Although OS developers have gotten much better at security over time, hackers have also grown more savvy. Highly-organised criminal gangs have been very successful at continuing to find exploits – either through social engineering or holes in unpatched software.
So, even in 2015 and 2016, it’s still a very good idea to have a security suite installed. Relying on Windows Defender and Windows Firewall alone is not enough.
You need a comprehensive backup plan, you need filters that stop you and your family from accessing malicious or undesirable web sites, you need secure browsers for banking and file shredders for keeping your data private.
It sucks, we know, but that’s the reality of the internet.
Here we’ve gone ahead and taken a look at our current top ten suites. Unfortunately we don’t have space to review every suite on the market, but we took a look at the latest anti-malware test results and decided to evaluate those suites with the best results.
About the test results
Each of the suites reviewed here has been comprehensively tested by independent antiviral analysis company AV-Test. We’ve published here the latest results available at the time of writing, from August 2015.
Note that the results are not, in all cases, from the specific products reviewed below. For example, we may have reviewed the full suite where AV-Test may have only tested the stand alone anti-virus application. That doesn’t change the validity of the results, since the same anti-virus engine is in use.
Let’s break down just what the numbers mean:
- Protection against 0-day malware attacks is a measure of the suite’s ability to detect new viruses based on their behaviour. It’s perhaps the most important number here.
- Detection of widespread and prevalent malware shows the detection percentage of known viruses released in the four weeks before the test.
- Performance impact is a measure of how much the suite affects system speed when visiting websites, downloading software, installing and running programs and copying data. Higher is worse (more impact).
- False warnings is the number of instances where the suite flagged legitimate software and web sites as a threat and either blocked it or produced a warning popup.
For convenience, AV-Test also provides three overall scores, rating each suite’s protection, performance impact and usability out of six, to give a total score out of 18. (Usability, in this instance, is not a reference to ease-of-use, but is based on the number of times the program produced false popups and blocked legitimate software).
We should note that AV-Tests aggregate scores are based on combined Jul-Aug performance, while we’ve only included August results for space reasons.
While we’ve provided an extended table of results, we don’t have room here to review every anti-virus product tested. We limited ourselves to the suites with the ten best results (AVG just squeaking in because it had a better protection score than the other suites that scored 16, as well as a perfect detection rate).
AVG Internet Security 2016
Touch screen friendly and very easy to use, AVG Internet Security has a number of little details that recommend it. Not enough to recommend it over BitDefender or Kaspersky, but you’re certainly not buying a dud with AVG.
From a usability standpoint, it couldn’t be much easier. Most of the user settings are of the on-off variety, while most of the mechanics of protection are handled behind the scenes.
There are annoyances, like the use of a stub pre-installer which doesn’t download the app until you start installation, but they’re manageable.
Its feature set covers all the basics: your email protection, firewall, phishing, web site and link scanner and anti-malware. There is no parental control, secure browser or sandbox environment. There are some utilities built in, like a PC “tuneup”, including registry fixer, defragger, junk file remover and file shredder – all fine, but nothing special.
Indeed, average is really the way to best sum up this suite – its features aren’t terrible, but they’re not remarkable either.
The one notable thing it has is a drive encryption tool, allowing you to create a special protected virtual drive for important files. It’s very useful, but probably not enough to recommend AVG over higher ranked suites.
Its anti-malware performance results put it just inside our top ten suites. The detection rates were stellar across the board, hurt only by a handful of false positive. It detected every virus thrown at it.
Its biggest issue was its performance, with AV-Test finding that it had a notable impact on system performance when running.
Verdict: It’s affordable and wonderfully easy to use, but otherwise does nothing to stand out from the pack.
Price: $90 for 3 PCs for 1 year
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Avira Internet Security
Initially, the internet download process just installs the anti-virus tool, and then you have to load the additional modules into it to turn it into the suite.
These appear as buttons on the bubble that pops up when you click on the taskbar icon, each button launching a discrete app: one for anti-virus, one for system tuning (defragging and junk removal), one for browser protection, one for identity protection and one for anti-theft.
There’s little to no integration between these elements, and none of them is touch screen friendly at all.
Still, there are some genuinely cool elements hidden through the apps. Avira aggressively removes potentially unwanted apps from your system, cleaning out things like browser hijackers that might not technically be viruses, but they are damned annoying. It has a neat little file encryption app and a rather strange but quite cool online price comparator.
Our favourite feature of the suite, however, may be the web-based device management console, which lets you view the reports from all the Avira installations attached to your account.
It’s not a full web service like you might find in a corporate tool (you can’t actually do much to change the settings on the PCs), but it’s a very useful way of getting a snapshot of any security problems on your network.
Verdict: It’s a little disjointed, and the interface is old school, but there are clever features built in.
Price: $93.95 for 3 PCs for 1 year
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Bitdefender Internet Security
As the editor’s choice for this review, it has everything: perfect anti-virus test results, an incomparable set of security features, very little impact on system performance and a one-click security model that’s perfect for beginners.
This latest version of Bitdefender retains the complete feature set we’ve lauded in the past: excellent anti-malware, firewall and web protection, as well as email plugins for anti-spam and anti-phishing.
