Best antivirus: 14 home security suites reviewed and rated
31st Jan 2014 | 11:43
Detect and remove threats before they can cause harm
It's a dangerous world, and every PC needs antivirus software to keep threats at bay: it's an absolute essential.
Don't assume that Microsoft's free tools are enough, either. Microsoft Security Essentials is compact and easy to use, but independent testing labs such as AV-Comparatives also report that it offers very poor protection.
This doesn't have to be a problem if you're short of cash. There are plenty of quality free alternatives around, as we highlighted in our best free antivirus software feature.
Of course, the free antivirus tools don't offer quite as much functionality as their more costly cousins. And independent testing also reveals that commercial packages will often (although not always) deliver the best protection. If you're looking for the maximum security then you should at least consider a paid package.
Here we've found 14 of the best home antivirus tools available for you to buy, listed in price order.
1. BullGuard Antivirus
£24.95 (1 PC, 1 year); £39.95 (1 PC, 2 years)
If your inbox is always overflowing with junk, then BullGuard Antivirus 2014's bundled spam filter will probably appeal. And while our tests show it's not as accurate as some of the specialist competition, it's better than we normally see in security suites, and is a welcome and worthwhile extra.
It's a similar story with BullGuard's browsing protection. Accuracy is only average, but the program does highlight dangerous links in several places (Google, Bing, Yahoo, even Facebook) and again it's a feature well worth having.
The core antivirus engine is BullGuard's real highlight, though. It delivered strong all-round results for us, while the independent testing labs consistently give it high marks (BullGuard was one of AV-Comparatives Products of the Year for 2013), also reporting that the program has only a very minimal impact on your system performance.
There are a few small issues here. It's not quite as configurable as some of the competition, for example. And the interface displays large buttons for features which aren't actually included with BullGuard Antivirus (Firewall, Parental Controls, Backup), along with "Upgrade Now" buttons. That kind of ad might be acceptable in freeware, but not in a commercial product.
For the most part, though, BullGuard Antivirus is a solid and reliable product, effective and easy to use.
2. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus
£24.95 (1 PC, 1 year); £54.95 (3 PCs, 2 years)
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is a little trickier to install than some of the competition, as you're forced to remove anything that Bitdefender considers as "incompatible". This might be a good thing − at least you'll avoid most conflicts − but is still worth considering if you're hoping to run it with other security tools.
Once the program finally appears, its sleek black interface gives Bitdefender Antivirus Plus a somewhat forbidding look, but don't be put off − it's all very straightforward. To check your system, for instance, you just click Scan Now, choose your preferred scan type, then wait as the program hunts down and eliminates any malware.
You can be very confident that Bitdefender Antivirus Plus will detect any dangers, too. Independent testing consistently rates Bitdefender products as amongst the best for eliminating known and brand new viruses, and blocking phishing sites, while having only very minimal effect on your system performance.
There are also useful bonus tools to protect your online transactions, manage your passwords, securely delete confidential files and more. But don't worry, this has no real impact on the price: Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is one of the best value packages in this group.
3. F-Secure ANTI-VIRUS
£25 (1 PC, 1 year); £50 (3 PCs, 2 years)
While most security companies make it as easy as possible to test their products, F-Secure ANTI-VIRUS is a little different. You're forced to register in advance, providing your name, country, email address and more, before you're finally given a download link.
Once the trial is installed, though, life gets much easier. An exceptionally straightforward interface gives speedy access to the program's various scanning features, a capable and versatile scheduler helps you configure future scans to run automatically, and there's really nothing else to do at all.
Part of the reason for this simplicity is that F-Secure ANTI-VIRUS is a pure antivirus product, with none of the extras you'll find in other tools: banking, URL-related browsing and social network protection are all reserved for F-Secure Internet Security. (Web-based malware should still get blocked, but this happens by scanning the download, not preventing you from reaching the malicious site in the first place.)
It's the core antivirus engine which really matters, though, and here F-Secure ANTI-VIRUS does very well, with the program's protection consistently rated very highly by independent testing labs. There are some possible problems − an AV-Comparatives "Real World" test found F-Secure raised a high number of false positives − but on balance F-Secure ANTI-VIRUS provides solid, capable protection for a very reasonable price.
