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The Best Antivirus Protection of 2017

Malware, Spyware, and Adware Protection

Health care is on everyone's minds these days, and it's definitely a topic that makes a difference in the lives of millions. But have you thought about the health of your computers? They can contract viruses too, along with ransomware, spyware, adware, and many other kinds of malware. The best health care plan for your computer is an effective, up to date antivirus solution. Which one? We've reviewed dozens of products to help you choose the plan that's best for you.

I did say 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.

Several other commercial antivirus utilities proved effective enough to earn an excellent four-star rating. I eliminated two special-purpose products that aren't really like the rest: Daily Safety Check Home Edition and VoodooSoft VoodooShield. And Check Point's ZoneAlarm PRO uses antivirus licensed from Kaspersky, with almost no lab test results for ZoneAlarm itself. That leaves the ten excellent products you see above.

All of these products are traditional, full-scale, antivirus tools, with the ability to scan files for malware on access, on demand, or on schedule. As for just relying on the antivirus built into Windows 8.x or Windows 10, that may not be the best idea. In the past, Windows Defender has performed poorly both in our tests and independent lab tests It did score several wins last year, and it earned decent scores in several more recent tests. Even so, our latest evaluation indicates that you'd still be better off with a third-party solution.

Listen to the Labs

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

I follow five labs that regularly release detailed reports: Virus Bulletin, Simon Edwards Labs (the successor to Dennis Technology Labs), AV-Test Institute, MRG-Effitas, and AV-Comparatives. I also note whether vendors have contracted with ICSA Labs and West Coast labs for certification. I've devised a system for aggregating their results to yield a rating from 0 to 10.

We Test Malware, Spyware, and Adware Defenses

I also subject every product to my own hands-on test of malware blocking, 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 blocking.

My malware-blocking test necessarily uses the same set of samples for months. To check a product's handling of brand-new malware, I 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 absolutely stellar ratings from the independent labs, yet don't fare as well in my hands-on tests. In such cases, I 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 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.

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 I've already mentioned sandboxing, vulnerability scanning, and application whitelisting.

I'm 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.

What's the Best Malware Protection?

Which antivirus should you choose? You have a wealth of options. Kaspersky Anti-Virus and Bitdefender Antivirus Plus invariably rate at the top in independent lab tests. Norton AntiVirus Basic aced both lab tests and my own hands-on tests. A single subscription for McAfee AntiVirus Plus lets you install protection on all of 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 five 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.

Note that I reviewed many more antivirus utilities than I could include in the chart of top products. If your favorite software isn't listed there, chances are I did review it. The blurbs below include every antivirus that earned at least three stars. You can also see all the relevant reviews on PCMag's antivirus software page.

  • Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017 Review

    $39.99 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017 combines top-scoring antivirus protection with so many bonus features it would almost qualify as a security suite. Read the full review

  • Kaspersky Anti-Virus (2017) Review

    $59.99 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% The independent testing labs consistently award Kaspersky Anti-Virus their highest ratings, plus it aces our own antiphishing tests, adds plenty of bonus features, and it's fast. That's enough to earn our Editors' Choice nod again this year. Read the full review

  • Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic Review

    $39.99 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% After a few years on hiatus, Symantec's standalone antivirus is back. Norton AntiVirus Basic earns top scores from the independent labs and in our own tests. It's a winner. Read the full review

  • Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus Review

    $39.99 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus remains the smallest, fastest antivirus around, and it aced our hands-on malware-blocking test. Read the full review

  • McAfee AntiVirus Plus (2017) Review

    $59.99 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% McAfee AntiVirus Plus doesn't score as high as other Editors' Choice products in testing, but it covers vastly more than the others. One subscription lets you protect every Windows, Android, macOS, and iOS device in your household. Read the full review

  • Avast Pro Antivirus 2017 Review

    $39.99 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% Avast Pro Antivirus 2017 offers the same wealth of features as its free edition, and not a lot more. It's an excellent product, but for most people the free version will suffice. Read the full review

