5 Best Anti-Malware Software [2020]: Removal & Protection

Scott Jackson
Published on: July 1, 2020
5 Best Anti-Malware Software [2020]: Removal & Protection

Short on time? Here’s the top anti-malware software of 2020:

Cybersecurity companies are constantly putting out new software saying they’ll help make you safe on the internet. But I’ve tested all of the top anti-malware software on the market, and only a few of them were actually effective.

For starters, anti-malware software, while similar to an antivirus, is not quite the same thing. Anti-malware software also protects against things like ransomware — which locks your device until you pay a ransom to the attacker — and spyware — which steals personal information from your computer.

Anti-malware programs fight both traditional viruses and all of the many internet attacks of modern cybercriminals. That said, most cybersecurity companies use the terms “antivirus” and “anti-malware” interchangeably — they’re advertised as “antivirus software”, but they’re in fact anti-malware software.

After several weeks of testing, I was able to find 5 well-rounded cybersecurity products which are capable of providing high-quality protection against all of the malware found online in 2020.

Here’s a summary of the best anti-malware software:

Are Anti-Malware Products Free?

Some are, yes. But with all internet security software, you get what you pay for.

The company needs to make money somehow, so many “free” products have necessary features locked behind a paywall — there’s no real-time protection, updates to the malware database, or any kind of advanced protection against the very-real threats of phishing, spyware, or ransomware.

Cybersecurity companies also make money by selling user data. For example, Avast (the company behind popular antiviruses Avast and AVG) was recently caught selling free users’ data to advertisers.

It’s unfortunate, but there’s no genuinely “free” anti-malware product — you will always pay somehow.

Free products are fine if you only need basic protection, or if you don’t do anything too sensitive on your device. But if you have a lot of irreplaceable documents — like Word docs, pictures, and music — or sensitive information — like social media passwords, credit card numbers, and tax info — free products just aren’t reliable enough.

But it’s OK! All of my top anti-malware products on this list are both affordable and offer excellent protection against all malware in 2020. My favorite — Norton 360 — guarantees anti-malware protection, comes with a lot of extra features like a VPN (virtual private network), a password manager, and parental controls, and is one of the most affordable internet security products on the market.

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How I Rated the Best Anti-Malware Products of 2020:

  • Protection. This is my number 1 criteria in all cybersecurity products. I stress-tested each one of these programs to see which held up the best under repeated malware attacks, and I only included programs on this list which could guarantee protection from all potential cyber threats.
  • Value. It’s important to make sure that the features match the price. My cost-benefit analysis measured whether or not the strengths of the program justify the cost.
  • Ease of use. Many cybersecurity products are extremely technical, and they’re not easy to use for the average consumer. I hand-tested each one of these products, navigated through all the features, and saw first-hand whether or not the software was easy to use.
  • Customer support. If there’s a problem with my antivirus, I want to know that I can get high-quality support as soon as possible. I contacted each company’s customer satisfaction teams to assess the strength of their customer support infrastructure.

Top Brands that Didn’t Make the Cut:

  • Kaspersky. Kaspersky is a leader in the cybersecurity world. I love the strength of their malware protection mixed with the easy-to-understand interface. But there’s just not enough value in their highest-tier product, and their lower-tier products are no better malware fighters than the other anti-malware software on this list.
  • Comodo. Comodo is a great company which offers some powerful cybersecurity software. But I’m not a big fan of their main antivirus product. I just don’t think it can compare to the other brands listed here in terms of anti-malware scanning and overall protection.
  • Avast/AVG. As I mentioned earlier, Avast/AVG has been known to sell users’ data. I don’t tolerate cybersecurity companies giving away someone else’s information, especially without their knowledge. And right now, there are so many great companies offering powerful anti-malware protection that no one needs to sacrifice privacy for quality.

