Cybersecurity companies are constantly putting out new software saying that 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 is similar to an antivirus, but it’s not quite the same. Anti-malware programs fight all the attacks of modern cybercriminals, in addition to traditional viruses. 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. That said, many people use the term “antivirus” and “anti-malware” interchangeably, and most top cybersecurity companies offer full anti-malware protection with their antivirus products.
Short on time? Here’s a summary of the best anti-malware software:
- Norton: Best all-around malware protection, trusted name in cybersecurity.
- Malwarebytes: Best dedicated anti-malware program, high customer satisfaction.
- TotalAV: Best program for extra anti-malware features, like device performance enhancer.
- Avira: Best anti-malware detection rates, with fast and lightweight scans.
- McAfee: Best customization options, great for advanced malware protection.
There is No Such Thing as a “Free” Anti-Malware Program
Some companies give their anti-malware products away for free. But with anti-malware software, you get what you pay for.
With many free products, premium features are often locked behind a paywall. Many times, these are features which can be essential to keeping your device safe — like real-time protection, keylogging protection, and advanced virus protection. Another way that free antiviruses make money is by selling user data. Avast (the company behind popular antiviruses Avast and AVG) sells free users’ data to big corporations and advertisers. It’s unfortunate, but there’s no genuinely “free” anti-malware product — you will always pay somehow.
While you can stay mostly protected with a free anti-malware program, you can’t really trust important information like credit card info or account logins with a free product. Premium users get the satisfaction of knowing that they’re data is out of harm’s way. My top anti-malware product of 2020 — Norton 360 — is an expert-level program for every kind of malware protection. The knowledge that all of my data is safe is well worth a few bucks a month.
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
Norton 360 is amazing. Aside from full malware protection — including ransomware, spyware, and virus protection — there’s also:
- 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. 10 GB with Standard, 50 GB with Deluxe, and 75 GB with Premium.
Norton is a particularly fantastic choice for families. There are three tiers of pricing in its 360 range — Standard, Deluxe, and Premium (and you can get 55% off with this promo code). You get up to 5 licenses with the Deluxe package and 10 with Premium. And as I detailed in my Norton 360 review, Norton has the best parental controls I’ve ever used.
What I Like:
- Lots of licenses — great value for those who want to protect a household.
- An impressive range of features.
- Powerful parental controls.
- Large amount of included data storage.
- Responsive customer support.
What I Don’t Like:
- Parental control features unavailable for Mac users.
- VPN didn’t perform as well as others in my tests.
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.
2. 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.
What I Like:
- Real-time scanning and behavior analysis for full malware protection.
- 14-day free trial and 60-day money-back guarantee (74 days free).
- Quick and powerful anti-malware scanning engine.
- Lightweight and easy to install.
What I Don’t Like:
- Free version doesn’t have real-time protection.
- Customer support needs improvement.
- Not many extra features.
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.
3. TotalAV — Best for Anti-Malware Extra Features
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.
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.
What I Like:
- Easy to use, great for beginners.
- Tons of extra features.
- Lightning-fast malware scanning that won’t impact performance.
- Great customer support.
What I Don’t Like:
- Many extra features like the VPN cost additional money.
- Lacks secure file storage and parental controls offered by similarly-priced top brands like Norton.
TotalAV is simple and easy to use. 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.
4. Avira — Best for Full Malware Security
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.
Avira’s full Internet Security Suite couples their 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 the number one spot 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.
What I Like:
- Avira’s “German-engineered” malware-detection technology always scores high in testing.
- A great included password manager.
- Decent free product for users on a budget.
What I Don’t Like:
- Phantom VPN must be purchased separately.
- Slows down boot time quite significantly.
The 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.
5. 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 firls. 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.
What I Like:
- Full protection against all malware.
- Highly customizable.
- Many extras features like encrypted storage.
What I Don’t Like:
- Identity theft protection is only available in the US.
- Included password manager is not that great.
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.
Anti-Malware Software — Frequently Asked Questions
😈 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.
- 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. It can be one of several tools that you use to keep your devices safe against this specific threat. That said, antivirus software is a crucial part of your security toolkit. Viruses still represent a significant risk in today’s computing world, especially on Windows.
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 in detail at the 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.
📋 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.