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The best antivirus protection for Windows 10

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Your Windows PC needs protection against malware, and free antivirus software may be enough. Here’s the best antivirus protection for Windows 10, and what’s worth paying extra for.

Guarding your privacy and keeping your personal data safe extends beyond virus protection, and that’s where third-party antivirus software shines. A full protection package can monitor your Windows computer as well as MacOS, iOS and Android devices and include a password manager, a VPN, parental controls, secure online backup, identity theft protection — all worthwhile tools that can guard your privacy and keep your data secure.

To help you decide, I’ve put together a list of the best antivirus products for Windows 10, encompassing both free antivirus programs and subscription options. This list is updated periodically.

My recommendations

Looking for free antivirus protection, malware protection or virus detection, willing to pay for an antivirus program that offers broad internet security coverage across all your devices, including from ransomware and phishing, or need to remove a computer virus or malware from your PC right now? Here’s where to start.

  1. Microsoft Defender

Free version? Yes, built into Windows 10

Paid version: Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection is available to corporate users for a fee

Honestly, if you practice safe computing — you keep your software up to date, you use strong passwords (with the help of a password manager), you steer clear of unexpected emails and you don’t click suspicious links — you probably can avoid zero-day attacks and ransomware attacks. And with the free Microsoft Defender Antivirus software running on Windows 10, you have a malware protection safety net if you do let your guard down. (Note that Microsoft changed the name of Windows Defender to Microsoft Defender and has expanded the service to other platforms.) This antivirus program is built into Windows and it’s turned on by default, so just let it do its thing, and this antivirus solution will cover the basics of internet security. Microsoft pushes new updates frequently. Defender also lets you tune the level of protection you want, giving you control over blocking potentially unwanted apps and protecting folders and files from a ransomware attack. 

Note that Windows 10 will automatically disable its own Windows Defender antivirus when you install third-party antivirus. If you uninstall the third-party protection, Windows 10 will turn back on its own antivirus.

2. Norton 360 with LifeLock

Norton

Platforms: Windows 10 plus MacOS, Android, iOS

Cost: $150 per year for five devices, on sale for $100

For a long time, Norton Security — now called NortonLifeLock, and no longer part of Symantec — has earned high marks from AV-Test, AV Comparatives and SE Labs for virus and malware detection. A five-device subscription for Norton 360 with LifeLock Select is normally $150, but you can sign up for $100 for the first year to get coverage across your PCs, Mac computer, Android devices, and iPhones and iPads. (Note, we don’t think antivirus protection is terribly useful outside the Windows realm.) In addition to malware and virus protection for your computer and mobile device, this security suite provides 100GB of backup to the cloud, safe-browsing tools, a VPN, password manager, parental controls and LifeLock identity theft protection and fraud alert. While not all of those services are necessarily best in their respective class, getting them all in one package is a pretty compelling option.

3. Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition

Platforms: Windows 10 plus MacOS, Android, iOS

Free version? Yes

Paid version: $45 per year for five PCs

If you’d like to take a step up in securing your PC without taxing your wallet, it’s hard to beat Bitdefender’s free antivirus software for Windows 10. The Windows security software offers real-time monitoring for viruses, malware, spyware and ransomware protection. Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is easy to set up and stays out of your way until you need it. And the protection this antivirus product offers is solid. Bitdefender antivirus software consistently earns top marks for its antivirus protection and usability from the respected AV-Test independent testing lab. The free antivirus version covers one Windows PC. For broader protection, Bitdefender Total Security 2020 is usually $90 and available at the moment for $45 for the first year. The subscription antivirus suite lets you protect five devices (Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android), set up parental controls on a kid’s computer and run a VPN.

4. Avast?

Test after test, Avast’s antivirus for Windows performs well for malware detection. And we’ve included its antivirus in our list of recommended security app options before. But Avast was in the news for several months for its non-antivirus business, so we want to look at the company, specifically the reports at the end of last year that Avast allegedly collected user data with its browser plug-ins and antivirus software and then this year that it sold data it collected through its subsidiary company Jumpshot.

In response to the reports that his company gathered and sold the details of its customers’ online activities, Avast’s CEO Ondrej Vlcek said in a statement¬†that he understood that his company’s actions raised questions of trust in his company. To address that, he said that in January of this year, Avast terminated Jumpshot data collection and will wind down Jumpshot’s operations because the data collection business is not in line with Avast’s privacy priorities.

These newer reports follow another in 2019 from Avast that its internal network was breached, possibly to insert malware into its CCleaner software, similar to an earlier CCleaner hack that occurred prior to Avast’s acquiring the Windows utility.

Avast is now saying the right things about taking its customers’ privacy seriously, but it only came to that point after reacting to investigative reporting that revealed the Jumpshot practices. (The CCleaner revelations, while concerning, were self-disclosed, which is important to building user trust.) We hope Avast’s more privacy-friendly policies mean that there will be no further Jumpshot-style activities. In the meantime, we’d recommend using one of the many other solid choices in this realm (listed above).

5. Kaspersky?

Because the company has been in the news the past few years, let’s talk about Kaspersky Lab — specifically about the federal ban that blocks US government agencies from using Kaspersky products.

Based in Moscow, Kaspersky Lab has for years produced some of the best antivirus software for business antivirus needs and home customers. But in 2017 the US government prohibited Kaspersky software on federal government computers because of alleged ties between Kaspersky and the Russian government.

Notably, the ban does not apply to its consumer products. But, as with China-based Huawei, the question remains: If the federal government doesn’t think the products are safe enough for its own devices, should consumers avoid them as well?

In a statement sent to CNET, the company said, “Kaspersky Lab has no ties to any government, and the company has never, nor will ever, engage in cyber offensive activities. Kaspersky Lab maintains that no public evidence of any wrongdoing has been presented by the US government, and that the US government’s actions against Kaspersky Lab were unconstitutional.”

In Kaspersky’s favor, it continues to earn top scores and awards for virus and malware detection and endpoint security from independent testing labs. And it’s reasonably priced.

In the end, even though no one has ever publicly produced a “smoking gun” linking the company to Russian intrigue, we think any of the options listed above are a safer bet. And, if you are a US government employee or work with the federal government, you’ll want to steer clear of Kaspersky.

For help on getting the best Anti-Virus for your system, do well to leaver a comment.

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