Best antivirus software 2017: The best free and paid-for options to protect your Mac or Windows device
We use our PCs, Macs and laptops for pretty much everything, so they’re often full of sensitive information, making them a prime target for hackers. Every day millions of people fall victim to hacking, and it’s often due to viruses from websites, email attachments – or even questionable USB sticks. In the context of pan-global ransomware attacks, it’s best practice to keep your systems as secure as possible.
Even though Windows 8 and 10 come with Windows Defender built in, this basic antivirus provision isn’t guaranteed to protect you from the latest dangers. There’s a huge risk from “zero-day” attacks that exploit previously unknown vulnerabilities. That means that the old model of simply scanning your PC for known malware won’t keep you safe anymore.
Luckily, there are plenty of dedicated security solutions out there that can do a much better job than Windows Defender. Some of them are even free, so you can keep yourself protected against attacks without paying a penny.
With dozens of options to choose from, however, it can be hard to know which package to entrust with your data, especially since some can be quite intrusive and slow down your PC. Here are seven of the best, which we’ve selected according to the features they offer, their impact on your system, and, crucially, how effective each one is at detecting both known and zero-day malware, according to independent tests by AV-Test.org.
Best antivirus software 2017
1. Best antivirus software 2017: Kaspersky Internet Security 2017
Excellent protection, with plenty of secondary features
Price when reviewed: £30 (three PCs, one year)
Kaspersky Internet Security 2017 isn’t just a virus scanner. It’s a complete security solution, with a number of features, including a secure web browser to ensure no-one’s spying on your banking and shopping activities. There’s a VPN, too, which allows you to route your traffic through a trusted proxy server, again making it harder for anyone to track your activity online. Parents will also appreciate options to limit kids’ access, so they don’t stray onto unsuitable websites.
All of this would be academic if Kaspersky didn’t do a good job of blocking malware. Happily, it excels. AV-Test.org gave it a perfect 100% score, indicating that it detected and neutralised every threat they threw at it – including never-before-seen zero-day attacks. It also has a light impact on your system: installing it slowed down web-browsing by a very reasonable 7%, and applications took just 5% longer to open.
On other hand, if you’re looking for simplicity, Kaspersky Internet Security 2017, with all its features, might not quite be the ideal choice. If that’s what you want to prioritise, have a look at Bitdefender (see below) instead. For all-round protection, though, there’s nothing to touch Kaspersky.
2. Best antivirus software 2017: Bitdefender Internet Security 2017
Ideal for those who demand security with no interruptions
Price when reviewed: £25 (three PCs, one year)
When it comes to malware protection, Bitdefender Internet Security is as capable as they come. In AV-Test.org’s tests, it matched Kaspersky’s perfect 100% score, against both established malware and zero-day threats.
What makes Bitdefender stand out from the crowd is its Autopilot mode, which delivers completely automatic protection. Threats are identified and neutralised without your having to get involved in any way. It’s ideal for those who don’t like to be bugged with alerts or requesters.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get hands-on with Bitdefender if you wish. For online banking and shopping you can use the hardened Safepay browser, and you can also configure its Ransomware Protection module. This keeps an eye on your documents to ensure nothing’s sneakily trying to encrypt them: a decent clutch of folders is monitored by default, but you’re free to customise this.
All the same, it’s Autopilot that will probably make Bitdefender Internet Security 2017 a persuasive security option: if you’ve ever been annoyed by an antivirus software pop-up, this could be your perfect security suite.
3. Best antivirus software 2017: Avast Free Antivirus
Lightweight protection that doesn’t cost a penny
Price when reviewed: Free
Unlike Bitdefender, Avast Free Antivirus certainly isn’t silent. As is usual with free antivirus software, while you’re using it, it periodically favours you with little pop-up invitations to upgrade to one of Avast’s commercial security packages.
If you can live with this, though, it’s worth it. AV-Test found that Avast Free Antivirus was able to identify and block 99.9% of known malware, and swept up a very strong 99.4% of zero-day threats. That’s significantly ahead of Windows Defender, which stopped just 88.5% of zero-days in the same test; indeed, there are plenty of commercial suites that can’t match Avast’s scores.
Aside from malware protection, there’s not a lot to Avast Free Antivirus. You do however get a secure browser that’s designed to be hard for hackers to exploit. There’s also a password manager. However, many of the interesting-sounding features – such as the firewall and the system optimisation module – aren’t actually present in the free edition. Click on them and you’ll be prompted to pay to unlock those capabilities.
Since Avast Free Antivirus is completely free, it’s hard to complain. With its excellent protection, it’s your best option if you don’t want to pay. To truly get the best from it, though, you’ll need to learn to ignore pop-ups.
