Your PC needs protection against malware, and free antivirus software may be enough. Here’s what to get for Windows 10, and what’s worth paying extra for.
We should all know the rules of how to keep Windows secure and protect our privacy: Don’t open unexpected emails and messages, don’t give out personal information, don’t tap questionable links or download app from shady sites, use secure passwords, keep your Windows software up to date.
BEST WINDOWS ANTIVIRUS SOFTWARE
|Best free antivirus||Microsoft Defender||Yes (built-in to Windows)||See at Microsoft (businesses only)|
|Best subscription antivirus||Norton 360 Deluxe||No||See at Norton|
|Best on-demand malware removal||Malwarebytes||Yes||See at Malwarebytes|
And you can take a few extra steps to ensure you are safe online with a PC: Use a VPN to protect your internet traffic, an end-to-end encrypted messaging app to keep people from spying on your communications, and a password manager to keep track of login credentials.
But if you are looking for a place to start with keeping your Windows device secure, a good first step is to run antivirus software, which monitors your app downloads and keeps an watches for suspicious software behavior.
And here’s the first important thing for you to know: Microsoft Defender — the free antivirus and security software that comes free with Windows 10 and until recently was called Windows Defender — does a fine job of protecting your PC. (Amazingly, Microsoft provided no built-in protection for Windows back in the days of Windows 98 and XP.) Using Microsoft Defender should be your starting point for security on Windows, and most users will find they don’t need to go any further.
However, you can make the case that the Windows security ecosystem is healthier when users don’t depend on just one company for protection. If you favor robust platform diversity, you can easily find solid malware protection from third-party security companies that are up to the task of guarding your PC for free. And most let you also protect all your devices with an annual subscription — though, it’s important to note, that’s largely unnecessary outside the Windows realm.
Looking for free protection, willing to pay for broad antivirus coverage across all your devices, or needing to remove malware from your PC right now? Here’s where to start.
Best on-demand Windows malware removal: Malwarebytes
Malwarebytes does protect your PC from malware, scoring well in recent independent testing for guarding against malware infections. But that’s not really what Malwarebytes is known for. If you find yourself in trouble, the go-to disinfectant for many is Malwarebytes.
Antivirus basics: What to look for
Picking the best Windows antivirus for you means finding one that keeps your PC safe, doesn’t take up a lot of system resources, is easy to use and stays out of the way till you need it. Here’s what to look for.
Effectiveness. Antivirus scans for known viruses, of course, and can offer real-time protection. And it watches for shady websites and suspicious links to keep you out of trouble. It can also monitor unexpected behavior that may be a sign of new and not-yet-identified malware. You want antivirus that can successfully identify these unknown threats without flagging too many false positives.
Light on system resources. You don’t want antivirus that taxes your PC’s resources. If after you install antivirus, websites open slowly, apps download or open sluggishly, or file copies take longer than expected, you may want to try another service. The good news is, all our picks offer a free trial to let you try out the antivirus, so if your system feels sluggish after you install antivirus, you may want to keep looking.
Cost and discounts. Don’t just pay the sticker price for antivirus. Before you buy, check for discounts on a company’s website. Another way to save: The prices we list above are for 10 devices — if the company offered that package — but you can trim your cost if you need to cover just three or five devices. You may also find discounts on an app’s Amazon page.
Privacy. To be effective, antivirus software needs to monitor what’s going on with your PC and check in with company servers about unusual behavior. The companies say they anonymize this technical data as much as possible to protect your privacy. But if you want to know more, the security companies on our list post privacy policies on their websites, so read their privacy statement to learn what the companies do with the information you share.
Protection for other platforms. Microsoft is by far the biggest target for malware. But Android is second, with the largest threat coming from sideloaded apps — those you install outside Google’s Play Store. Google said in the last quarter of 2018, 0.99 percent of apps installed outside the Play Store were a potentially harmful app, or PHA. For those installed from the Play Store, the number drops to 0.042 percent. To stay safe, we do not recommend sideloading apps, but sometimes, like with Fortnite, you might want to. In that case, running malware protection from a trusted security company is not a bad idea.
The threat to MacOS and especially iOS are low, in part because of the tight control Apple has over its app stores. While the Mac does rarely come under attack via sideloaded apps, if you download apps only from the Mac and iOS app stores, and keep your guard up when clicking links and download files, you should be OK without an antivirus app on Apple devices.
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