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The best antivirus software 2018

The best antivirus software around

Enjoying a new laptop or computer this January? Remember, even if you haven't got a brand-spanking new one, it's imperative you protect your machine or device with the best antivirus software possible - it really should be one of the first things you do. It can be a confusing market to browse through but don’t worry - we’ve reviewed a wide range of options available, from premium end products to free software, from some of the biggest players in online security, to help you make a safe and informed decision on the best antivirus software for you.

Those who create malware and viruses constantly come up with new and exciting ways to gain access to your PC and data. However, to combat this, security companies constantly adapt and update their programmes to fend off the miscreants. Often enhanced by feedback tweaks and user experience-led changes, and the versions available are reliable and will have you well covered against threats, all providing great options when looking for the best antivirus software systems.

As a brief snapshot, we highly recommend Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2019 as the best antivirus going. It’s really easy to use, has some great features has, importantly, watertight security tools and is excellent value for money. Have a read about it below, and also check out Norton AntiVirus and Webroot SecureAnywhere that round off our top picks.

The best antivirus

1. Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2019

A most reliable rigorous protector

Operating system: Windows only | Maximum devices covered: 1 | Stand out features: Ransomware protection and remediation, privacy tools, VPN, Safepay

Great value
Password manager
Accurate, and reliably catches the nasties
Can be a bit resource draining

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2019's annual fee may look expensive - particularly when compared to the non-existent fees for free programmes - but you get a whole host of benefits and securities for it. And, all it takes is a quick look at any major antivirus rankings to see that Bitdefender's security products are consistently near the top and considered some of the best.

It is accurate in its virus detecting, filters the web to block access to malicious sites, secures your browser that keeps your online banking and shopping transactions safe, and there's a safe and sound password manager which can retain your payment card details securely for web forms. It also wins points for offering an excellent anti-phishing service, which alerts you to malicious sites and blocks dangerous ones when using search engines.

2019's version brings with it some new features: the ability to scan all your linked devices through the Bitdefender Central mobile app and ransomware protection that learns the behaviour of dangers to keep you safe. It can be a little resource hungry, requiring a fair bit of 'juice' and also potentially having a fight with some other programs, but overall Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2019 is a great package offering great, subtle performance, excellent detection rates and some extra features all bundled in that easily justify the price.

If you're looking for more protection from Bitdefender, the Internet Security 2019 package builds on AVP 2019 and triples the number of devices covered. It also offers parental control, file encryption and a firewall and anti-spam. Further to this, you can get the Total Security 2019 edition which includes all of the above and extends its reach to five PCs, Macs, Android and iOS devices.

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2019 | $59.99 Now $23.99 (£39.99 £19.99) a year
Take advantage of a whopping saving for subscriptions at Bitdefender right now and protect your PC and devices for less. UK readers can find the offer here.

Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus

Lightweight without compromising on protection

Operating system: Windows and Mac | Maximum devices covered: 1 | Stand out features: Always-on security, identity protection, real-time anti-phishing, firewall monitor

Extremely light and undemanding on system resources
Super fast
No testing data from major labs

It's difficult to find a truly 'lightweight' antivirus programme, or one that uses hardly any system resources. However, Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus can make that claim. Installation takes mere seconds, the program takes up only a handful of megabytes on you hard drive, the amount of RAM it needs is minute, and there are no enormous signature updates to tie up your bandwidth.

Though this feather-lite touch doesn't mean it skimps on features. On top of its core protections, you get a firewall and network monitor, anti-ransomware, smart behaviour monitoring, accurate real-time anti-phishing, as well as some other interesting extras.

Because the major testing labs rarely evaluate their packages, it's not easy to compare Webroot's efficacy with its immediate competitors, however, when they are reviewed, they generally score well, and our own tests show solid and reliable protection.

It really is one to like, and it's lightweight nature make it a very attractive proposition, and Webroot's 70-day 100% money-back guarantee suggests it's confident in the product, too. If you're tired of complicated and bloated systems, Webroot should definitely be on your shortlist.

The latest US prices are $19.99 for a single device for one year, and $29.99 for three device for a year. While in the UK you can pay £22.49 for the one device for one year, and £37.49 for three devices for one year.