There’s a safe browser for online banking, a file shredder and a pretty decent (though a little confusing at first) password manager.
Paying an extra $30 for the Total Protection version adds file encryption, system tune-up and anti-theft.
The suite also boasts a first: anti-ransomware to combat the current plague of infections. Although switched off by default, it lets you lock selected files and folders, preventing them from being encrypted by a third-party app.
Finally, there’s now Bitdefender Central, a cloud service that lets you see the security on devices attached to your license. It can be used to remotely initiate scans and is now the central location for managing the outstanding new parental control features, which are second only to Symantec’s.
In short, Bitdefender is absolutely everything we want in a suite. It covers all your bases and does everything pretty well. In autopilot mode it almost never bothers you, and is the very best you can get right now.
Verdict: Pretty much perfect.
Price: $99.95 for 3 PCs for 1 year
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Bullguard Internet Security
It didn’t produce perfect results for AV-Test, and there were too many false warnings on legitimate software (it’s a little popup-happy), but its overall detection rates were very good.
The rest of the feature set feels broad, but a little shallow in places. It ticks a lot of boxes: online backup, firewall, anti-spam, web monitoring, PC tuneup and a few others, but some of those features are a little light, a little cursory.
That can’t be said for its excellent parental controls, however. You can block access to site categories, monitor Facebook posts, manage application access and limit time online.
Reports of child activity are available online, through your account pages on Bullguard’s site. We’d put Bitdefender and Symantec’s solutions ahead of it, but it’s still a high point of the suite.
The suite’s interface could still use some work. It can’t seem to decide between the all-there-in-front-of-you approach of a Kaspersky or Avira and the keep it simple approach of AVG or Bitdefender.
So it ends in a weird place that’s perfect for neither beginners nor experienced users. It’s also noisy, popping up too often to bother you with questions it should know the answer to.
Ultimately, this is another mid-level suite. It’s still not truly competitive with the Kasperskys, Nortons and Bitdefenders in terms of features or ease of use. It has gotten better, and its test results are definitely notable, but it’s not a top pick.
Verdict: A mid-tier suite, with solid anti-virus but relatively underpowered additional features – except for the parental controls, which are excellent.
Price: $89.95 for 3 PCs for 1 year
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
F-Secure Internet Security
Where other companies continue to innovate – even in the rather staid world of security software — F-Secure seems stuck in a rut, changing little from year to year. It’s not that it’s a bad suite — far from it — but it feels like it’s starting to fall behind.
Let’s start with the good: the test results. F-Secure has maintained its record of excellence when it comes to anti-malware, with a 100% detection rate and modest impact on performance. Its web filter was a little zealous, but that’s nothing to worry about.
It’s the rest of the suite that’s uninspiring. The feature set is basic but solid, with a firewall, browsing protection, capable category-based parental controls, spam filter and online banking protection.
A lot of extra features are available with add-ons: Booster (system and battery optimisation), F-Secure Key (password manager), Freedome (VPN) and Adblocker. The thing is, the full versions of most of these cost extra, when the cost of the suite should really cover them.
In addition, instead of a conventional installer, F-Secure uses a cumbersome web-based license system that requires you to download and install an app in order to download the other apps.
While we can see the value of this for multi-platform setups, if you just want to install it on a single system it’s an utter pain.
When it comes down to it, while we appreciate how good the anti-malware is, the rest of the base suite seems hardly worth the hassle, especially when better options are available.
Verdict: Excellent anti-malware as always, and snappy and easy to use as well. But the licensing system is a mess. and the feature set isn’t that great.
Price: $93 for 3 PCs for 1 year
Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Kaspersky Internet Security
For the past few years, the battle for best security software provider has seemed like a brawl between Kaspersky and Bitdefender. Other suites have proven somewhat competitive, but really the tussle for top spot remains between these two players.
This year, again, we felt that Kaspersky is just a little behind Bitdefender when it comes to both features and anti-malware.
On the latter, Kaspersky had one small hiccup in the 0-day tests preventing it from getting a perfect score across the board. Otherwise, the results were perfect, with no false positives and little impact on performance. Only Bitdefender got a better score.
When it comes to features, Kaspersky continues to innovate with the best. This suite does an awful lot behind the scenes. There are privacy and web protections, category-based parental controls, a secure browser for online banking, webcam protection, a virtual keyboard to foil keyloggers and much more.
If you’re willing to fork out $20 more for the Total Security version, you’ll also get a password manager with syncing across devices as well as a backup solution.
The interface keeps these depths well hidden until they’re required, and the PC interface even has a convenient chat button if you want to talk to a real person for tech support. It’s all very clean, though menu options and buttons are often too small to easily tap.
It’s really another fantastic iteration of the suite. While not that many features have been added in this year’s release, this was already an incredibly good suite and a top buy.
Verdict: Second only to Bitdefender in terms of overall quality. Excellent features and top performance.
Price: $99.95 for 3 PCs for 1 year
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
McAfee Internet Security
Since coming under Intel’s umbrella, McAfee had made a number of changes to its suite, none more notable than streamlining the interface into a simplified (mostly) touch-friendly affair that doesn’t ask too many questions or demand too much from the user.
