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Best Internet Security 2018

By: Tara Tuckwiller on May 07, 2018

Editor's Note:
Though it's attracted a bit of concern in some corners, the best expert feedback says that for typical users, Kaspersky makes the best Internet security software. Looking for an alternative anyway? Bitdefender ranks nearly as highly as Kaspersky, tests say. Norton is the top choice for mobile devices, and many of its features are free.

Kaspersky Total Security 2018
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Free or paid – Paid Number of licenses – 5 Operating systems supported – PC, Mac, Android, iOS

Best Internet security software suite

Kaspersky Total Security does it all, experts say. One solution protects PCs, Macs and Android devices (and some features work with iOS) against malware, ransomware, phishing, webcam spies and more. It automatically backs up your files to your Dropbox account, manages your passwords, and lets you exhaustively monitor (or block) what your children access on all of their devices. Although controversy swirls around the Russian-made software, top experts continue to recommend it for home users.

Buy for $49.99
Bitdefender Total Security 2018
Also Consider
Specs that Matter Free or paid – Paid Number of licenses – 5 Operating systems supported – PC, Mac, Android, iOS

Best alternative to Kaspersky

If you're wary of Kaspersky, experts point to Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2018 as a fine alternative. It's just as good as Kaspersky in keeping your computer and mobile devices safe from malware, tests reveal, without annoying slow-downs or pop-ups. You'll find all of the important security features (adequate parental controls and anti-theft protection, for example), but fewer frills. Bitdefender includes no VPN (virtual private network) to browse the web anonymously, no backup software and no online storage.

Buy for $89.99
Norton Mobile Security
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Free or paid – Free (some features are paid) Number of licenses – 1 Operating systems supported – Android

Free mobile Internet security software suite

Experts and users rave about Symantec Norton Mobile Security for Android: It delivers class-leading malware and phishing protection, yet it's easy to use and won't cost you a penny. It can locate, lock and/or wipe your lost or stolen phone or tablet, block unwanted calls and texts, back up your contacts and lock any app against nosy users. For $15, the paid version flags risky apps and links before you click, and it alerts you if apps leak your personal data.

Internet security software provides all-in-one protection

The best Internet security software typically includes three essential components -- antivirus, anti-spyware and a firewall -- along with optional features, such as a spam filter and parental controls. Some companies bundle additional components as well, including identity theft prevention, anti-phishing software and online backup. Smartphones and tablets are increasingly vulnerable to malware too, and we cover both PC/Mac and smartphone/tablet Internet security software in this report, as well as some double-duty products that protect both computers and mobile devices.

Do you even need Internet security software?

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, for many, effective antivirus software could be all you need. In addition, software vendors have been packing in more and more features into antivirus software, largely blurring the lines between those and products that are marketed as Internet security suites. Also, Windows includes Windows Defender antivirus, but that security software, while it has improved mightily in the past year, still throws too many false alarms in independent tests. See our report on antivirus software for our recommendations of dedicated antivirus programs -- including free products -- that perform better.

However, if you do need more than what a typical antivirus program can provide, 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. You can also assemble your own security software system by choosing the top-rated software in each category, though getting them all to "play nice" together might be a tall order for many users.

Finding The Best Internet Security Suites

To find the top performing, most effective Internet security suites, we looked to both expert and user guidance. On the expert side of things, we consulted the top independent testing laboratories, as well as sites and publications that do at least some unique testing on their own. User reviews posted at retail sites and elsewhere are particularly helpful in addressing usability, especially in how well suites perform in real-world settings rather than dedicated testing situations. With that research completed, we look first to performance, but also ease of use and features to name the best Internet security suites.

Kaspersky rates best, but controversy swirls

So what's the best, easiest way to shield all of your devices? Kaspersky Total Security (Est. $50 per year for 5 devices), reviews say. This software protects 5 PCs, Macs, Android and iOS devices -- and it does it masterfully.

