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Antivirus software is an essential part of any PC owner's arsenal. Staying safe from viruses, malware, ransomware, and phishing threats is just the beginning when it comes to what a good antivirus software package can protect you from. Many manufacturers now take a holistic approach to keeping your data safe, tackling more than just the odd suspicious file that might end up on your system.
There are plenty of options out there for securing your PC, so it can be hard to know what package to purchase. Free antivirus software is an option but, typically, free solutions have fewer options and features than paid software. Generally, you do get what you pay for, and what price can you put on keeping your computer (and, more importantly, the data on there) safe from potential threats? It's not so much the hardware that's in danger, but details like your private documents, banking details, and personal photos that could be at risk here. Don't sweat it — we've checked out the best paid antivirus software solutions and will outline why they're worth the money.
Having multiple antivirus software programs installed often causes issues and clashes, so you want to commit to one great tool instead. It's important to look out for more than just antivirus protection. Many threats stem from internet browsing so phishing protection is a now vital feature. Spyware and adware is also a problem, so it's worthwhile checking out the best ways of scanning for these.
Finally, you need software that provides an on-demand malware scan, as well as a vulnerability scan, so that you're always in control of what's going on with your data. Security is a fast-moving field so you want software that keeps on top of new trends, such as the recent growth in ransomware keen to steal your files from under you.
These are the best antivirus solutions for every situation:
1. Bitdefender Antivirus PlusBitdefender Antivirus Plus has a great reputation for detecting viruses, malware, and pretty much all other nasties you might need to spot. It's inexpensive too.
- One year (up to three devices): £19.99
In terms of its most basic features, it has a strong antivirus component, real-time behavioural monitoring for any pesky suspicious files, and ransomware protection. Scanning speeds are reasonably efficient with a quick scan taking a matter of seconds, and a full scan gradually taking less time the more you use it. For many, that's all you're ever going to need, but Bitdefender throws in a few more features along the way too.
For instance, there's malicious website blocking, offering a level of phishing protection that will keep you safe from any dubious sites or sources. A vulnerability scan runs checks if you haven't updated anything in a while, any network issues, or even if you're using a weak password.
In conjunction with that is online banking protection, and a password manager tool so, in theory, nothing is ever going to get through. A new tool in the form of Ransomware Remediation offers an additional layer of security. It looks out for ransomware-like behaviour then defensively backs up any targeted files until you're able to close the malicious file or program. It's a proactive approach that more antivirus tools should take note of.
For the more inexperienced user, there's Bitdefender's Autopilot, which recommends ways in which you can optimise your protection, depending on how you use your system. Combined with the tools already in place, it's a potent way of keeping you safe.
For those after more privacy focused tools, there's also a VPN facility, although it's quite restrictive at its simplest. A 200mb data allowance per day, and an inability to choose your location means this VPN is more of a bonus than anything massively valuable.
Overall, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is the kind of software you can leave running in the background and it simply just works. It also doubles up well as a form of security suite, rather than simply virus protection tool. That makes it an ideal candidate for the majority of users.
2. Symantec Norton AntiVirus BasicA familiar name, Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic will make the majority of its users feel safe and protected, even if the options are a double edged sword.
- One year (for one PC): £24.99
That's immediately noticeable from the outset with Norton keen for you to install not just the antivirus software but multiple browser extensions. As part of its ability to protect you from dangerous search results, there's Norton Safe Search, along with Norton Toolbar, which assigns each site a safety rating, and Norton Identity Safe (its password management tool). Such a wealth of options continue throughout the software, which is why it can be a little confusing for some.
Fortunately, a choice of a full system scan, quick scan, or custom scan is exactly the kind of options you want to see. There's the addition of the Norton Power Eraser too for when you're extra paranoid about any potential malware sources. Past scans were a little slow but Norton has spruced up its engine, ensuring it's lightweight for the most basic spec of PC, and you don't have to wait hours for results.
It also does a fantastic job of providing phishing protection, keeping on top of every new development thanks to a regular updated blacklist. Throw in spam protection and the aforementioned Identity Safe password manager, and Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic hardly misses a beat.
3. McAfee Total ProtectionMcAfee AntiVirus Plus isn't perfect at eliminating all threats, but it's a bargain for those with multiple systems to protect.
- One year (up to 10 devices): £44.99
Its more expensive than most, but McAfee AntiVirus Plus is still pretty cheap if you're using it across multiple systems. Its scan takes an average length of time compared to its competitors, and does a solid job of detecting most threats. Similarly, the built-in firewall detects most threats automatically, without much need for you to tweak or fiddle around with any settings (unless you want to, of course). Also, a vulnerability scan goes some way to keeping you aware of tasks that may have slipped by the wayside, such as installing critical updates.
Where things falter a little is when it comes to URL blocking. McAfee AntiVirus Plus simply isn't up to scratch here, missing out on numerous suspicious URLs, but it is good at spotting dodgy files if they get that far.
