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Top 5 paid-for antivirus to protect your computer


Introduction

Windows has an outstanding built-in antivirus suite in the form of Microsoft Defender, but paid-for consumer anti-malware suites still offer features that Microsoft lacks, from firewalls with a friendlier interface, to webcam protection and support for Windows 7 and 8.1.

Other tools include password managers, VPNs and parental controls, and the quality of all of these play into our rating and verdicts. Equally important for many users are interruption-free “gaming modes”, that mute notifications and CPU-intensive scans when you’re running an application in fullscreen mode.

Finally, we take into account renewal fees, automated renewal practices and other potential hidden pitfalls. Putting it all together, these are five of the best paid-for consumer anti-malware tools you can buy right now.

How we test

Learn more about how we test antivirus software

For raw performance against malicious software, we use data from multiple testing houses: AV-Test, SE Labs and AV-Comparatives. Of these tests, we prioritise ‘real-world’ performance, in which antivirus detection engines are exposed to live threats. 

We also draw on system performance data captured by AV-Test and we inventory and compare features on an application-by-application basis, highlighting both useful tools and unexpected sticking points in the workflow and interfaces.

Kaspersky Internet Security

Best overall paid-for antivirus

Pros

  • Super-accurate malware detection
  • Clearly highlights auto-renewal options
  • Wide range of useful tools

Cons

  • Price increases upon subscription renewal
  • No more accurate than Microsoft Defender

The Kaspersky Internet Security suite is frequently discounted, but higher renewal costs are clearly signposted and it’s easy to avoid auto-renewal. In recent tests by AV-Test and SE Labs, Kaspersky’s engine provided 100% protection in both real-world and reference malware scanning tests. And it scored a very respectable 99.5% in AV Comparatives’ real-world tests. 

You also get a subscription to Kaspersky Password Manager, modules to protect your online shopping in a protected browser, block unwanted connections to your webcam, an ad- and tracker-blocking browser extension, ransomware protection, a firewall, and a gaming mode.

Kaspersky is unusual in that it provides a comprehensive replacement for Microsoft Defender without putting you at a disadvantage when it comes to accurate malware detection. Its selection of utilities is generally useful and it’s lightweight enough to run effectively on systems that Microsoft will no longer protect.

Reviewer: K.G. Orphanides
Full review: Kaspersky Internet Security

ESET Internet Security

Most transparent antivirus

Pros

  • No price increase upon subscription renewal
  • Good malware detection
  • Excellent range of features

Cons

  • Less accurate than some rivals

Eset Internet Security is one of the more comprehensive and transparent anti-malware suites around. Unlike many paid-for antivirus tools, there are no unexpected price rises for renewing subscribers and auto-renewal is not enabled by default, and – until it goes end of life in Q3 2022 – an Eset subscription covers Linux anti-malware, as well as Windows, macOS and Android.

In recent trials by AV-Test, Eset’s real-world protection dipped to 99.2% but had a 100% protection rate the following month, and in all flat-file scanning tests. It blocked 98/8% of malware in AV-Comparatives’ real-world tests, with no false positives, and blocked or neutralised all threats in SE Labs’ tests, with a 100% total accuracy rating. 

Eset’s product is generally reliable, unobtrusive, clearly priced and provides all the features we’d want from an anti-malware suite, including a dedicated firewall, parental controls, webcam protection, secure browsing, a gaming mode, and a ransomware shield. Kaspersky and our benchmark Microsoft Defender have been a little more accurate in recent tests, but this is nonetheless a solid choice if you want or need to pay for malware protection.

Reviewer: K.G. Orphanides
Full review: Eset Internet Security

F-Secure SAFE

A simple-to-use antivirus

Pros

  • Good range of features
  • Clearly highlighted renewal fees

Cons

  • Less accurate than some rivals
  • Lacks webcam protection

F-Secure SAFE provides a simple, unobtrusive selection of anti-virus and parental control tools for home users. It’s very clear about subscription renewal costs (where some rivals have historically hidden this information), doesn’t enable auto-renewals by default, and is reasonably competitively priced.

It scored a 100% defence rating in all of AV-Test’s real-world and malware reference sample scanning tests, but was among the worst performers in SE Labs recent tests, with a total protection rating of 96%. It’s not terrible, but its protection test performance is significantly worse than that of Microsoft Defender, which comes built into Windows 10 and 11.

F-Secure provides a fair range of tools, with parental controls, ransomware protection, a gaming mode, and browser protection. We appreciate F-Secure’s highlighting of its renewal fees. However, given that its malware protection performance is unremarkable and its features limited, there’s little to recommend F-Secure SAFE over Microsoft Defender, while Eset provides more features for the same price, without any renewal cost changes.

Reviewer: K.G. Orphanides
Full review: F-Secure SAFE

McAfee Total Protection

Great virus protection and parental control

Pros

  • Very accurate malware detection
  • Fair range of extra tools

Cons

  • No more accurate than Microsoft Defender
  • Steep renewal fees
  • Lacks webcam protection, secure browser, folder-based ransomware protection

McAfee’s steep renewal fees, which customers were automatically subscribed, were recently found unfair by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority. It’s now much easier to disable subscription auto-renewal, but Total Protection still has a large increase between initial subscription cost and renewal fee. McAfee now incentivises auto-renewal with bonuses, currently in the form of a money-back guarantee and access to the Safe Connect VPN service.

Its malware defence engine is very capable. It matched the performance of Microsoft Defender, with 100% protection scores in all tests by both SE Labs and AV-Test. It also blocked 99.6% of malware in real-world tests by AV Comparatives.

Total Protection lacks a dedicated gaming mode, webcam protection module, folder-specific ransomware protection or secure browser, but has a fair range of other features. These include parental controls for family subscriptions, a firewall and password manager. However, if you’re going to pay for an antivirus suite, Kaspersky Internet Security is easier to live with and does a bit more.

Reviewer: K.G. Orphanides
Full review: McAfee Total Protection

Trend Micro Maximum Security

Lots of feature, but lacklustre protection

Pros

  • Useful range of security and performance optimisation tools

Cons

  • Steep renewal fees
  • Lacks webcam protection

Trend Micro’s detection engine hasn’t fared well in recent consumer anti-malware tests. In real-world malware exposure tests carried out by AV-Test, it protected against 98.4% of viruses in a month when its rivals got perfect scores. It protected against 100% of malware in AV Comparatives’ real-world test, but with 36 false positives. SE Labs also saw an unusual number of false positives, as well as a comparatively low protection rating of 95%.

Trend has plenty of useful tools, including parental controls, dedicated ransomware defence, a gaming mode, a botnet-detecting firewall booster, and a data theft prevention tool that allows you add sensitive information like card numbers and addresses to prevent them from being entered into insecure online spaces

However, it lacks features that are common among its rivals, such as webcam protection and its performance in recent tests makes Eset, Kaspersky or Windows’ built-in Microsoft Defender better choices for your security.

Reviewer: K.G. Orphanides
Full review: Trend Micro Maximum

FAQs

Does Windows need antivirus?

Not really. Windows has Microsoft Defender built in, which is one of the most competent antivirus protection available. But opting for third-party paid-for antivirus software will unlock a greater range of features, such as password managers, parental controls and more.

What is the difference between free anti-virus software and paid anti-virus?

Both forms of antivirus can detect and block malware, but paid-for options can unlock additional features such as VPNs and advanced parental controls.


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