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. Kaspersky Anti-Virus (2015) (Est. $35 per year for 3 PCs) is squarely among those. You won't find a ton of extras, but malware protection is first rate. It guards against viruses, spyware, and more. Its anti-screen-locker technology helps swat away ransomware -- rogue programs that won't let you access your computer without paying a fee. It also monitors your system and lets you roll back any unauthorized changes to settings. Other features warn you of possibly dangerous URLs and help ward off phishing attacks. An available rescue CD can disinfect your system if it is virus-ridden beyond repair.
Kaspersky Anti-Virus is an Editors' Choice at PCMag.com and its antivirus engine draws certification and top grades from the top independent antivirus software testing labs. Kaspersky is one of only two antivirus vendors to earn an Advanced+ award in all 2014 testing at AV-Comparatives.org, including trials designed to gauge the software's ability to detect new and established malware, removing malware from an infected system, and its impact on overall system performance. The company also earns a perfect 6 out of 6 from AV-Test.org in tests of protection, usability and impact on system performance. Dennis Technology Labs gives Kaspersky the highest AAA rating.
Tom's Guide is a modestly dissenting voice. The editors there find protection to be first rate, but grouse about the usability of the interface and a high performance hit, albeit on a low-end system. We saw some user comments complaining about similar issues, but owners seem to be a happy bunch overall. At Amazon.com, Kaspersky Anti-Virus (2015) earns a 4.4-star rating, exceptionally high for an antivirus/security product, following more than 120 reviews.
The 2015 edition of Bitdefender Antivirus Plus (Est. $60 per year for 3 PCs) is another top choice. It's a little pricy compared to Kaspersky, but what you get for your money is first-rate protection. BitDefender is also loaded with extra features (it even constantly monitors your credit report).
Simply put: Experts and testing labs love Bitdefender nearly as much as Kaspersky. It's an Editors' Choice selection at both PCMag.com and Tom's Guide. It joins Kaspersky as the second of two antivirus products to earn an Advanced+ award in all 2014 testing at AV-Comparatives.org. Other labs find performance that's close to that of Kaspersky, but that's just a hair behind in one aspect or another. It earns perfect scores from AV-Test.org when it comes to protection and performance. The lab does dock it a half point on usability for generating a handful of false positives, though its performance in that regard was in line with the industry average. Dennis Technology Labs rates it highly, but it places just behind Kaspersky in the second tier of AA-rated software.
If there's a concern, it's that user feedback for the current version is limited thus far, and very mixed. One of the chief sources of owner dismay is an apparent automatic renewal policy that re-ups the software at the end of the year by default. Others complain of customer support that's tough to get in touch with, though we've also seen reports that once in motion, support can usually resolve user issues.
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 outperform Microsoft antivirus software by a substantial margin -- and we cover the best free antivirus software elsewhere in this report. Also, be aware that if you install a separate antivirus program, you may need to disable Microsoft's tool first to prevent performance issues.
Elsewhere in this Report:
Best Reviewed Antivirus Software: Keep your computer safe from evil-doers with a top-notch antivirus program. The best programs for PC's and Mac's are named, including some effective options that are absolutely free.
Free Antivirus Software: There might not be such a thing as a free lunch, but some free antivirus programs perform nearly as well as the best paid products. These are some top choices.
Best Mac Antivirus Software: Yes, Macs need antivirus protection, too. These are top choices. Better still, all are free. We touch on security software for mobile devices as well.
Buying Guide: Not sure where to start to find the best antivirus software. Our editors fill in the blanks to help you make the right choice for your needs and your budget.
Our Sources: The recommendations in this report are based on expert reviews, independent testing, and user feedback. These are the sources we relied on, ranked in the order of their expertise and helpfulness.