🥇1. Norton 360 — Best Anti-Malware Software of 2020

🥇1. Norton 360 — Best Anti-Malware Software of 2020

Norton 360 is by far the best anti-malware program I’ve tested. It uses artificial intelligence as part of its malware detection engine, protecting against ransomware, spyware, and many other viruses. It detected all-but-one of the inactive malware samples on my PC and instantly blocked 100% of the malware files when I launched them.

Norton 360 also has a huge range of additional features, including:

  • Parental Controls — blocks inappropriate sites and lets you monitor the online activity of users in your household.
  • Secure VPN — keeps your data private when you connect to public Wi-Fi networks, and lets you access websites that are inaccessible in your region.
  • Privacy Manager — generates strong passwords, stores them securely, and helps you log you into your accounts with one click.
  • Cloud Backup — provides high-security online storage for your sensitive documents.

All of the additional features are super useful. I really liked the Secure VPN, which has decent speeds and a decent range of server locations.

Norton is a particularly fantastic choice for families. As I detailed in my Norton 360 review, Norton has the best parental controls I’ve ever used. There are three tiers of pricing in its international 360 range — Standard (1 device, 10 GB storage), Deluxe (5 devices, parental controls, 50 GB storage) and Premium (International only) (10 devices, parental controls, 75 GB storage).

In the US, instead of Premium, you can choose one of three advanced plans, all with Norton’s high-quality LifeLock identity protection and credit monitoring — LifeLock Select (5 devices, credit monitoring, 100 GB storage), LifeLock Advantage (10 devices, court records scanning, 250 GB storage), or LifeLock Ultimate Plus (unlimited devices, home title monitoring, 500 GB storage).

Bottom Line:

Norton 360’s malware protection is by far the best of any anti-malware software available in 2020. Each product in Norton’s 360 package has an impressive set of features. The parental controls and the generous number of licenses provided with 360 Deluxe and 360 Premium make Norton a great choice for families. But Norton’s world-class protection is a great choice for anyone needing a powerful, all-around anti-malware program.

Visit Norton


🥈2. TotalAV — Best Anti-Malware + System Optimization

🥈2. TotalAV — Best Anti-Malware + System Optimization

TotalAV is a newcomer to the anti-malware space, but its powerful malware fighting capabilities have helped it earn its high reputation in the cybersecurity world. Our most recent tests have shown TotalAV to have one of the best malware detection rates of all anti-malware software.

Apart from full malware and virus protection, TotalAV also comes with many extra features like:

  • Performance & Optimization Tools — cleans up your hard disk and keeps your device running smoothly.
  • Safe Site — browser extension which helps you avoid bogus websites and “phishing” scams that trick you into giving up your personal information.
  • Password Vault — keeps your login credentials organized and secure.
  • Safe Browsing — Virtual Private Network (VPN) with unlimited data.

When I tested it during my last review, I was amazed at how capable it was in protecting my computer against my test viruses. It consistently scored top marks — on par with top brands like Norton and Bitdefender — and TotalAV’s real-time protection engine was one of the fastest and most secure anti-malware defenses I’d tested. This is largely because TotalAV’s scanning engine was designed by market-leading antivirus company Avira.

TotalAV is a little bit expensive for the full package, but with an $80 off discount for the first year, it’s one of the cheapest first-year anti-malware products on the market.

Bottom Line:

TotalAV is a simple, strong, and easy to use antivirus. It provides some of the most comprehensive anti-malware protection available, and it comes with some top-notch extra features. It consistently scores well in anti-malware testing, and it comes with one of the strongest scanning engines on the market. If you need a secure and easy-to-use anti-malware program with great extra features, TotalAV is a good option.

Visit Total AV


🥉3. Malwarebytes — Best Dedicated Anti-Malware Engine

🥉3. Malwarebytes — Best Dedicated Anti-Malware Engine

Malwarebytes was one of the first malware fighting software packages on the market, and it’s still one of the best in 2020.

Malwarebytes scored near-perfect detection ratings in all of SafetyDetectives’s malware tests, and it consistently outperforms other cybersecurity giants like Kaspersky and Avast in malware protection.

