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The best anti-virus

Keep your PC healthy.

There are a few different options we could have picked for this category and the biggest reason we’ve chosen Bitdefender twice in a row is because when it comes to AV protection, we prefer the strong and silent type. That’s Bitdefender in nutshell. Once installed, Bitdefender goes into Autopilot mode by default and makes all security related decisions for you. It won’t bother you with popups and alerts, nor does it even ask you to go through and configure its behavior. There’s no handholding here—Bitdefender is confident in its abilities to protect your system without making a fuss.

We’re confident in Bitdefender’s abilities too, both because of own experience throughout the years, and because it continues to do well in independent lab tests. In AV-Test.org’s latest evaluation, Bitdefender detected every single threat, including 164 zero-day malware samples and over 22,000 widespread and prevalent malware discovered in the past four weeks. It did pick up a few false positives (3 out of more than 1.2 million samples used), but not enough to ding Bitdefender’s Usability score. And it’s racked up several dozen VB100 awards Virus Bulletin over the past several years (August 2010 was the last time a Bitdefender product failed to earn a VB100 award). In other words, Bitdefender rarely trips up.

If you want to take a proactive approach to security, Bitdefender can scan for vulnerabilities such as out of date software. It also checks for missing Windows updates and analyzes the strength of your Windows passwords. When it finds a third-party program that’s out of date, it gives a detailed report on the number of vulnerabilities and specific security threats it poses, and also provides a link to grab the newest version. Not many programs go the extra mile like that.

Bitdefender Internet Security isn’t overflowing with features, but the ones it includes trend more towards helpful than fluff. Also, there are some new goodies in the 2017 edition. One of them is a Wi-Fi security advisor that analyzes wireless networks for vulnerabilities, and the other is the inclusion of Bitdefender’s anti-ransomware protection, a feature that was previously reserved for its Total Security suite. The latter is now available in every Bitdefender AV product and what it does is prevent programs from making changes to designated folders (by default it protects the Documents and Pictures folder).

As with last year’s version, Bitdefender Internet Security 2017 includes a Safepay option for conducting online transactions. Clicking on Safepay opens up a special browser based on Chromium in a sandbox environment. It adds a layer of security against outside threats, and if you want to be extra cautious, you can call up Bitdefender’s virtual keyboard to protect yourself from keyloggers.

As with most AV programs, Bitdefender has different pricing options based on the number of PCs and year of coverage your purchase. On its website, Bitdefender shows an MSRP of $80 for 1 year of protection on up to 3 PCs, though it’s often marked down 35 percent to $35.

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Best full featured security package

  • Autopilot mode protects without nagging
  • Tough protection against all malware
  • Anti-ransomware added to 2017 edition
  • This level of protection isn't cheap

 

There are a few different options we could have picked for this category and the biggest reason we chose Bitdefender is because when it comes to AV protection, we prefer the strong and silent type. That’s Bitdefender in nutshell. Once installed, Bitdefender goes into Autopilot mode by default and makes all security related decisions for you. It won’t bother you with popups and alerts, nor does it even ask you to go through and configure its behavior. There’s no handholding here—Bitdefender is confident in its abilities to protect your system without making a fuss.

We’re confident in Bitdefender too, both because of own experience throughout the years, and because it continues to do well in independent lab tests. In AV-Test.org’s latest evaluation, Bitdefender detected every single threat, including 213 zero-day malware samples and over 20,000 widespread and prevalent malware discovered in the past four weeks. It did pick up a few false positives, but not enough to ding Bitdefender’s Usability score. And it’s passed 32 straight VB100 comparative tests by Virus Bulletin dating back to October 2010. In other words, Bitdefender rarely trips up.

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Best lightweight antivirus

  • Barely uses any storage or RAM
  • Doesn't interrupt gameplay
  • Suprisingly well fleshed out
  • System optimizer doesn't do much

When Webroot approached us several years ago about a nimble security product that existed almost entirely in the cloud, we couldn’t help but roll our eyes. The level of hype that followed felt like a marketing schtick—here was this new AV program that was supposed to install in under 10 seconds and barely help itself to RAM or storage, yet provide adequate protection on the level of much bigger security suites. Yeah, right!, we thought. But here’s the thing, Webroot was right.

SecureAnywhere was and still is a remarkable outlier in AV. It takes up just a few megabytes of disk space and uses about 5MB of RAM when idle. During an active scan, Task Manager shows SecureAnywhere using around 50MB of RAM and less than 15 percent CPU utilization, yet takes just a couple of minutes to scan 150GB of data spread across two SSDs. It doesn’t get more lightweight than this, not unless you take your chance without any AV software.

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Best free antivirus: Avira Free Antivirus for Windows

  • It's free!
  • Customizable firewall
  • Reliable protection
  • Nags with ads

Arguing over the best free antivirus is a lot like debating beers. Some prefer a fuller bodied ale with hints of fruits and spices, while others go for a less bitter lager to quench their thirst. And so it goes in our free antivirus category in which we narrowed the choices down to Avira and BitDefender. We ultimately gave the nod to Avira, but it was close.

We chose Avira because of the level of customization available. Whether you want to duck your head into the software’s menus and start fiddling with knobs and dials is up to you, but if you do decide to tweak Avira’s behavior, you’ll find a modest toolchest of options. One setting we highly recommend enabling is to search for rootkits before scanning. It will increase scan times, but rootkits are particularly nasty in how they dig their hooks deep in the OS, so it’s better to err on the side of safety.

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Conclusion

Finding the right level of AV protection is largely a personal thing. Yes, there are solutions that are better than others, but once you separate the good from the bad, it comes down to features, price, and whatever other criteria is important to you. That’s our way of saying if you don’t agree with our choices, don’t sweat it; we’re not saying your AV software stinks.

There’s also the question of whether you even need to run third-party security software. Windows Defender is free and it’s built into Windows 10. The advantage of running a security suite is that it bundles a more comprehensive solution into a tidy package. And of course the disadvantage is that they cost money. That is, unless you’re willing to piece together your collection of security software and utilities.

Finally, understand that no single AV software keeps you immune from all malware 100 percent of the time. There’s always a chance that something could slip through. No matter what you run, one thing we recommend doing is getting a second opinion from Malwarebytes. It doesn’t conflict with AV software and it can help root out foul files that have slipped past your AV scanner.


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