Best Antivirus 2017

Editor's Note:
For features and performance, Bitdefender is the best antivirus program money can buy. If your budget is tight, however, Avast is a good, and free, alternative. Mac users, we have you covered as well and name the best paid and free antivirus protection for Apple computers.
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017 Review
Best Reviewed

Best antivirus software

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017

For near-flawless malware protection -- with no annoying pop-ups or computer bog-downs -- experts recommend Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017 for Windows computers. It's a whiz at detecting phony phishing websites. Nifty extras include a file shredder, password manager and SafePay hardened web browser to protect you while banking or shopping online. A recently added ransomware defense feature is another plus.

Avast Free Antivirus 2017 Review
Best Reviewed

Best free antivirus software

Avast Free Antivirus 2017

If you can do without a few extras, Avast Free Antivirus 2017 defends against malware and phishing better than other freebie antivirus programs (although not nearly as well as the best paid versions). It even includes some useful pluses, such as a password manager and router security scan feature. Users and experts give it strong reviews, although it does slow down the computer a bit in some tests.

Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac
Best Reviewed

Best antivirus software for Macs

Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac

Experts say you need antivirus software on your Mac, too -- and Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac is the program they recommend most. It detects both Mac and Windows malware (so you won't unwittingly infect your Windows friends' computers). It's easy and intuitive to use, and it won't bog down your Mac. Bonus features are sparse, but you do get malware protection for Time Machine backups, plus Bitdefender's free browser extension.

Paid or free, these programs chase malware away

This report covers antivirus software, which scans your hard drive, removable media, incoming and outgoing mail, email attachments and instant-messaging chats for malware such as viruses, worms and Trojan horses. Antivirus software is not just for PCs, either. Mac users, who were sheltered from malware and other threats for decades, are increasingly at risk for attacks.

Keeping a computer free from malware has become more difficult over the years as threats now emerge from multiple sources including computer files, USB drives, email attachments and websites. Antivirus software makers have responded by beefing up their "antivirus" software with extra features and defenses. In addition to fighting malware, the best antivirus programs now protect you from spyware, phishing, identity theft, threats delivered over USB and more. This still falls short of the all-in-one protection found in Internet security suites, which typically add in still more safeguards and features such as a software firewall, parental controls, file encryption and backup, plus more. If you think that a suite's more encompassing protection is something you are interested in, we name some top choices in a separate report on Internet security software.

What To Look For
  • A near-perfect detection rate
  • An intuitive interface
  • Freedom from false positives
Read More

That said, full-fledged Internet security suites typically cost more than more basic antivirus programs from the same company, and a security suite's extra features might be redundant, or not needed. For example, experts say that the hardware firewall in most modern routers is usually much more effective than a software firewall. Besides, some of the best antivirus programs are free -- and you can't beat that.

Finding the Best Antivirus Programs

As with most computer products, professional tests are usually the best guide to finding useful, quality products. Customer reviews, on the other hand, are a good guide to problems that users encounter in the real world. Professional reviewers usually test programs on virtual machines instead of real-world computers, so they sometimes don't encounter the issues that some users experience. That's why user ratings often fall below professional ratings. Taking feedback from these sources into consideration, we base our recommendations on performance (including how well a program blocks attacks and how well it cleans up the mess if a system is already infected) as well as usability. Extra features are evaluated both on performance, and how helpful -- or in some cases harmful -- they potentially are. Modern antivirus software is a lot easier to set up and use than older programs, but it's not always smooth sailing.

Bitdefender: Best virus protection

Although there are dozens of antivirus programs on the market, only a few consistently impress experts -- and year after year, Bitdefender comes out on top. As usual, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017 (Est. $45 per year for 3 PCs) easily walks away with this year's crown, acing tough tests at PCMag.com, TomsGuide.com and two independent testing labs (AV-Test.org and AV-Comparatives.org).

TomsGuide.com praises its "nearly perfect malware-detection scores" -- with so many bonus features "it would almost qualify as a security suite," PCMag.com says. Both name it their Editors' Choice.

