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  • Writer's pictureJoshua Corson

Best antivirus software for 2021

Your Windows PC or Apple Computer needs protection against malware -- and free antivirus software may not be enough. Here's the best antivirus protection for Windows 10 and what's worth paying extra for.

Anyone with a Windows PC or Apple Computer should install antivirus software on their machine the moment it's out of the box and should update that software regularly to stay ahead of emerging and evolving cyber risks. After all, antivirus software is an essential tool in your identity protection toolbox and there's just too much personal information on your computer these days to risk even a day without online threat protection.

We regularly research and test our options to determine which software leads the pack, because not all antivirus software programs are equal in quality. The best antivirus software is a program that includes features like malware protection, monitors downloads and observes your system's activity for malicious software and suspicious behavior. Even if you have a secure browser and other threat-detection software, it's all too easy for an insidious program to wind up on your machine, 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 Windows 10 -- is a decent antivirus tool for 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.

We would also like to note that antivirus software isn't the only security feature you should invest in. A secure VPN to protect your internet traffic, a password manager to keep track of login credentials and an end-to-end encrypted messaging app to stop others from spying on your communications are all essential to protecting your personal information online. Cybercriminals are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and high-profile attacks like the Columbia Pipeline hack are becoming more commonplace, which is concerning.

Our recommendations

Looking for free antivirus protection, malware protection or virus detection, willing to pay for an antivirus program that offers broad internet security coverage across all your devices, including from ransomware and phishing, or need to remove a computer virus or malware from your PC right now? Here's where to start when looking for the best antivirus software for your needs.

Best free Windows antivirus

Microsoft Defender

Built into Windows 10

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. (Note that 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, so just let it do 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.

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

Best antivirus subscription for Windows

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus packs the next-gen cybersecurity that won the “Product of the Year” award from AV-Comparatives. It protects Windows PCs against all online threats and includes privacy tools such as Bitdefender VPN and Bitdefender Safepay.

The enterprise version, among other enterprise security tools, is what we use for our business clients. We also use it ourselves because we have tested it rigorously and we believe in it.

Best free antivirus alternative for Windows

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition

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. 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, Bitdefender Total Security 2020 is usually $90 and is available at the moment for $40 for the first year. 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.


Best on-demand Windows malware removal


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 $30 a year, regularly $40.

To cover five devices -- any combination of Windows, macOS, and Android -- it's $80 for a year of paid 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.

But honestly, we don't recommend spending the money on the paid versions of Malwarebytes, there are many better-paid options. However, we have yet to find a better tool for removing infections before you install a good antivirus.

As always if you have questions feel free to give us a call.


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