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Is Antivirus Software Really Necessary in 2023?

Kate Davidson Kate Davidson

Short on time? Here’s the best antivirus for overall internet security in 2023:

  • 🥇Norton: Provides 100% malware detection for Windows, macOS, and Android, plus a really good security app for iOS. Comes with extras like web protection, dark web monitoring, a password manager, and a VPN.

Is an antivirus still necessary in 2023? After all, Windows, Android, iOS, and Mac operating systems all have decent security protections.

The answer is a resounding YES! While built-in security protections are pretty good, they just can’t protect you from the wide range of cyber attacks facing users in 2023. The best antivirus programs on the market offer 100% protection from advanced cyber threats — including malware (trojans, ransomware, rootkits, etc), network hacks, phishing attacks, identity theft, data breaches, and web trackers.

But not all antivirus software is created equal. Some are poorly created, often leaving massive holes in a person’s cyber defense. Others are secretly harvesting data. But a good antivirus program will protect your devices far more effectively than the basic protections built into your device ever could.

The reality is that you need quality antivirus software to stay 100% safe online. Some people claim that you can stay safe from malware just by taking precautions when you use the internet — but while there are a lot of important precautions you should take, they can’t give you the protection that a fully-fledged security suite like Norton can.

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How do antivirus programs detect malware?

Antivirus scanners use a variety of methods to identify malware before it can make any changes onto your computer.

It can be impossible to tell from looking at a file that it contains hidden malware — it’s often cleverly concealed in seemingly innocent files like movies, program files, and images. This is why a high-quality antivirus is so important.

The best antivirus programs provide on-demand scanning (looks at all the files on your disk to sniff out hidden malware files) and real-time protection (analyzes files when you download them or open them to ensure you’re not adding malware to your system) to keep your devices 100% malware-free.

There a few methods used by antivirus scanners to detect malware:

  • Signature-based scanning. This is the most common method used by built-in virus scanners like Windows Defender and Apple File Quarantine. Signature-based scanners depend on malware databases, which contain code from hundreds of thousands of types of known malware — when you download a file, the code in that file is compared to the malware database. If the signature of the downloaded file matches a file in the database, it’s blocked from running on your system.
  • Heuristics. Malware files can be encrypted or slightly altered to deceive signature-based scanning tools. Like signature-based scanners, heuristics-based scanners analyze code — but they are able to identify signatures that are similar to known malware types, which allows them to detect malware that signature-based scanners miss.
  • Machine learning/AI. Rather than analyzing a file’s code, machine learning tools detect malware files based on their behavior — if a file acts similarly to the millions of malware files the AI-based scanner is trained on, it will block those files. This means that machine learning-based scanners can catch zero-day files that signature and heuristics-based scanners can’t detect.
  • Sandboxing. A sandbox is an artificial virtual environment — any files running in a sandbox can’t affect system files outside the sandbox. Any changes that a piece of malware tries to make disappear the moment the sandbox is closed down. iOS apps are all sandboxed, which limits the flexibility of the OS, but it also makes iPhones very difficult to hack.


Why do antivirus programs come with so many extra features?

There’s more to online safety than just keeping your device safe from malware. Keeping your online activity, passwords, cloud storage, and financial information secure is just as important as avoiding malware infections. That’s why antivirus programs offer additional internet security features such as:

  • Firewalls — to monitor network traffic and prevent invasive processes from entering into a network.
  • Web protection — to analyze websites for unsafe behavior and block known phishing sites.
  • Password managers — to generate, store, and auto-fill secure passwords.
  • Virtual private networks (VPNs) — to hide IP addresses for private browsing and downloading.
  • Parental controls — to block inappropriate content, limit device and app usage, and track location on children’s devices.
  • System cleanup tools — to eliminate junk files, bloatware, and PUPs (potentially unwanted programs).  
  • Encrypted storage — to keep data 100% secure using military-grade data encryption.
  • Identity protection — to provide real-time alerts if your information or identity is at risk of being stolen.
  • Breach monitoring — to scan databases and dark web forums and notify you if your data is leaked in a data breach.


Why are third-party antiviruses better than my operating system’s built-in defenses?

All major operating systems have big vulnerabilities. While every operating system has built-in malware protections, and they’re all decent, I still recommend everybody — even Mac users — should use antivirus software. Here’s why:

  • Windows. Windows is the most frequently hacked operating system in the world. While Windows has put a lot more effort into Windows Defender in recent days, it still doesn’t score the same 100% malware detection ratings that standalone antivirus competitors regularly achieve (plus, Windows doesn’t have built-in web protections, data breach monitoring, password management, or VPN protection). If you’re looking for a PC antivirus that can handle the latest internet security threats, check out this list of the best antiviruses for Windows.
  • macOS. Many Mac users are under the impression that their computers are completely virus-proof. macOS’s File Quarantine feature is a good virus scanner, with new viruses added to its database daily — but it’s not good against zero-day threats, and it often fails to recognize adware and spyware. For example, millions of Mac users were infected with the Shlayer spyware, which harvested browsing data and inserted affiliate products into users’ suggested searches. If you want to keep your Mac spyware-free and protected against zero-day threats, there are a few really good Mac antiviruses out there.
  • Android. Android is the most widely used mobile operating system in the world, and Android devices are a huge target for hackers. Google Play Protect is the built-in scanner in every Android device — it does a pretty good job, but it doesn’t offer good protection against ransomware, spyware, or phishing. For example, millions of Androids were infected with the Locker ransomware, causing each user to lose thousands of dollars just to get their data back. The best antivirus programs for Android offer ransomware protection, safe browsing features, and powerful anti-theft protections.
  • iOS. Because of the strict developer protocols around the App Store as well as iOS’s native sandboxing, it’s basically impossible to get a virus on an iOS device. However, iOS users are susceptible to phishing sites and malicious Wi-Fi networks, as well as unethical apps that track user data. Cybersecurity apps for iOS can protect device usage, and the best ones also come with powerful anti-theft features. Check out our list of the best antiviruses for iOS here.


Best antiviruses for internet security in 2023

There are significant risks to going online without proper internet security protection — no matter what device you’re using. Your device, your financial information, and your online identity can all be compromised by hackers. I pay insurance for my car, my health, and my home. I use my computer and my smartphone every single day, so it just makes sense for me to keep them insured against the many dangers that exist online.

Here are the 3 best internet security programs for 2023 ranked in terms of overall security, extra features, ease of use, customer support, and value.

Quick summary of the top 3 antivirus programs in 2023:

  • 🥇 1. Norton — Best overall antivirus for 2023.
  • 🥈 2. Bitdefender — Best lightweight antivirus with lots of additional features.
  • 🥉 3. Intego — Best antivirus for Macs in 2023.

🥇1. Norton 360 — Best Antivirus for Windows, Android & iOS

🥇1. Norton 360 — Best Antivirus for Windows, Android & iOS

Norton 360 provides the most well-rounded internet security protection of any antivirus program in 2023. It offers significant improvement on the built-in protections offered by Windows, Android, macOS, and even iOS.

Norton scored a 100% protection rating during all of my stress tests. It employs signature-based scanning, advanced heuristics, and machine learning to detect malware on your devices. I exposed my devices to hundreds of malware files, including ransomware, trojans, rootkits, spyware, cryptojackers, and more, and Norton caught all of them. Built-in scanners from Windows, Android, and macOS just don’t provide the same results as Norton’s anti-malware scanner.

However, Norton’s antivirus protection is just one part of its offering. It also has a full suite of internet security features to protect your devices and your data online, including:

  • Secure firewall.
  • Anti-phishing web shield.
  • Password manager.
  • Webcam protection.
  • VPN (with unlimited data).
  • Dark web monitoring.
  • Identity theft protections (US only).
  • Parental controls.
  • And a lot more…

Many of Norton’s features are among the best on the market (especially its web protections, identity theft protections, and parental controls). And even its password manager and VPN, which aren’t quite as good as the best standalone password managers or best standalone VPNs, still provide great security, ease of use, and overall value. Norton just bundles a ton of great features for a low price.

I really like Norton’s affordable Norton 360 Standard plan — it provides VPN access, 10 GB secure cloud storage, and dark web monitoring for 3 devices for just $39.99 / year.

However, most users will want to upgrade to Norton 360 Deluxe — it covers 5 devices, provides up to 50 GB of encrypted storage, and adds Norton’s excellent parental controls for $49.99 / year. And finally, US users should definitely check out Norton 360 with LifeLock, which adds the best identity theft protections on the market for just $99.99 / year. Norton provides a 60-day money-back guarantee with all of its plans.

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Read the full Norton review here >

🥈2. Bitdefender Total Security — Lightweight Malware Protection + Tons of Features

🥈2. Bitdefender Total Security — Lightweight Malware Protection + Tons of Features

Bitdefender provides powerful antivirus protection and a ton of features — and it’s extremely lightweight. It uses the same trifecta of signature-based scanning, heuristics, and machine learning as Norton does — but almost all of its processing power is offloaded to the cloud. Windows Defender is also partially cloud-based, but it doesn’t boast the same malware detection rates or internet security tools that Bitdefender offers.

During my testing, Bitdefender detected 100% of the malware test files on my system, and because it’s cloud-based, it barely slowed down my system, even during intensive, full-disk scans.

Bitdefender also provides a ton of valuable internet security features, like:

  • Web protection.
  • System optimizer.
  • VPN.
  • Parental controls.
  • Password manager.
  • Webcam protection.
  • Data breach monitoring.
  • And a lot more…

All of Bitdefender’s additional features are excellent — its anti-phishing tool blocks phishing sites and exploit attacks more effectively than Chrome or Safari’s built-in protections, and Safepay, its secure, encrypted browser, blocks web trackers to make online finances safer.

