by PAUL WAGENSEIL & TOM’S GUIDE STAFF Jul 13, 2018, 7:15 AM
It’s a cruel world out there, with no shortage of malware, ransomware and phishing attacks to swoop in and steal your data, money and personal information. So what’s the best way to protect your devices and preserve your peace of mind?
The answer is to build the tallest and thickest wall around your digital life with a premium antivirus suite. Based on our extensive testing, we’ve determined that your best option is Kaspersky Total Security. It offers not only excellent malware detection, but also has webcam protection and a sandboxed browser for safe online banking and shopping.
Why Premium Antivirus?
Premium antivirus products cost upward of $100 per year, but they offer many extra features that low-cost or free antivirus programs don’t have. Their product licenses often cover multiple installations on several platforms — including Mac, Android, iOS and, sometimes, Windows Phone — although other platforms’ software may be more limited. The most cost-effective premium packages offer all-you-can-scan plans, with unlimited device installations across multiple platforms.
All eight products below include parental controls and password managers, and give users online accounts to remotely manage antivirus software on all of their devices. Most of these programs also offer two-way firewalls, system optimizers, file shredders, file encryption and specialized web browsers hardened against infection or hijacking.
A few have anti-theft features to help you track down a lost or stolen laptop, and/or dedicated protection for webcams and specialized defenses against ransomware encryption. Some also include non-security-related features, such as backup software or online storage.
How We Tested
We’ve done extensive evaluations on eight of the latest flagship antivirus suites from Bitdefender, ESET, F-Secure, Kaspersky Lab, McAfee, Norton, Panda Security and Trend Micro. We installed the latest version of each suite on an Asus X555LA laptop running fully patched 64-bit Windows 10 on an Intel Core i3 processor. The laptop had 6GB of RAM and 36GB of files on a 500GB hard drive.
To assess each suite’s ability to protect against malware, we used the most recent sets of antivirus-software evaluations conducted on Windows 7 and Windows 10 by Germany’s AV-TEST lab. The lab routinely subjects programs from about 20 of the world’s leading antivirus makers to onslaughts of both widespread malware and less common, but more dangerous, zero-day malware. We also used results of tests by Austrian lab AV-Comparatives, which every month exposes top antivirus products to current online malware.
Our OpenOffice performance test measures system performance by timing how long a spreadsheet program takes to match 20,000 names and addresses. We ran the test multiple times during each of four scenarios: before a program was installed, after installation but while not scanning, during a full scan and during a quick scan.
We also considered the number and usefulness of each program’s additional security and privacy features, as well as their setups, interfaces and ease of use.
[Editor’s Note: Best Buy has removed Kaspersky Lab products from its shelves, citing concerns regarding Kaspersky’s alleged (but as yet undocumented) ties to the Russian government. However, until we see evidence that Kaspersky software is a threat to consumers, we will continue to recommend it. Here is further clarification of our position.]
Our top pick for a premium antivirus suite is Kaspersky Total Security, which sets itself apart from the crowd with the richest set of defenses and most helpful extra features. It has near-perfect malware detection, imperceptible system load while not scanning, a secure browser for online banking and shopping, a military-grade file shredder, webcam and ransomware protection and a virtual-private-network (VPN) service that kicks in automatically when you connect to an unsafe Wi-Fi network.
Bitdefender Total Security’s feature set nearly matches Kaspersky’s arsenal, and adds anti-theft protection for laptops. Bitdefender’s antivirus engine is just a hair behind Kaspersky’s at stopping malware, and has an even lighter system load.
Norton’s malware protection is just as excellent as Kaspersky’s, yet Norton Security Premium offers fewer useful extra tools. We’re glad, though, that Norton’s formerly crushing system load is now on the light side. Norton Security Premium does have parental controls, backup software and 25GB of online storage, but other premium antivirus suites offer many more ways to protect your data.
Trend Micro Maximum Security (or Premium Security if you buy a 10-device license) stopped nearly every threat thrown at it, but the price of its zealousness was a heavy system load, even when Trend Micro wasn’t actively scanning. Maximum/Premium Security includes a secure banking and shopping browser, dedicated ransomware protection, file encryption and file scanning, but Trend Micro does without the two-way firewall that most of its competitors offer.
For a premium suite, F-Secure SAFE is nearly as no-frills as Norton Security Premium. It does have a hardened web browser, but SAFE’s parental controls and password manager don’t distinguish it from the rest of the flock. (For an extra $20, you can add a VPN client.) F-Secure’s malware protection is very good, though notably prone to false positives, but its system-performance impact is quite heavy.
McAfee Total Protection has a solid lineup of extra features, including a file shredder, file encryption, a network scanner and five licenses for the excellent True Key password manager. (Total Protection’s twin product, McAfee LiveSafe, swaps file encryption for 1GB of online storage.) A single license covers an unlimited number of Windows, Mac, Android, iOS or Windows Phone devices, and McAfee’s malware detection has recently improved to be among the best in the industry. The downsides are that McAfee Total Protection lacks a secure browser and anti-theft protection and has a heavy system-performance impact.
ESET Smart Security Premium offers a moderate system load and a fair assortment of useful features, including a virtual keyboard, a hardened browser, a network scanner and webcam protection. But its malware-protection scores, while decent by industry standards, aren’t quite as wonderful as those of the previous five brands on this page.
As with ESET, Panda’s premium offering has a rich feature set that includes a virtual keyboard, dedicated ransomware protection, backup software, file encryption and a file shredder. (For an extra $25 or $30, Panda Gold gets you 20GB of online storage and 24/7 tech support.) Panda’s system load was moderate, with little passive impact, and we liked its uniquely customizable user interface. Yet the malware protection is only good, not spectacular.