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?
When the WannaCry ransomware attacks crippled computers worldwide in
May 2017, folks who had installed Internet security software were sitting
"If you've taken my
advice, you have a powerful security suite installed on all your computers,
just waiting to blast malware of all types," wrote Neil J. Rubenking at PCMag.com, in response to the attacks.
"He adds that a quality Internet security suite "really should smack
down a ransomware attack before it does any damage." He also notes that
Norton, McAfee, Bitdefender, and other Internet security makers sent out
notices to their users to reassure them that their suite protect against WannaCry and similar attacks.
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 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.
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. While 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 some typical 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 Total Security (2017): Ultimate protection
for all of your devices
So what's the best, easiest
way to shield all of your devices? (Est. $60 per year for 5 devices),
reviews say. This software protects 5 PCs, Macs, Android and iOS devices -- and
it does it masterfully.
In a nutshell, Kaspersky
Total Security (2017) offers all the security you probably need, for every
device you probably own -- PC, Mac or Android. Malware rarely gets past Kaspersky
in tests; in fact, it's the only security software that earns highest honors
from every single independent testing lab we consulted.
"Kaspersky's fast and
thorough antivirus programs build an effective fence around a family's
computers," says Brian Nadel at TomsGuide.com,
awarding Kaspersky Total Security his Best Premium PC Security Suite prize. Not
to mention its mega-suite of goodies, PCMag.com's Neil J. Rubenking adds: "Most of its components
are great, some are good, none are bad. It's a winner."
Besides absolutely slaying
malware, Kaspersky is the best protection you can buy against phishing (those
phony websites that pretend to be your bank, etc.). For years, Rubenking has used Norton Security Premium as the gold
standard in his antiphishing test -- but this year,
Kaspersky actually beats Norton (and everyone else) in the test. Like all top
security suites, Kaspersky protects against ramsomware,
and provides some additional information here to help its users -- and
others -- make sure that their system are completely immune.
A cheaper version, (Est. $25 per year for 3 devices) (discussed below), is a Best Reviewed pick in its
own right, offering equally powerful protection and an already 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. "To that suite's
bountiful feature collection," Rubenking writes,
"Kaspersky Total Security adds a backup system, enhanced parental control,
a password manager, and an excellent cross-platform parental control system, as
well as data encryption and secure file deletion." The parental controls
are especially impressive: It includes child location monitoring, app- and
content-blocking and time limits, and it works across all of the family's
devices and platforms.
It all works nicely in
expert tests. False alarms are almost nonexistent, and it doesn't bog down the
computer at either TomsGuide.com or PCMag.com (although it does slow bootup by about 30 seconds at PCMag -- but, as Rubenking notes, most people only boot up
once per day). Kaspersky Total Security (2017) is a customer favorite at
BestBuy.com, and most Amazon.com buyers like it too. However, 15 percent of
Amazon.com users slap Kaspersky Total Security with the lowest possible 1-star
rating, usually because it messed up their computer or they got fed up with Kaspersky's
The best alternative? Runner-up (Est. $55 per year for 10 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. It boasts many of the same features, and PCMag names Bitdefender Total Security and Kaspersky Total
Security co-Editors' Choices.
However, Bitdefender lacks
some trimmings. There's no VPN, no backup software or online storage,
TomsGuide.com notes. Another leading test organization knocks Bitdefender's
lousy help system. Like Kaspersky, Bitdefender boasts robust anti-ransomware
Kaspersky Internet Security (2017) is the best budget
If you your needs -- and
budget -- are more modest, (Est. $25 per year for 3 devices) will
protect three devices (PC, Mac, Android or iOS) is a good alternative. It
doesn't pack quite as many extras as its big brother, but security is equally top-notch.
"Many people may find Kaspersky Internet Security to be the sweet spot," Nadel says, naming Kaspersky Internet Security (2017)
the Best Midrange Antivirus Product at TomsGuide.com.
Kaspersky Internet Security
offers the same core features and robust protection as Kaspersky Total Security
-- only without the password manager, backup software and supercharged,
cross-platform parental controls. However, Kaspersky Internet Security still
has more than adequate parental controls, and can block websites, games and
apps, limit screen time and monitor social networking, but you do lose things
like the child location monitor and real-time alerts if suspicious activity is
It's an Editors' Choice at
PCMag.com, a Best Buy in another leading test, and -- like its costlier sibling
-- the only security software that earns highest honors from every single
independent testing lab we consulted. Both versions of Kaspersky are nearly
flawless at detecting viruses, worms and Trojan horses (even unknown malware), without
bogging down the system or bugging the user with false alarms.
