Today's antivirus software does a lot more than block viruses. It protects you from dangerous attachments and websites, ransomware, and can also protect your identity and help stop criminals from emptying your bank account.
What you'll find here is everything you need to know about buying security software for a Windows PC or laptop, plus any mobile devices you want to protect including Android phones and tablets. You'll also find our top 10 picks for what to buy.
Antivirus software is crucial for all devices in order to protect the files and data stored on it. Criminals who create malware - the umbrella term which covers all types of nasty that could end up on your device - are getting smarter every day, but so is antivirus software.
Best antivirus reviews
1. Norton 360
Norton 360 Deluxe is so called because it really does offer all-round security that can protect your key devices as well as alert you if your logins are ever found for sale on the dark web.
The price of this protection per device is just £5.99 for the first year: the app is available for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. This is a discount from the usual £79.99 (£16 per device). In the US you can choose to pay per month or $39.99 for the first year. See the deal here.
Some of the highlights include top-notch antivirus performance, web browsing protection, phishing protection, a VPN service and a password manager, plus 50GB of cloud backup storage and performance tools to help speed up your computer. Monthly reports help you keep track of what Security Deluxe has been up to.
In AV-Test's most recent test, Norton 360 scored top marks for protection and usability.
Read our full Norton 360 Deluxe review
2. Bitdefender Total Security 2020
Bitdefender's Total Security is an excellent product. It's regularly available for 50% off the standard price, bringing it down to £34.99/US$44.99 for a year, and this covers up to five devices. Buy it in the UK here or in the US here.
Along with file and system scans, there's a dedicated vulnerability scan that checks for outdated software and weak network passwords, protection against new and emerging threats like ransomware, and Network Threat Prevention, which aims to stop attacks before they begin. You also get a password manager, a parental advisor, anti-tracking tools and a 200MB-per-day, per-device VPN.
In AV-Test's latest report, Bitdefender's Internet Security managed to catch 100% of the 0-day malware attacks thrown at it, and also scored perfectly in performance tests.
Read our full Bitdefender Total Security 2020 review
3. McAfee Total Protection 2021
There are lots of improvements to Total Protection for the 2021 version, from the simplified Windows user interface - coming soon to Macs - and the integration of the VPN service so you don't need a separate app.
That service is better too: it's faster and now unblocks Netflix.
Malware protection is top notch, and it's easy to know when you need to do something to protect your PC (such as updating apps) thanks to the new alerts.
With the price covering up to 10 devices (unless you specifically choose the single or 5-device subscription), Total Protection 2021 is great value.
Read our full McAfee Total Protection 2021 review
4. Eset Internet Security
ESET Internet Security has a deceptively simple interface that hides an impressive and detailed tool set. Despite the price, it remains our favourite antivirus options.
With a raft of features, it offers great value for money and we're pleased to see that those features are all included in the price rather than available as free trials after which you'll need to cough up more cash.
The Syninspecter tool, for example, shows you a complete yet manageable rundown of your entire system's security status. There's also a social media scanner, anti-theft tools, a Home Network Protection tool, banking and payment protection and lots more.
It isn't obvious, but there is a ransomware module hidden deep within the advance setup screen for this purpose.
ESET has consistently been rated as Advanced+ - the highest score possible - in AV-Comparatives’ performance testing for the past six years.
Read our full ESET Smart Security Premium 2021 review
5. Kaspersky Security Cloud
What's significant about Security Cloud is that it contains adaptive security tech that automatically adjusts your settings based on your current activities. It helps you detect unauthorised devices and dodgy websites, as well as helping you make stronger passwords and manage them safely.
The Cloud version of Kaspersky Security wasn't included in AV-Test's latest test, but the Internet Security version that uses the same engine scored top marks for performance and usability, losing just half a mark for protection as it missed a zero-day attack in April (but had a perfect record this year up to that point).
Read our full Kaspersky Security Cloud review
6. Bullguard Premium Protection
BullGuard Premium Protection is the flagship security suite from the company. It includes the latest machine learning technology to block all types of malware, and there's a new Secure Browser which offers excellent protection when browsing the web. There's also a network scanner to protect all your connected devices at home.
