We set out to write an unorthodox Wirecutter tutorial on the top antivirus software, and therefore, we did a lot of research on the software, reading about reports from independent testing labs as well as institutions, as well as consulting with experts in secure computer use. After all this, we found that the majority of users should not purchase an anti-virus suite that's traditional that including McAfee, Norton, or Kaspersky, or make use of free applications such as Avira, Avast, or AVG. What is the "best antivirus" for most users to purchase, it turns out is not even worth it? Windows Defender, Microsoft's built-in tool, is sufficient for the majority of people.
We spent hours reading the results of independent labs such as AV-Test and AV-Comparatives. We also read feature articles from a variety of publications, including Ars Technica and PCMag, as well as white papers, releases, and reports from groups and institutions such as Usenix or Google's Project Zero. We also researched the threats of ransomware, viruses spyware, and other malware that have been circulating in recent years to find out how threats attempt to infiltrate the majority of computer systems currently.
Through the years we've also had conversations with cybersecurity experts and IT experts as well as the team responsible for information security from The New York Times (Wirecutter's parent company) to cut through the noise that is typical of anti-virus table tennis headlines Antivirus is ever-decreasingly ineffective It's not, in fact, it's quite useful but no, antivirus is unnecessary but wait, no, it isn't it? etc.
While in every category we generally test all products we're interested in, however, we aren't able to test the performance of antivirus software in the same way that experts from independent labs rely on their knowledge.
However, relying on just one application to protect your computer, data and privacy isn't a good option, particularly when nearly all antivirus software has been found to be vulnerable in the past. Any antivirus program, free or paid, can detect every malware-infected piece of software that gets installed on your system. Also, you need safe encryption of passwords, two-factor logins as well as data encryption general backups as well as automated software updates, and advanced privacy tools that are integrated into your browser. Be aware of the software you download, and only download software from trusted sources, for example, those on the Microsoft App Store and Apple Mac App Store, whenever it is possible. Avoid downloading or opening email attachments unless are aware of the contents of the email. For more information, read our complete guide to installing all of the security measures.
The reason we don't suggest an anti-virus suite that's traditional
It's not enough for a security application to be able to defend against one group of well-known "viruses." There is an infinite amount of malware types that are encrypted-- encoded to appear like normal reliable programs and deliver the system-breaking malware once they're opened. While antivirus companies regularly upgrade their detection systems to thwart encrypting software but they'll be unable to keep pace with malware creators who are determined to get through.
A brief introduction to terminology A quick overview of the word malware is a simple term that refers to "bad software" and encompasses all software that is installed on your computer that has unwanted and often harmful results. Contrary to that, antivirus is an outdated word that software manufacturers continue to employ because viruses, Trojan horses, and worms were major at attracting attention during the early 2000s and 1990s. Technically speaking, all viruses are types of malware, however not all malware are viruses.
Then why wouldn't you consider installing an antivirus complete suite from a reputable brand, to be secure? Because of a variety of reasons:
Security vulnerabilities in HTML0:The nature of how antivirus programs protect users is a concern. As TechRepublic describes, "Security software necessarily requires high access privileges to operate effectively, though when it is itself insecure or otherwise malfunctioning, it becomes a much higher liability due to the extent to which it has control over the system." Symantec and Norton, Kaspersky, and many other antivirus companies have all been affected
- by crucial security vulnerabilities during the last few years.
- Performance Security: Antivirus software is known for slowing computers down and preventing the most effective security features of other applications (such as browsers like Firefox as well as Chrome browsers) and displaying irritating reminders and sales for updates or subscriptions as well as installing potentially dangerous add-ons like browser extensions without asking for permission.
- privacy: Free antivirus software has all the problems mentioned above and also raises privacy issues. Security isn't available for download, and applications that are free tend to track your computer and the way they use your computer as well as to sell your personal browsing information and to install extensions to your browser that can hijack your search, thereby breaking the security of your computer and make an advertisement appear on your signature on your email.
This is why we aren't recommending that everyone take the time or cost of adding traditional antivirus software to their personal computers.
Two cautions regarding our recommendation:
- If you own the laptop you are provided by the school, work, or any other institution, and it is equipped with security tools or antivirus installed, don't uninstall these programs. There are security requirements for organizations that span across the entire system as well as threat-based models which are different from personal computers as well as having to take into account different degrees of technical expertise and safety practices in their staff. Don't create a situation that makes your IT department's job more challenging.
- Anyone with sensitive data to safeguard (medical financial, medical, or any other) or who has the habit of browsing that leads them into more risky areas of the Internet is a particular threat to think about. Our security and habits recommendations are a good start, but these situations could require more rigorous measures than what that we have covered in this article.