Norton Antivirus basic

A recognised name that does everything well

Operating system: Windows only | Maximum devices covered: 1 | Stand out features: Advanced privacy security, financial security, global civilian intelligence network

Low demand on system resources
Fends off even the latest malware
Browser extensions can be unreliable

Norton is an established name in antivirus software and so many will gravitate toward it and its reputation. This version, Norton AntiVirus Basic, is true to the quality in Norton's reputation: it is a top quality malware hunter which will protect your PC all on its own, automatically. One of the main reasons we rank it so highly is that it's also one of the very best value paid-for security packages around at the moment.

The package is great for those who like to be hands on and those who prefer to can set all its features and settings 'just so'. Other features on offer are a handy URL blocker that keeps malicious websites at bay, and if that misses something, an excellent file reputation service heuristically recognises suspect downloads immediately. Beyond this, if any devious malware can still find its way through, the intelligent behaviour monitor uses its up-to-date virus definitions to quarantine threats at the first sign of trouble. 

The problems that do rear their head are in the browser extensions. While the bundled-in Norton Identity Safe is a perfectly serviceable password manager when it's running properly, it can just stop for no apparent reason when using Chrome. The flip side to that is that you don't have to use Identity Safe. And elsewhere Norton AntiVirus Basic's main functions and securities deliver: it's easy to use, comes highly rated by the labs, has the configuration options experts need, and is deliberately designed to have the least possible impact on your system's performance.

Current US prices are $14.99 for one device for one year, and in the UK its £24.99 for the one year cover for one device.

The best free antivirus

There's no denying that the paid-for premium antivirus packages will have a particular allure for those who want the smoothest run, or the most security. they'll offer you some particular features such as parental controls, advanced firewalls and spam filters. They also give you the extra benefit of omitting the pop-ups trying to persuade into upgrading to a full or paid-for version. And, perhaps contrary to popular opinion, they don't actually cost too much, as shown above.

Having said that, you can get great protection free, with just about every single major company out there offering a free antivirus. This continues to help them as it gives them access to more data and so constantly update and improve their libraries and security packages. As a result, it's in their interest to keep a good level of product with the free entries into the library and not to reduce the amount of protection.

If you're determined to go down the free route, we've got a couple that you should investigate to ensure you pick the best free antivirus software for you.

Bitdefender Antivirus Free

Definitely the best free package going

Operating system: Windows, Mac, Android | Version: 2018 | Features: Phishing protection, Behavioural analysis, Automatic scanning

Terrific virus identification
Fast, efficient scanning
Scan scheduling not possible

This package provides a clean and well-constructed scanning system teamed with an unrivalled library of virus definitions and means that Bitdefender is top of the pile once again. Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is a nice, light version of the premium package.

Bitdefender's free version does insist on running in the background on autopilot and while this takes the hassle out of the users hands it also opens up the possibility of it going a bit rogue. Some free software packages have caused  bit of havoc before, identifying themselves as threats and then locking up Windows systems. (This is still rare, though, so it's not a constant danger.)

It's worth pointing out that Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, our top paid-for pick, is only the equivalent of about $2 per month away from the free edition. When broken down to this costing, it shows that it really is a small amount to pay for a whole host of extras, such as integrated password manager, free online 24/7 support and permanent file shredder. 

Kaspersky Free

A great free version from a great name

Operating system: Windows | Version: 18.0.0.405 | Features: Real-time scanning, Anti-phishing, Email scanning, Spyware protection

Very user-friendly and easy to navigate
Accurate and reliable
No great technical support
Limited to basic features only

Perhaps a little predictably - but in a good way - Kaspersky Free is a scaled down version of the full package. The free iteration removes the additional features such as privacy protection and safe payment sandboxes to concentrate on a no-frills, very capable, free protection for your PC. The result is a an antivirus software that easy to  navigate and interact with but one that does an effective job of keeping your machine safe.

Using the nuts and bolts real-world scanning engine of the paid-for suite, Kaspersky Free is fiendishly hard for viruses and Trojan horses to break down. And we love that it doesn't constantly pester you with nudges to upgrade to the full version.

But, do bear in mind that the paid-for version isn't that expensive and provides a more comprehensive level of cover for your PC (or PCs). The price is $29.99 to protect three computers and can swing a mighty bat against ransomware, spyware and Trojans.

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