It usually costs £69.96 / $99.95 for 10 devices, but you'll find it heavily discounted for the first year. Indeed, with this deal you'll get 60% off, making it £28 / $39.99, or £2.80 / $3.99 per device.
The identity protection feature searches thousands of websites (as well as those on the dark web) for leaked or stolen personal details, while a parental control module helps you keep an eye on your children's use of mobile devices. There's also anti-ransomware included now.
And in terms of protection, it achieved near-perfect scores in AV-Test's latest test and managed full marks for protection, performance and lost only half a mark for usability.
Read our full BullGuard Premium Protection review
7. AVG Ultimate
AVG Ultimate is a security suite that offers unlimited installs so could be good value if you have lots of devices to protect.
You get a file shield, web shield, a built-in firewall, a ransomware module and other layers of defence to keep your computer protected from all angles.
Plus, there are several types of system scan including a dedicated USB / DVD analysis.
In AV-Test's most recent test it didn't catch 100% of zero-day attacks, meaning its protection score was just below perfect. It also slowed down the test system slightly more than its rivals, earning it 5/6 where most manage full marks.
Read our full AVG Ultimate 2019 review
8. Sophos Home Premium
Sophos Home Premium can be installed on 10 devices which makes it very cheap if you have that many which need protection. It's cloud-based management also impressed us, and the mobile app is feature packed, too.
The protection modules are comprehensive and specialised, and included a dedicated ransomware module. However, there are some key features missing such as a local network scan and the ability to shred a file.
It's priced at £37.50/$37.50 per year for 10 devices including PC, Mac and Android, but there is also a more limited free version available for three devices. You can download either option here.
Read our full Sophos Home Premium review
How to choose the best antivirus software
Internet security software, or Antivirus software, detects, and then prevents, disarms or removes malicious apps or programs, often referred to as viruses.
While we still refer to it as antivirus, that's only one feature of modern internet security software. That's because security is no longer just about countering viruses. Although they still exist, viruses are arguably a minor part of the malware now prevalent on the web.
More important now is security of personal data and protection from ransomware. Security exploits aren't about show-off hackers massaging their egos, anymore, but about monetising their malware.
The modern day criminal doesn't have to be a hard-line hacker, either. They can buy all the software they need, and millions of addresses, on the dark web or even on eBay, if they know where to look.
Malware is evolving faster than ever, but fortunately the latest generation of antivirus is better equipped than ever to handle new threats.
Although the primary concern is to block malware so it doesn't install on your PC in the first place, there isn't an internet security suite made which is 100% effective.
That said, worthwhile internet security and antivirus software should also detect so-called 'zero day' attacks, where the malware is so new it hasn't yet been analysed or had 'signatures' build into internet security protection routines.
The speed with which these analyses are made is an important factor in the level of protection an internet security suite can provide. Some companies now claim a turnaround of well under an hour, using information gained from their own customers about similar attacks.
The cloud element in security applications is growing more and more important in speeding up this process. Some products are now using behaviour analysis and even artificial intelligence to make things quicker and more reliable.
Newly-installed software can be monitored, looking for suspicious activity and can be prevented from potentially damaging actions, such as changing registry entries or installing any browser add-ons. Ransomware can also be identified by unexpected attempts to encrypt your files.
Plus, with our extra tips on securing your computer, your stuff should remain safe.
How we test antivirus software
Every program on this list is worth your investment. The differences between the top few are relatively minor. The critical thing is to install one of them.
We test them by teaming up with the UK's SELabs, as well as Germany's AV-Test.org and AV-Comparatives, all highly respected independent security-software testing labs. Each rigorously tests antivirus products from a number of leading security companies.
The multifaceted testing procedure looks not only at how well an antivirus product can detect malware using traditional, largely signature-based methods (that is, employing a database of known malware types), but also how well it can block brand-new, unknown malware caught fresh from the wild. These companies also examine how well security products clean up after an infection if a piece of malware does get through.
We've focused on paid-for antivirus products here, but there are some free options available. Paid-for antivirus usually offers better technical support and more comprehensive protection features than free ones, but free is free and some free packages can still give paid packages a run for their money. Internet security suites go further still, offering firewalls, parental controls, identity theft protection and more.