Microsoft’s Windows operating system remains one of the most widely used and popular in the world and for good reason. Its versatility and ease of use, as well as most manufacturers’ preference for the OS, mean that support is easy to find and tools more so.
However, this widespread popularity isn’t without its downsides. Versatility makes it more vulnerable to viruses and attack vectors that operating systems like MacOS don’t have, and so it’s crucial to make sure your PC is defended.
Antivirus software can help keep you protected and offer several other tools to help you be proactive about your cybersecurity.
Our Paid and Free Antivirus Software Picks for Windows in 2020
Find below our picks for paid and free antivirus software for Windows
Microsoft Defender (Free Version): Best for Basic Security
Formerly known as Windows Defender, Microsoft’s free offering is already built into Windows 10, and is available for free on Microsoft’s website. The service features easy-to-use tools and great protection that will keep your device running smoothly while working in the background. With an intuitive dashboard, you can quickly set up your privacy settings for what you need.
Bottom Line: If you don’t want to stress or strain your budget paying for a costly antivirus, Microsoft Defender has your back.
Norton Antivirus: Best for Privacy Protections
With over 25 years of experience, Norton’s most recent iteration of its antivirus software comes full of excellent privacy tools that range from password management and safe browsing to its powerful LifeLock identity protection alerts. With near-perfect marks from independent testers, Norton is a great addition to any cybersecurity suite.
Price: Starts at $19.99 per year
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a name brand and a powerful protection tool that defends your privacy, Norton may be the right choice. Its powerful scanning tools and great additional features make it an ideal choice, at an affordable price point.
Trend Micro: Best for Defending against Ransomware
Trend Micro is consistently one of the highest-scoring antivirus suites on the market. The company’s products have a strong reputation for effective protection, and they are outstanding spam and ransomware blockers. Additionally, Trend Micro antivirus is easy to use, and despite some higher resource requirements, a worthy addition for the security-minded.
Price: Starting at $29.95 per year
Bottom Line: If you’re looking to defend against ransomware and other online threats, Trend Micro is a valuable choice. The company’s robust malware and online protections help you stay safe, and its powerful scans ensure nothing reaches your device.
ESET Antivirus: Best for Experienced Users
With one of the most customizable and powerful security engines, ESET antivirus is designed for robust protection. The company’s tools, while advanced, are ideal when you need layered protection and have the knowledge to deploy them properly. Moreover, with defenses against attacks like PowerShell and malicious scripts, ESET is a well-rounded antivirus.
Price: Starts at $39.99 annually
Bottom Line: With an eye on configurability and advanced defenses, ESET antivirus is ideal for experienced users who are looking for a personalized security suite. However, its powerful protection tools and layered defenses make it a great choice for anyone who is serious about antivirus protection.
AVG Antivirus: Best For Extra Features
Although it’s more widely known for its outstanding free solution, AVG’s paid offering is a great starting point for cost-conscious beginners looking to protect their Windows device and privacy. Moreover, since it was acquired by Avast a few years ago, AVG has adopted some of its parent company’s more useful features. With well-rated security features and access for unlimited devices, AVG is an affordable alternative.
Price: $69.99 per year
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for features and additional tools, AVG is a great choice. The company’s antivirus software includes many of the same features you’ll find on Avast, and it contains some truly valuable tools such as a built-in VPN and enhanced firewalls that protect against ransomware.
Bitdefender (Free Version): Best for Powerful Free Protection
Although it’s billed as free, Bitdefender doesn’t skimp on any features in its free offering. Bitdefender free antivirus software offers the same level of antivirus protection as its paid counterpart, scoring excellent marks on phishing protection and blocking malicious URLs. Although it’s missing some of the more advanced layers of protection, it also includes Bitdefender’s core malware suite, which helps you detect and defend against malware and spyware as well.
Bottom line: If you don’t have the budget and don’t want to cut corners in your computer’s defenses, Bitdefender delivers a great solution. The company’s powerful core features are all included, and you get an easy-to-use and low-footprint antivirus that will keep you safe even from the most unexpected attacks.
How Does Antivirus Software Help Protect Your Windows Device?
One of the aspects that define viruses and malware is that they’re often disguised as totally harmless files. They may look like simple installation files for a useful tool or even friendly URLs while you’re browsing the web.
This is how most malware, spyware, ransomware, and general viruses infect your PC. Once you’ve downloaded or clicked on them, the files will quietly install malicious programs across your device and start wreaking havoc, often long before you even realize it. By the time you do, it’s too late.
