Best antivirus 2018: protect your PC with top AV software

From free antivirus software to paid security suites, these trojan smashing tools offer the best protection on the market

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Going online without antivirus software, anti-spyware or anti-malware protection is rather like hanging around the bad side of town with a big sign saying “I am carrying lots of cash and I’m not very good at fighting”: it’s not a question of whether trouble’s coming; it’s how long it’ll be before it turns up. And it remains a particular problem for Windows users, because the sheer number of users makes Windows a tempting target.

Antivirus means more than just viruses

Virus is often used as shorthand for all kinds of malicious software. It might be ransomware, which locks your PC and demands money. It could be a key logger, which records what you do on your keyboard and sends it to a stranger. It may be a spambot, or a clickjacker that sends you to sites you don’t ask for. Whatever the type, it’s safe to say that malicious software is a huge pain in the arse.

The good news is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get really effective anti-virus and anti-malware protection. In fact, you don’t necessarily have to spend any money at all. We’ve identified the ten best anti-virus suites and apps you can download today, and as you’ll see they range from surprisingly good freebies to powerful all-in one security suites.

How effective are antivirus apps?

Best antivirus

To measure performance, we turned to AV Comparatives’ independent tests (such as those delivered by SE Labs). They check antivirus software every month to assess their effectiveness not just in correctly identifying malware, but in avoiding false positives too. The figures here are for February 2018 but you can access historical test data too.

The results are based on 203 live test cases including both malware and drive-by downloads, and they’re an excellent indicator of real-world performance when you’re browsing an often unsafe web. We’ve also included the most recent ratings from SE Labs’ independent tests.

There’s no such thing as an antivirus package that’s 100% effective against 100% of threats 100% of the time, but these apps come very close. Whichever one you choose, your internet will be a much safer place.

Best antivirus software 2018

Best antivirus

Kaspersky Total Security

Excellent all-round protection for PC and Mac

Specifications
Detection: 100%
False positives: 0
SE Labs score: 96%
Devices: 5
Price: $49.99 per year
Reasons to buy
+Password manager included+Security for 5 devices

This one’s available for Mac as well as PC – and yes, Macs can get malware too – and you can try before you buy. Kaspersky’s virus products have won tons of awards over the years, and Kaspersky Total Security performed flawlessly in AV Comparatives’ test. 

The main difference between Total Security and the other Kaspersky packages is the inclusion of a secure password manager and file backup and encryption. If you don’t want the suite you can get the more basic Kaspersky Anti-Virus for half the price while still getting that excellent antivirus engine.

It’s worth keeping an eye on the price of this one. Kaspersky regularly offers discounts, so for example at the time of writing the UK store is offering 40% off.

Best antivirus

Trend Micro Internet Security

An excellent detection engine with some neat extra features

Specifications
Detection: 100%
False positives: 2
SE Labs score: 89%
Devices: 3
Price: $79.99 per year
Reasons to buy
+Social media protection+Excellent detection engine

In addition to its excellent detection engine, Trend Micro Internet Security has some useful tools such as optimising your social media privacy settings, blocking the transmission of specified data such as your phone or credit card number and identifying benign but unnecessary files, although it lacks the password manager of the more affordable Kaspersky suite. You also get some decent parental controls that you can use to limit access at specific times, which is handy if you’re fed up trying to get the kids off Fortnite on a school night. Like Kaspersky, Trend Micro often runs heavy discounting: in this case up to 50%.

Best antivirus

F-Secure Safe

An antivirus package with integrated banking protection

Specifications
Detection: 100%
False positives: 14
SE Labs score: 84%
Devices: 3
Price: $69.99 per year
Reasons to buy
+Banking protection+Personal VPN

Another PC/Mac offering, F-Secure Safe takes F-Secure’s award-winning antivirus and adds parental controls, safer web browsing and what F-Secure calls “Banking Protection”. In practice that means the app reassuring you when you connect to a legitimate banking site with a secure connection. Other tools are left for the more expensive Freedome and Total packages, which offer ad-tracking protection, Wi-Fi security and a personal VPN. The rate of false positives was higher than others, but the antivirus engine didn’t let any genuine threats through.