  • Check Point ZoneAlarm PRO Antivirus + Firewall 2017 Review

    $39.95 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% With the powerful ZoneAlarm firewall, antivirus licensed from Kaspersky, and a unique new approach to phishing protection, Check Point ZoneAlarm PRO Antivirus + Firewall 2017 is worth a look. Read the full review

  • Emsisoft Anti-Malware 2017 Review

    $39.95 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% Hence the name, Emsisoft Anti-Malware focuses on the core task of keeping your PCs free of malware. It does a good job, and with a clean, simple interface, it looks good too. Read the full review

  • ESET NOD32 Antivirus 10 Review

    $39.99 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% ESET NOD32 Antivirus 10 scores well with most independent labs and in most of our hands-on tests, and its full system scan is faster than most. Read the full review

  • F-Secure Anti-Virus (2017) Review

    $39.99 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% F-Secure Anti-Virus's fast full scan and DeepGuard behavior-based detection system make it a powerhouse against malware, but it doesn't offer many bonus features. Read the full review

  • The Kure Review

    $19.99 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% When your PC has The Kure installed, you can wipe out malware just by rebooting. Your own documents aren't affected, and it even has the ability to reverse the effects of encrypting ransomware. Read the full review

  • Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security (2017) Review

    $39.95 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security earns high scores in our hands-on tests, though not in every independent lab test. Ransomware protection is a welcome addition in this latest version. Read the full review

  • VoodooSoft VoodooShield Review

    $19.99 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% VoodooShield takes a whitelist approach to antivirus protection, but without getting in the user's way. A new machine-learning component brings it closer to the abilities of a standalone antivirus. Read the full review

  • Ashampoo Anti-Virus 2016 Review

    $49.99 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% The technology that Ashampoo Anti-Virus licenses from other companies does very well in most of our tests, but you're probably better off just going straight to those other vendors. Read the full review

  • G Data Antivirus 2017 Review

    $39.95 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% G Data Antivirus 2017 gets decent marks from the independent testing labs, and it includes components designed to fight specific malware types, including ransomware. However, in our own tests its scores ranged from excellent to poor. Read the full review

  • Malwarebytes 3.0 Premium Review

    $39.99 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% Malwarebytes 3.0 Premium has so many advanced protection layers that the company calls it an antivirus replacement. However, we still advise using it in conjunction with a traditional antivirus. Read the full review

  • Avira Antivirus Pro (2017) Review

    $44.99 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% Avira Antivirus Pro offers all the same protection as the free Avira Antivirus, plus a few added features that don't all work well. Stick with the free edition or, in a commercial setting, look elsewhere. Read the full review

  • BullGuard Antivirus (2017) Review

    $29.95 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% BullGuard Antivirus offers spam filtering as a bonus feature, and it scored well in our malicious URL blocking test. However, in some independent lab tests and some of our own, it didn't do so well. Read the full review

  • K7 AntiVirus Plus 15 Review

    $39.95 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% K7 Anti-Virus Plus 15 avoids the plague of false positives that afflicted the previous version. Its scores in our tests and lab tests have improved, but they're still not great. Better options abound. Read the full review

  • Panda Antivirus Pro (2017) Review

    $39.99 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% Panda Antivirus Pro has all the features of Panda's free antivirus and more. It's a decent product, but its test scores are down from last year, and its pricing scheme doesn't make much sense. Read the full review

  • PC Pitstop PC Matic With Super Shield Review

    $50.00 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% PC Pitstop PC Matic with Super Shield now develops all of its antivirus technology in house, no longer using licensed third-party engines. In testing, it stopped all of our malware samples from launching, but didn't properly identify all of them as malicious. Read the full review

  • Quick Heal AntiVirus Pro 17 Review

    $30.00 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller% Quick Heal AntiVirus Pro 17 is a huge improvement over the limping version 16, though still not among the antivirus elite. Read the full review

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