Malwarebytes is easy-to-use, highly customizable, and intuitive, and Malwarebytes Premium is a fully capable anti-malware and antivirus product, offering real-time protection and behavior analysis.

It only took me a few minutes to figure out how to use the software, and it quickly scanned my computer to make sure I was fully protected. I was particularly impressed by how quickly it caught my test viruses and how it displayed a notification warning with possible actions to take as soon as the malware was spotted.

There is a free version of Malwarebytes (which activates after the 14-day free trial), but it’s just not good enough on its own to be considered a standalone antivirus. That said, the free version — when used in conjunction with another antivirus — is pretty good at scanning and removing malware from a system.

Bottom Line:

Malwarebytes has one of the best anti-malware scanning engines out there. While the free version is only good when using an antivirus with real-time protection, Malwarebytes Premium has some of the best 100% anti-malware protection around. If you need a solid, lightweight anti-malware program with a streamlined approach to cybersecurity, Malwarebytes is a great choice.

Visit Malwarebytes


4. Bitdefender — Fastest Anti-Malware Engine

Bitdefender — Fastest Anti-Malware Engine

Bitdefender did not disappoint when I tested it against a range of old and new malware sample files. It’s artificial intelligence and machine learning-based anti-malware engine detected 100% of the malware files in real-time. It managed to detect, block, and remove all malware incredibly quick — almostly instantly placing files in quarantine and deleting them from my PC.

Bitdefender also includes:

  • One-click device optimization.
  • Internet security tools.
  • Gaming and movie modes.
  • Microphone and webcam breach protection.

Bitdefender is also by far one of the easiest anti-malware tools that I’ve tested. I love the one-click device optimizer — it makes speeding up your PC super easy, even for beginner users.

While I really like the additional features, the price of the Premium Security package including Bitdefender’s unlimited VPN is pretty expensive in comparison to Norton’s 360 Premium package — which includes a VPN for much cheaper. However, Bitdefender’s other packages are a really great value for the money, and they all offer some of the best malware protection around.

Bottom Line:

Bitdefender had one of the best real-time malware detection rates of any anti-malware software that I’ve tested. I loved the additional tools like the one-click device optimization. While some of Bitdefender’s premium packages can get a little expensive, its Total Security package is really great value for the money and has a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Visit Bitdefender


5. McAfee — Best Anti-Malware Customization Options

McAfee — Best Anti-Malware Customization Options

McAfee is a well-known name in the cybersecurity world, and as we saw in our McAfee review, their latest antivirus product is easy to use, highly secure, and extremely customizable.

The real-time protection engine is one of the best in the industry, though I personally feel like their scanning engine is a bit slow, taking several hours to scan all of my files. Still, when I tested it, it scored in the top-tier of security — along with Norton, Bitdefender, and Malwarebytes.

The highest-priced McAfee plan — Total Protection — comes with performance optimization tools, a password manager, encrypted storage, and an ad-blocking web extension. United States users get the added benefit of identity theft protection.

That said, I’m not a huge fan of the interface, and I don’t think that the included password manager offers enough value. Other brands on this list — like Norton — offer more value, but McAfee is a good choice if you want a versatile antivirus which couples great protection with customization.

Bottom Line:

McAfee is an industry-leading antivirus provider, and it has been securing devices for decades. McAfee’s Total Protection package offers a full-suite anti-malware engine, capable of detecting and removing all kinds of cyber threats. If you’re in need of a versatile antivirus, McAfee offers a great balance between protection and customization.

Visit McAfee


Bonus: Avira — High-Quality Internet Security Malware Protection

Bonus: Avira — High-Quality Internet Security Malware Protection Avira is one of the most well-known and well-respected cybersecurity companies in the world. Their anti-malware engine is also one of the strongest on the market, and it consistently gets scores 100% on SafetyDetectives’s malware tests.
The reason I’ve placed Avira here and not above TotalAV is because it is more expensive than TotalAV — even though they both use the same scanning engine.
But Avira’s premium packages do combine the powerful antivirus with some great extra features like:
  • Password Manager — suggests secure passwords, keeps them secure, and automatically logs you into accounts.
  • Software Updater — automatically ensures you always have the latest version of every application.
  • Privacy Pal — prevents your personal information and internet activity being collected and sold to advertisers.