4. Best antivirus software 2017: Norton Security
A straightforward security suite with a light impact on performance
Price when reviewed: £18 (one PC, one year)
The Norton security brand has been going for 25 years, so it must be doing something right. And indeed, AV-Test found it provided perfect 100% protection, proving equally effective against notorious “in-the-wild” malware and hitherto unknown zero-day threats.
What’s more, while Norton was once known as a resource hog, the current release is one of the most lightweight security packages around: AV-Test found that applications started up just 6% more slowly with the software installed.
The interface is very clean too: advanced options, such as configuring exactly what gets scanned and when, are tucked away in the Settings window. Switching to the Identity tab brings up Norton’s free password manager and gives you access to Norton Safe Web, which integrates with your browser to block malicious web pages and adds trust rating icons to web search results.
There’s also a set of Performance tools, but these aren’t tremendously useful – most of what you can do here can be achieved equally well using free downloads. But that’s by the by: Norton’s excellent protection credentials, coupled with its light impact on your PC’s performance, are reason enough to make this your security solution of choice.
5. Best antivirus software 2017: Trend Micro Internet Security
A tasteful security suite offering excellent protection
Price when reviewed: £30 (one PC, one year)
The first thing you’ll notice about Trend Micro Internet Security is its compact and elegant front-end. We like it a lot: there’s no need for an interface to be huge and garish, and this display of good taste inspires confidence in Trend Micro’s capabilities.
And, according to AV-Test, that’s not misplaced: in tests, Trend Micro showed its worth with perfect 100% protection scores against malware of all types. If you’re particularly concerned about the threat, you can enable “Hypersensitive” mode, which applies more paranoid scanning defaults to make absolutely certain that nothing nasty is lurking on your PC – although this more aggressive approach may impact performance and battery life.
Trend Micro’s other features include a system scanner that can find and warn you about vulnerable applications and Windows components on your system, as well as auditing unneeded files that might be eating up space on your hard disk. You can also configure it to warn you about dodgy links being shared on social networks, and to disable scripts when you visit websites that are suspected of hosting malicious content.
The downside of Trend Micro is its impact on performance: with the software installed, applications opened 30% more slowly, which is enough of a delay that you might notice it. The price isn’t particularly competitive either: you’ll pay more for a single-PC licence than other vendors charge for three PCs. All the same, an attractive interface, good features and excellent protection certainly ought to earn Trend Micro a place on your shortlist.
6. Best antivirus software 2017: BullGuard Internet Security
A very affordable suite, offering a good degree of protection and some useful features
Price when reviewed: £11 (three PCs, one year)
BullGuard is a very cost-effective internet security suite. You can find it online for as little as £11, so if you’ve got three PCs to protect you’re paying just 7p a week to keep each one protected.
Note that protection levels may not be quite up to the standard you’ll get from the Kasperskys and Nortons of this world. While BullGuard managed to block every known threat in AV-Test’s malware tests, it missed a few zero-day threats, resulting in a 97.6% protection rate. But let’s not fret too much about that: it still represents a very confident performance.
BullGuard also features a bespoke firewall, and a scanner that analyses your system to find any unpatched vulnerabilities. There’s a parental control module too, which lets you limit when kids are allowed to use the PC, and 5GB of online storage which can be used for backup or as a “Cloud Drive” in Windows Explorer. It’s a great idea, although if you want to expand your storage beyond 5GB you’ll find the price ramps up quite steeply.
If you’re on a tight budget, but don’t want to deal with the pop-ups and upsell of a free antivirus package, then BullGuard Internet Security could be right up your street.
7. Best antivirus software 2017: AVG Internet Security
An effective security suite with a decent set of features
Price when reviewed: £15 (one PC, one year)
AVG is best known for its free antivirus product, but its paid-for Internet Security suite has a lot going for it. As well as regular protection from viruses and other attacks, you get AVG’s Data Safe, which lets you encrypt sensitive files; Web Protection, for scanning links and downloads; and Email Protection, which lets you set up local mail scanning and spam protection. There’s also a highly configurable firewall, which promises to automatically block malicious programs based on their signatures or behaviour.
All of this integrates with the AVG Zen dashboard, which lets you manage multiple subscriptions and installations. So, for example, you could install AVG’s free antivirus package on a family PC, and check from your own computer that it’s running and receiving updates.
When it comes to performance, AVG doesn’t quite make it to the top of the table: AV-Test found it protected against a creditable 99.9% of known malware threats, but only 97.6% of attempted zero-day exploits. It’s a good-value option, though: the AVG Protection bundle – which covers unlimited PCs and smartphones – can currently be found online for £18 a year, the same price as a three-PC licence. If you have a large number of devices to protect, it’s a tempting deal.