Best antivirus

Symantec Norton Security

Fast, secure and rocking excellent customer support

Specifications
Detection: 99.5%
False positives: 3
SE Labs score: 96%
Devices: 1
Price: $69.99 per year
Reasons to buy
+100% money-back guarantee+Lots of packages to choose from

Symantec’s PC/Mac suite comes in four versions, from the $49.99 Basic to the ten-device, $109 Premium. Yet again we’re in big discount territory, so don’t pay the RRP/SRP. Features-wise there isn’t a huge difference between Standard and Basic: it’s faster and includes a fairway, but the big draw here is access to customer support and a “100% guarantee”: if Norton can’t keep your device virus-free you can get your money back. It’s a very solid and effective product but many rivals are a lot less expensive.

Best antivirus

Panda Free Antivirus

Free, cloud-based protection

Specifications
Detection: 99.5%
False positives: 0
SE Labs score: Not tested
Devices: 1
Price: Free
Reasons to buy
+USB drive scanner+Good rescue system

Panda takes an interesting approach to its antivirus: most of the work happens on Panda’s own servers, which are capable of number-crunching feats the average PC can only dream of. However, that means you’re at the mercy of your internet connection and internet congestion, and many reviewers have found a significant effect on their PCs’ speeds. 

The upside is that your PC isn’t doing any heavy lifting and you never have to worry about updating the software, because the cloud version is updated all the time. It’s a fairly standard product with a useful automatic USB drive scanner and a particularly good rescue system that creates a bootable USB drive to clean infected computers.

Best antivirus

AVIRA Antivirus Pro

PC and Mac protection in one user-friendly package

Specifications
Detection: 99.5%
False positives: 3
SE Labs score: 92%
Devices: 5
Price: $45 per year
Reasons to buy
+Free version available, too+Top detection results

This one is also available in a free edition, so it’s worth checking that out before deciding whether to pony up for Pro: it offers the same virus engine. If you do go for AVIRA Antivirus Pro your $45 gives you PC and Mac protection in a straightforward and user-friendly package.

Some features seem a little gimmicky to us – for example, the app can automatically block USB drives until you authorise them, but authorisation is just a matter of clicking the OK button, which is hardly going to defeat Dave from accounts let alone a malicious criminal – and the addition of web browsing security and email protection isn’t a huge step up from the freebie.

You can’t quibble with the results, though: the detection rate and false positive rates are both very good.

Best antivirus

AVAST Free Antivirus

An easy to use antivirus suite with Smart Scan functionality

Specifications
Detection: 99.5%
False positives: 1
SE Labs score: 91%
Devices: 1
Price: Free
Reasons to buy
+Passive mode allows other protection+Cloud-based threat analysis

Available for PC and Mac, AVAST Free has some worthwhile improvements over previous versions including a new “passive mode” that means it plays nicely with other installed security software. There’s also what AVAST calls “behavior shield”, which looks for odd behaviour by your existing apps, and cloud-based analysis of any detected threats it doesn’t recognise. We particularly like Smart Scan, which can identify security vulnerabilities such as unsafe settings and poorly chosen passwords.

Best antivirus

AVG Free Antivirus

A free antivirus with real-time updates

Specifications
Detection: 99.5%
False positives: 1
SE Labs score: 89%
Devices: 1
Price: Free
Reasons to buy
+Slick user interface+Top detection engine

The most recent AVG has been redesigned to improve the user interface and boasts real-time updates, malware and performance scanning and protection from drive-by downloads. If you want more tools such as webcam protection and online shopping protection there’s a paid-for product, AVG Internet Security, for $69.99 per year.

Best antivirus

Bitdefender Internet Security

An antivirus with built-in VPN and anti-ransomware tech

Specifications
Detection: 99.5%
False positives: 0
SE Labs score: 83%
Devices: 1
Price: $89.99 per year
Reasons to buy
+Password and battery manager included+Very effective anti-ransomware tech

Available for PC and Mac, Bitdefender offers very effective anti-ransomware protection as well as virtual private networking, social network protection, parental controls, a secure password manager and file shredder and even webcam protection to save you sticking bits of tape over the lens. There’s even a battery manager to help get more life from your laptop when you’re out and about. There’s also a useful Safe Files feature that enables you to nominate specific files and have Bitdefender block access to them from apps or processes you haven’t authorised.

As we’ve come to expect from paid antivirus packages, Bitdefender offers regular discounts of up to 50%.