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5 Best Malware Removal + Protection Software [2021]: Top Anti-Malware Tools

Bjorn Johansson Bjorn Johansson
Updated on: October 1, 2021
5 Best Malware Removal + Protection Software [2021]: Top Anti-Malware Tools

Short on time? Here’s the best malware removal software in 2021:

  • 🥇 Norton: 100% malware detection rate with immediate removal of all malicious files. It’s simple, fast, and easy to use. You can start with the cheapest plan.

A lot of products claim to offer the best malware removal tools and the best protections against malware attacks.

But I tested 57 different malware removal programs, and almost all of them were really bad, failing to detect and remove many of my test malware files (things like spyware, ransomware, and rootkits). That said, there were a few that were excellent.

I ultimately found 5 strong anti-malware products that can find and remove all cybersecurity threats — viruses, ransomware, spyware, keyloggers, rootkits, and all other malware. The programs here secure devices through a variety of different processes, like machine learning (artificial intelligence), real-time virus protection, and full-disk scans. They have been created to be some of the most advanced malware-fighting machines in the world, and they’re available online in both free and paid cybersecurity packages.

I researched, tested, and compared the top malware removal products based on usability, price, additional features, and how much security they provide against all types of malware infections.

Quick summary of the best malware removal software:

How I Rated the Best Malware Removal Software of 2021

  • Malware removal and protection. I downloaded and infected my virtual computer with nearly 1,000 malware samples, including viruses, trojans, worms, ransomware, spyware, and rootkits. I ranked each anti-malware software based on the number of files they caught with disk scans and real-time protection, along with how quickly and effectively each threat was removed. I also measured how well the program was able to recover a computer system after a malware infection. And I added extra points for fast scans and low CPU load.
  • Additional features. I used every feature of every anti-malware program I tested to ensure all of the tools worked exactly as advertised. I gave extra points for helpful threat prevention tools like Wi-Fi scanning, a virtual private network (VPN), a password manager, and dark web monitoring.
  • Ease of use. A lot of cybersecurity products are difficult to use and make malware removal a complicated process. I hand-tested each one of these products, navigated through all of the features, and made sure the products that made it to this list are intuitive and user-friendly for all types of users.
  • Customer support. If there’s a problem with my malware removal tool, I want to know that I can get high-quality support as soon as possible. I contacted each company’s customer service teams by phone, email, and live chat, and ranked them according to how much information and help they provided.
  • Value. It’s important to make sure that the quality of protection offered by each program matches the price. I only recommend malware removal software that provides a good amount of cybersecurity features for the price, as well as helpful add-ons like free trials, money-back guarantees, or first-time discounts.

Top Brands that Didn’t Make the Cut:

  • Kaspersky. Kaspersky is a leader in the cybersecurity world. But Kaspersky charges more for its premium version than the other security suites on this list, all of which provide a fuller and better variety of internet security tools.
  • BullGuard. BullGuard offers decent malware protection and removal, as well as a special game booster feature that enhances PC performance for gamers. However, the user interface is clunky, and BullGuard just doesn’t provide the same value as the other programs on this list.
  • Avast/AVG. Avast/AVG has been accused of selling user data. I have a problem with cybersecurity companies giving away user information, especially without the user’s knowledge. And right now, there are so many great companies offering strong malware protections that no one needs to sacrifice privacy for quality.

🥇1. Norton 360 — Best Malware Removal Software in 2021

🥇1. <a href="" title="Norton" rel="sponsored noopener norefferer" target="_blank" data-btn-name="Affiliate Link - 27738" data-btn-indexed="1">Norton 360</a> — Best Malware Removal Software in 2021

Norton 360 is the best malware removal program on the market it uses advanced machine learning, heuristic scanning, and a massive malware database to detect and remove even the most sophisticated malware.

