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Best antivirus software and apps 2020

Lots of Windows users think they don't need to pay to get the best antivirus software. Many Mac and Android users believe they don't need any protection at all. The truth is that while Windows' high profile makes it the biggest target, macOS and Android are also vulnerable to malware, even if their users don't encounter as much of it.

We believe it's worth paying for Windows antivirus software, because even the best free antivirus software leaves out some protection features we consider essential. But you don't have to spend a lot. Many antivirus products are sold online for much less than their list prices. 

Mac and Android users have other options: Some of our favorite Mac AV products cost nothing, and most Android security apps are "freemium" products with paid and unpaid service tiers.

Holiday savings on antivirus software

Many of the top antivirus developers are offering steep discounts for the holiday shopping season, including Bitdefender, Kaspersky, McAfee, Norton, Sophos and Trend Micro. Check out our page dedicated to the best holiday antivirus software deals.

Different types of antivirus software

Latest security alerts and threats

— Numerous local-news TV reports have popped up of Ring and Nest security cameras being hijacked by hackers who say scary things to kids. But all these attacks stem from camera owners reusing passwords or using weak passwords. ADVICE: Don't reuse passwords, and turn on two-factor authentication (2FA). Here's how to turn on 2FA on Ring, and how to turn on 2FA on Nest.

— Flaws with the Belkin WeMo Insight Smart Plug could let attackers hijack the plugs and control power to any attached devices. ADVICE: Update your Belkin WeMo plug's firmware by following Belkin's instructions here.

— The KeyWe smart lock has a serious security flaw that can't be fixed. The vulnerability lies in how the lock communicates with the user's smartphone app using Bluetooth. ADVICE: Stop using the smartphone app to unlock the KeyWe smart lock, and use a physical key instead.

How we tested the best antivirus software

Our evaluations were based on an antivirus product's interface, performance, protection and extra features. Was the interface intuitive and user-friendly? How badly did malware scans slow performance? How well did the program detect and remove malware? Does the program have any additional tools, and are they useful?

Most of our Windows tests were performed on the same Asus X555LA laptop running 64-bit Windows 8.1 (later upgraded to Windows 10), with an Intel Core i3-5005U processor, 6GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive containing 36GB of files. 

Some of our newer Windows performance tests were done on a Lenovo ThinkPad T470 with a 2.5GHz Core i5-7200U processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state storage containing 43.3GB of files.

Our Mac evaluations were conducted on a 2017 MacBook Air running macOS 10.14 Mojave with a 1.8-GHz Intel Core i5 CPU and approximately 54GB of data stored on a 128GB SSD.

To assess a program's impact on system speed on both Windows and macOS, we used our own custom tests, which measure how long a CPU takes to match 20,000 names and addresses on an OpenOffice or Excel  spreadsheet. The longer it took the laptop to finish either test, the heavier the performance impact. 

For smartphones, we used the Geekbench 4 benchmarking app on a Samsung Galaxy S8 running Android 7.0 Nougat.

For malware-detection scores, we use the results of three independent testing labs: AV-TEST in Germany, AV-Comparatives in Austria and SE Labs in England. Each lab subjects the major antivirus brands' products to stress tests involving thousands of pieces of malware, including hundreds of previously unseen samples.

Windows antivirus software types

Most antivirus makers have three or four tiers of Windows products, with each price bump adding extra features, such as parental controls or cloud backups. But because each company uses a single malware-detection engine for all its Windows antivirus software, the cheapest item in any product line usually finds malware just as thoroughly as the priciest.

Not all users will need premium suites, or even midrange products. If you don't have kids, or if you already have backup software, the basic product may be enough.

MORE: How to Buy Antivirus Software

Basic or entry-level Windows antivirus software

The least-expensive paid Windows antivirus products, which generally start at $40 to $60 per year depending on the number of PCs covered, have the essentials. Definition updates and scans are automatic; websites and email attachments are screened, and the products are mostly easy to use. Some basic AV programs toss in extra features, such as file shredders or system optimizers, that are normally found in pricier products.

Best basic antivirus software

Bitdefender Antivirus 2020 Box Art

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus

Best basic antivirus software

Very good malware protection
Small performance penalty
Fast scans
Lots of useful extra features
Malware protection not quite perfect

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus has very good malware detection and a strong selection of extra tools. You'll find a built-in unlimited password manager, a secure browser, VPN client software, protection against encrypting ransomware, anti-tracking software and automatic profiles that optimize Bitdefender's impact on your system, depending on whether you're working, watching a movie or playing a game.

Midpriced Windows antivirus software

These products usually start at $60 to $80 per year. They generally build on the basic packages by bundling in parental controls and a two-way firewall to catch outgoing data, although many add other features. But for the full feature set each brand offers, you'll have to pony up for the premium products.

Best midrange antivirus software

Kaspersky Internet Security

(Image credit: Kaspersky)

Kaspersky Internet Security

Best midrange antivirus software

Nearly perfect malware protection
Webcam protection, hardened web browser
Mac, Android antivirus software included
Two-factor authentication for online account
Heavy system impact during full scans
Unlimited VPN usage costs extra
Password manager limited to 15 entries
Parental controls not as good as top-tier program

Kaspersky takes first place among midrange antivirus software products, thanks to its excellent malware protection and a full assortment of extra features and tools. Kaspersky Internet Security includes a secure browser, a virtual keyboard, specialized protection against ransomware, webcam protection to guard your privacy. There's VPN client software that automatically switches on when you connect to an unsafe Wi-Fi network, but data usage is limited unless you pay extra. 