In test after test, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017 flawlessly (or nearly flawlessly) protects PCs against every malware threat experts throw at it -- including the hundreds of real-world viruses, ransomware, worms and Trojan horses that are currently attacking PCs -- with few false alarms. Even more impressive? No annoying pop-ups. It runs on Autopilot mode by default, silently slaying malware in the background. In fact, it's so stealthy that at first, seasoned tester Neil J. Rubenking at PCMag.com thought Bitdefender wasn't doing anything. "But then I realized -- it's on Autopilot!" Bitdefender had actually caught 90 percent of his malware samples without a murmur.

Bitdefender packs some impressive extras. Those include a file shredder, password manager and a SafePay hardened web browser that provides an extra layer of protection for your online financial transactions. This year, Bitdefender adds a new ransomware-defense feature: You can designate which files on your computer can't be encrypted without your permission -- as many files as you want; a particularly useful feature given recent news, and Bitdefender claims to be able to block WannaCry ransomware infections.

Bitdefender's phishing protection is, quite simply, the best you can buy. Bitdefender handily wins PCMag's antiphishing test, protecting you from fake websites (the kind that pretend to be your bank, PayPal, etc.) better than anything else. Finally, Bitdefender does it all without bogging down your computer, testers say.

That said, our runner-up, Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus (Est. $20 per year for 3 PCs or Macs), proves even lighter on its feet -- because it runs largely in the cloud. In PCMag's tests, Webroot's 2016 version blocks phishing websites nearly as well as Bitdefender 2017, and actually blocks 100 percent of malware (we didn't find any tests of Webroot's 2017 version yet). Webroot boasts most of the same bonus features as Bitdefender, and Amazon.com customers award it 4.1 out of 5 stars. The only downside, Rubenking says, is that Webroot's cloud-based strategy doesn't jibe with the way AV-Test.org and AV-Comparatives.org test, so they simply don't test Webroot -- and therefore, Webroot can't point to a trophy case full of awards like Bitdefender can.

Kaspersky Anti-Virus (2017) (Est. $15 per year for 1 PC) lags behind Bitdefender at PCMag. "Year after year, Kaspersky blows it out of the park with the labs, but doesn't do as well in my tests. It's puzzling," Rubenking says, and he names it an Editors' Choice anyway, based largely on those labs' more in-depth tests. Still, even at AV-Comparatives.org, Kaspersky doesn't protect against malware or malicious URLs quite as thoroughly as Bitdefender.

It should be noted that for PC users, Windows Defender (or Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows 7 and earlier) comes with the tech giant's operating system. It provides basic antivirus security, but testing reveals that protection levels are far below that of the best paid antivirus software. Even many free antivirus programs (covered next) outperform Microsoft antivirus software by a substantial margin.. Be aware that if you install a separate antivirus program, you may need to disable Microsoft's tool first to prevent performance issues.

Free antivirus software is very effective

Free antivirus programs from Avast, Avira and AVG all protect admirably against malware in professional tests. (All work better in tests than Microsoft Windows Defender/Security Essentials, the antivirus software that comes pre-loaded on Windows computers.) But adoring users boost Avast Free Antivirus 2017 (Free) to the top spot, with thousands of rave reviews at CNET's Download.com.

"A great free antivirus" with surprising bonus features, PCMag.com's Neil J. Rubenking says, awarding Avast Free Antivirus 2017 his Editors' Choice award. Avast blocks 87 percent of malware in Rubenking's test. It performs better in independent labs' tests, blocking 98.8 percent (or more) of malware.

That's not quite as good as the best paid antivirus programs -- but it's better than other freebies, and way stronger than the puny built-in malware safeguards on your computer and web browser. Ditto for anti-phishing: Avast beats all other freebies in PCMag's test, but it can't quite match first-place Bitdefender.

Avast includes nice extras, including a password manager and router security scan, for free. Downsides do crop up here and there in tests: Avast slows computers down noticeably at AV-Test.org (but not AV-Comparatives.org), and it annoys users with a bunch of false alarms at AV-Comparatives.org (but not AV-Test.org). Still, for free, you can't beat it.

Late in 2016, Avast bought its biggest rival, AVG. The company continues to offer both products -- although they now perform identically in tests at AV-Comparatives.org. "For our consumer customers, the Avast and AVG brands will remain the same, as we know some of you out there prefer one brand over the other. The underlying engine will be stronger than ever for both user groups," Avast said after the buyout. AVG AntiVirus Free 2017 (Free) wins PCMag.com's Editors' Choice award.

