Antivirus

Best Virus Protection - Assessing 16 Antivirus Programs

Martin Gschwentner
Author
Last update

More and more areas of our lives are digital. Whether for banking, shopping, business meetings, job hunting, or catching up with friends, the Internet is inseparable from our professional and private lives. For all of the convenience that it brings, there are also a number of dangers accompanying this wonderful and inescapable technology: New malware, with the potential to lay waste to your files, are born every day, while cyber criminals become more and more creative with each passing moment. Accordingly, solid protection against viruses is more necessary now than ever before.

The terms "virus protection" or "antivirus" haven't really kept up with the times, since contemporary programs that provide these don't only hunt viruses, but also all sorts of malware, including Trojans, ransomware, and spyware. Any antivirus software worth its salt should be able to either remove these from your system or prevent them from infecting it in the first place. But which is the best for your needs?

Comparing Antivirus Software

We examined 16 of the most popular antivirus programs from top to bottom in order to determine how much of their marketing is backed up by their performances. Each piece of software was scored on the basis of its user-friendliness, the number and quality of its features, its security and performance, and finally, its customer support. Using all four of these scores, we created a single grade for each. Our favorites, the Top 5, are presented below:

1.

Place: Bitdefender

Best Overall 2022
Bitdefender Antivirus Test
Bitdefender Antivirus
(356,969)
flawless user interface
excellent protection results
configurable quick actions
good support with 24/7 live chat
Our test winner Bitdefender not only offers high security, confirmed by independent test laboratories, but also convinces with its flawless usability and a comprehensive feature package.
Plan
Antivirus Plus
Devices
up to 3
Protection Features
3
Premium Features
2
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus
$29.99
yearly price
Visit Website »
Best Overall
4.8 / 5
excellent

Bitdefender secured first place in our assessment owing to its near mastery of each of the four categories we scored.

Its sleek interface was one of the few from our sample that is customizable, allowing users to put the features they see as most important (quick actions) on the dashboard or remove those that aren't. The software comes with a long list of tools, which alongside classic virus protection and a firewall, also include parental controls, a VPN, and a password manager.

The independent testing labs we consulted also regularly award Bitdefender with their highest scores, indicating that the program's security is not only of high quality but also verified by third parties.

Bitdefender took first place in EXPERTE.com's comprehensive assessment partly owing to its wealth of features.

We didn't find much about Bitdefender to criticize. Its different subscriptions are a bit confusing, and the integrated password manager and VPN, while nice, can't really compete with dedicated stand-alone programs. Overall, however, this is just nitpicking: In our eyes, Bitdefender is the standard to beat when it comes to antivirus software.

Review Score
4.8 / 5
09/2021
excellent
Visit Website
Installation & Usage
5.0 / 5
Support
5.0 / 5
Features
4.7 / 5
Security & Performance
4.7 / 5
2.

Place: Kaspersky

Kaspersky Antivirus Test
Kaspersky Antivirus
(3,861,472)
quick setup
intuitive use interface
a lot of features
special features like VPN
Kaspersky Internet Security is a user-friendly anti-virus protection with perhaps the best feature package on the market.
Plan
Antivirus
Devices
up to 5
Protection Features
2
Premium Features
0
Kaspersky Antivirus
from $29.99
yearly price
Visit Website »
Free Trial Version
Review Score
4.5 / 5
excellent

If features were the only criteria we considered when assessing antivirus software, Kaspersky might well have taken first place, since the program offers an overabundance of these. Even in terms of scan options, Kaspersky lets its users configure pretty much everything to their exact preferences.

Beyond that, users of the Russian software can look forward to all of the typical security tools, ransomware, web, email, webcam, and file protection, a firewall, an adblocker, instant-messaging client watchdogs, a file shredder, and an integrated secure browser. Rounding things out are parental controls (including GPS tracking), backups, a native password manager, and even a VPN (based on Hotspot Shield).

Kaspersky offers what might very well be the best package of features out there.