Premium Windows antivirus software

Top-tier packages are often called security suites because they do much more than catch malware. They might also offer file encryption, secure online storage, a password manager or an ad blocker. As most suites cover multiple devices, they also frequently bundle in licenses for Mac and Android antivirus software. For all this, you're meant to pay at least $80 per year — but as with all paid antivirus software, steep discounts can often be found online.

Best premium antivirus software

Kaspersky Total Security

(Image credit: Kaspersky)

Kaspersky Total Security

Best premium PC security suite

Nearly perfect malware protection
Backup software, rich parental controls, unlimited password manager
Two-factor authentication for online account
Heavy system impact during full scans
VPN data usage capped unless you pay extra
File shredder

Kaspersky Total Security has it all for those who want more than just excellent malware detection. This one rose to the top because it eliminates threats without generating many annoying false positives. We also like the included secure browser, which is ideal for online banking and shopping. Other highlights include a thorough file shredder, Windows backup and recovery software, and excellent parental controls.

Free Windows antivirus software

Unpaid Windows antivirus products have gotten much better, and our top two choices offer excellent malware detection, if little else. The others provide adequate protection with a smattering of goodies such as password managers or parental controls. 

Among those is Microsoft's built-in Windows Defender, which has risen to the middle of our rankings. However, free antivirus software generally leaves out extra protection features such as dedicated defenses against ransomware or spam blockers.

Best free Windows antivirus

Kaspersky 2020

(Image credit: Kaspersky)

Kasperky Free Antivirus

Best free Windows antivirus software

Excellent malware protection
Light-to-moderate performance hit
Fast scanning
Some customization options
Bare-bones with few extra features

Kaspersky Lab largely keeps quiet about its cost-free antivirus product, but it's a winner, with a user-friendly interface, a fairly light system-performance impact and Kaspersky's nearly flawless malware protection. Just don't expect anything from it but the bare necessities.

Mac antivirus software

Despite what Apple's marketing has implied, Macs do get infected, and the amount of Mac malware keeps rising. But there's less money to be made in the Mac antivirus market than in the Windows one, and the products are less standardized. Some Mac antivirus products cost nothing, and some are paid. One of the products we recently evaluated, Avast Free Mac Security, doesn't cost a dime.

Best Mac antivirus software

Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac

Best Mac antivirus software

Perfect malware detection
Ransomware protection
Clean, easy-to-use design
Imperceptible system impact
Automatically installs VPN client, but unlimited costs extra
Hard-to-find tech-support number

Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac offers flawless malware detection, ransomware rollbacks and almost no impact on system performance. It has a streamlined, easy-to-use interface that places on-demand scans front and center. We wish that Bitdefender didn't nag us to buy extra VPN service, but other than that, this program is nearly perfect.

Android antivirus apps

Every Android device, whether it's a smartphone, tablet or TV stick, should have antivirus software. Usually, that software comes with an all-encompassing security app that also includes anti-theft and remote-locating features, and many apps have both a basic unpaid version and a premium version with more features.

The free versions of the Android security apps we reviewed are pretty solid. The paid versions, which cost between $15 and $30 per year, range from being just a bit better than the unpaid ones to becoming practically separate products, with a wide range of capabilities. You'll have to decide what you need and select accordingly.

Best Android antivirus app

Bitdefender Mobile Security

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

Bitdefender Mobile Security

Best Android antivirus app

Flawless malware detection
Comprehensive and reliable anti-theft features
Competitive pricing
Intuitive user interface
No call/text filter
Can't schedule scans
Plain design

The Bitdefender Android security app has flawless malware protection, a small performance hit, privacy-protection tools and Android Wear integration. Yet there are no scheduled malware scans, and no freemium option. (The separate Bitdefender Antivirus Free for Android only scans for malware.) Still, at $15 per year per device, Bitdefender Mobile Security is worth the expense.

iOS antivirus apps

A lot of people want iOS antivirus software for their iPhones and iPads. The truth is that such software doesn't exist. Apple won't let third-party apps examine other iOS apps, or even inspect new apps as they're installed. Anything that claims to be antivirus software swiftly gets kicked out of the iTunes App Store.

Many major antivirus vendors, including F-Secure, McAfee, Norton and Trend Micro, do have "security" apps in the App Store. But these check web links for known malicious sites, locate lost devices or pretend to protect your privacy. None scans an iPhone for malware.

There has been real iOS malware that affects non-jailbroken devices, but it's very rarely cropped up. In each instance, Apple has pushed out a new version of iOS to stop the malware in a matter of days or weeks. Generally, if you keep your Apple mobile device updated to the latest version of iOS, you should be safe.

[Editor's Note: Best Buy no longer stocks Kaspersky Lab products from its shelves, citing concerns regarding Kaspersky's alleged (but as yet undocumented) ties to the Russian government. However, until we see real evidence that Kaspersky software is a threat to consumers, we will continue to recommend it. Here is further clarification of our position.]