PCMag editors select and review products independently. We may earn affiliate commissions from buying links, which help support our testing. Learn more.

The Best Antivirus Protection for 2020

Antivirus software is critical for every PC. Without it, you risk losing your personal information, your files, and even the cash from your bank account. We've tested more than 40 utilities to help you pick the best antivirus protection for your computers.

Our 11 Top Picks

Malware, Spyware, and Adware Protection

Most years, the start of summer would bring thoughts of beaches, mountain retreats, or other vacation getaways. This year, maybe not so much. With recreation options limited, some of us may just stop working from home for a week and play from home instead, and call it a vacation. That doesn’t mean your antivirus can take a vacation, though. Whether you’re using your computer for an international marketing meeting or for a virtual barbecue with the cousins, it’s vulnerable to spyware, adware, Trojans, ransomware, and all manner of malicious software. Before you “leave” for vacation, make sure your antivirus is up to date and working. If you don’t have antivirus protection, get it right away. We’ve reviewed more than 40 antivirus tools to help you pick the one that will suit your needs.

We call it antivirus, but in truth it's unlikely you'll get hit with an actual computer virus. Malware these days is about making money, and there's no easy way to cash in on spreading a virus. Ransomware and data-stealing Trojans are much more common, as are bots that let the bot-herder rent out your computer for nefarious purposes. Modern antivirus utilities handle Trojans, rootkits, spyware, adware, ransomware, and more. PCMag has reviewed more than 40 different commercial antivirus utilities, and that's not even counting the many free antivirus tools. Out of that extensive field we've named four Editors' Choice products and honored several more with a four-star rating. If you have malware, one of the products listed above should take care of the problem.

Some nonstandard commercial antivirus utilities proved effective enough to earn an excellent four-star rating alongside their more traditional counterparts. VoodooSoft VoodooShield bases its protection on suppressing all unknown programs while the computer is in a vulnerable state, such as when it's connected to the internet, and also acts to detect known malware. The Kure resets the computer to a known safe state on every reboot, thereby eliminating any malware. These are interesting approaches, but not directly comparable with traditional antivirus tools.

The Best Antivirus Deals This Week*

*Deals are selected by our partner, TechBargains

You may notice that two listed products earned just 3.5 stars. Of the five current products rating 3.5-stars, only F-Secure and G Data appear in reports from the independent testing labs. That distinction earned them a place in the list.

These commercial products offer protection beyond the antivirus built into Windows 10; the best free antivirus utilities also offer more than Windows does. However, Microsoft Windows Defender Security Center is looking better and better lately, with some very good scores from independent testing labs. The combination of good lab scores and a great score in our hands-on malware protection test was enough to bring it up to 3.5 stars. It doesn't appear in this roundup of commercial antivirus products, naturally.

Listen to the Antivirus Testing Labs

We take the results reported by independent antivirus testing labs very seriously. The simple fact that a company's product shows up in the results is a vote of confidence, of sorts. It means the lab considered the product significant, and the company felt the cost of testing was worthwhile. Of course, high scores in the tests are also important.

We follow four labs that regularly release detailed reports: SE Labs, AV-Test Institute, MRG-Effitas, and AV-Comparatives. We also note whether vendors have contracted with ICSA Labs and West Coast labs for certification. We've devised a system for aggregating their results to yield a rating from 0 to 10.

We Test Malware, Spyware, and Adware Defenses

We also subject every product to our own hands-on test of malware protection, in part to get a feeling for how the product works. Depending on how thoroughly the product prevents malware installation, it can earn up to 10 points for malware protection.

Our malware protection test necessarily uses the same set of samples for months. To check a product's handling of brand-new malware, we test each product using 100 extremely new malware-hosting URLs supplied by MRG-Effitas, noting what percentage of them it blocked. Products get equal credit for preventing all access to the malicious URL and for wiping out the malware during download.

Some products earn stellar ratings from the independent labs, yet don't fare as well in our hands-on tests. In such cases, we defer to the labs, as they bring significantly greater resources to their testing. Want to know more? You can dig in for a detailed description of how we test security software.

Multilayered Malware Protection

Antivirus products distinguish themselves by going beyond the basics of on-demand scanning and real-time malware protection. Some rate URLs that you visit or that show up in search results, using a red-yellow-green color-coding system. Some actively block processes on your system from connecting with known malware-hosting URLs or with fraudulent (phishing) pages.

Software has flaws, and sometimes those flaws affect your security. Prudent users keep Windows and all programs patched, fixing those flaws as soon as possible. The vulnerability scan offered by some antivirus products can verify that all necessary patches are present, and even apply any that are missing.

Spyware comes in many forms, from hidden programs that log your every keystroke to Trojans that masquerade as valid programs while mining your personal data. Any antivirus should handle spyware, along with all other types of malware, but some include specialized components devoted to spyware protection.

