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Find the Best Antivirus Software for You

The best antivirus software for you depends on what you need. Here's how to choose.

Computer virus. It’s a scary phrase, conjuring images of hackers in hoodies cracking encryptions, stealing data, and performing great feats of technology that do huge amounts of damage to individuals, businesses, and governments. Though most of our ideas of hackers come from Hollywood blockbusters, computer viruses are unfortunately not fiction. They are everywhere, and they are compromising ordinary people’s devices every day. But that doesn’t mean we’re helpless against their technological rampage. You’ve probably heard of antivirus – a type of software that protects your device against viruses. But there are a huge variety of antivirus programs out there. They key to the best protection is picking the best antivirus software for your needs. That’s what we’re here to help you do in this article.

A Brief Overview of Viruses and Antiviruses

What is a Computer Virus?

We’re all familiar with physical viruses. They make us sick, and depending on the virus and whether or not it gets treated, they could kill us. Your computer or smartphone are technological devices, and they can’t get sick. But “computer virus” still sounds scary.

Computer viruses are named because they work very similar to a physical virus. They are a bit of malicious code that gets onto a device and attaches to a program or file. They can do a lot of damage. But they can also spread to other devices, just like if we have a physical virus, we can get people around us sick. Computer viruses can spread through networks, connected drives, file sharing, infected email attachments, and more. Once it spreads, the virus can do damage to a new device.

What kind of damage a computer virus does depends on the type. Some use your device’s resources to mine cryptocurrency. Others send your data to hackers. Some may corrupt your files or data so you can never access them again; others, called ransomware, will lock your device or files until you pay a ransom. You can learn more about what different viruses can do by reading our article on types of computer viruses.

What is an Antivirus?

An antivirus is just like it sounds – it works against viruses. It’s a piece of software that’s designed to protect your device from computer viruses. It scans your system and your files looking for anything suspicious. The best antivirus software spots known viruses, but also identifies and stops patterns that look suspicious. This can keep unknown viruses from doing damage.

Most antivirus software have the option to set up regular automatic scans, as well as run manual scans if you’re particularly concerned. They will give you an alert if there’s a problem. Many of the best antivirus software options also give you suggestions on how to better secure your device. You can learn more about this by reading our article about what antivirus software is and how it works.

Why Do You Need an Antivirus?

Computer viruses are a huge industry. Hackers make a lot of money from them, and they are all over the place. If you use a device – any soft of device, whether it’s a high-powered computer or a cheap smartphone – it’s at risk of getting a computer virus. You definitely lock the doors on your house to keep intruders out, and you may even have a security system in place. Antivirus software is like locking the doors and arming the security system for your devices. If you’re not using an antivirus, you’re putting your data and your device at risk. Plus you’re risking the data and devices of everyone around you – remember, viruses spread.

Some people think that they don’t need to worry about it because they don’t have anything worth targeting. But that doesn’t matter, because a lot of criminals don’t care. Your device has computing power, so they can use it for crypto mining or as a way to disguise their real information when attacking other people. And many virus creators use a “spray and pray” method. They put the virus out there, see which devices get infected, and then decide what they want to take from those devices and their owners.

Why You Should Care if Your Device Gets Infected

Some people think that it doesn’t matter if their device gets a virus. They only use their device to browse the internet, and it doesn’t have any personal information. Who cares if it gets infected? Consider a few scenarios:

  • A Trojan virus steals your passwords while you’re browsing. The criminal can now get into your email and your bank accounts. They can drain your funds or steal your identity.
  • Your computer gets infected by ransomware. Better hope you didn’t need to use the internet that badly, because you can’t use it again until you pay.
  • The virus makes your device part of a botnet, using its computing power to send spam or launch cyber attacks. When your internet service provider notices, they cut your device off from the internet.
  • You email a file to a loved one. They open it on a computer that also has sensitive files. The virus hitched a ride from your device to theirs, and now your friend’s sensitive files are compromised.