Windows Defender is mostly good enough
If you're using Windows 10, you already have a strong antivirus and anti-malware programs aforementioned Windows Defender--installed and installed by default. The AV-Test Institute's independent tests recommended Windows Defender a recommendation in December of 2019 with a near-flawless score in terms of performance.
Since Windows Defender is a default application that comes with Windows 10, by the same company that produces this operating system it's not required to sell you anything or bother users about subscriptions or require the same certificates to offer deeply-rooted security for your computer. It does not install extensions for browsers or plug-ins to other apps without having to ask. Windows Defender does have the issue as the primary security application that malware creators try to circumvent. However, having multiple layers of security and good habits -- including using the official app stores, and avoiding downloading untrustworthy free versions of items you're supposed to purchase, as we will discuss in a separate blog article--should protect you from the most dangerous types of Defender-feating malware.
The AV-Test was adamant about Windows Defender in protection back in September 2019 due to its inability to detect cyber-attacks that were zero-day. Windows Defender rebounded in AV-Test's December tests, correcting the problems in real-world testing and catching all attacks. In all likelihood, Windows Defender routinely performs just as well in lab tests just like any other paid antivirus software as well, and when a serious vulnerability occurred inside Windows Defender in May 2017, Microsoft was remarkably quick to fix the issue, from the Friday night disclosure to a Monday evening fix.
There is no antivirus software that consistently gets flawless scores from each test lab, each month, on all tests however Windows Defender typically does as well as (or better than) the other antivirus programs, and it's completely free and installed as a default.
What's the reason Macs don't require traditional antivirus
Because of a combination of historical precedent, demographics, and more stringent controls, Macs have historically been more secure from infection as Windows computers:
- There are significantly fewer Macs than Windows computers. In the last calendar year, 17.5% of desktops with Web-browsing capabilities were running macOS as opposed to 78 percent of all Windows versions, which means that macOS is not a lucrative victim for malware-making parties.
- Macs have a greater variety of helpful first-party apps by default. Both macOS and downloaded applications receive updates from Apple's App Store. Windows PC users are more used to downloading software and hardware drivers through the Internet in addition to giving permissions to third-party applications that tend to have a higher likelihood of being malware-based.
- The latest versions of Windows have to make concessions in order to allow applications created to run on older versions of Windows to function, which creates an intricate set of legacy operating systems to protect. However, macOS has seen fewer changes since the launch of OS X, and Apple is less reluctant to render applications designed by older Windows versions outdated. Actually, when it came out with macOS Catalina in 2019, Apple made older 32-bit applications obsolete.
- Catalina is also equipped with security features that make running malware difficult. This includes requiring applications to ask for a range of permissions, like access to microphones, files cameras, as well as other services as they are installed. This makes it a lot more difficult to install the software you do not intend to.
- It's not that Macs are immune to weaknesses. Mac users who install malicious extensions to their browsers are as vulnerable Windows and Linux users. Flashback malware "Flashback" malware exploited the Java vulnerability and swindled more than 500 000 Mac customers in the year 2012 and impacted about two percent of Macs. There have been news reports suggesting in which Mac virus infections are on the rise however the security features built into macOS ensure that it's much more of a nuisance as annoying ads instead of a genuine issue. It is still recommended to practice safe computer use on the Mac and only install apps through the authorized Mac App Store. Browser extensions can be dangerous, so make sure you use only extensions that have been thoroughly tested that you truly require.
The majority of people don't require additional security
If you are someone who spends a significant amount of time in the shadier areas of the Internet or suspects that you've downloaded malware and Windows Defender didn't catch it, we've found Malware bytes have a lot to offer. It's largely non-invasive and can detect malware which Windows Defender may have missed and malware that has found its way onto a Mac. However, the paid version is not required for the majority of users.
Malwarebytes won't open in safe mode spot certain types of zero-day vulnerabilities and vulnerabilities that Windows Defender may miss, so the two software that is running together can perform well (provided it has it set up properly). The premium version also includes live scanning of downloaded files, which is beneficial when you download lots of emails or software but for $40/year, it's expensive to secure against something that most people do not regularly. For the vast majority of users it's possible to run Malwarebytes for free, and use it to check your system whenever you suspect that you've downloaded malware.
The most effective protection is layers and good habits.
The notion that any app could be aware of and secure against all threats is absurd. Security reporter Brian Krebs writes in his article, antivirus "is probably the most overstated tool in any security toolbox." The antivirus program can identify malicious programs and secure your computer however, it's not sufficient to be a complete security solution on its own. We've compiled a list of the top layers of security as well as good ways to conduct yourself for all users of computers.