Best Antivirus Protection Software Review
By Yvonne
2022-10-27

It's 2022 and hackers, scammers and the like are getting smarter every day. This means you should make sure you're using the best antivirus software to keep your information secure. There are tons of different options out there that can protect your computer from malware, and many are even available at no cost. Most of these programs offer a suite of security features including secure browsing, malware protection and monitored downloads.

Windows Defender

Many will even alert you if something you're doing might put your data at risk. When choosing the best antivirus software, you don't want to take any chances. And with so many different options out there, especially for Windows 10 and Windows 11, it can be tough to know which programs will work best. 

Windows devices make up three out of every four laptop or desktop operating systems, according to latest data from Statcounter. Windows-targeted malware has a larger base of devices to infect, giving it more potential in the eyes of cybercriminals. 

We're here to help you find the antivirus software that best fits your needs. These picks of the best antivirus programs are a combination of recommendations from independent third-party labs AV-Test, AV-Comparatives and SE Labs, as well as CNET's own hands-on testing. We regularly research and test software to determine which product leads the pack, and we update this list periodically based on those tests. 

Note that antivirus software is only a piece of the cybersecurity puzzle. Cybercriminals are becoming more sophisticated, and the more steps you take to lock down your online security, the safer you'll be. A secure virtual private network can help protect your internet privacy, and a password manager will help you create and keep track of more secure login credentials. These tools are all essential in protecting your personal information. 

Whether you're looking for free antivirus protection or are willing to pay for a program that offers more security features, we have you covered. Here's where to start when looking for the best antivirus software for your specific needs.

The pricing structure for antivirus services can be complicated, since the providers often offer low introductory prices to entice you to sign up for their services. After the first billing period -- typically a year or two, depending on the plan you purchase -- the amount you pay for the service may increase substantially.

The regular rate for the services may be double the introductory rate or sometimes more. Be sure to check the terms of the subscription plan prior to making your purchase so you don't get an unwelcome surprise once your subscription renews. 

Microsoft Defender: Best free Windows antivirus

Free version? Yes, free antivirus built into Windows 10 and Windows 11.

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 that may be phishing attempts -- 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. In fact, it is one of the best antivirus software options. 

Microsoft Defender

(Note: Microsoft changed the name of Windows Defender to Microsoft Defender and has expanded the service to other platforms.) This free antivirus program is built into Windows, and it's turned on by default, the antivirus engine does 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. 

Windows 10 and 11 will automatically disable its own Windows Defender antivirus when you install third-party antivirus. If you uninstall the third-party protection, Windows will turn back on its own antivirus.

Surfshark Antivirus

Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Android.

Free version?: No.

Paid version: One-year subscription: $30 for five devices. Two-year subscription: $96 for five devices.

Available on Windows, Android, and macOS, Surfshark Antivirus works in real-time, scanning files when you download or open them. This way, antivirus software performs scans only when needed, saving your device's resources and ensuring complete safety at all times. Moreover, Surfshark Antivirus uses a Cloud Protect system to analyze unknown files and protect you from zero-day threats. With instant prevention, no malware will get on your device.

In addition, Surfshark Antivirus lets you fully customize your app — schedule quick or full scans at any time or day, exclude certain files or folders from being scanned, and more. It's lightweight, easy to use, and fully customizable to meet and exceed your Antivirus expectations.

Norton 360 With LifeLock Select: Best antivirus subscription for Windows

Platforms: Windows 10 and 11 plus MacOS, Android, iOS.

Free version? No, but a free 30-day trial is available. 

Cost: $100 per year for five devices (first year).

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. Norton antivirus provides industry-leading security software for PC, Mac and mobile devices. Their products include Antivirus Plus, Norton Secure VPN, Norton 360 for Gamers, Norton 360 with LifeLock Select and more. A five-device subscription for Norton 360 with LifeLock Select is normally $180 per year, but you can get your first year for $80 off.

In addition to malware and virus protection for your computer and mobile device, this antivirus suite provides 100GB of backup to the cloud, safe-browsing tools, a secure 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 compelling option.

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition: Best free antivirus alternative for Windows

Platforms: Windows 10 and 11 plus MacOS, Android, iOS.

Free version? Yes.

Paid version: $40 per year for five devices.

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 and 11. 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, you can choose Bitdefender Total Security or Bitdefender Antivirus Plus. 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.

Malwarebytes: Best on-demand Windows malware removal

Platforms: Windows 10 and 11 plus MacOS, Android.

Free version? Yes, after the 14-day trial expires.

Paid version: $34 per year for one device, $59 for two years for one device. 

Malwarebytes does protect your PC from a virus or malware attack, scoring reasonably well in recent independent testing for guarding against malware threats. But that's not really what Malwarebytes is known for. If you find yourself in trouble, the go-to disinfectant for many is Malwarebytes. You can get protection and disinfection for one device for $34 a year, regularly $45.

To cover five devices -- any combination of Windows, MacOS and Android -- it's $80 for a year of antivirus software. To get the antivirus company's free antivirus version, download this trial version, which "downgrades" to a no-fee on-demand cleaner with fewer features that detects and removes viruses and malware when you run an on-demand antivirus scan after 14 days.

McAfee Total Protection: Solid subscription antivirus alternative

Platforms: Windows 10 and 11 plus MacOS, Android, iOS.

Free version? No, but offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Cost: One-year subscription: $25 for a single device, $35 for five devices and $50 for unlimited devices (prices increase after the first year).

It feels like McAfee Antivirus has been around forever, first on its own in the '80s, then as part of Intel starting in 2010, and then again on its own when Intel spun it off in 2017. And McAfee Total Protection has been around forever because quarter after quarter it creates solid, modern antivirus software that protects your PC. (In recent evaluations by AV-Test, it had high scores on both protection and performance.)

McAfee Total Protection guards five devices against viruses and offers ransomware protection, wards off malicious websites and includes a password manager for $35 (usually $120) for the first year. If you agree to auto-renew your antivirus suite subscription, you get access to McAfee ID Theft Protection Essentials, which monitors for ID fraud.

Trend Micro Maximum Security: Another good subscription option

Platforms: Windows 10 and 11 plus MacOS, Android, iOS.

Free version? No, but a 30-day free trial is available. 

Cost: One-year subscription: $50 for five devices. Two-year subscription: $100 for five devices. 

Maybe this antivirus provider isn't as well known to consumers because of its focus on enterprise security, Trend Micro antivirus security quietly brings its business expertise to the home with its Trend Micro Maximum Security tools.

Trend Micro's software earns high marks from AV-Test -- consistently scoring well for detecting zero-day attacks and widespread viruses and malware. And Trend Micro does a good job of not taxing system resources. Trend Micro's 10-device subscription for computers and mobile devices is $130, but discounted currently at $60.

ESET NOD32 Antivirus: Worthwhile subscription alternative

Platforms: Windows, MacOS

Free version? No, but a 30-day free trial is available, and college students can get up to 50% off. 

Cost: From $50 per year for one device to $90 per year for five devices.

If you're looking for something easy to set up and use, ESET NOD32 antivirus may meet your needs. It earns high scores for usability and offers solid virus protection. A five-device option is $90 for a year, with a 30-day free trial.

Sophos Home: Alternative free Windows antivirus

Platform: Windows plus MacOS.

Free version? Yes.

Paid version: $45 per year for 10 devices.

The free antivirus version of Sophos Home gives you virus protection for three Windows PCs or MacOS devices -- using the company's high-scoring anti-malware tool -- plus a 30-day trial of the company's malware-removal tool. With a $45 annual subscription, you can cover 10 devices.