An estimated 64% of Americans have been affected by at least one data breach. Personal information—such as Social Security numbers, birth dates, bank account information, and credit card numbers—is at risk. That data is then available on the dark web and can be used to ruin your financial life. In fact, the personal information of people with a high credit score can sell for relatively little on the dark net.
Cyberattacks on companies are also costly. The costs for compromised records, mitigating an attack, downtime and repairs, and more accounted for a total cost of $4.24 million in 2021. Installing the right antivirus software at home or your business is one step you can take to ensure you don't become a future statistic. Current antivirus software has moved beyond detecting viruses to providing malware and other attack protections. With hundreds of antivirus software solutions available, it can be hard to decide which is best for you.
We investigated 20 options recommended by cybersecurity experts as their software of choice and considered the software’s antivirus, malware, and ransomware. We also considered features such as multiple device protections and free version offerings. Here are our top picks.
The 7 Best Antivirus Software of 2021
Best Overall : Bitdefender Antivirus Plus
Our choice for the best overall antivirus software because its paid version offers the most well-rounded protection.
Offers “Do Not Track” for better data privacy
Frequent updates with subscription
VPN available but with a separate subscription
Bitdefender was founded in 2001 and is headquartered in Bucharest, in southern Romania. The company has over 1,600 employees with offices all over the world. Bitdefender Plus is the company’s entry-level antivirus software offering, making it ideal for home users without technical skills and anyone who wants basic defense against threats.
Because viruses aren’t the only cybersecurity risks, Bitdefender Plus offers an array of security-first features, including ransomware prevention, monitoring online purchases and web-based transactions, and password management that lets users create unique passwords for everything, all managed through an easy-to-use dashboard. Bitdefender Plus is available for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS.
A free version of Bitdefender offers real-time detection, advanced threat defense, web attack prevention, and anti-fraud/anti-phishing protection. The paid version includes Safepay for financial transactions, multi-layer ransomware protection, and vulnerability assessments. A virtual private network (VPN) is also offered with an additional subscription fee.
One year of coverage for one device is $39.99. There is a 30-day free trial.
Best for Windows : Norton 360 With LifeLock
Norton 360 with LifeLock keeps improving on its history as a top antivirus option with its PC maintenance features, making it the best for Windows computers.
PC protections including firewall and backup
Excellent malware protection
LifeLock identity theft protection
Ransomware detection could be improved
Slows the computer during full scans
One of the more expensive offerings
Norton introduced its first antivirus software in 1991 under the Symantec umbrella. Symantec purchased LifeLock in 2018, and in 2019, after the enterprise division of the company was sold, the name was changed to NortonLifeLock. The company is based in Tempe, Arizona.
Norton 360 with LifeLock won best antivirus for Windows because of how it has continued to build on its history of protecting Windows machines. The identity theft protection capabilities of LifeLock alone give this product an edge. There are several versions of this product, so users can pick the features they need, but even the lowest level offers PC maintenance utilities (including the ability to produce a faster bootup) and 2GB of cloud backup. Norton 360 Standard offers dark web monitoring, a VPN, and 100GB of cloud backup.
The amount of cloud storage increases based on the package level. The mid-range Norton 360 with LifeLock Select is $149.99 per year with licenses for up to five devices (including Mac) and 100GB of cloud storage. It also offers parental controls, school time/remote learning controls, VPNs for all devices, and webcam protections. Norton Antivirus Plus is $84.99 per year with one license.
Best for Mac : Webroot SecureAnywhere for Mac
Webroot SecureAnywhere for Mac offers excellent phishing detection and fast scanning ability specifically designed for Macs.
Excellent phishing detection
Fast virus scanning
Labels malicious links during online searches
Limited testing data
Webroot is based in Broomfield, Colorado, and has offices in Japan, Europe, Australia, and California. The company was founded in 1997 and introduced its first antivirus product in 2006. OpenText acquired the company in 2019.
Webroot SecureAnywhere for Mac is our choice for antivirus protection that's best for Mac computers. There is still a belief that Mac computers are safe from cyberattacks, and while most viruses are targeted at Windows computers, Macs are vulnerable to other malware, ransomware, phishing attacks, and even Apple-targeted viruses.
This software boasts a very small footprint on your computer’s operating system but offers very fast security scans and is one of the best at phishing detection. Offering an email address when installing Webroot gives users alerts for new threats. For those who use both Windows and Mac, Webroot’s interface is more similar across platforms than other antivirus software. The main difference is Webroot for Mac doesn’t include a firewall.
Webroot also offers SecureAnywhere products for antivirus alone (Mac/PC), internet security (for mobile devices and Mac/PC), and internet complete that offers backup storage.
One year of Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus is currently on long-term sale for $29.99, but the normal price is $39.99. This price covers one device. There is a 70-day money-back guarantee.
Best for Multiple Devices : McAfee Antivirus Plus
McAfee Antivirus Plus is our top choice as best for multiple devices because its subscriptions offer protection for every device in the home for a reasonable cost.
Offers protection for all devices, including Android and iOS
Good malware detection
Offers a number of bonus features in the price
Fewer features for Apple products
McAfee Antivirus Plus is the one antivirus platform that recognizes the growing number of devices used in a single household, which could include four or more different operating systems. While the protections and features are better for Windows and Android, the protection is still good enough for all devices, so families don’t need to purchase multiple antivirus subscriptions.
The basic package supports up to 10 devices, support, secure web browsing, and antivirus. The MTP 10 Device plan is for one year for 10 devices, but also includes features such as full protection for the home network, password manager, encrypted storage, and identity theft protection. Unlimited device protection is also available in one-year subscriptions.
