What the best Internet security software has

  • Easy install and setup. The software should be simple to install, and the interface should be easy to understand, whether or not it's been redesigned with tiles and icons for Windows 8.
  • Multi-computer licenses. Most Internet security software suites offer licenses to install the software on three, five or 10 PCs, relating the cost to the number of PCs you choose. Typically, you'll have a minimum of three licenses included with the purchase price, though single user/single PC versions are still offered for some programs. Since some vendors offer their software with different licenses, be sure you are comparing apples to apples when looking for the best price.
  • Compatibility with multiple operating systems. Some of the Internet security software suites that we reviewed run on both Windows and Mac operating systems, as well as iOS and Android tablets and smartphones.
  • Parental controls. Basic ones can monitor and control your child's Internet usage; more sophisticated controls cover texts, calls, Facebook and more.

Know before you go

Do you 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.

Do you want protection for your mobile devices? Some Internet security programs come with apps for Android (and iOS in some instances) tablets and smartphones.

Are you a Mac user? Many Internet security software programs run only on Windows. Check carefully for Mac operating systems capability.

Are parental controls important? Most security software comes with some form of parental control, from being able to block your children's access to the Internet to monitoring their Facebook use.

Are you active on social media? To varying degrees, several of the Internet software programs we reviewed have features to protect you on the most popular online social networks, primarily Facebook.

Buying tactics and strategies

"Shop around" is always good advice, but especially with Internet security suites. Prices swing wildly all over the map: We found budget runner-up Norton Internet Security (2014) downloading for $80 at Norton's website and $27 at Amazon.com -- on the same day. Also watch for rebates, which are sometimes offered only for products purchased from a specific store or website, and those rotate fairly quickly. Finally, as noted above, watch the license when price shopping -- particularly how many computers the software can be installed on.

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