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The best antivirus software in 2021

best antivirus software: Smiling man using laptop in front of office window
(Image credit: Michael Burrows from Pexels)

Looking for the best antivirus software, to keep your computer protected? This guide will show you come of the best options, help you choose between them, and show you the best price.

You wouldn’t dream of leaving your car unlocked, or the door to your house wide open, 24 hours a day. But leaving your computer unprotected could have even more serious consequences than that.

Right now, cybercrime is big business, and hackers all over the world are making millions by infecting people’s computers with malicious software that can spy on you, steal your personal data and empty your bank account, often without you even knowing. And in practice, there’s little the authorities can do to stop them. 

But there is a silver lining. Like all criminals, cybercriminals normally go for low hanging fruit. With so many computers lacking any antivirus protection, that’s where most of their attention will go. Which means that as long as you install a reputable antivirus software package, you should be able to rest easy. 

What is antivirus software?

Antivirus software works to detect malicious code, often referred to as malware, and stop it accessing your data and damaging your computer. The best antivirus software updates itself automatically, so it can continually keep on top of new threats as they emerge. 

To help you make the right choice, we’ve listed seven of the best antivirus software options available today. They all offer a high deal of protection against viruses, as shown by the high scores they get from independent testing organisations such as AV Test, SE Labs and AV-Comparatives. 

We’ve also considered other features you may be interested in. These include the ability to make backups of your work, so if your computer dies for any reason, you won’t lose all your data. 

You may also be seeking a VPN, aka virtual private network, so you can use the internet in total privacy (if you prefer to buy this separately, though, see our best VPN roundup). Finally, some antivirus software also includes password management, allowing you to store and easily access all your passwords in a secure way, in case you forget any of them.

In this article, we’ll reveal the best antivirus software available today, and the main differences between them, to help you make an informed choice about how best to keep your data safe.

The best antivirus software 2021

(Image credit: Kaspersky)

1. Kaspersky Total Security 2021

The best antivirus software overall

Operating system: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS | Max number of devices covered: 10 | VPN included: Yes but limited | Password manager included: Yes | Backup included: Yes | Free trial: 30 days

Strong protection
Password manager
Parental controls
VPN is limited

Kaspersky Total Security is our pick as the best antivirus software overall, because it offers both a high level of protection, and a wide range of security features. 

Firstly, it includes all the basic features you’d expect from the best antivirus software, including network monitoring to stop hackers breaking into your network and real-time antivirus to defend you from common threats like worms, Trojans, botnets, rootkits and rogues. (You don't need to know what these mean, you just need to know they're bad). You also get advanced anti-malware to neutralise threats such spyware, adware and keyloggers. 

And that’s not all. You also get the full version of Kaspersky's Password Manager, which would otherwise cost you $15 a year separately. This allows you to create and manage all your passwords across multiple devices: Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. 

Another nice freebie is Kaspersky's Safe Kids (which again is sold separately for $15 a year). This lets you filter web content, limit the time your children spend on specific activities or devices, monitor their social media use, and even locate them on a map. You also get webcam protection, file encryption, file shredding, a secure web browser, and Kaspersky Safe Money, providing bank-grade encryption for online transactions.

Other features are a little more restricted. For example, you do get a VPN, but your bandwidth is limited to 300MB per day. And while there is a backup tool, it’s no more sophisticated than others you can get for free online. Overall, though, this is a very comprehensive package, and delivers a sophisticated level of protection that will meet most people’s needs. 

(Image credit: Norton)

2. Norton 360 Deluxe

The best antivirus software for powerful computers

Operating system: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS | Max number of devices covered: 5 | VPN included: Yes | Password manager included: Yes | Backup included: Yes | Free trial: 14 days

Unlimited VPN
50GB backup storage
Password manager
May slow down old computers

Norton is one of the biggest names in anti-virus protection, and for good reason. Its products get consistently impressive scores from independent testers, so you can be sure that your data and privacy is receiving a high level of protection.

There are lot of different options in its range, but we reckon the best balance between price and features lies in Norton 360 Deluxe. This allows you to protect up to five Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices against malware, phishing and ransomware. You also get a password manager, parental controls (for Windows, iOS and Android, but not macOS) and banking protection. 

Norton 360 Deluxe wins out over Kaspersky Total Security in two main ways. Firstly, you get a VPN with unlimited bandwidth. And secondly, its backup service includes a generous 50GB of free cloud storage. 

On the downside, you don’t get a file shredder, file encryption or secure web browser. Plus Norton 360 Deluxe is quite a resource-intensive program, so it’s not the best choice for older and low-powered computers, as it can slow them down a little.

(Image credit: BitDefender)

3. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus

The best cheap antivirus software

Operating system: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS | Max number of devices: 10 | VPN included: Yes (but limited) | Password manager included: Yes | Backup included: No | Free trial: 7 days

Cheap price
Reliable protection
Password manager
Limited feature set

Antivirus software isn’t really something you want to compromise on to save money. But if you’re short of cash, then good news: if you’re running Windows, you can get a high degree of protection at a very reasonable price from Bitdefender Antivirus Plus.