The one-year basic subscription is $24.99 in the first year and then $79.99 per year. The MTP 10 Family plan is $34.99 for the first year and then $119.99 a year. Unlimited device protection is $69.99 for the first year and then $159.99. Plans come with one to five VPN licenses. There is a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Best Premium Option : Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security
Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security has an aggressive antivirus system at a reasonable price, making it our pick for best for premium options.
Protects online financial transactions
Many bonus features
Most versions only work on Windows
Trend Micro was founded in 1988 in the U.S. but is now headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. The company operates worldwide and has many partnerships in the tech industry. Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security not only has an aggressive antivirus system at a reasonable price, but it also offers a number of security tools, including layered ransomware protections, firewall booster, and Pay Guard browser that provides the safest levels of protection for online banking and purchases.
Every version of this antivirus software also includes Trend Micro’s Advanced AI Learning feature that detects new ransomware strains and other emerging threats and stops them before they damage the computer network. Password management and protection are only offered in the product family's highest tier.
This is the antivirus software option for those who don’t want to have to micromanage their security. This version is Windows-only, but Trend Micro does offer a Mac version too. The highest tier plan supports mobile operating systems as well.
A one-year subscription to Antivirus+ Security is $29.95. The company offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Best Malware Scanning : Malwarebytes
Our top choice for malware scanning, Malwarebytes, is the best at removing malware on demand among any providers.
Free version has a lot less protection and features
Malwarebytes was founded in Santa Clara, California, in 2008 and specializes in protecting home computers and mobile devices. The free version of Malwarebytes is limited but powerful. It doesn't have many advanced features and protections—it simply detects and removes malware.
Malwarebytes does an excellent job of capturing, quarantining, and removing malware that is wreaking havoc in your system. You can run a full or quick scan of the free version whenever needed, and it will create a report on your system.
The paid version of Malwarebytes offers 24/7 monitoring, protects vulnerabilities from exploits until the software is patched, blocks ransomware, and shields against infected websites. The premium version can be used as antivirus software. The free version runs on-demand, scanning for and removing malware, but should always be used in tandem with more comprehensive antivirus software.
While the software is available for multiple operating systems, premium offerings only work on Windows. A one-year paid subscription is $29.99. A free trial is available for 14 days, but the free version remains on your computer to be used on-demand.
What Is Antivirus Software?
Antivirus (AV) software is designed to detect, block, and/or remove malicious software on a computer or network. AV software is an advised layer of any cybersecurity system, as it is often the first line of defense to protect the computer before the malicious software burrows too deep. It offers protection to a computer or network and helps prevent the virus or other malicious code from spreading to other devices.
Do You Really Need Antivirus Software?
Hackers don't just make money by selling your personal information; they can use that data to buy things fraudulently, compromise your credit score, drain your bank account, and generally wreak havoc on your and your business's financial life. Adding antivirus software to your computers is the least you can do to protect yourself. Antivirus software, as a whole, measured between November 2019 and May 2020, found that having the software stopped as much as 95% of attacks.
Windows continues to fight viruses designed to exploit vulnerabilities in the operating system, and until those vulnerabilities are patched, AV software is the first line of defense. Windows 10 is the first version to include its own AV software built into the operating system. Microsoft Defender is a good free option and offers basic protection that users don’t have to think about. But if you want something that offers specific protections, the best option is to add a paid version that covers your needs.
However, a long-standing misconception is that computers using Mac or Apple operating systems are immune to viruses and other malicious software attacks. That was true two decades ago, but as Apple products became more popular, cybercriminals found value in designing viruses and malware for those systems. Also, increasing numbers of attacks can bypass the operating system and go directly for applications and web portals, putting every type of computer system at risk.
Other things you should consider doing to protect yourself against hacks are installing anti-malware software, using a VPN, improving your password, and setting up two-factor authentication on your devices.
What Does Antivirus Software Cost?
While there are free options, you get better protection and more features with a paid subscription. Paid versions offer features such as VPN, password management, and parental controls. Prices range from $20 to over $100 a year, depending on the number of licenses, number of devices you want covered, and the features you prefer.
Is It Worth Paying for Antivirus Software?
Free AV software has improved greatly over the years, and again, anyone using Windows 10 already has free AV software that works pretty well. If all you want is software that detects malicious software, blocks it from doing damage, and scans your system, then free is good.
Paid versions, however, will offer protections on web browsing, protect identity, or offer VPN services, as well as password managers and parental control across multiple devices and operating systems. These are more essential now, as more people are working remotely or using a single device for work and personal computing.
What Is the Difference Between Antivirus Software and Antimalware?
Viruses are designed to replicate and spread, while malware is a catchall name for all types of malicious code aimed at damaging a computer or network. All viruses are malware, but not all malware is a virus. AV software identifies threats through signature detections based on what is already known in the signature database. This is why AV software needs to be updated regularly.
Antimalware software detects more sophisticated malware attacks. The two types of defense software complement each other, and some AV software has antimalware built-in, but the two are different, and protection against both is necessary for true protection.
How We Chose the Best Antivirus Software
There are hundreds of antivirus software solutions available. We investigated 20 popular solutions often considered the software of choice by cybersecurity experts. Of critical importance was ease of use with all providers, making it something every consumer could navigate and use.
We then considered whether or not the provider had offerings beyond antivirus software. This included malware, ransomware protection, and multiple device protections. Those that had a free version or trial were given preference. We gave particular importance to platforms that were easy to use and integrate.