Choosing the antivirus program that most closely matches your needs can be a daunting task.
With so many products on the market you may feel as though you need to be a computer security expert just to pick the right provider in the first place.
Beyond that, you may well have many more questions such as:
- Do you need an antivirus program in the first place?
- Are the security solutions bundled with recent versions of Windows good enough for your needs?
- Would an alternative free antivirus program be sufficient?
- Is an antivirus solution enough on its own or should you be looking to pair it up with a firewall?
- Can you trust the vendor to help you should you have trouble installing or operating their software?
- Will the antivirus program you choose get the job done? Is it reliable? Is it highly rated and effective?
- Is your hardware configuration good enough to run the software? Will antivirus scans bring your machine to its knees?
Of course we are here to help answer those questions, both directly and via our own comprehensive reviews. You can also check out our FAQs for quick answers to some common questions.
So let’s get started with some answers:
Do you need an antivirus program?
In a nutshell: yes.
Back in the early days of computing, viruses and other forms of malware were relatively rare.
Often coded by lone wolves intent on having ‘fun’ or creating a small amount of frustration among the early adopters, the creation of new malicious code was so low-key that the early security companies would only send out updates to their programs on floppy disk every few months.
Subscribers could sleep well at night, safe in the knowledge that their PCs were highly unlikely to become infected with anything nasty.
Fast forward to the end of last year and the threat landscape now looks altogether different.
As The Register reported in September 2014, the number of new malware samples released every day is quite staggering: 227,747, equivalent to 158 new threats per minute.
Even more interesting is the fact that only 9% of new threats in the third quarter of 2014 were viruses – the vast majority (75%) of new malicious code being written today is trojans which are typically designed to steal banking logins and other sensitive information.
Your best defence against the threat posed by trojans, worms, viruses and rootkits is to have security software installed on all your machines, especially those that are connected to the internet – as most are these days.
By installing an antivirus program, you will greatly improve your chances of detecting and neutralising those threats.
While no AV program offers a ‘magic bullet,’ they are a critical first step in securing your device.
Do the free tools baked into recent editions of Windows offer sufficient protection?
Microsoft has, for some time now, offered free security tools to owners of its Windows operating system, either through the downloadable Microsoft Security Essentials or through Windows Defender which can be found bundled with Windows 8, 8.1 and now 10.
While both are free, compact, easy to use and offer some level of protection, independent testing labs, such as AV-Comparatives, have often concluded that their effectiveness is quite limited.
Therefore our advice is to avoid Microsoft’s baked in security and look instead to some of the many alternatives.
Are free antivirus programs good enough?
Not all antivirus programs are created equal and many attempt to differentiate themselves from the competition either via the additional features they offer or by price.
As we believe in offering you an informed choice, our reviews look at both paid and free security software.
While free AV programs could be right for you – free is free after all, and your needs may be fairly modest – they do tend to skimp on the list of features they offer, or the amount or cost of the support they come with.
Our antivirus reviews will evaluate just what you will get from a free antivirus program and assess whether that offers better value for your needs versus a paid alternative.
Does a standalone antivirus program offer enough protection or should you pair it up with a firewall, or go for a full internet security suite?
Such an important question is not one we can answer on your behalf – the answer lies in how you use your computer, laptop or other device.
If you are an occasional surfer who never visits any websites that could be deemed as questionable then you will still need some security in order to protect yourself from the possibility of accidentally visiting an otherwise legitimate site that has been hacked and injected with malware.
You will also need to think about the risk of installing malware from borrowed CDs, DVDs and USB sticks, as well as the threat posed by malicious email attachments.
Overall though, a small, free antivirus program may serve your needs well enough.
On the other hand, heavy surfers, those of you banking online, or making web purchases with your credit cards, will probably appreciate the extra protection afforded by having additional security features in your arsenal.
If this sounds like you, we would definitely recommend a firewall and anti-spyware as a minimum starting point and would also suggest that you may wish to look into full internet security suites which often cost just a little more than an antivirus program but offer all these features and many more besides.
Does paying for your antivirus program guarantee that you’ll receive adequate support from the vendor?
In a nutshell: no.
Our experience of antivirus vendors tells us that customer support is not always proportional to the price you pay for the product.
While it is certainly true that the companies offering free AV products tend to offer less support in the first place, it is also true that handing over your hard earned cash may not earn you the right to rely upon 24/7 support via phone or email.
Our reviews will give you a good idea of both the level of support you should expect to receive with any given product, and the ease with which you can expect to call upon it when required.
Will your antivirus program of choice give you the level of protection that you need?
That is, of course, the million dollar question.
While there are many factors to consider when choosing an antivirus program, including:
- Ease of use
- Level and availability of support
- Minimum system requirements
- Additional features, such as anti-spyware, online banking protection, firewalls, social media plugins, phishing protection and more
The most important consideration for most of you will be whether or not it can get the main job done – protecting your computing device from the numerous threats it could face as you traverse the internet.
With that in mind, our antivirus reviews will take a close look at just how effective each program is.
Own an older machine? Will your antivirus program even work and, if so, will it render your computer unusable for anything else while running a scan?
As technology marches on at what appears to be an ever-increasing pace it’s easy to forget that not everyone has the latest processors or the fastest solid state drives in their desktop PCs.
And why should they?
Unless you are gaming (and if you are, you may want to read our reviews to see how your preferred antivirus program deals with that situation) or editing videos, then much older machines are still perfectly adequate for the majority of tasks.
Email, word processing, web surfing and online banking are all quite possible on PCs manufactured in the last decade.
But how old is too old for the latest antivirus protection?
Well, the good news is that the vast majority of security software will run on very low spec machines so the minimum system requirements may not be an issue for you.
But you will want to check, just to be certain.
There’s nothing worse that a program that doesn’t work, or one that slows your machine to a total standstill when you have work to do, is there?
Read our reviews!
So, which antivirus program is the right one for you and your family?
The simple answer is that there is no simple answer – everyone’s needs are different and, for the most part, there certainly isn’t a wrong choice (the major vendors’ products may vary in effectiveness and usefulness but they all get the job done to some degree or another).
That’s why picking the right one for you can be so damned hard.
While some people will fall back on the strangest of reasons for purchasing a particular product – yes, some of those boxes do look nice and, yes, it can be convenient to stick with the antivirus program that came with your computer, the truth is that your decision deserves a greater level of consideration than that.
If you want a program that will give you the level of protection you need and deserve then you need to pick one that suits you as an individual, that works hand in hand with the type of computing you do, and that isn’t too demanding for the machine you are installing it on.
You’ll also want a program that’s easy to use and value for money – after all, why pay if a free version is good enough?
Equally, why go cheap if a far better level of protection can be had inexpensively?
If you need help walking through this minefield then trust in us – we’ve reviewed all the best antivirus programs and our expert reviews will tell you everything you need to know before picking the right software to match your needs.