4. Avira Antivirus Suite
£25.99 (1 user, 1 year); £38.99 (1 user, 2 years); £51.99 (1 user, 3 years)
Avira's new Antivirus Suite offers great value, as it's licensed by user rather than device. Protecting your PC, laptop, Android phone and tablet costs a mere £51.99 for 3 years − a fraction of what you could spend elsewhere (and you get 5GB of online backup space thrown in, too).
The innovations haven't stretched to Avira's interface, unfortunately, which still looks dated − it's a cluttered mass of options which could put off novice users right away. Browsing protection hasn't been updated either. It still requires you to install a variation on the Ask browser toolbar, and doesn't deliver particularly accurate or reliable results.
Once you've found your way around Avira Antivirus Suite, though, it's easy enough to use. Email scanning and cloud-based technologies mean it performs better than Avira's free tool. The core antivirus technology has scored very well with the independent testing labs, too, with AV-Comparatives giving it the highest Advanced+ rating in their last Real World Protection report. (AV-Test scored it lower for protection, but the package still did well overall.)
The limited browsing protection is an issue, but Avira Antivirus Suite can perform well in some situations, and there's no doubt it's good value for money. If you're a fan of the company then it's worth a try.
5. Emsisoft Anti-Malware 8.1
£26 (1 PC, 1 year); £80 (3 PCs, 2 years)
Emsisoft Anti-Malware 8.1 is a solid antivirus package which provides the three layers of protection you need. Browsing protection blocks access to dangerous links, dual scanning engines detect known threats as you download or run them, and behaviour monitoring watches running programs for suspicious actions, helping to block even the very latest threats.
Independent testing shows largely positive results, with the program gaining particularly high marks at AV-Comparatives (although it doesn't do badly at AV Test and VB100, either). It's relatively lightweight, too, and should have little effect on your PC's performance.
Perhaps the real highlight is Anti-Malware's configurability. Play with the scheduler, for instance, and you can run scans at a certain time (9pm), fixed intervals (every 90 minutes), between other times (every 30 minutes between 7pm and 10pm, say), or maybe every two hours on Saturday and Sunday. You have great control over how modules like the browsing protection work. And if you want a trusted program to do something suspicious − change the HOSTS file, say − then you can create an application rule to make it happen.
Emsisoft Anti-Malware still doesn't have quite the protective power of the leading antivirus tools, and it's also a little expensive if you need to protect several PCs. But if you need an antivirus tool which can be tweaked and customised then it could be a good choice.
6. G Data AntiVirus 2014
£29.95 (1 PC, 1 year); £74.95 (3 PCs, 2 years)
If you're looking for a lightweight security package then G Data AntiVirus 2014 may disappoint, at least initially. The trial download is a chunky 338MB; the interface is cluttered, and relatively complex; downloading the first updates for both engines took a while, and our system performance was notably reduced as all this happened.
Don't let these hassles put you off, though. G Data doesn't always get great results from the independent testing labs (it typically doesn't make the top 5 at AV-Comparatives), but some rate the engine highly (AV-Test, VB100), and it worked well for us.
Performance is reasonable, too, once the setup process is complete. G Data AntiVirus 2014 isn't the most lightweight of packages, but it's unlikely to have any significant effect on your system speed. And even if there are any issues, a convenient "Optimise" setting will tweak the program to improve speeds (Settings > General > Security/performance).
The feature set is a little mixed; there's not the same browsing protection you'll see elsewhere, but you do get a tool to control your startup programs. This isn't anything too sophisticated − it's essentially a less powerful variation of the freeware Startup Delayer − but it's easy to use, and can help improve boot performance.
G Data AntiVirus isn't the leader it used to be, then, but the program delivers a good level of protection, and if you're a fan of the company then it's still worth a look.
7. Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2014
£29.99 (1 PC, 1 year); £69.99 (3 PCs, 2 years)
Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2014 is a likeable product, easy to use, with a clean and simple interface that ensures all of its key functions (Scan, Updates, Reports, Quarantine) are available at a click.
The program is also very configurable. You can set up separate schedules for full and quick scans; you're able to run scans from a different user account; scans may be optionally launched when your system is idle, and the program can back off if you're using other applications, reducing or eliminating any performance problems.
You get plenty of extras. Browsing protection displays an icon next to your search engine results, helping you spot malicious sites before you click. A vulnerability scan highlights risky Windows and browser settings, while further tools clean your recent PC and internet history, detect and repair Windows issues, and create a rescue disk to help remove particularly stubborn infections.
