Antivirus-only software programs -- once the standard of the industry -- are becoming less common as threats 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.
Although there are dozens of antivirus programs on the market, only a few consistently impress experts. The 2014 edition of Bitdefender Antivirus Plus (Est. $30 for 3 PCs) wins a host of awards for detecting and eliminating viruses, Trojans and other threats. It's competitively priced and comes loaded with extra features (it even constantly monitors your credit report).
Simply put: Experts love Bitdefender. It's a PCMag.com Editors' Choice. It's a CNET Download Pick. It leads the class in painstaking tests at AV-Comparatives.org and AV-Test.org, where it sniffs out and blocks 100 percent of malware -- without slowing down the test computers too much.
Runner-up Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus (Est. $30 for 3 PCs/Macs) is incredibly quick (typical complaints about scans slowing down a computer aren't an issue with this software) because it stores a lot of its knowledge in the cloud. Basically, if you're connected to the Internet, Webroot can do signature-based detection (the way most antivirus programs recognize malware). But whether you're online or not, Webroot automatically keeps its eye on every unknown program it encounters on your computer; the instant a program tries to do something malicious, Webroot stops it cold (and rolls back everything that program ever did).
That's how Webroot manages to work equally well with or without an Internet connection in PCMag.com's test, although it works more smoothly when online. It actually protects against malware and phishing just as well as Bitdefender, although it takes a lot more back-and-forth with tech support to complete malware cleanup in two out of PCMag.com's 12 test systems. It lacks a couple of Bitdefender's extra features, too; Webroot won't monitor your credit or protect you from USB threats like Bitdefender can.
Still, Webroot is also one of the few antivirus programs that work on both Macs and PCs. And its speed alone is enough to make it a favorite of owners, who sometimes find Bitdefender too slow. PCMag.com names the ultra-lightweight Webroot an Editors' Choice, right alongside Bitdefender: "It's hard to believe something so tiny can do everything that [Webroot] does."
It should be noted that for PC users, Microsoft Security Essentials comes with the tech giant's operating system and provides basic antivirus security. If you buy a separate antivirus program, you may need to disable Microsoft's tool before installing it to prevent performance issues.