Antiphishing protection now beats even Norton (the gold standard
for years) in PCMag.com's test. Perks include the
same firewall, spam filter, VPN (virtual private network) for anonymous web
browsing, hardened Safe Money browser for financial transactions, app safety
adviser, and webcam and microphone protection you'll find on the pricier
Kaspersky Total Security suite. Like its big brother, Kaspersky Internet
Security (2017) is a customer favorite at BestBuy.com.
Once again, reviews say,
Bitdefender offers the best alternative to Kaspersky. (Est. $45 per year for 3 devices). It defends
against malware and phishing nearly as well as Kaspersky in tests -- but this
mid-level Bitdefender software is Windows-only, and is missing some features
compared to Bitdefender Total Security 2017, such as a speed optimization tool.
Based on that, unless you are on a tight budget and need to only protect three
or fewer Windows (only machines) if Bitdefender is right for you, Bitdefender
Total Security 2017 is a much better buy at present.
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 (Free). "The breadth and scope of the features
in Avast Mobile Security & Antivirus still blow us away," say editors
at TomsGuide.com, where it's named the Best Free Option for Android security.
It's PCMag's Editors' Choice, too: "Inside,
you'll find antitheft tools, app management, safe Web browsing, a battery
manager, and an antivirus engine that receives top marks from independent
testing labs," Max Eddy writes.
Indeed, Avast Mobile
Security and Antivirus detected 99.8 percent of malware in AV-Test.org's March 2017 testing, with one false alarm -- but
it lost points for draining the phone's battery (we didn't see this complaint
in other expert tests, or in user reviews on Google Play, though).
Avast has improved its
malware detection since last year in tests. It has also gone completely free (it
was "freemium" last year, with a few features you had to pay to
unlock). Now, it's supported by on-screen ads -- which annoy some users on
Google Play. However, "I typically saw only two ads, for the same content,
at the top and bottom of every scan result," says Sean Riley at
Avast gives you more -- for
free -- than some other apps charge up to $40 for. It blocks malicious
websites, spam, and calls and texts from numbers you choose. It double-checks
Wi-Fi security in coffee shops and other hot spots. It scans your apps, to make
sure they're not playing fast and loose with your personal info. It lets you
lock apps, to keep your private data private. If you lose your phone or tablet,
Avast lets you locate, lock and/or wipe it remotely. There's a password
manager, a battery saver, a clean-up tool, automatic backup and more.
In tests, it proves to be extremely
easy to set up and use, and it performs well in tests. Users love it, too.
Avast earns 4.5 out of 5 stars, with a whopping 4 million-plus ratings at
You could pay for Android
security software, but you'll get only a tiny bump in effectiveness. Norton Mobile Security (Est. Free to $30 per year for 10 devices)
is a "freemium" app: Most features are free, but to unlock some
(notably antiphishing and the app adviser) you'll
have to pay. Bitdefender Mobile Security and Antivirus (Est. $15 per
proves lighter on its feet; it's "barely noticeable" in TomsGuide.com's test, barely slowing down the phone at all.
Both Norton and Bitdefender perform flawlessly at AV-Test.org, detecting 100
percent of malware with zero false alarms.
Also, keep in mind that if
you are paying for an Internet Security Suite for your laptop or computer, many
-- including Kaspersky Total Security (2017) and Bitdefender Total Security
2017 -- 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.org and the U.K.'s MRG-Effitas.com and SE Labs -- only evaluate antivirus software or the antivirus
component of security suites. Germany's AV-Test.org is particularly
helpful because it also rates factors such as usability and a suite's impact on
a computer's performance. Technology websites generally defer to these labs
when it comes to rating effectiveness, but PCMag.com conducts its own
testing as well (for both PC/Mac and mobile security software), as does ConsumerReports.org.
Others, such as Tom's Guide and DigitalTrends.com, focus their
reviews on usability factors. User reviews at sites such as Google Play, Amazon.com and BestBuy.com are useful for evaluating how Internet
security suites perform in the real world.