Viruses also cause computers and phones to have performance issues. It may slow down dramatically, crash a lot, stop letting you open certain apps or programs, or block you from the internet or the device altogether. If you had the flu, you wouldn’t carry on as normal. Besides the fact that it’s hard to keep up with normal activities when you feel terrible, you probably don’t want to get your loved ones or coworkers sick. The same is true with a computer virus. Not only is there a strong risk of it spreading, an infected device doesn’t work as well, which can be frustrating for you. It’s best to have an antivirus software so it doesn’t get infected in the first place.

What is the Best Antivirus Software?

There are a lot of different antivirus software programs out there. Picking the best one can be a challenge. And that’s because the best antivirus software is the one that fits your needs, tech skills, and digital behaviors. Are you a techie, or does the idea of resetting your router make your eyes glaze over? Are you a power user or an occasional browser? What kind of device(s) do you use, and how many of them?

Many antivirus software options claim to be a one-size-fits-all solution. And in reality, having one beats not having one, even if it’s not necessarily the best fit. But each of them has their own areas where they really excel. To get the best protection, it helps to choose one that fits your needs best.

Read on for our top picks in a variety of categories to help you pick the best antivirus software for you.

Best Antivirus Software for Basic Users: McAfee Antivirus

You’re not big on technology. You use a small number of devices, and just to browse the internet or use a few simple programs. Your digital life isn’t complicated, and you don’t want your antivirus to be complicated, either.

McAfee Antivirus

If that sounds like you, then McAfee Antivirus is going to be the best antivirus software for your needs. It’s one of the more well-known antivirus programs available, and it’s easy to install, easy to use, and easy to manage. In fact, once you get it installed, you can set it to run in the background and never think about it again. If you do want to think about it again, the dashboard is easy to navigate. It also includes additional features like color-coding links to say if they’re okay or malicious, and a McAfee Protection Score to measure your current safety and recommend ways to improve. It’s a great choice if you only need straightforward protection on a small number of devices.

Best Antivirus Software from an Experienced Brand: Norton AntiVirus Plus

You want solid, dependable protection. Bells and whistles and fancy features are cool and all, but what you really need is protection you can count on from a company you can count on. To you, the most trustworthy software is one made by a company with a track record of knowing what they’re doing and who will stand behind their product if necessary.

Norton AntiVirus Plus

If you want an antivirus software from a company you know for sure you can trust, then Norton AntiVirus Plus is the best antivirus software for you. It can be a little pricier than some of your other options, but Norton is one of the top names in the virus-fighting business, and they have decades of experience defending people from viruses and malware. In the ever-changing world of cybercrime, a company that’s lasted this long must be doing something right.

Along with strong virus protection, Norton AntiVirus Plus also provides additional features like a firewall, spam filter, and vulnerability scanner. It also offers Norton Power Eraser, a stronger clean if you suspect the initial scan didn’t get rid of all the viruses. If you’re willing to pay a little more for decades of experience from a trusted company, Norton is the best antivirus software for you.

Best Antivirus Software for a Single PC: Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security

You’re the opposite of a power user. You don’t use a smartphone; everything you do online is done from a single PC device. You don’t need a huge variety of options or coverage for a lot of different devices. But that one PC is your whole online world, so you do need to keep it as safe as possible.

Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security

If you do almost everything on a single PC, you don’t need a lot of the fancy options that many antivirus software offer. But you do need strong protection to defend that one device. Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security does that. It’s a strong antivirus software, plus a firewall booster, Pay Guard to protect your financial transactions, multi-layered ransomware protection, spam filters, and a dangerous link filter, along with more. Trend Micro doesn’t offer discounts for multiple devices, so if you need to secure more than one it gets expensive fast. But if you have just one device that you need to keep as secure as possible, it’s the best antivirus software for your needs.

Best Antivirus Software for an Upgrade: Avast Premium Security

You’ve been using free antivirus software on your computer for some time now. And it’s fine. But you can’t help wondering if it’s really the best choice. Wouldn’t an upgraded version provide even better protection? And wouldn’t it be nice to get a single antivirus that covers all your devices, not just your PC?