Kaspersky also impressed the testing labs, however, its security score was lower than that awarded to Bitdefender. All the same, Kaspersky combines solid protection with excellent performance, a high degree of user-friendliness, and tons of features in what is definitely one of the best antivirus packages available.

3.

Place: Avast

Avast Antivirus Test
Avast Antivirus
(6,966,251)
many features
easy to use
functional free version
excellent support area
Avast überzeugt mit einer Gratis-Version, die bereits die wichtigsten Funktionen abdeckt. Lediglich bei der Performance gibt es leichte Abzüge.
Plan
Free
Devices
unlimited
Protection Features
3
Premium Features
1
Avast Free
$0.00
Visit Website »
Download for Free
Review Score
4.3 / 5
good

Avast also succeeds in loading its apps with plenty of features without sacrificing user-friendliness. Even when using the basics, such as scans or real-time protection, you'll be treated to a variety of different settings and options. In terms of features, you can look forward to a customizable firewall, the Wi-Fi Inspector, and a data shredder, the last of which you can use to permanently delete files from your computer.

One of the neatest tools which the program offers is Sandbox, with which you can unpack and execute suspicious files or programs in a secure environment. On top of that, there's also a VPN, a password manager, and a secure browser with an integrated adblocker.

Avast offers its users detailed settings and configuration options.

Unfortunately, during testing, a full system scan definitely hampered our computer's performance. With that said, the testing labs did award the software top scores in both performance and security. Overall, Avast is one of the best antivirus programs out there, thanks in no small part to its very generous free version.

Review Score
4.3 / 5
09/2021
good
Visit Website
Installation & Usage
4.7 / 5
Features
4.7 / 5
Support
4.0 / 5
Security & Performance
4.0 / 5
4.

Place: Norton

Norton Antivirus Test
Norton Antivirus
(1,749,972)
elegant-intuitive application
good protection performance
great support
incl. password manager and VPN
missing standard features on macOS
Plan
Antivirus Plus
Devices
1
Protection Features
3
Premium Features
3
Norton Antivirus Plus
$19.99
yearly price
Visit Website »
Review Score
4.2 / 5
good

Norton just missed out on our Top 3, owing to its somewhat more limited palette of features. For example, all users, regardless of subscription type, need to pay extra for a file shredder, and the software lacks a browser with integrated protection for net banking or transactions. Anti-theft measures for mobile devices aren't included either, which is a bit odd considering how popular (and common) they are amongst the other programs from our sample. For Mac users, the situation is even worse, with other features like parental controls and webcam protection inexplicably unavailable.

Still with us? Good. Despite all of the negativity, there are plenty of reasons why Norton made it onto our list. Alongside basics like a firewall and webcam protection, users of the Norton Suite will be treated to a full-fledged VPN, password manager, cloud backup, and performance-boosting tools.

The testing labs awarded Norton "good" scores, even though the software dropped points in AV-Comparatives's most recent Real-World Protection Test owing to too many false positives and a comparatively poor protection rate.

Norton left a good impression with its solid package of features and nearly unbeatable customer support.

We also took a liking to Norton's approach to customer support. In addition to the ability to contact support by telephone, you can write them around the clock in a live chat.

Basically, if you can do without anti-theft measures, Norton is an excellent choice. All the same, we hope that the recent security mishap with AV-Comparatives is a one-off.

Review Score
4.2 / 5
09/2021
good
Visit Website
Support
5.0 / 5
Installation & Usage
4.3 / 5
Security & Performance
4.0 / 5
Features
3.7 / 5
5.

Place: Trend Micro

Trend Micro Antivirus Test
Trend Micro Antivirus
(120,645)
intuitive Benutzeroberfläche
gute Schutzleistung
gute Performance
viele Features
keine Firewall oder Webcam-Schutz
Plan
Antivirus+
Devices
1
Protection Features
5
Premium Features
1
Trend Micro Antivirus+
$29.95
yearly price
Visit Website »
Review Score
4.2 / 5
good

Trend Micro is nowhere near as much of a household name as Norton or Kaspersky, however, the Japan-based cybersecurity company has been offering reliable antivirus software to individuals and businesses alike since 1988.