Antivirus software stands between your device and the harmful files, websites, and content online by acting as a fine sieve.
Instead of letting any file enter your device, it will scan files and folders you download, explore every bit of data on your hard drive, and actively delete and quarantine any malicious programs it finds.
Additionally, it includes a range of scanners, firewalls, and other privacy protections that stop attacks before they ever reach your device. More impressively, most antivirus software today does all this in real-time.
By creating preventive defenses in addition to having fast reactions when something slips through, software lets you maintain your online freedom and browse safer.
What Extra Measures Can you Take to Secure your Windows Software?
Antiviruses today can handle a significant amount of your computer’s defenses, but they’re not silver bullets that will protect against every and any threat. Part of keeping your devices safe is following the best security practices you can take to significantly reduce your exposure to possible attacks.
Here are some ways you can improve your security and bolster your PC defenses:
Use Secure Passwords: One of the biggest ways hackers and others gain access to your device isn’t through some sophisticated hacking method, but rather by finding out your password. There are various mechanisms hackers use—from social engineering attacks that simply ask you for it to brute force attacks that break your password—but they all result in giving unfettered access to your device.
One way you can avoid this is by strengthening the type of passwords you use. Instead of keeping it to basic words or familiar dates, you should attempt to include random numbers and letters, and even words that aren’t related to anything. Mixing in different cases and even symbols also helps.
Keep Your Windows Software Up to Date: Many attacks are successful because they prey on a combination of user negligence and unfixed vulnerabilities. Most software includes some unexpected errors and security gaps, but it is constantly updated and patched to prevent attacks and breaches.
However, if you’re not careful, or don’t update your Windows software frequently enough, you leave those vulnerabilities exposed, and therefore also your device.
Windows offers excellent updates, and you should always keep on top to make sure you’re using the most current versions, which keeps you secure from the newest attacks.
Use a VPN When Browsing: Although VPNs have become synonymous with accessing streaming services and break geo-restrictions, they’re incredibly useful when it comes to protecting your privacy and your data online.
When you browse the web, you leave a trail everywhere you go, and you expose your device and private data when navigating unsafe areas of the web. This opens you up to attacks and data theft and exposes your Windows devices to further infiltration and infection.
A VPN helps you eliminate the trail by anonymizing your browsing and masking your IP address, but it also gives you tools to protect your data while it’s being broadcast, preventing hackers from ever looking at it.
Use Encrypted Messaging Apps: Today, security is about more than viruses and malware. It includes keeping your data, and even your private communications, safe from prying eyes and malicious actors.
There are multiple messaging applications that don’t encrypt your data, leaving it exposed while it’s being transmitted between users and opening it up to attacks.
These apps may seem fun or easy, but they’re surprisingly harmful to your devices. Instead, look for messaging tools that both encrypt your data on your servers and while it’s being transmitted.
This will help you avoid prying eyes and peeping toms who could glean important information about you and use it to attack your devices and identity.
How do We Test Antivirus Software for Windows?
In such a crowded market, it’s tough to know how to distinguish between antivirus software that offers what appears to be many of the same features. As such, it’s worth exploring each option in-depth to find the real value in each company’s offering.
However, it’s difficult for regular users, and especially beginners, to tell one from the other.
I am dedicated to helping you expedite the process by providing in-depth and expert knowledge.
Here’s how I test each software to find the top options:
Antivirus performance – More than anything, an antivirus suite needs to detect malicious applications and stop them from infecting you. I perform thorough tests and compare them to independent lab results to see how the software detects and defends against malicious packages in real-time. This includes most types of viruses, as well as malware, spyware, and ransomware.
Impact on your device – Although they’re crucial to your security, antivirus tools shouldn’t make your device unusable. One crucial aspect of good software is how well it works without requiring significant resources. Therefore, the top companies are those that offer tools like passive and game modes, and which have minimal effects on your PC.
Privacy – In today’s online world, privacy and security are closely related. Antivirus software today must do more than simply scan your downloads and existing files. It must also have tools that can defend your privacy and identity while you browse the web and connect to the world. I dive deep into each company’s privacy tools to see which give you real value and help you protect your privacy. This includes password managers, file encryption, and identity protection platforms.
In the end, the right antivirus for you may not be the “best” one rated. It’s important to consider why you need it and what features and price points you’re looking for.
You can see what other users are saying in my pages below and take deeper dives into my expert reviews to help you find the right antivirus software for your needs.