You expect an antivirus to identify and eliminate bad programs, and to leave good programs alone. What about unknowns, programs it can't identify as good or bad? Behavior-based detection can, in theory, protect you against malware that's so new researchers have never encountered it. However, this isn't always an unmixed blessing. It's not uncommon for behavioral detection systems to flag many innocuous behaviors performed by legitimate programs.

Whitelisting is another approach to the problem of unknown programs. A whitelist-based security system only allows known good programs to run. Unknowns are banned. This mode doesn't suit all situations, but it can be useful. Sandboxing lets unknown programs run, but it isolates them from full access to your system, so they can't do permanent harm. These various added layers serve to enhance your protection against malware.

Firewalls, Ransomware Protection, and More

Firewalls and spam filtering aren't common antivirus features, but some of our top products include them as bonus features. In fact, some of these antivirus products are more feature-packed than certain products sold as security suites.

Among the other bonus features you'll find are secure browsers for financial transactions, secure deletion of sensitive files, wiping traces of computer and browsing history, credit monitoring, virtual keyboard to foil keyloggers, cross-platform protection, and more. You'll even find products that enhance their automatic malware protection with the expertise of human security technicians. And of course, we've already mentioned sandboxing, vulnerability scanning, and application whitelisting.

We're seeing more and more antivirus products adding modules specifically designed for ransomware protection. Some work by preventing unauthorized changes to protected files. Others keep watch for suspicious behaviors that suggest malware. Some even aim to reverse the damage. Given the growth of this scourge, any added protection is beneficial.

Beyond Antivirus: VPN

Your antivirus utility works in the background to keep out any faint possibility of infestation by malware, but its abilities don't extend beyond the bounds of your computer. When you connect to the wild and wooly internet, you risk the possibility that your data could be compromised in transit. Sticking to HTTPS websites when possible can help, but for full protection of your data in transit you should install a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. This component is important enough that we're starting to see it as a bonus feature in some antivirus tools.

What's the Best Malware Protection?

Which antivirus should you choose? You have a wealth of options. Kaspersky Anti-Virus and Bitdefender Antivirus Plus routinely take perfect or near-perfect scores from the independent antivirus testing labs. A single subscription for McAfee AntiVirus Plus lets you install protection on all your Windows, Android, Mac OS, and iOS devices. And its unusual behavior-based detection technology means Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus is the tiniest antivirus around. We've named these four Editors' Choice for commercial antivirus, but they're not the only products worth consideration. Read the reviews of our top-rated products, and then make your own decision.

Editors' Note: We are aware of the allegations of Kaspersky Labs' inappropriate ties to the Russian government. Until we see some actual proof of these allegations, we will treat them as unproven, and continue to recommend Kaspersky's security products as long as their performance continues to merit our endorsement.

Where To Buy

Compare Specs: Our Antivirus Picks

Our Pick
Rating
On-Demand Malware Scan
On-Access Malware Scan
Website Rating
Malicious URL Blocking
Phishing Protection
Behavior-Based Detection
Vulnerability Scan
Firewall
McAfee AntiVirus Plus
Editors' Choice
4.0 Review
Norton AntiVirus Plus
4.0 Review
Kaspersky Anti-Virus
Editors' Choice
4.5 Review
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus
Editors' Choice
4.5 Review
Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus
Editors' Choice
4.5 Review
Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security
4.0 Review
ESET NOD32 Antivirus
4.0 Review
Malwarebytes Premium
4.0 Review
Sophos Home Premium
4.0 Review
F-Secure Anti-Virus
3.5 Review
G Data Antivirus
$29.95 at G DATA Software
3.5 Review

Antivirus Best Picks

Antivirus Reviews

Further Reading

About Neil J. Rubenking

Neil J. Rubenking
Neil Rubenking served as vice president and president of the San Francisco PC User Group for three years when the IBM PC was brand new. He was present at the formation of the Association of Shareware Professionals, and served on its board of directors. In 1986, PC Magazine brought Neil on board to handle the torrent of Turbo Pascal tips submitted by readers. By 1990, he had become PC Magazine's technical editor, and a coast-to-coast telecommuter. His "User to User" column supplied readers with tips and solutions on using DOS and Windows, his technical columns clarified fine points in programming and operating systems, and his utility articles (over forty of them) provided both useful programs and examples of programming in Pascal, Visual Basic, and Delphi. Mr. Rubenking has also written seven books on DOS, Windows, and Pascal/Delphi programming, including PC Magazine DOS Batch File Lab Notes and the popular Delphi Programming for Dummies. In his current position as a PC Magazine Lead Analyst he evaluates and reports on security solutions such as firewalls, anti-virus, anti-spyware, ransomware protection, and full security suites. Mr. Rubenking is an Advisory Board member for the Anti-Malware Testing Standards Organization, an international non-profit group dedicated to coordinating and improving testing of anti-malware solutions.

Read the latest from Neil J. Rubenking

*Deals are selected by our partner, TechBargains