Avast Premium Security

A free antivirus software is better than no antivirus software. But if you’re not happy with its performance, or you’re wondering if you’re really getting the best protection from a free service, it may be time to upgrade. Avast Premium Security is a great choice for an upgraded antivirus software. Avast has long been known for its great free antivirus program. It runs on the same engine as Norton, which provides powerful protection from viruses. But the free version only works for one Windows PC.

The upgraded Avast Premium Security doesn’t just work across all your devices, it also stops webcam spies, protects you from malicious links, adds extra security to sensitive information, and keeps you from being tracked by advertisers. Plus it cleans and tunes up your device and updates your drivers, all in the background. If you’re looking for an upgrade pick that adds a suite of protection features to an already great product, Avast Premium Security is the best antivirus software for your needs.

Best Antivirus Software for Techies: ESET HOME

You know what you’re doing when it comes to computers. Your family probably uses you as tech support. Tech terms don’t phase you, and you can do most of the troubleshooting everyday issues require. In fact, you prefer to explore settings and customize your options. You know no software is going to fit your needs right out of the box, but you want the option to customize it until it does.

ESET HOME

ESET HOME is a robust program that combines NOD32 antivirus with tech-forward features and tech-heavy controls. It includes tools like a Host Intrusion Prevention System that detects and blocks attacks that leverage vulnerabilities in your OS or programs. If that sounds like a cool feature and not just a bunch of cyber-gibberish, then ESET HOME may be the best antivirus software option for you.

It comes with a Device Control system where you can take incredibly granular, detailed control of a variety of options. You do have to have some solid technical knowledge to take advantage of its wide array of options. But if you know tech and want to be able to fiddle around and be active with your antivirus, this is a great choice.

Best Antivirus Software for Thorough Protection: Bitdefender Total Security

You’re a power user. You use a lot of different devices, and you use them often. And you know there’s a lot of opportunities for viruses to really mess up your online life. You need strong, thorough, robust protection that’s going to keep you as safe as possible in as many areas as possible.

Bitdefender Total Security

If you want strong, thorough protection from a variety of potential dangers, you want Bitdefender Total Security. It includes solid virus protection, including a separate defense system that specifically guards against ransomware. But it also has a huge suite of other additional security features. It will assess your vulnerabilities, protect you from phishing and fraud, stop unauthorized webcam or microphone use, protect you from malicious websites, block infected links, and even monitor for threats on social media. Its dedicated, extra-secure browser will keep your online banking activity secured, and it also provides an additional privacy firewall, an anti-theft feature, and built-in parental controls. It will even perform security checks on your wifi or router.

And as a bonus, Bitdefender’s Autopilot feature lets all this happen in the background. It gives you recommendations for improvement, but it’s smart enough to know not to bother you when you’re playing a game or watching a movie. All of this makes Bitdefender Total Security a great choice if you’re a power user or just want the most protection from the greatest number of threats.

How to Choose the Best Antivirus Software

The bottom line is that the best antivirus software for you depends on what you need. If you want strong security on a single PC, Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security is a great choice. If you’re not a power user and just want something you can set and forget, McAfee and Norton are both great choices. For the tech-savvy who want to get manual with the settings, ESET NOD32 is the stand-out choice. If you’re looking to upgrade from a free antivirus for the first time, Avast One is a good option. If you’re a power user or just want extraordinarily thorough protection, Bitdefender Total Security is the way to go.

Even though the right choice can vary, there’s a very clear wrong choice: Nothing. Choosing not to have an antivirus puts yourself and anyone you interact with digitally at risk. There are threats everywhere online. No matter how much or how little you do on your devices, you’re at risk. Don’t ignore that risk, especially when the solution is so easy. Choose an antivirus, install it, and make sure it’s running. That’s your first line of defense against computer viruses.

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