Protecting your PC or Mac from a virus or malware is easy with internet security software. Get our expert picks of the best free and paid for software and advice on whether to opt for free or paid, or simply stick with Microsoft Windows 10 Security (Defender).

Padlock on keyboard 412507 Best antivirus software 2022

Equipping your computer with virus protection doesn’t have to cost a penny – we’ve pinpointed the best free antivirus downloads that impressed us most in our lab tests.

These free tools even outperformed a number of paid-for security suites. We take a look at the features you can expect to find on both free and paid software, plus the benefits of Microsoft Windows 10 Security, previously known as Windows Defender, and whether you need antivirus on a Mac.

 

Paid anti-virus software

Top protection: Comprehensive defence against fraudsters, viruses, plus anti-phishing to stop scammers

Flexible: Pay a little extra to cover multiple devices

Useful extras: Identity protection, parental controls, back-up and tune-up tools Many people keep their computer safe by paying for a security suite (almost half of our members, according to our recent survey), which will usually include antivirus software, protection against scams and a firewall.

Depending on how many devices you want to protect, your security package is likely to cost between £20 and £60 for one year.

Paid-for security software suites, such as McAfee Antivirus Plus, often come with extra features such as parental controls and tools for maintenance, back-up and recovery that can help you restore your computer in the event of a disaster.

Generally, they also have better customer service and technical support than free internet security. So if there’s a particular feature or function you want, make sure the program you download has it.

Most brands have options for just one device or, for more money, multi-user licences so you can install the same protection on two or more computers in your home. Some also allow you to pay extra up-front for a further year or two of cover.

Pros of: Provides an all-round security solution accessed through a single interface. Individual components are automatically updated at the same time so you get protection against the latest threats.

Cons: They can be expensive and you’ll also face ongoing costs, usually in the form of an annual subscription, to receive updates after the initial period of protection is over (usually a year).

Free anti-virus software

Key features:Expect all the essentials to be covered, such as protection against malware

Effective security: Free tools often perform no worse at core protection than the paid alternative

Mix and match: Missing some extras? Additional free tools could fill the gaps. You may not need to buy security software. Depending on the type of computer you have, it may already come with certain security features installed on it.  For example, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10 PCs come equipped with Microsoft Windows 10 Security (Defender) – see more below.

This is a decent base-level of protection and you can always download additional anti-spyware, anti-spam and PC clean-up software for extra coverage and protection.

Alternatively, you can download a free antivirus software package to provide an extra level of protection over Defender.

Free antivirus packages can usually handle most types of malware and Best Buy free antivirus packages are easier to use, too.  Free antivirus sometimes comes with additional features, although the packages are relatively bare bones compared to paid software. Plus, they usually only protect one of your devices.

Pros: A good level of basic protection against malware. You can download the packages for free with no long-term contract or commitment.

Cons: Lack the extra features of paid-for security software. Free antivirus software is typically for use on a single computer, so you’ll need to download, install and manage a separate version if you have more than one computer. Download a package to give you peace of mind with our best free antivirus software .

Should I use Microsoft Windows 10 Security (Defender)?

The biggest shake-up in PC security for years came with Microsoft’s launch of Windows 8. Unlike previous versions, it came with lots of security features integrated into the operating system.

One of the key changes was the replacement of Microsoft Security Essentials with Microsoft Windows 10 Security (Defender).

Microsoft Windows 10 Security has been beefed up to include antivirus protection along with anti-spyware features.

It runs in the background and notifies you when you need to take action. Windows 8 and 10 users are further protected by a two-way firewall that monitors the information going back and forth to the internet.

Other features include a SmartScreen filter to help protect against phishing scams, plus parental controls to monitor children’s activities online.

Windows 8 and Windows 10 both include a Secure Boot option that prevents malware from gaining a foothold on your PC during start-up.

Pros: We found that Microsoft Windows 8 and 10 have strong built-in security and antivirus features.

Cons: Because of the sheer amount of Windows users, Microsoft’s operating system is frequently made the target of hackers and virus creators. If Windows Defender is your only line of defence, we’d still recommend upgrading to a standalone security program.

And PC users with versions of Windows prior to Windows 8 should certainly install separate security software – nowadays, Microsoft Security Essentials just isn’t watertight enough.

Best antivirus software 2022

 

Mac security software

Despite their reputation for being more secure than Windows PCs, Apple Mac computers are not immune from viruses and malware. With more Apple products being sold, the target audience for hackers is becoming more attractive.

This makes it more likely that viruses will be designed specifically to attack Macs, so it makes sense to think about Mac security software. In fact, we’ve seen a recent increase in Mac malware, typically in the form of annoying pop-up adverts and software that makes unwanted changes to settings, or causes other programs to malfunction.

Apple continues to boost security in each new version of the MacOS operating system. But Macs do not include antivirus or anti-spyware software, although they do have a built-in firewall to block attacks from malicious users online.

There’s plenty of paid-for and free security software for the Mac to choose from.