Despite being very affordable, independent testers give this antivirus software top marks for the level of protection it provides. Some issues have been reported over false detection, which means it may be trickier to install certain types of legitimate software on your devices. But for most people, that won’t be the end of the world. 

At this price, you’d expect to only get the basics: protection against malware, spyware, adware and ransomware. Perhaps surprisingly, though, you also get a password manager, a file shredder, banking protections and a basic VPN with bandwidth limited to 6GB per month. 

However, if you want to add other features such as parental controls, an unlimited VPN, or protection for iOS, macOS and Android devices, you’ll need to upgrade to a pricier plan. 

(Image credit: Kaspersky)

4. Kaspersky Security Cloud Free

The best free antivirus software

Operating system: Windows, Android, iOS | Max number of devices: 10 | VPN included: No | Password manager included: Yes, but limited | Backup included: No | Free trial: N/A

Free 
Good protection 
Easy to use 
Only free for personal use

Have no money to spend at all? Then we recommend Kaspersky Security Cloud Free. No, you won’t get the sophisticated features of paid-for antivirus software, such as parental controls, a VPN, banking protections, or backups. But you will get a good level of basic protection, as verified by independent testers. 

You also get a limited version of Kaspersky's Password Manager that stores just 15 entries, and a limited VPN, which is restricted to 200MB bandwidth per day. And the upside of having fewer features is that the interface is pretty simple to use. Note, though, that Kaspersky Security Cloud Free is only free for personal use, so if you’re a business owner looking to install it on your employees’ computers, you’ll need to look elsewhere. 

best antivirus software: Eset Smart Security Premium interface

(Image credit: Eset)

5. ESET Smart Security Premium

The best lightweight antivirus software

Operating system: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android | Max number of devices: 10 | VPN included: No | Password manager included: Yes | Backup included: No | Free trial: 30 days

Won’t slow your computer
Anti-theft features
Protects Linux devices
Some features quite basic

Even the best antivirus software can sometimes slow down your computer, particularly if it’s an older or less powerful one. If you’ve had problems with that in the past, and don’t have a particularly high-end computer now, we recommend ESET Smart Security Premium, which is the best lightweight antivirus software around right now. 

In general, it does a very good job of protecting you from ransomware, malware and other types of online and offline threats. It offers some nice anti-theft features, too, allowing you to track and locate your missing computer and to identify thieves via your laptop’s built-in camera. Plus it stands out by protecting not just Windows, Mac, iOS and Android devices, but Linux ones too.

The parental controls and password manager are both a bit basic, and lack advanced features. But if keeping your computer running quickly and smoothly is your main concern, then ESET Smart Security Premium has a lot to recommend it. 

(Image credit: Sophos)

6. Sophos Home

The best antivirus software for ease of use

Operating system: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android | Max number of devices: 10 (Android and iOS devices unlimited) | VPN included: No | Password manager included: No | Backup included: No | Free trial: 30 days

Easy to use
Won’t slow your computer
Clever AI
Lacks some advanced features

Another lightweight package, Sophos Home has the added benefit of being easy to use. So if you were looking to install antivirus software on the computer of a tech-challenged grandparent, for example, this would be a good choice. 

From that perspective, lacking advanced features like a VPN, password manager and online backup can be seen as a good, rather than a bad, thing. Instead, you can just quickly set up the software, and leave it running in the background, to protect against viruses, malware, Trojans, worms, bots, potentially unwanted apps, ransomware, and more.

This software also uses what Sophos calls Predictive AI Threat Detection to identify and block never-before-seen malware. Plus it offers some basic parental controls, and banking protections. 

(Image credit: Kaspersky)

7. McAfee Antivirus Plus

The best antivirus software for big families

Operating system: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android | Max number of devices: 10 | VPN included: No | Password manager included: Yes | Backup included: No | Free trial: 30 days

Saves big families money
Reliable protection
No VPN
No password manager

If your family has a lot of devices between you, you’ll need a lot of antivirus software licences to cover them. And that cost can really add up. In this case, it’s worth looking at McAfee Antivirus Plus, which protects up to 10 Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices, at a very affordable price. 

McAfee is one of the best known and most reliable names in the business, and its entry-level product, McAfee Antivirus Plus, gets consistently excellent scores from testers. This will give you a good defence against viruses and online threats, with a combination of cloud-based and offline protection.

You’ll also get banking protection, a file shredder, and browser extensions for Chrome, Edge and Firefox that warn you of dodgy websites and links. Note that there’s no VPN or password manager, but you can add the latter by upgrading to the pricier McAfee Internet Security plan.

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Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specializing in art, photography, design and travel. He has been editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. He has also worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including The Sun, Radio Times, NME, T3, Heat, Company and Bella.