Source: Briana Scroggins/ Future Plc
Best Antivirus Software for Windows 10 Windows Central 2020
Windows Defender is pretty good at stopping a lot of threats from infecting your computer, but in both our own and other third-party lab tests, results show it isn’t foolproof. I strongly recommend installing an extra pair of eyes to help stop malicious downloads before they get the chance to attack your system. The best antivirus program for Windows computers is Bitdefender Antivirus Plus. Bitdefender doesn’t use a lot of resources, stops most malicious files before they download, and includes a few extra security tools, including a VPN.
Best Overall: Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2020
Source: Nicole Johnston/Bitdefender
During my tests, Bitdefender consistently stopped threats before they had a chance to start the download process, including ransomware, Trojans, and rootkits. When we attempted to visit a website that harbored malicious links and files, Bitdefender usually blocked them and displayed a warning message about what was lurking there. It did an excellent job of blocking phishing schemes, including those designed to look like social media and banking login pages. There were a couple of threats Bitdefender wasn’t sure were completely dangerous, but instead of letting them go free, the files were placed in the quarantine folder. This folder allowed me to look at them first before allowing Bitdefender to take care of them. When Bitdefender stops a threat, it scrubs your system to make sure it is clean. It then permanently removes the malware in a way that it can’t escape and re-infect your computer.
Virus and system scans take a bit longer than other antivirus solutions. Most antivirus programs take about five minutes to perform a quick scan and 20 for deep scans. Bitdefender took twice as long. However, Bitdefender doesn’t use a lot of system resources, so you can still work and play online without noticing any slowdown. I was able to upload and download files, send email messages, watch videos, and play online games while Bitdefender scanned my computers.
- Real-time protection
- Automatic malware scrubbing
- Extra protection tools
- Takes time to scan
- No firewall
The best protection at the best price
This antivirus monitors your computer in real-time to stop malicious files before they have a chance to start downloading.
Best Premium Pick: Norton 360 with LifeLock
Source: Nicole Johnston/ Norton
With safe browsing tools, Norton tags malicious sites in search results so you can avoid visiting a sketchy one and possibly inadvertently infecting your computer with a virus. Norton also includes a VPN that hides your online identity and computer IP address to make it harder for adware, trackers, and cookies to follow your online movements. This antivirus program also has special banking protections that ensure when you’re logging into a real site that your passwords are masked and financial information is protected from being swiped. My biggest complaint is that when Norton was installed on my home computers and mobile devices, the slowdown was very apparent and very frustrating.
To help protect younger members of your family, Norton 360 has parental controls that both block inappropriate content and let you set time limits of when and how long children can be online. It also has webcam protection that monitors your computer’s camera and ensures programs or people can’t access it without your permission.
All of these features cost over $100, which is a lot more than most basic antivirus programs. However, on top of excellent protection and extra security features, you also get a user license that works on unlimited devices. This means you can protect home computers — both Windows and Mac machines — and mobile devices, too. When you figure in this versatility, the overall cost per device tends to come in much, much lower than a single device license from any other antivirus solution.
- Unlimited device protection
- Stops phishing schemes
- Identity theft monitoring
- Best for people with multiple devices
- Slowdowns are apparent
Best Premium Pick
Unlimited protection for all your devices
Norton does a decent job stopping internet threats, plus a single user license is enough to protect all your devices.
Basic Antivirus: VIPRE Advanced Security
Source: Nicole Johnston/ VIPRE
VIPRE monitors email messages and blocks links or downloads sent in them. If you are sent suspicious messages, like a phishing scheme, VIPRE sends a copy of the message to its quarantine folder. Here you can open and read messages in a secure space without worrying about anything dangerous being let out.
Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a learning curve to using VIPRE. Though the dashboard is uncluttered, it takes a moment to learn that there are additional tools beyond the few located on the dashboard landing page. However, everything you need is on the dashboard, including enabling safe browsing. This is much simpler than trying to install and enable a browser extension, the method used by many antivirus programs. Even without a browser extension, VIPRE is good at stopping malicious files during the download process and keeping them from infecting your computer.