Pros: Apple computers are generally less vulnerable than PCs, so you may decide that you don’t need to splash out on antivirus software for your Mac.

Cons: Perhaps due to Apple computers’ reputation for being less susceptible to malware, there aren’t a huge amount of security packages available – and those we have tested scored worse, on average, than antivirus suites for Windows

 

Best antivirus software Reviews

ESET Internet Security review

Test scoreShow Context

81%

Key features

  • Paid-for
  • PC
Compare

verdict: Excellent protection and easy to use

ESET has passed our tests with flying colours once again, with excellent protection. It’s a great backstop against viruses.

Pros
  • Great virus and ransomware protection
  • Easy to use
  • Comes with a firewall
  • Auto-renewal off by default
Cons
  • Didn’t stop all phishing websites

F-Secure Safe review

£60.00Typical price

Test scoreShow Context

81%

Key features

  • Paid-for
  • PC
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verdict: Brilliant anti-malware

F-Secure has massively improved for 2021, going from an also-ran in 2020 to one of the top-scorers this year. It’s a Best Buy and provides excellent protection.

Pros
  • Great protection from malware and phishing
  • Easy to use
Cons
  • Doesn’t automatically scan USB drives
  • Overall scanning performance could be slightly better

Bitdefender Internet Security review

£58.00Typical price

Test scoreShow Context

81%

Key features

  • Paid-for
  • PC
Compare

verdict: Great protection and lots of features

Bitdefender is an excellent antivirus suite with plenty of useful features and, most importantly, good protection from malware. It earns a Best Buy.

Pros
  • Excellent protection from active threats
  • Useful additional tools
  • Automatic renewal can easily be turned off
Cons
  • Download protection not 100% reliable
  • Auto-renewal wording is unnecessarily bleak

Trend Micro Internet Security review

£60.00Typical price

Test scoreShow Context

80%

Key features

  • Paid-for
  • PC
Compare

 verdict: Excellent protection

Trend Micro offers a good level of protection from active malware threats and is very easy to use, but other competing packages manage better performance when scanning for dormant malware. It’s good, but it doesn’t hit the big time.

Pros
  • Excellent protection against ransomware
  • Reliable phishing protection
  • Easy to use
Cons
  • Less reliable with no internet connection

Kaspersky Internet Security review

£45.00Typical price

Test scoreShow Context

80%

Key features

  • Paid-for
  • PC
Compare

 verdict: Great protection and lots of features

Kaspersky offers excellent protection, with just a couple of minor misses here and there, and earns itself Best Buy status. It’s an excellent option if you’re looking for an easy-to-use and comprehensive security package.

Pros
  • Good protection from viruses and ransomware
  • Easy to use
  • Phone and live chat support options
Cons
  • Scanning could be more effective
  • Very small VPN allowance

Kaspersky Security Cloud Free review

£0.00Typical price

Test scoreShow Context

80%

Key features

  • Free
  • PC
Compare

 verdict: Brilliant free protection

Good overall protection, and a lightweight and easy-to-use program makes Security Cloud a decent free choice and, for the first time, it gets Best Buy status and is the best free package we tested this year.

Pros
  • Good active malware protection
  • Robust ransomware protection
  • Easy to use
Cons
  • Scanning missed a few pieces of malware

Norton 360 Deluxe review

£84.00Typical price

Test scoreShow Context

80%

Key features

  • Paid-for
  • PC
Compare

verdict: Packed with features and good protection

Norton 360 Security Deluxe’s overall protection is very good and it’s packed with useful extras. It isn’t perfect, but you can be confident that it will protect you when you need it and eanrs a Best Buy.

Pros
  • Good virus protection
  • Lots of features
Cons
  • Offline protection not as effective
  • Auto-renewal on by default
  • Annoying ‘protection promise’

AVG Antivirus Free review

£0.00Typical price

Test scoreShow Context

78%

Key features

  • Free
  • PC
Compare

 verdict: Good free protection

AVG provides some of the best free protection for Windows PCs, but in our latest round of testing it’s beaten by Kaspersky.

Pros
  • Good protection against malware
  • Doesn’t slow down your PC
Cons
  • More basic than some free packages

G Data Internet Security review

£40.00Typical price

Test scoreShow Context

78%

Key features

  • Paid-for
  • PC
Compare

verdict: Good, but phishing is lacking

G Data fared pretty well in our lab tests, protecting effectively against viruses and providing reliable scans both with and without an internet connection. Its weakest suit was phishing, which was disappointing compared to some of the very best packages on test.

Pros
  • Good malware protection
  • Easy to use
  • Auto-renewal off by default
Cons
  • Phishing protection not up there with the best

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition review

£0.00Typical price

Test scoreShow Context

78%

Key features

  • Free
  • PC
Compare

verdict: Effective, free protection

BitDefender is a reliable guard against malware and ransomware, but isn’t quite as effective at defending against phishing attacks and its scans aren’t quite up there with the very best. Still, it’s easy to use and one of the better free products we’ve tested.

