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Best antivirus: Top 5 picks to protect your computer

Introduction

Windows has an outstanding built-in antivirus suite in the form of Microsoft Defender, but paid-for consumer anti-malware suites still offer features that Microsoft lacks, from firewalls with a friendlier interface, to webcam protection and legacy support for Windows 7 and 8.1.

Other tools include password managers, VPNs and parental controls, and the quality of all of these play into our rating and verdicts following extensive testing. Equally important for many users are interruption-free “gaming modes”, that mute notifications and CPU-intensive scans when you’re running an application in fullscreen mode.

Finally, we take into account renewal fees, automated renewal practices and other potential hidden pitfalls. With all of these important buying decisions factored in, we’ve assembled a list of the best antivirus tools that you can subscribe too.

And if you just want top-notch protection and aren’t fussed by all the extra features, you can also check out our Best Free Antivirus list for more options.

How we test

Learn more about how we test antivirus software

For raw performance against malicious software, we use data from multiple testing houses: AV-Test, SE Labs and AV-Comparatives. Of these tests, we prioritise ‘real-world’ performance, in which antivirus detection engines are exposed to live threats. 
We also draw on system performance data captured by AV-Test and we inventory and compare features on an application-by-application basis, highlighting both useful tools and unexpected sticking points in the workflow and interfaces.

Norton 360 Advanced

Best overall antivirus
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Pros

  • Perfect malware protection
  • Wide range of features
  • Includes full VPN
  • 200GB of online backup storage

Cons

  • High false positive rate in some tests
  • Expensive renewal rates

Norton 360 is really good at protecting you against malware, but recent test results indicate that it might also try to “protect” you against some legitimate software, as well. In the latest SELabs real-world malware exposure tests, it protected against 100% of infections, with no false positives. Two months of testing by AV-TEST was almost the same, with just a single false positive. However, although it detected 100% of malware in the most recent AV Comparatives real-world test, it also falsely identified 35 legitimate applications

Norton 360 Advanced covers ten Windows, macOS, Android or iOS devices and includes a firewall, webcam protection, parental control, silent protection mode, password manager, full Norton Secure VPN subscription, 200GB online backup storage, Dark Web Monitoring and School Time distraction management tools to lock down unauthorised programs for children engaged in remote learning.

Features unique to the Advanced subscription tier include Identity Restoration Support, where NortonLifeLock staff will help you resolve issues with banks and merchants if you’re the victim of identity theft. Meanwhile, Social Media Monitoring watches over you or your children’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram accounts for scams, inappropriate content, impersonation or harassment.

Norton 360 does a lot and if you need all these tools and don’t want to manage individual subscriptions, it’s definitely useful. However, not every individual component is best-in-class, it’s somewhat prone to misidentifying legitimate content and the renewal rates are wince-inducing.

Reviewer: K.G. Orphanides
Full review: Norton 360 Advanced review

Trend Micro Maximum Security

Lots of features, great protection, but watch for renewal fees
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Pros

  • Excellent malware protection
  • Wide range of security and system optimisation tools

Cons

  • High renewal costs
  • High false positive rate in some tests

Trend Micro’s malware-detection engine is generally great at spotting malware, but can be a bit twitchy about some legitimate software. It got a perfect protection score in AV Comparatives’ latest tests, but it flagged 28 legitimate sites and applications as threats. In AV-Test’s latest tests, however, trend Micro got perfect protection scores, and was one of the few products without a single false positive misidentification of legitimate software as a threat.

Trend has plenty of useful tools, including parental controls, a password manager, dedicated ransomware defence, a gaming mode, a botnet-detecting firewall booster, and a data theft prevention tool that allows you add sensitive information like card numbers and addresses to prevent them from being entered into insecure online spaces

If you buy from Trend Micro’s website, Maximum Security costs £29.95 for a year’s subscription covering five devices running Windows, macOS, Chromebook, Android, and iOS. Watch out for those renewal prices, though: subsequent years go up to £79.95.

Trend Micro didn’t rack up as many false positives as Norton 360 and provided equally comprehensive malware protection. If you don’t mind occasionally whitelisting a misidentified application, you’ll find outstanding malware protection here.

Reviewer: K.G. Orphanides
Full review: Trend Micro Maximum review

ESET Internet Security

Transparent pricing, plenty of features and reliable malware detection
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Pros

  • No price increase upon subscription renewal
  • Good malware detection
  • Excellent range of features

Cons

  • Less accurate than some rivals

ESET Internet Security is one of the more comprehensive and transparent anti-malware suites around. Unlike many paid-for antivirus tools, there are no unexpected price rises for renewing subscribers, which is a strong point in its favour.