During my tests, Norton’s real-time protection detected and blocked 100% of the test malware files I attempted to download onto my PC. After I turned off Norton’s real-time protection and downloaded those same files onto my hard drive, Norton’s full system scan detected and fully removed every single malicious file — the scan took around 40 minutes to complete, and it didn’t slow down my computer at all.

Norton combines its strong malware protection with additional security features like:

  • Network firewall.
  • Anti-phishing protection.
  • Virtual private network (VPN).
  • Password manager.
  • Encrypted storage.
  • Parental controls.
  • Webcam protections (for PC).

Norton’s firewall is really good — it uses machine learning to automatically detect unusual network activity, and it blocked every single exploit attack in my testing. Competitors usually only offer customization features for the Windows firewall built into all PCs, but Norton’s “Smart Firewall” is Norton’s own high-quality firewall, outperforming all others in all of my tests.

Norton 360 Standard only offers protection for 1 device. Norton 360 Deluxe adds up to 5 devices, 50 GB of cloud storage, and parental controls. For users outside of the US, Norton 360 Premium adds coverage for up to 10 devices and 75 GB of cloud storage.

Bottom Line:

Norton 360 is my favorite malware removal program in 2021 it’s a comprehensive internet security suite with perfect malware detection rates and fast malware removal. Norton’s firewall, anti-phishing protections, VPN, dark web monitoring, parental controls, and password manager are all excellent. Norton 360 comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee.

Download Norton Now

Read the full Norton review here >

🥈2. Bitdefender — Full-Suite Internet Security Software

🥈2. <a href="" title="Bitdefender" rel="sponsored noopener norefferer" target="_blank" data-btn-name="Affiliate Link - 454734" data-btn-indexed="1">Bitdefender</a> — Full-Suite Internet Security Software

Bitdefender has a fast, cloud-based malware scanner which keeps devices 100% protected without affecting CPU performance. In my testing, Bitdefender caught and removed all of the malicious files I downloaded — and because Bitdefender offloads scanning to the cloud, it’s able to perform virus scans faster than most competitors, and with very little CPU load.

I was able to stream HD video, play high performance games on my PC, and run Adobe Photoshop with zero interruption while Bitdefender was performing a full disk scan — even Norton caused some slowdown on my system during scans, so I was really impressed with Bitdefender’s performance!

Bitdefender also has more additional features than most other antivirus software — making it one of the top internet security suites of 2021. In addition to standard features like a firewall and web protection, Bitdefender also has advanced tools like ransomware protection and remediation, USB scanning, a secure browser for online finances, and lots more.

Bitdefender offers 3 different antivirus plans — the 2 lower-tier plans, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus and Bitdefender Internet Security, are only available for PCs. Users looking for multi-device protection across all operating systems have to upgrade to Bitdefender Total Security.

Bottom Line:

Bitdefender provides an excellent suite of anti-malware tools — but Mac users and users looking for mobile protection will have to upgrade to the most expensive plan to get coverage for Mac, Android, and iOS. Still, all of Bitdefender’s plans are really competitively priced, and they’re available with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Download Bitdefender Now

Read the full Bitdefender review here >

🥉3. McAfee — Advanced Malware Scanning Engine

🥉3. <a href="" title="McAfee" rel="sponsored noopener norefferer" target="_blank" data-btn-name="Affiliate Link - 27755" data-btn-indexed="1">McAfee</a> — Advanced Malware Scanning Engine

McAfee Total Protection’s anti-malware engine utilizes artificial intelligence and machine learning — it detected and removed every single piece of malware in my testing, ranking alongside Norton in terms of perfect malware detection and removal. However, I noticed my system lagging a bit after I downloaded McAfee. And McAfee’s full system scan significantly slowed down my computer’s speed much more than TotalAV.

But McAfee comes with a wide range of well-designed features that make up for this slowdown. It has:

  • Firewall.
  • Wi-Fi protection (Home Network Security).
  • Anti-phishing protection.
  • System tune-up tools.
  • VPN.
  • Password manager.
  • Permanent file deletion.
  • Identity theft protection (US users only).