- Includes a firewall
- Quarantines email messages
- Does drag on computers
- Bit of a learning curve
- Lacks extra features
Basic, yet powerful protection
VIPRE is a basic antivirus program that doesn’t use a lot of resources and includes both firewall and email protection.
Advanced Security: Avast Premium Security
Source: Nicole Johnston/Avast
I have Avast Premium Security on more personal devices than any other antivirus program, especially the computers my children use for gaming. This is because, on top of near-perfect malware protection, Avast has an impressive gamer mode. This function recognizes when you tap into gaming websites, like Steam and Origins, and automatically places them on its list of approved sites. While it still keeps malicious files at bay, it also reduces the number of resources being used and doesn’t interrupt your gameplay with annoying notifications or popups. And it holds off on performing scheduled scans until after you’re done playing. This is all to give you the best online gaming experience without any slowdown or interruptions. If you visit a gaming app that Avast doesn’t recognize, you can add it to the gaming list and Avast will automatically apply all the same gaming standards from that point on.
Avast Premium Security costs more than many antivirus programs because of the number of tools it includes. For new users, you can get 10 user licenses to protect multiple devices for under $100. Avast works on both Windows and Mac machines and Android and iOS cell phones. Another important note on Avast is that recently it was discovered that Avast sells user information to other companies including Google and Home Depot. You can opt-out of this, however, during the setup of Avast or under settings on its dashboard.
- Excellent malware protection
- Automatic gamer mode
- Webcam monitoring
- Tons of extra features
- Works across devices
- Collects and sells user information
- No parental controls
A step above the rest
This premium antivirus solution is packed with extra security tools for banking, monitoring webcams and protecting passwords.
Best Free Protection: AVG Free AntiVirus
Source: Nicole Johnston/ AVG
One of the best features of AVG is that is works in tandem with other antivirus programs, including Windows Defender. Other programs, during the install process, will notify you of other antivirus programs installed and require you to uninstall them before using their program. AVG lets you use both. It automatically recognizes when your other program is running in the primary position and will take a back seat. With its excellent protection ability, it will snatch up any threats your first security program misses. AVG does a great job of blocking phishing schemes, too.
During testing, I did notice that AVG does have some lag issues. It was most noticeable when I first opened a browser, or while waiting for a video to download or a page to fully load. Once the initial startup was done for any of these functions, I didn’t have any issues. Of course, since this is a free antivirus program, you will notice some ads enticing you to upgrade to AVG’s paid antivirus program. This does add to the slowdown issue a bit, but more often it’s simply just annoying.
- Free protection
- Works along with other programs
- Good protection
- Lots of ads
- Some slow down
Best Free Protection
Double-dipping for double security
AVG works alongside other antivirus programs to scoop up threats they may miss. It also includes a system vulnerability scanner.
Family Solution: McAfee Total Security
Source: Nicole Johnston/ McAfee Total Security
McAfee is compatible with multiple devices, including Android and iOS phones, so it doesn’t matter what devices your family uses — they can all be protected. If you enroll in McAfee’s autorenewal program, you also have access to its ID theft protection. This keeps tabs on your personal information and scours the dark web to ensure it isn’t being used maliciously or illegally.
In my tests, most of the over 100 samples used were recognized and quickly stopped by the software before the threats had a chance to fully download. Other test labs found similar results. Overall, McAfee earned an average protection score of 95%. Since the median score for all antivirus solutions is around 92%, this means McAfee protects better than average. I also looked at McAfee’s performance, and while I didn’t experience a lot of slowdowns when running McAfee on either lab test computers or while installed on personal home computers, it did create a little lag on some mobile devices.
- Includes parental controls
- Has a firewall
- ID theft protection
- Compatible across devices
- A lot of security features for families
- Slow down on some devices
- A bit pricy
Family-friendly security solution
McAfee includes parental controls for tracking online activity, setting time controls and blocking dangerous content.