Like the other top suites, it does most of its work behind the scenes. There’s a decent amount going on, too. Let’s start with the anti-malware, which has improved dramatically in recent years.
This year, it was a match with Kaspersky, missing one 0-day virus but otherwise having a perfect detection rate. Its impact on performance was minimal, and it was just 0.5 off the perfect 18 score (only Bitdefender scored 18).
It has a handful of really standout features as well. True Key, the password manager, is an outstanding solution, with two-factor authentication including face recognition. The web filter and anti-phishing tool is also best-in-class, proactively blocking dangerous links before you even click on them.
The other core features: anti-spam, firewall, file shredder and a few others are solid if uninspiring, although we do have to say that the parental controls seem a little weak.
We’re fans of McAfee’s licensing model, which is a simple “one license for all the devices of a single user.” That means a license lets you install McAfee on all the PCs, Macs and mobiles you own, without limit.
Internet Security only comes with a single user license for True Key; but if you’re willing to fork out an extra $30 for the Total Protection version, you’ll get five, as well as a file encryption tool for theft protection.
Verdict: Outstanding anti-malware, web protection and password management.
Price: $99.95 for all devices of a single user
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Panda Global Protection 2016
A suite with surprising breadth, Global Protection from Panda covers off a lot of threats. It can be rough around the edges, especially in terms of management, but it’s a capable suite without glaring issues.
It ticks off a lot of boxes when it comes to features. There’s general stuff, of course: the firewall, anti-spam and anti-malware.
There’s also a password manager, file encrypter, parental controls, a file shredder, tuneup, online backup, virtual keyboard, boot drive and Wi-Fi check for just a start. While it covers a lot, none of its features really stood out as particularly good or bad.
There was one thing we were really impressed by, however: the Data Shield. Similar to Bitdefender’s solution, it locks selected files and folders for protection against ransomware.
We aren’t all that impressed with Panda’s interface and management. It has gone full Modern UI, modelling the entire interface on Windows’ Start Screen/Start Bar. This would make it great in a touch screen environment, except for all the popup windows it generates, which kind of defeats the purpose.
It also inexplicably starts with a whole set of features not yet installed and disabled, and important features have to be manually downloaded and configured before they’re active.
Still, it’s an impressive suite overall, and one that produced absolutely perfect detection rates in AV-Test’s benchmarks. Its system performance impact hurt it, but you can’t fault it for protection.
Verdict: We don’t love the interface, but virus-detection is excellent and there’s a huge set of tools here.
Price: $101.63 for 3 PCs for 1 year
From: Panda Security
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Symantec Norton Security Premium
Security Premium is essentially the evolution of Norton 360, and it’s certainly a major contender, up there with Kasperky and Bitdefender for quality.
It doesn’t quite have their anti-malware chops. It did boast a perfect detection rate, but at the cost of too many false positives and a too much impact on system performance. It’s excellent, but can be a bit annoying.
The real strength of the suite is in the care it’s taken with the other security features.
The identity theft protection and password manager are elegant, and the integrated backup solution — which can back up locally or to the 25GB of cloud storage that comes with the subscription — is great. It can be configured to run on a schedule or automatically back up during idle PC times.
The system utilities are a little generic, but we do like the startup manager for controlling what starts when Windows does.
Like Bitdefender and Avira, the suite has a cloud service accessed through the Norton web site. Primarily this is for adding devices and licenses, but it’s also where you manage Norton Family.
These parental controls require a separate download and install on the kids’ PCs and devices, but give excellent accounting and management of their online activity and you can manage their access through the web console. It’s a true highlight of the suite, the absolute best solution on the market.
Verdict: Wonderful parental controls, included cloud backup and very good virus protection.
Price: $100 for 3 PCs for 1 year
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Trend Micro Internet Security 10
Trend Micro offers more complete options: Maximum Security ($79.95 for four devices) and Premium Security ($149.95 for six devices), but if you already have a password manager and a mobile suite, Internet Security should be all you really need.
The suite’s interface is as simple as can be. It opens with a big scan button, while side buttons allow for quick system health checkups and access to the suite’s deeper features. Everything is prefaced and guided by a helpful tutorial system that explains features as you try to access them.
Trend Micro’s privacy scanner is a highlight, with a web filter and link scanner for social media sites that pre-emptively warn against unsafe links. Data theft protection lets you configure certain phrases or numbers (like credit card numbers) that the suite won’t transmit without a password.
The parental controls are also worthy additions, with time and category-based restrictions on access. It doesn’t have the excellent reporting tools of Symantec and Bitdefender, but it’s still a good solution for families.
And that’s really where this suite is targeted. Trend Micro’s done everything in its power to keep things easy. The interface is non-threatening, the options simple and the features straightforward.
If you’re willing to pay extra, it even offers an additional IT help desk service. This accessibility is its greatest virtue, combined with security sufficient to protect you from most threats.
Verdict: Affordable and easy-to-use. Not as big as some of the competition, but it should be enough.
Price: $59.95 for 3 PCs for 1 year
From: Trend Micro