Best of all, Kaspersky Anti-Virus 2014 is just very good at its job. Kaspersky's technology scores highly with all the independent testing labs, the company won AV-Comparatives "Product of the Year" for 2013, and 2014 looks like it could be even better.
8. AVG AntiVirus 2014
£29.99 1 PC 1 year
Launch AVG AntiVirus 2014 and you'll be presented with an appealing, Windows 8-like interface, groups of flat buttons providing speedy access to the program's various features. It looks great and works well.
Assessing the program's effectiveness is more difficult. The independent testing labs can't quite decide (AV-Comparatives results aren't so good, AV Test rates it higher), although they'll typically place it in the top 10 for most tests. Our own view is that it offers marginally above-average protection, but there are better tools around.
What you do get with AVG is a vast array of tweaks and configuration options. There are a huge number of ways to customise your scans, when they can run and how the program behaves, excellent news if you like to tune your antivirus package, for performance, compatibility, or anything else.
There's plenty to like here, then, but the main problem for AVG is that it gives a basic version of its product away for free. And this makes it its own biggest competitor, because even if you like AVG, there's probably not quite enough in this version to justify the extra cost.
9. ESET NOD32 Antivirus 7
£29.99 (1 PC, 1 year); £69.99 (3 PCs, 2 years)
ESET may not make as many headlines as some of the competition, but it's still worth paying close attention to what the company is doing. Their products come packed with features and functionality, even the "bottom of the range" ESET NOD32 Antivirus 7.
A new "Device Control" module, for instance, allows you to define which devices your PC users can access. Don't want your kids to plug in an infected USB drive? Block them in Device Control − maybe CDs and DVDs, too − and you'll be a little safer.
ESET SysInspector is a powerful tool for inspecting your PC's innards and highlighting potential problems. There are modules to watch file system activity, or check running processes for suspect files. You get antiphishing, cloud-based scanning, a HIPS. And the latest edition has a stack of new features: a memory scanner improves detection of malware, an exploit blocker protects vulnerable apps, the mail plugin now finally works with Office 2013 and Windows Live Mail, and enhanced Windows 8 compatibility sees security notifications now displayed on the Start screen.
All this functionality is based around a solid core, too. ESET products rate highly with independent labs; they were one of AV-Comparatives top seven "Products of the Year" for 2013. The program scores particularly highly for usability, being unlikely to raise false positives, block legitimate programs and generally get in your way, and if that's high on your list of priorities then you might want to give NOD32 Antivirus 7 a try.
10. Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus
£29.99 (1 PC, 1 year); £64.99 (3 PCs, 2 years)
Security vendors love to claim their products are "lightweight", but Webroot is one of the few who actually deliver. Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus arrived on our system as a 744KB executable, didn't present us with any complex setup options, and just set itself up in a couple of minutes: we didn't even have to reboot.
Webroot's cloud-based technologies mean there's no need for regular bulky virus definition updates, and scans are extremely quick; our initial health check took around six minutes − perhaps six times faster than a standard antivirus tool − while further scans in the same session were barely more than a minute.
How effective is it? That's more difficult to evaluate, because SecureAnywhere AntiVirus focuses its efforts on blocking malware which is running, or about to run, then reversing its actions. This works well, too, but unfortunately it's not so good at just detecting malware tucked away in a random file somewhere, which means it doesn't get good ratings with the independent testing labs. (They're reportedly working on new tests to provide a more realistic measure of SecureAnywhere's abilities, though, so this might change soon.)
On balance SecureAnywhere AntiVirus does a good job of blocking and removing even brand new malware, and can often undo its changes. Browsing protection is good, too (sites are evaluated in real time, no need for outdated URL databases), and the program is easy to use. If you're looking for a super-lightweight tool then download the trial build, and prepare to be impressed.
11. Avast Pro Antivirus 2014
£29.99 1 PC 1 year, £59.99 3 PCs 2 years
Avast Pro Antivirus 2014 makes an excellent first impression, thanks to a redesigned interface which looks great, is easy to use, and doesn't get in your way. All the program's core functions are easy to find, and accessible with the absolute minimum of clicks.