In recent trials by AV-Test, ESET aced both real-world and flat-file scanning tests with 100% detection scores. It blocked 98.9% of malware in AV-Comparatives’ real-world tests, with no false positives. SE Labs has not carried out a recent test of ESET products.

ESET is generally reliable, unobtrusive, clearly priced and provides all the features we’d want from an anti-malware suite, including a very pleasant-to-use dedicated firewall, parental controls, webcam protection, secure browsing, a gaming mode, and a ransomware shield.

Norton, Trend Micro, Kaspersky, and our benchmark Microsoft Defender have been a little more accurate in recent tests, but this is nonetheless a solid choice if you want or need to pay for malware protection.

Reviewer: K.G. Orphanides
Full review: Eset Internet Security

F-Secure SAFE

Easy to use and easy to live with, but its performance doesn’t set it above its rivals
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Pros

  • Good range of features, including parental controls
  • Renews at purchase price
  • Unobtrusive

Cons

  • Less accurate than some rivals
  • Lacks webcam protection

F-Secure SAFE is best known for business malware protection but also provides a simple, unobtrusive selection of anti-virus and parental control tools for home users. It’s competitively priced and has no hidden renewal fees.

It scored a 100% and 99% defence rating in two successive months of AV-Test’s real-world malware protection tests, with just three false positives. It got a respectable 98% protection rating against malware threats in SE Labs’s late-2021 tests, with no false positives. AV Comparatives has not tested F-Secure’s software lately.

That’s perfectly good protection, but its test performance is no better than that of Microsoft Defender, which comes built into Windows 10 and 11.

F-Secure provides a fair range of tools, with parental controls, ransomware protection, a gaming mode, and browser protection. We’re a fan of its parental control interface compared to Microsoft’s offering.

However in terms of both performance and features, there’s not a great deal to recommend F-Secure SAFE over Microsoft Defender – Trend Micro and Norton both provide more comprehensive protection, albeit with higher rates of false positives.

Reviewer: K.G. Orphanides
Full review: F-Secure SAFE review

Kaspersky Internet Security

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Pros

  • Accurate malware detection
  • Clearly highlights auto-renewal options
  • Wide range of useful tools

Cons

  • Price increases upon subscription renewal
  • May conflict with UK government security guidance if you’re a remote worker in specific sectors

It’s difficult to unequivocally recommend Kaspersky Internet Security right now, even though it provides some of the most accurate malware protection you’ll find.

With much of its threat research and some of its business operations in the Russian Federation at the time of the country’s invasion of Ukraine, Kaspersky rapidly moved its international business operations to its UK holding company and its threat analysis to its Zurich datacentre.

However, at the time of writing, when you click agree on Kaspersky’s EULA and other agreements, you’re still making a legal agreement with “AO Kaspersky Lab, a company incorporated according to the laws of the Russian Federation.” That could present problems if the UK rolls out further sanctions against Russian businesses, and is also likely to present ethical issues for those uncomfortable with the fact that Kaspersky provides services to the Russian government and military. Remote workers in certain sectors may be affected by NCSC guidance.

If none of that bothers you, then Kaspersky’s consistently good performance continues to impress. The company’s software is frequently discounted, and you can find great retail deals. If you subscribe online, higher renewal costs are clearly signposted and it’s easy to avoid auto-renewal.

In recent tests by AV-Test and SE Labs, Kaspersky’s engine provided 100% protection in both real-world and reference malware scanning tests with no false positives. And it scored a very respectable 99.7% in AV Comparatives’ real-world tests, again with no false positives.

Kaspersky Internet Security includes a stand-alone subscription to Kaspersky Password Manager, modules to protect your online shopping in a protected browser, block unwanted connections to your webcam, an ad- and tracker-blocking browser extension, ransomware protection, a firewall, and a gaming mode.

Kaspersky is unusual in that it provides a comprehensive replacement for Microsoft Defender without putting you at a disadvantage when it comes to accurate malware detection. Its selection of utilities is generally useful and it’s lightweight enough to run effectively on systems that Microsoft will no longer protect.

Reviewer: K.G. Orphanides
Full review: Kaspersky Internet Security

FAQs

Does Windows need antivirus?

Not really. Windows has Microsoft Defender built in, which is one of the most competent antivirus protection available. But opting for third-party paid-for antivirus software will unlock a greater range of features, such as password managers, parental controls and more.

What is the difference between free anti-virus software and paid anti-virus?

Both forms of antivirus can detect and block malware, but paid-for options can unlock additional features such as VPNs and advanced parental controls.

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Today, we have millions of users a month from around the world, and assess more than 1,000 products a year.

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