Resource-Friendly: Kaspersky Anti-Virus
Source: Nicole Johnston/Kaspersky Anti-Virus
This basic antivirus program also includes webcam monitoring, along with safe browsing tools that both tag and block malicious websites from being accessed and ensure banking and shopping accounts are accessed from a legitimate website. To give you even more security, all of Kaspersky’s antivirus programs include an in-browser keyboard. This lets you enter usernames and passwords, or other sensitive information, into text fields without worrying that a keylogger with capture it.
Kaspersky has gotten a pretty bad wrap because of the accusations made a few years back about possible filtering of information, gathered from Kaspersky users’ computers, to the Russian government, As a precaution, the U.S. banned the use of Kaspersky programs from being used on any of its departments’ computers. But for most users, Kaspersky is just fine to use.
- Uses minimal resources
- Real-time protection
- Virtual keyboard
- Not recommended for government workers
Protection without slowdown
Kaspersky features great malware protection without using a lot of system resources or causing slowdown on your computer.
Banking Protection: Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security
Source: Nicole Johnston/ Antivirus
Most importantly, this antivirus program includes Pay Guard, a tool specifically designed to shield your online banking and shopping transactions, so personal, account, financial and other sensitive information isn’t tracked or stolen. Pay Guard lets you store credit card numbers and bank accounts, so you don’t have to pull out your credit card every time you shop online — much like how a password manager stores passwords so you don’t have to remember them. However, Pay Guard has a lot more protections to keep your information more secure from being stolen.
As impressed as I am of Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security, it did create a noticeable slowdown on both lab and personal computers while installed and created a lot of lag while running virus scans. It was frustrating trying to download or upload files or even navigate the web because my mouse couldn’t keep up with my movements. In between scans, the lag wasn’t as bad, but it did take websites longer to load and apps more time to open.
- Perfect protection score
- Web reputation technology
- Pay Guard
- Creates noticeable lag
- Difficult to set up
Perfect score for malware protection
Trend Micro is one of the few program tests that earned a perfect protection score. It includes tools that protect financial and personal information.
Here’s why Bitdefender dominates
Source: Briana Scroggins/ Future Plc
I love that Bitdefender stops infected files before the download process even begins and scrubs the threats clean from your computer immediately. If Bitdefender does come across a new threat or a suspicious file it doesn’t recognize, it places it in quarantine for a few days before permanently removing it.
The only real downside is how long it takes to scan your computer for viruses. Where other programs take under five minutes, Bitdefender easily takes five times longer. I do appreciate that Bitdefender is so thorough, and I like that it doesn’t take up too many resources so I can keep working or playing online during these scans and not worry about being disrupted by any slowdown.
Antivirus programs and data sharing
Source: Nicole Johnston/ Trend Micro
The first reason for antivirus programs to collect user data is to ensure updated malware information is logged in threat databases quickly. Zero-day threats, which are malware files so new they haven’t had a chance to be named, yet, are the most common threats picked up on user computers then shared with these databases. Without this information, too many systems would be vulnerable to malware attacks because it would take too long for antivirus programs to figure out these threats and how to stop them on each computer. Getting this information to shared databases quickly is the best way to protect everyone.
Source: Nicole Johnston/ Avast
The third reason for user data is to make money. It isn’t a secret that websites and software gather information about its users and send it along to business partners. These partners then use this information to created targeted ads. This is why after searching for a blender on Amazon you are then inundated with blender ads on Facebook.
It might make you uneasy to think about your information being gathered and shared, however, each antivirus program does give you the chance to opt-out of its data collection program. Every software I tested asked me during the initial download and setup if I wanted to participate in its collection program. In each instance, I opted out, though I could change my mind and opt back in simply by adjusting the appropriate settings. However, even when opting out of these programs, there is still going to be some information gathered. It is the only way software programs can better serve its users.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
As a mom of 10 and grandma to five, Nicole Johnston pulls from her years of experience raising her family as she explores, tests and reviews a variety of consumer products from food processors to bed pillows to parental control programs. Nicole has over 13 years of research and writing experience in both the public and private sectors.
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