In 2017, we use our PCs and laptops for pretty much everything, whether it’s they’re often full of sensitive information, and that makes them a prime target for hackers. Everyday, millions of people fall victim to hacking, and it’s often due to virus from websites, email attachments – or even questionable USB sticks.
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. Several of them are even free, and we have reviewed some of these very capable free antivirus tools previously.
With these free tools available, is it worth paying for a security solution? We’ve examined this in more depth later in this feature. One thing is for sure, however: paid security solutions offer more features than their free counterparts, with additions such as ransomware protection, a virtual private network (VPN) or a password manager.
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.
Note that these suites are designed for homes and very small offices – we’ll look at endpoint protection for larger businesses in the near future. And while we’ve included the regular pricing of each suite below, it’s well worth shopping around because there often big discounts online.
Kaspersky Internet Security 2017
Price: $89.95 (three PCs, one year)
Kaspersky Internet Security 2017 isn’t just a virus scanner. It’s a complete security solution, with 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. Employers and parents will also appreciate options to limit 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 – but, 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.
If you’re looking for simplicity, Kaspersky Internet Security 2017, with all its features, might not be the perfect choice. If that’s what you’re into, have a look at Bitdefender (below) instead. For all-round protection, though, it’s hard to beat Kaspersky.
Bitdefender Internet Security 2017
Price: $94.99 (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 2016 a persuasive security option: if you’ve ever been annoyed by an antivirus software pop-up, this could be your perfect security suite.
Avast Internet Security
Price: $69.99 (one PC, one year)
Avast Free Antivirus is a well-known and very capable free solution, but if you get sick of its pop-up invitations to upgrade to a commercial version, you may be tempted to invest in Avast Internet Security.
Buying this suite will unlock many of the interesting features – such as the firewall and the system optimisation module – which, when you click on them in the free edition, will trigger a prompt to upgrade. Avast Internet Security also includes anti-phishing and anti-spam tools, and a hardened browser for secure transactions.
Most importantly, though, Avast is a very capable antivirus package. AV-Test found that it 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.
Norton Security 2016
Price: $79.99 (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, most of which aren’t tremendously useful, although at least they may save you the trouble of downloading and installing extra utilities.
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.
Trend Micro Internet Security 2017
Price: $49.95 (two PCs, 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.
BullGuard Internet Security
Price: $89.95 (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 also 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.
Still, if you’re looking for a step up from a free antivirus package, then BullGuard Internet Security is worth considering.
AVG Internet Security – Unlimited
Price: $92.99 (unlimited devices)
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, the Unlimited package covers unlimited PCs and smartphones. If you have a large number of devices to protect, it’s a tempting deal.
Next: Is it worth paying for a security suite?