But controversy plagues Russian-made Kaspersky, which allegedly is linked to Russian spy agencies. We address this more fully in our antivirus software report, but the take of most experts, and many users, is that while it probably should be avoided by those that store sensitive materials (government or industrial) on their computers, for typical users -- absent any real proof of a threat to them -- the benefits outweigh any risks. "Until we see real evidence that Kaspersky software is a threat to consumers, we will continue to recommend it," Tom's Guide writes, and other experts offer similar advice.

In a nutshell, Kaspersky Total Security offers all the security you probably need, for every device you probably own. Malware rarely gets past Kaspersky in tests. In fact, it's the only security software that earns highest honors from independent labs for all tested platforms -- PC, Mac and Android – and the only one that earns the highest possible scores for everything at AV-Test (protection, performance and usability) for all commonly used versions of Windows (7, 8/8.1 and 10).

"Kaspersky's malware protection is nearly perfect" and false alarms are rare, says Brian Nadel at Tom's Guide, awarding Kaspersky Total Security his Best Premium PC Security Suite prize. Not to mention its mega-suite of goodies: Kaspersky Total Security "lives up to its name with just about every feature you could want," Nadel says.

Besides absolutely slaying malware, Kaspersky delivers superb protection against phishing (those phony websites that pretend to be your bank, etc.). For years, PCMag's Neil J. Rubenking has used Norton Security Premium as the gold standard in his antiphishing test -- but this year, Kaspersky actually beats Norton in the test (only Bitdefender -- covered below -- did better). Like all top security suites, Kaspersky protects against ransomware, too.

A step-down version, Kaspersky Internet Security 2018 (Est. $40 per year for 3 devices), offers equally powerful protection and an almost as robust set of features -- including a firewall, spam filter, VPN (virtual private network) to browse the web anonymously, a hardened Safe Money browser to protect your financial transactions, app safety adviser, webcam and microphone protection, the aforementioned awesome anti-phishing protection and more. But for or $10 more, Kaspersky Total Security adds coverage for two additional devices, file backup and encryption, a password manager and a free subscription to the outstanding Kaspersky Safe Kids parental control system (it costs $15 if you buy it separately).

Rubenking can't get the password manager to autofill forms in Windows – and when he calls Kaspersky for help, he gets a runaround – but he's deeply impressed by the Safe Kids feature. "Kaspersky Safe Kids goes way beyond the parental control available in most security suites," Rubenking writes. It includes child location monitoring, app- and content-blocking and time limits, and it works across all of the family's devices and platforms.

Most Amazon buyers like Kaspersky Total Security: Two out of three award it 4 or a perfect 5 stars. However, about 15 percent of Amazon users slap Kaspersky Total Security with the lowest possible 1-star rating, usually because it slowed down their computer or they're worried about Kaspersky's possible ties to the Russian government.

If despite expert reassurances you're still concerned about Kaspersky, the best alternative is Bitdefender Total Security 2018 (Est. $50 per year for 5 devices). Bitdefender runs neck-and-neck with Kaspersky in independent malware-busting tests, year after year. Like Kaspersky Total Security, Bitdefender Total Security runs on PC, Mac or Android (its anti-theft, account privacy and parental advisor features work on iOS, as well). It boasts many of the same features, and PCMag names Bitdefender Total Security an Editors' Choice.

However, Bitdefender lacks some trimmings. There's no VPN, and no backup software or online storage, Tom's Guide notes. Another leading test organization knocks Bitdefender's lousy help system. Like Kaspersky, Bitdefender boasts robust anti-ransomware protection.

If you need to protect a ton of devices, consider another alternative: Symantec Norton Security Premium (Est. $50 per year for 10 devices). Flawless (or near-flawless) malware and ransomware protection in every independent test – across every platform (it works on Windows, Mac, Android and iOS) – and a whopping 10 licenses make it an incredible value for those with more than the usual assortment of PCs, laptops, smartphones and/or tablets.

PCMag picks Norton Premium as its cross-platform Editors' Choice, and Consumer Reports names it a Best Buy. "All of its components do their jobs well, some brilliantly," PCMag's Rubenking says. Norton even blocks maddening adware and other PUAs (potentially unwanted applications) better than Kaspersky and Bitdefender, MRG-Effitas' test shows. And Norton includes sophisticated parental controls (although those don't work on Macs) and both local and online backup with 25 GB of cloud storage.

