • In our tests, only detected one out of five viruses
    • No money-back guarantee
    • Personal subscription only covers one device
    • Online help center is pretty limited

    Best Antivirus Software With No Contracts

    If you’re a commitment-phobe, then you’ll love the fact that Vipre doesn’t require any contracts. Rather, we paid a one-time fee for their subscriptions, each of which covered one device. On top of that, we had 30 days to try the antivirus software out before we actually got charged, taking the risk out of the purchase. And when it came to detecting malware, Vipre performed perfectly, one of the only options on this list to get an 100 percent in tests from AV Labs. To learn more about Vipre, read our page on Vipre’s pricing.

Methodology

So that’s about it for our list of the best antivirus software, but before we end this review, we’d like to give you an idea of our methodology.

We wanted to make our assessment as objective as possible, so we tested each software for at least six months. We took careful notes of their strengths and weaknesses, observed how they affected our devices, and monitored their behavior with regards to updates. We also tried to test each software across multiple operating systems to get a feel of their performance on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. And last but not least, we compared how each software fared in the following criteria.

More Information: You can learn more about these criteria and what other things we generally look for when testing antivirus software in our antivirus guide.

Virus Detection

First, we stripped down each antivirus to their most basic feature: virus detection. We performed a virus detection test wherein we downloaded five files, each containing a different type of virus or malware. They ranged from adware to spyware and even Trojan malware. We then performed a full scan using each software and noted which antivirus detected which files. And the result? Well, the majority of the antivirus programs we tested detected at least three of the five files, but there were a couple of software that detected all five files and a few that detected 80 percent of the files.

Now, we don’t recommend doing the virus detection test by yourself unless you know what you’re doing. You could lose important files or even subject yourself to the dangers of having viruses on your computer. However, if you really want to see how an antivirus reacts to malware, you could use a harmless anti-malware testfile such as the one developed by the European Institute for Computer Antivirus Research (EICAR).3

Webroot Scan Window
Webroot Scan Window

Scans

While we’re on the subject of virus and malware detection, the next thing we tested was whether each antivirus tool scanned on access or on demand. Simply put, those that scanned on access searched for threats whenever the software was running, even in the background. In contrast, those with on-demand scanning scanned only whenever we instructed or scheduled them to scan. We prefer on-access scanning as it stops viruses and malware in real-time whether we remember to scan our computers or not. However, having on-demand scanning is also ideal. We still want to be able to scan our computers whenever we’re feeling anxious, you know?

Behavior-Based Detection

There’s another scanning-related feature that we deemed necessary: behavior-based detection. To understand what it is, we must first explain how traditional antivirus programs detect threats. Basically, when scanning a computer, the antivirus compares programs and files to a database of all known malware. The software may consider a file suspicious if it shares the same characteristics or code base as an existing threat. Now, that’s effective for detecting previously-known threats, but it has little to no effect on malware that is not yet on the database.

That’s where behavior-based detection kicked in. Instead of checking the code of each program and file, behavior-based detection monitored suspicious behaviors of files. For instance, one of the software we tested used this kind of detection to isolate a Trojan virus disguised as a Word file, likely because the .doc file in question tried to access our system files (nice try!). Having behavior-based detection really came in handy, especially since hundreds of thousands of new malware are being registered on a daily basis, according to the AV-TEST institute.4

Cost

We know that the cost is a major deciding factor when it comes to choosing an antivirus software. However, the prices of such tools fluctuate depending on the features, number of devices, and length of subscriptions. To keep them on equal grounds, we compared each software’s pricing for a one-year license that supports one to five devices. On average, the antivirus software we tested cost $30 to $40 for the first year.

We also checked if they have a free trial or better still, a free version. What’s the difference? Typically, a free trial includes all the features of the paid antivirus, but it only works for a limited time. Most of the free trials we found lasted up to 30 days only. In contrast, a free version is usually a licensed software that you could use for free indefinitely. The catch is that the features are limited, most likely. You likely won’t see any bells and whistles in your software— like password managers or VPNs, for instance— but you’ll have antivirus protection nonetheless. If you’re hesitant about getting a paid antivirus, we recommend using a free version for the time being.

Privacy Policy

Now onto the more tedious stuff. Because antiviruses needed access to our computers and files to do their jobs, it’s understandable that many of them collected our data. But the questions are: how much data did they collect and how did they use it? To answer that, we delved into each antivirus company’s privacy policy, and boy were we surprised. Many of the companies we looked into collect a ton of data from their users. The data they gathered included:

  • Personal information such as contact details
  • Payment information
  • Browsing data such as the URLs we visited (although some of them anonymized the data before storing them)
  • Device information like our MAC and IP addresses, IMEI numbers, and OS version
  • Technical and crash reports
  • Location information
  • Network data
  • Usage statistics

And many more! But wait, what’s even more concerning was how they used the data they gathered. Many of the antivirus companies we looked into explicitly said in their privacy policy that they share user data with third parties, usually with their partners for targeted advertisement purposes. Needless to say, we weren’t thrilled. However, that’s the industry norm. So instead of counting out those that do these practices, we gave higher scores to those that didn’t or those that let us manage what data they collected.

Recap

Getting an antivirus software is the first step towards staying safe in the digital world. With the right software, you’re sure to find yourself worrying less about the cyber threats looming around online. But it’s not the only digital security measure you can take. Once you get an antivirus software set up, be sure to check our review of the best VPNs and best identity theft protection products.

FAQ

  • What are the best antivirus software?

    In our experience, Norton and Kaspersky are the top two antivirus software. However, Bitdefender, Trend Micro, Avast, McAfee, ESET, and Vipre also performed solidly in our tests, so their worth considering if our top picks aren’t for you.

  • How much does an antivirus software cost?

    The cost of an antivirus software typically depends on the features, the number of devices it can protect, and the length of the subscription. The usual cost of a one-year subscription for one to five devices is somewhere between $30 and $40 per year.

  • Are free antivirus software good enough?

    Some antivirus software have free versions and free trials. Free versions come with a limited set of features, but they are usually good enough for detecting viruses and malware through on-demand scans. Free trials, on the other hand, offer premium features for free for a limited time. Once they expire, you’ll need to pay for the full version to maintain protection. We recommend having antivirus protection 24/7, so if you’re looking for a free antivirus, we suggest getting a free version versus a free trial.

  • How often should I scan my computer?

    We recommend performing a full scan at least once a month, but it’s good practice to scan your computer whenever you download files off of the internet, plug a storage device to your computer, or connect to a public Wi-Fi network. However, most antivirus software these days offer on-access scanning wherein they scan your computer whenever the app is open. In such cases, scans initiated by the user (a.k.a. on-demand scanning) aren’t absolutely necessary.

Citations
  1. Forbes. (2019). Warning: A Security Flaw In Kaspersky AntiVirus Lets Hackers Spy Users Online, Millions At Risk. forbes.com/sites/jeanbaptiste/2019/08/16/warning-a-security-flaw-in-kaspersky-antivirus-lets-hackers-spy-users-online-millions-at-risk/?sh=1cef72e9ba34

  2. Malwarebytes. (2020). Mac antivirus.
    malwarebytes.com/mac-antivirus

  3. Eicar. (2006). ANTI MALWARE TESTFILE.
    eicar.org/?page_id=3950

  4. AV Test. (2020). Malware.
    av-test.org/en/statistics/malware/