Pros
  • Simple app
  • Great real-time protection
Cons
  • No help
  • No scheduled scanning
  • Scans less effective than real-time protection

Avast Premium Security review

£75.00Typical price

Test scoreShow Context

78%

Key features

  • Paid-for
  • PC
Compare

 verdict: A good paid-for package

With good protection and some useful extra features, Avast Premium Security is a good antivirus package. It’s slightly behind the very best, however, see our Best Buys page.

Pros
  • Excellent protection
  • Easy to use
Cons
  • No better at stopping malware than the free version
  • Some in-app ads

McAfee Total Protection review

£87.00Typical price

Test scoreShow Context

78%

Key features

  • Paid-for
  • PC
Compare

 verdict: Strong protection

McAfee puts in a good performance in many areas, including protection against malware and phishing. Its scans aren’t quite as effective as the very best, though, meaning it just falls short of the very best products on test this year.

Pros
  • Best phishing protection on test
  • Good virus protection
  • Easy to use
Cons
  • Automatic renewal on by default
  • Browser extensions change default search engine
  • Download protection could be better

AVG Internet Security review

£80.00Typical price

Test scoreShow Context

77%

Key features

  • Paid-for
  • PC
Compare

verdict: Strong protection

AVG’s paid-for product provides good protection and some extra features for your money. It’s not the most feature-packed paid-for antivirus package, so you may be just as happy sticking with the free option especially given how expensive this is when buying direct from AVG.

Pros
  • Deals with all forms of malware effectively
  • Good phishing protection
  • Additional firewall
Cons
  • Protection the same as free version
  • Poor auto-renewal experience
  • Very expensive

Avast Free Antivirus review

£0.00Typical price

Test scoreShow Context

77%

Key features

  • Free
  • PC
Compare

 verdict: Effective free protection

Avast Free Antivirus is a good choice for anybody looking to protect their Windows PC without spending a penny. Its stablemate, the paid-for Avast Internet Security, is equally good at protection and has extra features some may find useful, but if you don’t need them, this free edition is ideal. However, we found its in-app advertising annoying, so this may well put you off.

Pros
  • Excellent protection from malware
Cons
  • Lots of prompts to pay for an upgrade

Avira Antivirus Pro review

£48.00Typical price

Test scoreShow Context

76%

Key features

  • Paid-for
  • PC
Compare

verdict: Good protection but some annoying features

Avira protects effectively against viruses but it can be a fiddly to use and has in-app advertising that can be something of an annoyance. It’s not bad, but there are better antivirus options.

Pros
  • Strong malware protection
  • Lots of features included
Cons
  • Auto-renewal on by default
  • Not all extra features installed by default
  • Can be a bit clunky
  • Some features require further payment

Avira Free Security Suite review

£0.00Typical price

Test scoreShow Context

76%

Key features

  • Free
  • PC
Compare

verdict: Free to use but sometimes annoying

Avira Free is a good piece of free antivirus software. It’s not perfect – we don’t like how it bundles in an entire suite of paid-for extras that you have to remove – but once that initial pain is over with, it’s a great last line of defence against malware.

Pros
  • Good protection
Cons
  • Lots of locked features and encouragement to upgrade

F-Secure Safe (Mac) review

£60.00Typical price

Test scoreShow Context

75%

Key features

  • Paid-for
  • Mac
Compare

 verdict: Excellent protection

F-Secure is one of only two brands (alongside Bitdefender) to be Best Buys for both its Windows and Mac products. This makes F-Secure one of the best choices if you’re after antivirus for a mix of devices.

Pros
  • Effective virus protection
  • Great phishing protection
  • Easy to use
  • Well-designed
Cons
  • So-so scanning performance

Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac review

£40.00Typical price

Test scoreShow Context

74%

Key features

  • Paid-for
  • Mac
Compare

verdict: Excellent protection for Macs

With excellent virus protection that prevents even the nastiest strains from running, Bitdefender is an excellent choice for Mac and is one of only two Best Buy Mac antivirus software we tested this year. It’s not perfect, though, as its scans aren’t close to being the best on test, but it’s otherwise excellent.

Pros
  • Good live protection
  • Decent phishing protection
Cons
  • Mildly threatening auto-renewal wording
  • Scans could be better

AVG Antivirus for Mac (Free) review

£0.00Typical price

Test scoreShow Context

72%

Key features

  • Free
  • Mac
Compare

verdict: Our top-scoring free Mac antivirus suite

It’s a basic piece of software with few extras, but it’s hard to complain, given it’s free and its protection is this good.

Pros
  • Good virus protection
  • Strong against phishing
Cons
  • Fairly basic

Sophos Home Free review

£0.00Typical price

Test scoreShow Context

72%

Key features

  • Free
  • PC
Compare

verdict: Not quite up to scratch

It’s easy to set up and use, and good at stopping viruses from running. But it didn’t manage top marks when scanning for viruses or preventing phishing attacks. It’s good, but not brilliant.

Pros
  • Stops running viruses effectively
  • Remote management feature
  • Really easy to use
Cons
  • Virus scanning could be better
  • Missed some phishing attacks