All of McAfee’s additional features work really well, but I also love McAfee’s excellent mobile protections. McAfee offers real-time scanning, web protection, parental controls, and anti-theft for Android and iOS in a single easy-to-use app — it’s one of the best mobile antiviruses on the market, especially for Android devices which are highly susceptible to ransomware and spyware threats.

McAfee Total Protection comes with all of the features listed above for 1-10 devices (across all operating systems), and McAfee is currently offering a 2-year subscription plan for a cheaper per year cost than any other top competitor.

Bottom Line:

McAfee Total Protection offers an impressive suite of malware removal tools for both computers and mobile devices. McAfee’s malware detection rates are on par with Norton’s, but I did experience some unusual slowdown with McAfee on my device. However, if you’re running a fast computer and you’re looking for a huge variety of features for a really good price, McAfee has a 30-day money-back guarantee on all of its plans, including the highly discounted 2-year subscription plan.

Download McAfee Now

Read the full McAfee review here >

4. TotalAV — Fast + Easy-to-Use Anti-Malware Scanner

4. <a href="" title="TotalAV" rel="sponsored noopener norefferer" target="_blank" data-btn-name="Affiliate Link - 27746" data-btn-indexed="1">TotalAV</a> — Fast + Easy-to-Use Anti-Malware Scanner

TotalAV is simple, easy to use, and provides some of the most comprehensive malware removal and protection around. TotalAV’s top-tier plans offer a cloud-based scanning option — the cloud scanner detected and removed 99% of the malware I placed on my system, and it barely slowed my computer down during scans. While Norton grabbed the top spot on this list with its 100% detection rate, TotalAV was faster and more lightweight on my PC.

Apart from its malicious software removal tool, TotalAV also offers many extra features like:

  • Web attack prevention.
  • Performance optimization tools.
  • VPN.
  • Password manager.
  • Identity theft protection (additional purchase).

TotalAV’s performance optimization tools were more effective than any other system tune-up feature on this list. The junk file cleaner removed 8 GB of duplicate files, unused files, and cached browser files from my system. TotalAV also helped me to speed up my computer’s startup and clear out browser cookies that were tracking my web usage.

TotalAV Antivirus Pro includes TotalAV’s anti-malware scanner plus performance optimization tools, and it can be used on up to 3 devices. TotalAV Internet Security adds a VPN and coverage for up to 5 devices. TotalAV Total Security adds an ad blocker and a password manager for up to 6 users.

Bottom Line:

TotalAV’s lightweight anti-malware engine detected almost all of the test malware on my device. In addition to having a 99% malware detection rate, TotalAV offers some of the best performance optimization tools around — these tools significantly enhanced my PC’s startup and memory usage. TotalAV’s anti-phishing browser extension, VPN, and ad blocker are all really well-made security add-ons, too. All of TotalAV’s plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Download TotalAV Now

Read the full TotalAV review here >

5. Avira — Best Free Malware Removal Software

5. <a href="" title="Avira" rel="sponsored noopener norefferer" target="_blank" data-btn-name="Affiliate Link - 454741" data-btn-indexed="1">Avira</a> — Best Free Malware Removal Software

Avira has a strong, fast, lightweight, and free malware scanner — it’s offered with no restrictions in Avira’s free package. Avira’s scanner is just as good as Norton or McAfee’s scanner, completely removing all malware, and when I tested Avira’s real-time protection, it detected every single piece of malware before I could install it on my computer. Avira’s free plan even has ransomware protection!

Avira Free also includes extra features like:

  • Web privacy extension (Safe Shopping).
  • Performance optimizer.
  • VPN (500 MB monthly limit).
  • Password manager.

Avira’s Safe Shopping browser extension is one of my favorite online privacy tools. It blocks trackers, invasive advertisements, and phishing sites which can steal your data. The extension can also find the best shopping deals for you, but this feature didn’t perform too well during my tests.