The antivirus software doesn't come with as many features as the rest of our Top 5, however, what it offers is of considerable quality. PayGuard allows you to secure your net banking and online transactions with an additional layer of security by opening specific websites in a special browser. Social Media Protection ensures that you utilize social networks safely. Parental controls and performance-tuning are also included.

Unfortunately, you will have to make do without webcam protection, a firewall, and a VPN.

With Trend Micro's parental controls you can make sure that your children aren't exposed to the dark side of the Web.

Trend Micro fared well with the testing labs, even if AV-Comparatives reported slightly too many false positives. Don't let this put you off, however, as the software evidenced an excellent protection rate. Should you be able to make do without a few features, Trend Micro is definitely worth a closer look.

Review Score
4.2 / 5
09/2021
good
Visit Website
Installation & Usage
4.7 / 5
Security & Performance
4.3 / 5
Support
4.0 / 5
Features
3.7 / 5

Alternatives

Our winners' podium only had space for five programs, however, this doesn't mean that the other 11 we examined were rubbish.

For example, G DATA can compete with Kaspersky in terms of features, to say nothing of its high degree of customizability. Unfortunately, its applications are too overloaded and less intuitive than we like to see, making them difficult for beginners to get the most out of.

A number of the providers we examined focus on user-friendliness, amongst them ESETAVG, and Malwarebytes. At the same time, each of these suffered from shortcomings in other areas; ESET and Malwarebytes performed poorly with the testing labs, while AVG's support was lousy.

In general, the lower a provider ranked in our assessment, the more criticism we had of it. The 'kiss of death' for a few otherwise decent pieces of software was poor security scores from the independent testing labs, for the simple reason that this is their primary purpose.

You can find all alternatives to our Top 5 in the list below:

G Data Antivirus Test
G Data Antivirus
(11,096)
many configuration options
great support
interface somewhat outdated
desktop app complex to use
Plan
Antivirus
Devices
up to 10
Protection Features
4
Premium Features
0
G Data Antivirus
from $33.85
yearly price
Visit Website »
Review Score
4.2 / 5
good
F-Secure Antivirus Test
F-Secure Antivirus
(15,243)
easy to use
reliable protection
good performance
VPN and password manager
some missing features
Plan
SAFE (3 devices)
Devices
up to 3
Protection Features
4
Premium Features
1
F-Secure SAFE (3 devices)
$34.99
yearly price
Visit Website »
Review Score
4.1 / 5
good
Panda Antivirus Test
Panda Antivirus
(43,006)
good test lab results
free basic protection
many features
half-baked interface
Plan
Free
Devices
unlimited
Protection Features
1
Premium Features
0
Panda Security Free
$0.00
Visit Website »
Review Score
4.0 / 5
good
McAfee Antivirus Test
McAfee Antivirus
(989,263)
good lab results
many features
great extras like a firewall
fast chat support
somewhat clunky interface
Plan
Antivirus Plus
Devices
up to 10
Protection Features
3
Premium Features
1
McAfee Antivirus Plus
$24.99
yearly price
Visit Website »
Review Score
3.9 / 5
good
Avira Antivirus Test
Avira Antivirus
(670,098)
free version with basic protection
freely configurable scans
easy to use
weak performance in test lab
no ransomware protection for free users
Plan
Free
Devices
unlimited
Protection Features
3
Premium Features
0
Avira Free
$0.00
Visit Website »
Download for Free
Review Score
3.8 / 5
good
ESET Antivirus Test
ESET Antivirus
(964,374)
simple and intuitive interface
many features
many configuration settings
offers UEFI scanners
mixed results in the lab
Plan
NOD32
Devices
up to 10
Protection Features
2
Premium Features
0
ESET NOD32
from $39.99
yearly price
Visit Website »
30 Days Free Trial
Review Score
3.8 / 5
good
AVG Antivirus Test
AVG Antivirus
(7,499,064)
very easy to use
free version with basic protection
very secure
weak support
slight performance impact during scan
Plan
Free
Devices
unlimited
Protection Features
4
Premium Features
0
AVG Free
$0.00
Visit Website »
Download for Free
Review Score
3.8 / 5
good
show all

Antivirus Comparison Calculator

With our comparison calculator, you can find the best provider based on your individual needs. Simply select which security features are the most important to you, which premium features (if any) you'd like to have, and the number of devices that the program should be installed on, and we'll do the rest!

