Best Antivirus Software for 2021

What’s the best antivirus software? We at eSecurity Planet have our own views and methodology on this much-debated issue.

First, our views are influenced by our work in the endpoint detection and response (EDR) market. EDR is like antivirus software on steroids for businesses. We studied around 10,000 data points to compare the best EDR products, so we can tell you what the best consumer antivirus products are that have a stellar enterprise pedigree – some of that high-end research and development will make its way down to consumer products.

EDR products face the toughest testing in the security market, with NSS Labs and MITRE among the most rigorous evaluations a cybersecurity product can face. MITRE testing, for example, basically measures how well an endpoint security product can stop an attack by Russian state-sponsored hackers. You may never need that level of protection, but with all the insecure connections and applications just waiting to be hacked, you probably need better security than you think.

Four of the highest-scoring vendors in those EDR tests also have well regarded consumer antivirus software. These consumer AV tools don’t have all the sophisticated security of high-end enterprise products, but you’re still benefiting from that high-end research and development, and they offer some pretty nifty features of their own.

Skip free AV products and pay for best protection

A caveat before we get into our top picks: Microsoft Defender is a very fine free security product that’s built into Windows 10, and Microsoft’s EDR products did so well in high-end testing that we’re including it in this list, but for added protection features and operating system coverage, we urge you to pay up for extra protection.

Vendors generally don’t give you much in their free tools and often use them as a teaser for their pay products. Given the devastating effects of a breach or ransomware attack (do you really want to get that notification that you’re locked out of your data?), the relatively small price these vendors charge for their consumer products are worth it. For $45 a year, you can buy great security that covers multiple devices and operating systems.

Best antivirus software

So with those caveats, here are our picks for the best antivirus products.

Bitdefender Total Security

Bitdefender has been through two rounds of NSS Labs testing in the last two years, scoring an A in 2020 testing (no vendor got higher than AA). In MITRE testing this year, the vendor blocked 82% of the challenges by our calculation, a solid result in very difficult testing and well above some well-known names.

For $45 a year for five devices, you get a long list of security protections:

  • Advanced protection for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS devices
  • Protection against sophisticated malware and zero-day attacks
  • Multi-layer ransomware protection
  • A network firewall
  • Virtual private network (VPN)
  • Privacy protections
  • Parental controls
  • Anti-phishing, anti-fraud and anti-spam features

And all that comes with minimal performance impact. No security product is perfect, but for just under $4 a month, Bitdefender gives you broad, sophisticated defenses.

Sophos Home Premium

Sophos has just started undergoing MITRE testing so we have nothing to report there yet, but it does have two years of stellar NSS Labs results, scoring 99.1% in 2019 and posting an A this year while topping Bitdefender in total points, 647 to 600. If Sophos can demonstrate effectiveness in MITRE too, Sophos Home Premium will be hard to beat.

For $45 a year for 10 Windows and macOS devices and unlimited Android and iOS devices, you get predictive artificial intelligence (AI) threat detection that can stop unknown threats and learns by experience (how cool is that?), plus a number of other advanced features:

  • Real-time protection against viruses, malware, Trojans, worms, bots, potentially unwanted apps (PUAs), ransomware and more
  • Parental controls
  • Web protection
  • Banking, privacy and identity protection

Kaspersky Total Security

Yeah, Kaspersky gets dinged a lot for its Russian roots, but we have yet to see proof that there’s any compromise there, and the company has gone out of its way to be transparent, including allowing independent review of its source code and processes.

Kaspersky got a AA rating and 695 score from NSS Labs this year, putting it in the top tier of enterprise endpoint security products. The company stopped only 63% of threats in the most recent round of MITRE testing in our analysis, but with a strong R&D team, Kaspersky will use that knowledge to keep improving.

For $50 a year, Kaspersky Total Security gives you feature-packed, near-enterprise level security for 5 Windows, macOS, Android and iOS devices. Those protections include:

  • AI- and behavioral-based threat detection
  • Email phishing filter
  • Ransomware protection
  • Network monitoring and blocking
  • Credit card protection
  • Two-way firewall
  • Privacy controls
  • Encryption
  • Password manager
  • Webcam protection
  • Parental controls

Microsoft Defender

If you must go with free antivirus protection, at least Microsoft offers a strong option for Windows users. Microsoft’s enterprise-class EDR product, Defender for Endpoints (formerly Advanced Threat Protection), posted stellar results in the latest round of MITRE testing, blocking 86% of attacks in our analysis. Microsoft Defender, the version that comes bundled with Windows 10, doesn’t come with all the features of the pay products listed above, but you won’t do better for free. It’s turned on by default in Windows 10 and turns off if third-party AV protection is installed, but if you want to check, just type “security” into the Windows search bar and go to Windows Security Settings.

Microsoft Defender offers virus and threat protection, firewall and network protection, app and browser control, plus family controls too. Not bad for the incredibly low price of free. Microsoft has been taking security very seriously in recent years, but if you want more than Windows protection, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

If you opt to go the free route with Microsoft Defender, Kaspersky free might be a good choice for mobile devices, but you’ll do best if you take our advice and pay up. $45-$50 a year is cheaper and easier than getting your identity stolen or your computer locked by ransomware. Your internet service provider may also offer free security software that may be quite adequate, but if you want the best, you have our recommendations.

Other security steps

Security doesn’t begin and end with AV software. You need to do all the other things to keep your data safe, like complex passwords that aren’t reused (including on your home router), update your devices regularly, avoid insecure public networks, and for heaven’s sake, ignore suspicious emails, attachments, messages, texts and links. Do all that and your antivirus software may be nothing more than relatively inexpensive peace of mind.

Paul Shread
eSecurity Editor Paul Shread has covered nearly every aspect of enterprise technology in his 20+ years in IT journalism, including an award-winning series on software-defined data centers. He wrote a column on small business technology for, and covered financial markets for 10 years, from the dot-com boom and bust to the 2007-2009 financial crisis. He holds a market analyst certification.

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