TomsGuide.com prefers a third choice, Avira Free Antivirus 2017 (Free). Avira detects malware about as well as Avast and AVG in tests. Traditionally, Avira's Achilles' heel has been its sluggishness. Although TomsGuide.com loves its 20-second "quick scans," a full scan really bogged down the computer, in test after test -- but Avira may have alleviated that problem. In the latest tests at AV-Test.org and AV-Comparatives.org, Avira now refrains from hogging the CPU and earns high scores for performance.

Mac computers need virus protection, too

Bitdefender wins again: It's experts' favorite antivirus software for Macs, as well as Windows. Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac (Est. $40 per year for 3 Macs) is the only program that detects 100 percent of Mac and Windows malware across all tests at AV-Test.org and AV-Comparatives.org (so your Mac won't become Typhoid Mary, blithely passing along Windows infections to your friends with PCs).

Bitdefender for Mac is light and quick -- it won't slow down your computer perceptibly, tests show -- "so you can forget that it's running in the background," says Henry T. Casey at TomsGuide.com. It's elegant and easy-to-use, too: "Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac has the best-designed interface of any Mac antivirus product we've reviewed this year," Casey writes.

Bitdefender for Mac boasts few bonus features, but that's common for Mac antivirus programs. You can download Bitdefender's TrafficLight browser extension for free, to protect yourself against suspicious websites, phishing and malware when using Chrome, Firefox or Safari. This year, Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac 2017 adds malware protection for Time Machine backups ("handy when dealing with ransomware that targets backup drives," Casey says). That's pretty much it for extra features.

As was the case with Windows antivirus software, our runner up paid option for Mac users is Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus (Est. $20 per year for 3 PCs or Macs). This cloud-based antivirus program performs beautifully on Windows computers in PCMag.com's tests, but it doesn't participate in independent tests at AV-Test.org and AV-Comparatives.org (its cloud-based strategy doesn't jibe with the independent labs' test design). We didn't find any expert tests of the Mac version, but it does earn a few 5-star reviews from happy Mac owners at BestBuy.com and Amazon.com. We saw a handful of bad reviews from Mac owners, but most of those simply needed to download the proper installer -- a fix promptly suggested by Webroot customer service representatives monitoring the review page. (We saw several comments particularly praising Webroot's customer service and tech support.)

Free options work OK in tests. Avast Free Mac Security (Free) detects 100 percent of Mac and Windows malware in AV-Comparatives.org's latest test, same as Bitdefender -- but it bogs down the computer in tests at AV-Test.org and TomsGuide.com. Its stablemate, AVG AntiVirus for Mac (Free) proved quicker and about as effective as Avast in last year's Mac tests; the two should perform identically in the future, now that Avast has bought AVG.

Avira Free Antivirus for Mac (Free), once TomsGuide.com's favorite Mac antivirus, fell from its perch in late 2016 when it slipped up in AV-Test.org's tests. Avira for Mac failed to detect nearly 7 percent of malware in that test, and it was pretty slow at doing it.

"Overall," Casey says, "you're best off spending $39.95 per year for Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac, which has top-notch malware protection and a much lighter system-performance impact."

Expert & User Review Sources

Respected antivirus test labs AV-Test.org, AV-Comparatives.org and MRG-Effitas.com rate programs' abilities to thwart malware, and also judge user-friendliness. For example: Is the program easy to install? Easy to use? Does it bog down the system? Usually, test results (or at least summaries of them) are available for free online. Other expert reviewers rely on these tests; the best, led by PCMag.com (with separate lists of the best paid and free antivirus software) and TomsGuide.com, add their own hands-on tests to judge for themselves. Owner reviews at Amazon.com, BestBuy.com and CNET's Download.com reveal antivirus programs' real-world chops.

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Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017 | 3 PC, 1 Year | Download [Online Code]
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Webroot Internet Security Antivirus | 2017 | 3 Devices | 1 Year Subscription | PC/Mac Disc
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Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2017 | 1 Device | 1 Year | Download [Online Code]
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