There are plenty of bonus features here, too. "Rescue Disk" creates a bootable CD or USB to help remove stubborn threats; "Sandbox" runs programs in an isolated environment where they can't harm your PC; "Browser Cleanup" highlights dubious browser toolbars and helps to remove them; "AccessAnywhere" allows you to remotely access a PC across the web; and most useful of all, "Software Updater" highlights missing updates for commonly exploited software (browsers, Adobe Reader, Java and more).
It's not all good news. When we first tested Avast 2014 it conflicted with a few other applications. Internet Explorer crashed whenever we searched Google, for instance, a problem which disappeared when we disabled the Avast browser add-on. Various patches and updates have helped, but a few users are still reporting issues.
The independent testing labs can't agree on Avast, either: AV-Comparatives rate it highly, but AV Test and VB100 say it's just mid-range.
In our view, Avast Pro Antivirus 2014 delivers good protection, though, and its interface and lengthy feature list mean the program is well worth a try.
12. Panda Antivirus Pro 2014
£31.99 (1 PC, 1 year); £71.99 (3 PCs, 2 years)
Panda's latest antivirus offering, Antivirus Pro 2014, catches the eye immediately, its bright Windows 8-inspired interface making it easy to locate and access the program's features.
There are plenty of features here, too. Click Scan, say, and you'll find Quick, Full and Custom scan options, a Cloud Cleaner link and scheduler. A vulnerability scanner checks for missing updates and security patches, and you get options to create a rescue disc and install a rescue boot mode (a startup option which can repair your PC even when Windows doesn't launch).
And just in case this isn't enough, you also get USB drive vaccination, a virtual browser (surf the web in a virtual environment, isolated from your main system), even a firewall. There isn't the same level of browser protection as you'll sometimes see elsewhere − you don't get warning icons on your search engine results, say − but the program is still more like a security suite than a standard antivirus tool.
Our tests found the program gave good results, and with independent labs generally scoring Panda's technology very highly, Panda Antivirus Pro 2014 seems to be a solid and appealing package.
13. Trend Micro Titanium Antivirus Plus
£39.95 (1 PC, 1 year); £69.99 (3 PCs, 2 years)
As you'll guess from its name, Trend Micro Titanium Antivirus Plus is another tool which goes beyond the usual antivirus basics. A spam filter does a good job of protecting your inbox, and the program is excellent at preventing you from reaching dangerous links, by checking them as they appear in your search engine results, social network streams, emails, instant messages and more.
This extra functionality isn't obvious from the interface, though. If anything, it's far simpler than most of the competition. Click the 'Scan' button on the console, say, and you're not taken into a complex dialog with a host of options to consider: it just launches a quick scan. Other scans can be launched with one further click. And even if you delve more into its settings, the program remains relatively straightforward.
Protection is above average, too. Titanium Antivirus Plus blocked everything we threw at it, and Trend Micro products generally score well with independent testing labs.
One potential down side is that, much like Norton AntiVirus, Titanium Antivirus Plus can sometimes raise alerts over programs which are entirely safe (you can ignore these, but they may still become annoying). Price is another issue, particularly the single PC licence, but it's probably worth it: Titanium Antivirus Plus will keep you safe from a wide range of threats.
14. Norton AntiVirus
£39.99 (3 PCs, 1 year); £64.99 (3 PCs, 2 years)
Detecting and removing malware is important, but a good antivirus tool will focus first on preventing any initial infection, and Norton AntiVirus is better than most at making this happen. Risky sites are highlighted in your search engine results, and the program does a great job of blocking access to malicious URLs, as well as highlighting dangerous downloads.
There have been some disagreements over the tool's effectiveness. Some independent testing labs have given it relatively low scores for file detection rates, while Symantec has questioned the validity of these figures, saying these tests don't take all the product's components into account. The dispute means Norton products are no longer submitted for AV-Comparatives Real World test, making them harder to compare with others.
As well as its core technologies, Norton AntiVirus also comes with some very useful extras. Identity Safe is a powerful password manager; a capable intrusion detection system blocks network attacks; performance monitoring highlights resource-hogging programs; there's a bootable recovery disc, extra "deep cleaning" tools, convenient links to other Symantec services, and more.
Norton AntiVirus is a capable product, and has worked well for us. It's a pity that Symantec and the testing labs can't agree on how to assess it, though: we'd like to see it properly compared to the competition.