Unusually, McAfee offers an unique pledge: if your PC gets a virus, a McAfee security expert will remotely access your machine to remove it. If they fail, you get a full refund. Obviously it's better to not get infected at all, but it's a nod towards McAfee's confidence in being able to protect you and your family from any threat.
Elsewhere, there are iOS and Android apps to further reassure you. The iOS app is fairly rudimentary, merely offering backup, encryption, and device tracking, rather than any antivirus tools. However, the Android app is suitably beefy with antivirus, URL blocking, clean up tools, and a remote lock. In McAfee's defense, the locked down nature of iOS will explain the differences in both these tools. There's Mac app support too, which works as well as the PC version.
In all cases, McAfee AntiVirus Plus hardly slows down the system it's installed on, amply reminding you of why it's worth the investment. Being able to use one program across multiple devices is a huge help in simplifying security matters at home, and it's pretty effective too.
4. Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirusIf your PC is rapidly ageing, Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus is an ideal solution that won't slow it down any further. Even if it is a somewhat unknown quantity at times.
- One year (one device): £22.49
Occupying only about 15MB of disk space, Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus takes predictably little time to install. Impressively, its system scan is also as speedy, taking less than a minute. Speed is truly Webroot's selling point, but it does come at a price.
The user interface is distinctly complicated looking for the novice user. A bevy of panels, switches, and icons might look appealing if you love to delve deeper into features, but it can be intimidating if you're not experienced with software. An obvious Scan My Computer button goes some way to solving this issue, but there's no quick scan button because, well, you don't really need it.
Elsewhere, Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus is a little light on extra features compared to its competition, but it still manages to dish out some useful extras. URL filtering is just one of those extras, detecting if you've inadvertently landed on a suspicious website. There's a form of firewall too that looks out for untrusted processes connecting to the internet, although don't expect to be able to tweak ports or protocols here.
Impressively, there's room for a sandbox feature too, an unusual addition for any antivirus package, that lets you run dubious programs in an isolated environment to see if they are actually worthy of your suspicion or not. It's impressively detailed for such a lightweight piece of software, even if the vast majority of users will have no need for it.
The sole issue arises from the lack of independent test results for Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus, but it's a relatively small issue in something that, anecdotally, has consistently garnered good reports.
5. Avast Premier AntivirusAvast Premier is a great antivirus tool that doubles as a security suite, but many of its best features are available in the free version.
- One year (up to three PCs): £59.99
Fine tuning is immediately demonstrated during the installation process. There are over a dozen different modular options to choose from, ranging from browser extensions to opting to install a password manager.
Once installed, there's a single Smart Scan button that basically does everything possible. That includes a virus scan, vulnerability checker, network security analysis, and a look over at any potentially weak passwords you may use. You can choose to do each of these individually though, demonstrating Avast Pro Antivirus 2017's flexibility for both novices and more tweak-happy users.
Browser protection comes via extensions that block suspicious URLs, as well as highlight dangerous links within search engine results. There's also Avast's SafeZone, a secure and separate browser that Avast loves to suggest any time you're about to log into your online banking. Extensive customisation means you can set it to launch for other websites too.
Avast also keeps an eye on your network, spotting any security issues, such as weak encryption or vulnerable devices.
Where Avast Pro Antivirus 2017 really differs from its free alternative is the addition of RealSite, a secure DNS system that protects you from DNS hijacks. Essentially, it's an extra layer of protection against spoof websites. There's a sandbox tool too, although (as usual) it's unlikely that many people will feel the need to use it.
In terms of sheer power, it's tough to fault Avast Pro Antivirus 2017. However, many of the features are settings that average users just won't really need. Those that do will fare just as well with the free edition as they will this more expensive option.
6. Sophos Home PremiumIf you're the tech support for all the family, Sophos Home Premium is a convenient way of controlling their security, wherever you are. Its features are too advanced for some, though.
- One year (up to 10 devices): £32.00
A full scan of any system takes about 40-45 minutes, substantially speedier than most, with that time reduced as you do it more frequently. It spots everything from suspicious files, viruses, ransomware, to tracking cookies. It uses a behavior based system to detect ransomware, so it's not always perfect, but on the other hand, it's good at spotting unusual activity by any file. There's also exploit protection and mitigation which protects your browser, plug ins and other apps, without much input from you.
Additionally, there's keylogger protection and a safe browser option for keeping you safe while checking your online banking. Unlike other virus protection software, Sophos extends things to include webcam protection too.
So, what's the downside? Sophos Home Premium is fairly unwieldy at times and a little intimidating given its wealth of options. More importantly, if you want to change a simple setting, you still need to dive into the remote management portal in your web browser, which makes it a less attractive proposition for one system use. Still, if you're the family's tech support, this is an ideal way of circumventing various common issues