Special Protection Features
Premium Features
Number of Devices

How We Tested

To test all 16 of the providers from our sample, we installed their clients on our systems (Windows and Android), assigning scores in four categories. Below, we'll let you know in brief what we paid attention to.

Installation & Usage

Making a good first impression is important: How easy is it to install a particular antivirus program? How quick is the process? Is the software intuitive to use? We took a look at each software's user interface and let you know what we liked about it and where there's room for improvement. Bitdefender's is a good example of an interface that rubbed us the right way thanks to its ease of use and customizable quick actions on the home screen.

In a nice touch, Bitdefender allows users to customize which quick actions are pinned to the home screen.

Features

A number of features are standard to every antivirus program, however, how extensive they are can vary considerably from provider to provider. In addition to scans and real-time protection, we also assessed whether parental controls, a password manager, or system tuning are offered. As with most things, it's better to have a nice variety of qualitative features than an overabundance of half-finished or poorly conceived ones.

Security & Performance

In this area, we relied on the expert opinions of two independent testing labs that we trust, AV-Test and AV-Comparatives. Both regularly assess the most well-known antivirus programs in order to gauge the level of security they provide as well as what impact (if any) scans have on your system's performance. Particularly in the second area, we also compared the testing labs' findings with our own experiences when using the software.

Support

In terms of support we have two requirements: A well-organized help center and a direct means for getting in touch with the provider's support staff. The help center should offer FAQs, articles, and guides, with video tutorials a particularly nice touch. For live support, there should be an email address that can be written to or the ability to file a support ticket. Beyond that, a live chat and hotline support are great to see. We contacted each provider and let you know how quickly and competently they answered.

To learn more about our testing process and criteria, be sure to consult our comprehensive article on the subject.

Conclusion

Virus protection is only one component of any digital defense. Each of the 16 programs in our comparison offers more than adequate Internet protection. Most of the programs we tested received "good" scores, even if their packages of features or user-friendliness varied considerably.

Deciding which is right for you depends on a number of factors, some of which are subjective (such as how their interface is designed), whereas others are objective (like their provision of security). Of course, the only factor that we didn't score, price, also plays an often decisive role.

In the antivirus section of our site, you'll find exhaustive reviews of 16 of the most popular programs available on the market, which we hope will help make your choice easier.

FAQs

Is it necessary to have an antivirus program?
Using the Internet without protection against viruses is risky, since each file you download and every click on a link or banner could (unknowingly) expose you to any number of digital dangers, some of which can wreak havoc on your system without your knowledge. For that reason, we consider virus protection to be absolutely essential.

What is the best virus protection?
Bitdefender was EXPERTE.com's overall winner, owing to its exemplary security scores from the independent testing labs we consulted, its ease of use, high degree of customizability, and breadth of features. Which antivirus program is best for you depends largely on your needs and budget.

What is the best free virus protection?
Avast Antivirus was our favorite free antivirus program since it offers real-time and ransomware protection while also scoring highly in terms of security and performance. With its free mobile app, users can GPS locate their mobile devices or remotely lock them in the event that they've been stolen.

Author (German Version): Martin Gschwentner
Martin Gschwentner majored in American Studies and Media Studies in Germany, the USA and France and works as a freelance editor in Paris. He is a doctoral student at the Institute for English and American Studies at the University of Paris Diderot, where he is researching the influence of money on US politics. On EXPERTE.com he writes about IT security, data protection and software for the self-employed and small businesses.
Translator & Editor: D Bare
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