And as much as I don’t like recommending free antiviruses, Avira’s free antivirus is pretty good — earning it top spots on both my best free Windows and best free Mac antivirus of 2020. But as I mentioned earlier, you really shouldn’t rely on a free program for any kind of serious malware protection.

Bottom Line:

Avira’s Internet Security Suite provides several layers of security and privacy, with one of the most advanced anti-malware engines on the market. Avira keeps your hardware malware-free, your accounts secure, and your personal information private. But the package isn’t truly complete without Avira Phantom VPN, which unfortunately costs extra.

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Comparison of the Best Anti-Malware Software

Product Malware Scanner with Machine Learning Free Version Cloud-Based Scanning Option Identity Theft Protection Parental Controls
1.🥇Norton Yes No No Yes (USA only) Yes
2.🥈TotalAV No No Yes Yes Yes
3.🥉Malwarebytes Yes Yes (after trial) No No No
4. Bitdefender Yes Yes (after trial) Yes Yes Yes
5. McAfee Yes No Yes Yes (USA only) Yes
6. Avira No Yes (free download) Yes Yes (Mobile only) Yes

🤔 What’s the difference between viruses and malware?

Malware means any malicious software designed to damage or compromise a computer, device, or network. It sometimes goes by other names and can take on a lot of different forms, but if it’s software designed for some kind of malicious attack on a computer system or network, it’s malware.

Examples include:

  • Trojan Horse. Malware that tricks you into installing it.
  • Ransomware. Locks your device or turns your files into random strings of code until you pay a ransom.
  • Spyware. Logs your keystrokes and device activity, and it steals your personal information and passwords.

Viruses are one type of malware. Computer viruses act like organic viruses — they infect a system and then multiply. They do this by inserting malicious code into the various pieces of software installed on that system.

🤔 What’s the difference between antivirus software and anti-malware software?

Antivirus software specializes in fighting viruses. Viruses still represent a significant risk in today’s computing world, especially on Windows, and that’s why an antivirus is still a necessary part of a person’s cybersecurity toolkit.

But viruses are no longer the only threat. The best anti-malware software detects and destroys a much broader range of malicious applications. True protection requires antivirus and anti-malware software working together to fight off attacks.

It’s also worth noting that because the term “antivirus” is well-known among consumers, many brands associate this term with their product despite actually offering much broader protection. You need to look into the details of which features each program provides.

🤔 What’s the best anti-malware software for Windows?

All of the programs on this list offer great protection for Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 10.

I particularly like Norton’s Windows program, and Avira’s lightweight scanning engine is great for slower Windows computers which are low on hard drive space.

🤔 How do I know if my computer is infected with malware?

Signs that malware is present on a device can include:

  • Pop-up ads. Excessive pop-up ads are signs of an adware infection.
  • Error messages. Malware can cause unexpected device and software errors.
  • Performance issues. Malware can use lots of device resources, resulting in poor performance.

Malware can have many effects, including:

  • Logging your keystrokes and taking screenshots of what you’re doing online.
  • Stealing your credit card information and account login details.
  • Physically damaging your device or rendering your private documents inaccessible.

If you notice any of these signs, download a program like Norton or Malwarebytes immediately and do a full system scan.

🤔 Does anti-malware software replace an antivirus?

Not necessarily. Many antiviruses only protect against viruses, and they don’t offer protection against other kinds of malware. But an antivirus like Norton or TotalAV offers full anti-malware protection.

Read about all the top antivirus programs in 2020 >

About the Author

Scott Jackson
Scott Jackson
Internet security researcher

About the Author

Scott Jackson is an internet security researcher who has spent the last two decades working as an IT technician, programmer, and cybersecurity consultant with more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies. He spends his time researching hacking trends and helping make sure that people stay safe on the internet.
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