Internet Security Software Buying Guide


What the best Internet security software has

  • Easy installation and setup. The security software should be simple to install, and the interface should be easy to understand.
  • Outstanding malware and phishing protection. We found several top picks that regularly detect 99.9 or 100 percent of malware in expert tests, and do an even better job detecting phony "phishing" websites than Chrome, Firefox or Internet Explorer (all of which have very good built-in protection). There's no reason to settle for anything less.
  • Almost zero slowdowns or false alarms. The best Internet security software won't bog down your system, or bug you with annoying pop-ups.
  • Compatibility with multiple operating systems. Some of the Internet security software suites that we review run on both Windows and Mac operating systems, as well as iOS and Android tablets and smartphones
  • Extra features that really matter. Internet security suites go beyond basic antivirus software (covered in our separate report), adding parental controls, automatic file backup, anti-theft features and more.

Know before you go

How many licenses are included? Sometimes, various versions of the same Internet security software suite will offer licenses for one, three, five or 10 devices. Be sure you are comparing apples to apples (and licenses to licenses) when looking for the best price.

Do you even need Internet security software? If you already have an effective firewall and security features in your operating system and browser, you may just need antivirus software. Windows includes Windows Defender antivirus, but that security software, while better than having none at all, finishes at the bottom of the pack in many independent tests. See our report on antivirus software for our recommendations of dedicated antivirus programs -- including free products -- that perform better.

How much protection do you need? Buying an Internet security software suite is usually cheaper than buying separate stand-alone programs. It also reduces the likelihood that security programs will refuse to work together. However, you can assemble your own security software system by choosing the top-rated software in each category; you can get some good free security programs as well.

Keep in mind that you may not want or use all the components of an Internet security software suite. A firewall is essential to protect your computer from intrusion threats (that look to steal data from your computer or hijack your identity), but you may already have a firewall in your wireless router, and experts say that a hardware firewall of that type is generally more effective than a software firewall. You might not need a spam filter if your Internet service provider or email program is already filtering spam. Therefore, choosing between buying an Internet security suite or stand-alone antivirus software is partly a matter of weighing the strengths and weaknesses of each package against your own security priorities.

Update Internet security software regularly. Be sure your security suite is set to check for updates automatically, preferably at least once a day. Most security software applications do this, but some free programs require manual updates.

Surf smart. Though you have security software installed, you must still monitor your Internet behavior. Research before clicking on an ad or download, and don't open emails or attachments that look suspicious. Stay up to date about the latest Internet dangers by browsing computer news sites or subscribing to email alerts.

Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it

"Shop around" is always good advice, but especially with Internet security suites. Prices swing wildly all over the map, and you should keep an eagle eye out for sales or special promotions. For example, we found our top-rated Norton Security Premium (Est. $50 per year for 10 devices) on sale for $60 (down from $100) at Symantec's site (Symantec is the maker of Norton), but only $50 at Also watch for rebates, which are sometimes offered only for products purchased from a specific store or website.