The best antivirus software for 2021

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Every day it gets harder to protect your personal information online. Yes, our online lives are richer and more convenient than ever, but that comes at the cost of sharing our data with everything from streaming apps to social media accounts. Even more concerning is that cybercriminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated and high-profile attacks like the are becoming more and more common place. 

This just means that your security quiver needs plenty of arrows, including a secure  to protect your internet traffic, a  to keep track of login credentials and an  to stop others from spying on your communications — basically, all the most important security features. And, if you’re running Windows, that list should also include an antivirus tool (or three), including things like malware protection and antivirus software that monitors downloads and observes your system’s activity for malicious software and suspicious behavior. It’s just all too easy for an insidious program to wind up on your machine — even with a secure browser and other threat detection software — and that can lead to chaos.

If you’re looking for malware protection and antivirus software with the best security features, here’s the first thing you need to know: Microsoft Defender Antivirus — the free antivirus software and virus protection program that comes with  — does a decent job of protecting your PC and offering internet security. (Amazingly, Microsoft provided no built-in protection for Windows back in the days of Windows 98 and XP.) Using Microsoft Defender for threat detection should be your starting point for the best antivirus security on Windows and most people will find they don’t need to go any further when it comes to nailing down an antivirus solution.

However, keeping your personal data safe and guarding your privacy extends beyond virus protection, and that’s where third-party antivirus software shines. A full protection package can monitor your Windows operating system as well as MacOS, iOS and Android devices and include a password manager, secure online backup, identity theft protection, a VPN, parental control, webcam protection, protection against phishing and malicious websites and more — all worthwhile security suite tools that can keep your data secure and guard your privacy.

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. These picks of the best antivirus programs are a combination of recommendations from independent third-party labs , and , as well as our own hands-on testing. This list is updated periodically.

Antivirus basics: What to look for

Picking the best antivirus software for Windows means finding one that keeps your PC safe, doesn’t take up a lot of system resources, is easy to use and stays out of the way till you need it. Here’s what to look for.

Effectiveness. Antivirus software runs virus scans for known viruses and malware, of course, and can offer real-time protection. And it watches for shady websites and suspicious links to keep you out of trouble. It can also offer ransomware protection and monitor unexpected behavior that may be a sign of new and not-yet-identified viruses and malware. You want antivirus software that can successfully identify these unknown online threats without flagging too many false positives.

Light on system resources. You don’t want antivirus software that taxes your PC’s resources. If after you install the program, websites open slowly, apps download or open sluggishly or file copies take longer than expected, you may want to try another service. The good news is, all our picks offer a free trial to let you try out the antivirus program, so if your system feels sluggish after installation, you may want to keep looking.

Cost and discounts. Don’t just pay the sticker price for antivirus protection. Before you buy, check for discounts on a company’s website. Another way to save: The prices we list above are for 10 devices — if the company offered that package — but you can trim your cost with antivirus packages if you need to cover just three or five devices. You may also find discounts on an app’s Amazon page.

Privacy. To be effective, antivirus software needs to monitor what’s going on with your PC and check in with company servers about unusual behavior. The companies say they anonymize this technical data as much as possible to protect your privacy. But if you want to know more, the security companies on our list post privacy policies on their websites, so read their privacy statements to learn what the companies do with the information you share.

Protection for other platforms. Microsoft is by far for viruses and malware. But , with just under 1% of apps installed on Android devices with Google Play Protect in the potentially harmful app, or PHA, category.

The threat to MacOS and especially iOS is low, in part because of the tight control has over its app stores. While the Mac  via sideloaded apps, it’s rare, and if you download apps only from the Mac and iOS app stores and keep your guard up when clicking links and download files, you should be OK without an antivirus app on Apple devices.

More computer security advice

  •  (free PDF from TechRepublic)
  •  (free PDF from TechRepublic)

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