Avira Free is my favorite free anti-malware suite, but its password manager and VPN have some frustrating limitations. Upgrading to Avira Prime gets you Avira’s excellent VPN with unlimited browsing data, premium password manager, and performance optimization for up to 5 devices.

Bottom Line:

Avira has the best free malware removal software on the market. Avira Free also has some great free internet security features, and upgrading to Avira Prime gets you a VPN with no limitations, advanced performance optimization tools, and a good password manager for up to 5 devices. There’s a 30-day money-back guarantee on all of Avira’s paid plans.

Download Avira Now

Read the full Avira review here >

Bonus: Malwarebytes — Simple Anti-Malware Software

Bonus: <a href="" title="Malwarebytes" rel="sponsored noopener norefferer" target="_blank" data-btn-name="Affiliate Link - 454747" data-btn-indexed="1">Malwarebytes</a> — Simple Anti-Malware Software

Malwarebytes provides premium anti-malware scanning and removal, but not much else. I wasn’t shocked to see Malwarebytes remove most of the malware on my disk during testing, but I was surprised to see that Malwarebytes has finally added a couple of new features to its internet security package.

Malwarebytes now offers anti-phishing protection and a VPN in addition to its powerful anti-malware engine. The anti-phishing shield is pretty good, but it’s not much of an improvement over the built-in phishing protections from Chrome and Firefox. However, the optional VPN upgrade is pretty good — I was able to easily connect to servers around the globe, and I even got past Netflix’s geo-restrictions with Malwarebytes (but only about half of the time).

Malwarebytes offers a free version of its on-demand malware scanner (which comes after a 14-day free trial). The free version is good enough for simple malware removal, but it’s not good enough to stay protected against future threats. For that, you’ll need Malwarebytes Premiumwhich offers real-time protection and anti-phishing. Users looking for a decent VPN can upgrade to Malwarebytes Premium + Privacy.

Bottom Line:

Malwarebytes offers an excellent malware scanner, but that’s pretty much it. It also includes a decent anti-phishing tool and a VPN, but Malwarebytes doesn’t offer the kind of comprehensive cybersecurity protection offered by competitors like Norton and McAfee. All of Malwarebytes’s plans have a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Download Malwarebytes Now

Read the full Malwarebytes review here >

Bonus: Intego — Best Malware Removal for Mac Users

Bonus: <a href="" title="Intego" rel="sponsored noopener norefferer" target="_blank" data-btn-name="Affiliate Link - 454754" data-btn-indexed="1">Intego</a> — Best Malware Removal for Mac Users

Intego’s macOS malware removal software provides significant improvements over macOS’s built-in anti-malware protections. During my tests, Intego’s malware scanner scored a perfect detection and removal rate against every piece of Mac-specific malware on my MacBook Pro, catching files that macOS’s built-in XProtect malware scanner failed to detect.

Intego also has:

  • Smart firewall.
  • System clean-up and optimization tools.
  • Parental controls.
  • Data backup.

Intego’s firewall automatically adjusts protections based on your network activity, and the file backup tool provides cool options for custom folders, syncing across multiple drives, and scheduling automatic backups.

Intego offers a few different plans — the entry-level Internet Security X9 plan only has a firewall and malware scanner, while the Premium Bundle X9 offers all of Intego’s features in an affordable package.

Bottom line:

Intego is the best anti-malware software for Mac users, and its additional features offer significant improvement over Apple’s built-in cybersecurity tools. Intego’s firewall automatically adjusts protections based on network activity, while the parental controls offer better content filtering than macOS. There’s a 30-day money-back guarantee on all of Intego’s plans.

Download Intego Now

Read the full Intego review here >

Comparison of the Best Malware Removal 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.🥈Bitdefender Yes Yes Yes No Yes
3.🥉McAfee Yes No Yes Yes (USA only) Yes
4. TotalAV No Yes Yes Yes (US, Canada, Western Europe) No
5. Avira No Yes Yes No No
Bonus: Malwarebytes Yes Yes No No No
Bonus: Intego No No No No Yes

What’s the difference between viruses and malware?

