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The Best Antivirus Protection for 2021

At the annual Black Hat conference in Las Vegas, security researchers, ethical hackers, and corporate protectors gather (though it was mostly virtual this year) to share what they’ve learned about problems and solutions in the cybersecurity realm. Black Hat presentations often report on the latest developments and are at the forefront of technology. It is exciting but scary.

What’s not exciting? Make sure you have antivirus protection installed on all of your computers. Also, make sure the antivirus software is up-to-date. Online evildoers will not need fancy tricks to steal your data or take control of your devices if you fail to do this simple step. Do not be one of the many sheep that fall prey to well-known, old attacks. Get antivirus protection today. You’re already doing this? It’s a good idea to keep it up-to-date. To help you choose the right antivirus program for you, we’ve tested over 40.

Spyware, Malware, and Adware Protection

Although we call it antivirus, it is unlikely that you will be infected with a computer virus. Malware is all about making money these days, and it’s not easy to spread a virus. Ransomware, data-stealing Trojans, and bots that rent your computer to the bot-herder are all more common. Modern antivirus utilities handle Trojans, rootkits, spyware, adware, ransomware, and more. As noted, PCMag has reviewed more than 40 different commercial antivirus utilities, and that’s not even counting the many free antivirus tools. We’ve named four Editors Choice products from this vast field, awarded four-star ratings to others, and given 3.5 stars to several more. If you have malware, one of the products listed in this article should take care of the problem.

These products provide protection that is beyond what Windows 10 offers. The best free antivirus programs also offer greater protection than Windows 10. However, Microsoft Windows Defender Security Center is looking better and better lately, with some very good scores from independent testing labs. It was able to earn 3.5 stars due to its combination of excellent lab scores and an outstanding score in our hands-on malware protection test. Naturally, it doesn’t make the list of this collection of commercial antivirus products.

Listen to Antivirus Testing Labs

We take the reports of independent antivirus testing laboratories very seriously. It is a sign of confidence that a product appears in the results. This means that the laboratory considered the product important and the company thought the testing was worth the investment. High scores are important too.

We follow four labs that regularly release detailed reports: SE Labs, AV-Test Institute, MRG-Effitas, and AV-Comparatives. We have developed a system to aggregate their results and give a rating between 0 and 10.

We Test Malware, Spyware and Adware Defenses

To get a feel for the product’s functionality, we also test every product in our hands-on malware protection testing. It can earn up to 10 points depending on how well the product stops malware installation.

The same set of samples is used for our malware protection tests over several months. To check a product’s handling of brand-new malware, we test each product using a large collection of extremely new malware-hosting URLs supplied by MRG-Effitas, noting what percentage of them it blocked. All products receive equal credit for blocking access to malicious URLs and for eliminating malware during download.

Some products receive stellar ratings from independent labs but don’t perform as well in our tests. We defer to labs in such cases as they have significantly more resources for testing. Do you want to learn more? You can dig in for a detailed description of how we test security software.

Multilayered Malware Protection

Antivirus products distinguish themselves by going beyond the basics of on-demand scanning and real-time malware protection. You can rate URLs you visit, or those that appear in search results using a red-yellow/green color-coding system. Your system may be blocked from connecting to known malware-hosting URLs, or fraudulent (phishing), pages.

The software can have flaws that can affect your security. It is important to keep Windows and other programs updated so that any flaws can be fixed as quickly as possible. Some antivirus products offer a vulnerability scan that can check for all patches and apply any missing ones.

Spyware can come in many forms. From hidden programs that log every keystroke, to Trojans that steal your personal information while masquerading as legitimate programs, spyware comes in many shapes and sizes. Any antivirus should handle spyware, along with all other types of malware, but some include specialized components devoted to spyware protection.

Antivirus software is expected to find and remove bad programs and leave behind good programs. What about unknown programs, programs that it doesn’t recognize as either good or evil? Behavior-based detection may be able to protect you from malware that is so new that researchers have never seen it. This is not always a good thing. It is not unusual for behavioral detection systems to flag innocuous behavior that is being performed by legitimate programs.

Whitelisting is another way to deal with unknown programs. Whitelisting is a security system that allows only known good programs to run. Unknown programs are prohibited. Although this mode is not suitable for all situations, it can be very useful. Sandboxing allows unknown programs to run but it blocks them from having full access to your computer. This prevents them permanently from harming themselves. These layers are designed to increase your protection against malware.

Ransomware Protection and Firewalls

Although spam filtering and firewalls aren’t commonly used antivirus features, some of our top products offer them as bonuses. These antivirus products have more features than security suites.

Other bonus features include secure browsers that allow financial transactions, secure deletions of sensitive files, wiping traces and browsing history, credit monitoring, and virtual keyboards to foil keyloggers. Cross-platform protection is also available. We’ve also mentioned application whitelisting, vulnerability scanning, sandboxing, and vulnerability scanning.

We’re seeing more and more antivirus products adding modules specifically designed for ransomware protection. Some protect files from unauthorized changes. Others monitor suspicious behavior that could indicate malware. Some people even try to reverse the damage. Any additional protection is helpful, given the rapid growth of this scourge.

Beyond Antivirus

While your antivirus utility runs in the background, it doesn’t have the ability to go beyond your computer. It does not protect against any possible infection by malware. Your data may be compromised in transit if you connect to the wild, wooly internet. Sticking to HTTPS websites when possible can help, but for full protection of your data in transit, you should install a Virtual Private Network or VPN. We are starting to consider this component as an added feature in antivirus software.

What is the best malware protection?

Which antivirus should be chosen? There are many options. Kaspersky Anti-Virus Plus and Bitdefender Antivirus PLUS consistently score perfect or very close to perfect scores in independent antivirus testing labs. McAfee AntiVirus Plus is a single subscription that allows you to install protection on all of your Windows, Android, and Mac OS devices. Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus has the most unique behavior-based detection technology. These are just four of the top commercial antivirus products we recommend, but there are many other options. You can read the top-rated reviews and make your own decision.

Editor’s Note: We are aware that Kaspersky Labs is accused of having inappropriate ties with the Russian government. We will not accept these claims until we have actual proof. However, we will continue to endorse Kaspersky security products so long as they perform well.

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