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 100% of both known malware and zero-day threats.
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 makes it to the top of the table: AV-Test found it protected 100% of both known malware threats and 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.
Bitdefender Internet Security
Price: $94.99 (three PCs, one year; currently on special for $61.74)
When it comes to malware protection, Bitdefender Internet Security is as capable as they come. In AV-Test.org’s tests, it achieved perfect (100%) scores with established malware and zero-day threats.
The latest 2018 version of the suite includes a number of additions, such as “Advanced Threat Defense”, which is designed to identify and block suspicious processes, and “Safe Files”, which protects selected files from unauthorised changes for ransomware protection.
But 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.
BullGuard Internet Security
Price: $89.95 (three PCs, one year)
BullGuard Internet Security is another very effective security suite, managing to block every known and zero-day threat in AV-Test’s malware tests.
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.
Kaspersky Internet Security
Price: $89.95 (three PCs, one year)
Kaspersky Internet Security 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 5%, and applications took just 7% longer to open.
If you’re looking for simplicity, Kaspersky Internet Security, 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.
Price: $84.99 (one PC, one year; currently on special for $69.99)
Symantec's Norton brand has been going for 25 years, so it must be doing something right. And indeed, AV-Test found that Norton Security 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 76% 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
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 price is competitive too: you’ll pay less for a two-PC licence than some other vendors charge for one PC. Add an attractive interface, good features and excellent protection, and Trend Micro deserves a place on your shortlist.
Next: Is it worth paying for a security suite?