Viruses are one type of malware, but there are many other types of malware that aren’t viruses. Malware is any malicious software designed to damage, spread, or provide unwanted access to a computer, device, or network. 

Examples of malware include:

  • Trojan. Any malware that pretends to be a benign program file, then secretly activates after installation to provide hackers system surveillance, remote access, or the ability to damage your system.
  • Ransomware. Infects your device and encrypts your most valuable files until you pay a ransom to the hackers to unlock your device. Commonly used against businesses and enterprises.
  • Spyware. Usually bundled with free downloads. Provides hackers access to your screen, keystrokes, microphone, and webcam to steal your personal information and even influence your suggested search results.
  • Adware. Similar to spyware. Hijacks your browser, collects your browsing history and displays unwanted, targeted ads on your desktop and browser. Many of the linked ads can lead to serious malware downloads or phishing sites designed to steal financial information.
  • Keylogger. Logs your keystrokes, granting access to everything you type on your device, including your passwords and credit card details.

Viruses are a type of malware in the same way that carrots are a type of vegetables — and just like a chef uses a variety of tools to cook with every type of vegetable (including carrots), the best anti-malware programs — like Norton — use advanced tools like machine learning, heuristic analysis, and cloud-based malware directories to detect the whole range of known malware files.

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

The terms ‘antivirus’ and ‘anti-malware’ are mostly interchangeable. Viruses are only one type of malware, but every antivirus software is designed to detect a broad range of malware, such as trojans, worms, rootkits, ransomware, and adware.

A simple antivirus decides that files are malicious by comparing them to a directory of known malware. If any of your files are a match for known malware in the antivirus’s directory, the antivirus notifies you that the file is harmful. This is great for catching most types of known viruses, trojans, and worms, but it won’t detect newer malware files that aren’t saved in a malware directory, like cryptojackers, ransomware, rootkits, and spyware.

Advanced anti-malware tools like Norton and TotalAV use behavior analysis, heuristics, and machine learning/artificial intelligence to detect and remove malicious files in real time — whereas lower-quality antiviruses only provide on-demand scanning (thereby leaving your devices vulnerable).

What’s the best malware removal software for Windows?

Norton 360 is my overall favorite antivirus software and anti-malware tool, boasting a 100% malware detection and removal rate along with several standout features that can prevent future cyber attacks. I also like Bitdefender’s intuitive interface and fast malware scanner, making it a good option for Windows users needing a simple (but strong) tool for removing malicious software.

But most of the top anti-malware packages on this list will work well with Windows.

You can read more in our in-depth comparison of the best antiviruses for Windows here.

What’s the best free malware removal tool?

Avira Free is the best free antivirus on the market, and it comes with a powerful and effective anti-malware scanner.

That said, all free anti-malware software has some kind of limitation. Avira, for instance, limits its best features to its Avira Prime paid antivirus — offering better web protections, better optimization tools, and a much better VPN.

Free products are good for basic protection and prevention, but when it comes to cybersecurity, you get what you pay for. If you want the best malware remover along with other protections, you’ll need to invest in a good paid antivirus. Norton 360 is my top malware removal tool of 2021 — it uses a variety of advanced detection methods to scan for, find, quarantine, and remove malware, plus it comes with a firewall, anti-phishing tools, identity theft monitoring, a VPN, a password manager, and parental controls to help protect against malware attacks in the future.

About the Author

Bjorn Johansson
Bjorn Johansson
Cybersecurity researcher and digital rights advocate
Updated on: October 1, 2021

About the Author

Bjorn is a cybersecurity researcher and digital rights advocate. Originally from Sweden, he now lives on the Maine coast with his wife and their two kids. When he’s not helping keep the internet safe for everyday people, he enjoys boating with his family and woodworking.