Rivals boast more features, though. Norton lacks a hardened web browser, and it can't encrypt or shred your files. Norton also slows the computer a tad and suffers a handful of false alarms at AV-Test, dropping it just behind Kaspersky and Bitdefender in the rankings. In tests at AV-Comparatives, Norton struggles with 90 false alarms – compared with Kaspersky's nine and Bitdefender's two – but that doesn't happen in tests anywhere else.

Secure your Android -- for free

What about free Internet security software? Try as we might, we could not find a totally free security suite for PC or Mac that passes muster. Protection lags behind the best paid software in tests, and we see lots of reports of usability issues. However, if your main interest is antivirus protection -- and that's most users' biggest worry -- we did find some solid antivirus software that will do a terrific job of protecting your computer and not cost you one cent. For more on those, see our report on antivirus software.

However, we did find some great free Internet security suites to protect Android phones and tablets, led by Symantec Norton Mobile Security (Free). It performs perfectly at both AV-Comparatives and AV-Test, blocking 100 percent of malware with no slowdowns, battery-gobbling or false alarms – just as it has for years.

"Some antivirus apps fluctuate in their lab-test detection rates, but not Norton Mobile Security," says Sean Riley at Tom's Guide. "Only Bitdefender Mobile Security (Est. $15) has a better track record." These two mobile champs -- Norton and Bitdefender -- are co-Editors' Choices at both Tom's Guide and PCMag.

Norton Mobile is actually a "freemium" product. You have to pay $15 if you want to unlock a few of its features: App Advisor (which flags risky apps in the Google Play store), Link Guard (which flags risky links you get via email or text) and Privacy Report (which warns you if apps leak your personal data).

"It's worth paying a bit extra for," Riley says. Still, the free version is "an even better deal."

Norton's free Android version delivers the same impeccable defense against malware and phishing, the same strong call and text blocking, contacts backup and – importantly – the same robust anti-theft features as the paid version.

If your phone or tablet is lost or stolen, you'll be able to issue remote commands with any cell phone: Locate (you'll get the phone's coordinates), "Scream" (the phone sounds an alarm to help you find it), Lock and Wipe. You can also set the phone to automatically lock if the SIM card is removed, "an obvious move for a potential smartphone thief," Riley says.

In tests, Norton proves to be extremely easy to set up and use. Users love it, too. Norton Mobile earns 4.5 out of 5 stars, with a whopping 1 million-plus ratings, at Google Play.

You could pay for Android security software, but it won't work better than Norton. Runner-up Bitdefender Mobile Security proves lighter on its feet than Norton in Tom's Guide's test, barely slowing down the phone at all – but Norton only slows it by 2 to 5 percent, Riley says, which "is not likely to be noticeable." Malware-wise, Bitdefender falls just a hair behind Norton at AV-Test, detecting 99.8 percent of malware in real time (Norton detects 100 percent) with zero false alarms in the latest test. And Bitdefender lacks a call/text blocker.

Also, keep in mind that if you are paying for an Internet Security Suite for your laptop or computer, many -- including Symantec Norton Security Premium (Est. $50 per year for 10 devices) and Bitdefender Total Security 2018 (Est. $50 per year for 5 devices) -- protect mobile devices as well. That said, using a free mobile app means fewer used slots on your license, letting you protect additional devices or save a little money (opting for a license that covers fewer devices).

Expert & User Review Sources

Most independent test labs, including Austria's AV-Comparatives and the U.K.'s MRG-Effitas and SE Labs -- only evaluate antivirus software or the antivirus component of security suites. Germany's AV-Test is particularly helpful because it also rates factors such as usability and a suite's impact on a computer's performance. Technology websites like Tom's Guide generally defer to these labs when it comes to rating effectiveness, but PCMag conducts its own testing as well (for both PC/Mac and mobile security software), as do Consumer Reports and (for Mac software) Macworld and Macworld (U.K.). User reviews at sites such as Google Play, Amazon and Best Buy are useful for evaluating how Internet security suites perform in the real world.

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