Bitdefender’s VPN is really good, too. It provides secure, fast connections to servers in dozens of countries around the globe, has a kill switch, and allows torrenting. However, you have to purchase Bitdefender’s VPN separately or buy the most expensive Bitdefender plan to get unlimited data (otherwise you’re limited to just 200 MB per day per device).

Bitdefender provides all of these features for a surprisingly good dealBitdefender Antivirus Plus is its most basic plan, providing web protection, real-time malware detection, limited VPN access, and more for one Windows PC for only $19.99 / year.

But most users will want to upgrade to Bitdefender Total Security, which provides all of Bitdefender’s features for up to 5 Windows, macOS, Android, or iOS devices for only $35.99 / year. However, if you want unlimited VPN usage on 10 devices you should check out Bitdefender Premium Security, which is only $49.99 / year. There’s also a 30-day money-back guarantee on all of Bitdefender’s plans.

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Read the full Bitdefender review here >

🥉3. Intego — Best Antivirus for Mac

🥉3. Intego — Best Antivirus for Mac

Intego is my favorite macOS antivirus for 2023, providing significant improvements over Apple’s built-in Mac protections. While Norton and Bitdefender both make high-quality apps for macOS, they’re lacking some of the additional features that make their apps especially good for Windows and Android devices.

But Intego is designed from the ground up to provide great internet security for Macs. Its antivirus scanner provides both on-demand scanning and real-time protection, and it detected 100% of the malware in my testing (including both Mac-specific malware files and Windows malware that can jump from your Mac to Windows PCs via Wi-Fi, thumb drives, and emails).

I’m also a really big fan of Intego’s additional security tools, including:

  • Mac optimization and cleaning tools.
  • Advanced Mac backup options.
  • Network security options.
  • Parental controls.

Intego’s network security tools include an advanced firewall and Wi-Fi network monitor — unlike macOS’s built-in firewall, Intego will automatically alter your network settings when you use a public Wi-Fi network.

I’m also a big fan of Intego’s system optimization tools, which can get rid of junk files, duplicates, cached browser files, and much more — I tested Intego on a 5-year-old MacBook and my startup speed, load times, and storage space were significantly improved by its system tune-up suite.

Intego isn’t as affordable as some competitors, but it’s worth a few more bucks to get superior macOS protection. At $19.99 / year, the Mac Internet Security X9 package is pretty cheap, but it just offers Intego’s malware protection and firewall. Users that want a more complete internet security suite should check out the Mac Premium Bundle X9, which offers all of Intego’s features for just $34.99 / year. There’s a 30-day money-back guarantee on all of Intego’s plans.

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Read the full Intego review here >

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does Reddit say I don’t need antivirus software?

Some claim you don’t need antivirus software if you follow strict internet safety practices, but it’s important to remember that not everyone is a computer expert. Just as you might need a mechanic for your car despite knowing how an engine works, most of us rely on help to take care of our complex machines. Antivirus software provides an extra layer of protection and support for those who are not well-versed in computer security, ensuring the safety of our digital devices.

Your internet security can be breached at any time, for a huge variety of reasons. Hacked family members can send you malware files, phishing sites can convincingly imitate legitimate sites in order to steal your data, and your data can be leaked in a large-scale data breach through no fault of your own. Malware files affect millions of Windows, macOS, and Android users every day.

The best antivirus programs provide improvement over Microsoft, Apple, and Google’s built-in protections, add additional security features, and provide trained customer support staff in the event of an emergency. Norton even offers live dark web monitoring.

Does Windows 10 or 11 need antivirus protection?

Windows Security (formerly known as Windows Defender) is an excellent security tool built into Windows 10 and 11. It used to be famously very bad, but Microsoft has put a lot of work into improving its built-in Windows antivirus protection. But it’s still not as good as the best antivirus programs.

Windows Security regularly receives worse scores than standalone competitors in malware stress tests. These standalone competitors provide advanced malware detection tools, as well as helpful additional features like VPNs and password managers that Windows Security lacks.

Which antivirus should I use?

There are good antivirus programs for every system — but overall, I think Norton is the best antivirus in 2023. It provides excellent malware detection rates for every operating system, plus it has great additional security features, a really helpful customer support team, and its plans cover a wide range of devices.

Do Android phones or iPhones need antivirus?

Android and iOS both have decent built-in protections, but they have similar issues. The Google Play Store and Apple App store both have hundreds of thousands of apps, and some of them are malware apps designed to steal user data and gain access to your device.

As I discuss above, both Android and iPhone users have been hacked in recent years. While it’s a lot easier to put malware on Android devices, iOS users still face risks from online threats like phishing attacks and data breaches. Norton and TotalAV both make excellent apps for Android and iOS.

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About the Author
Kate Davidson
Kate Davidson
Chief Editor

About the Author

Kate Davidson is a Chief Editor at SafetyDetectives. She has many years of experience as a journalist and communications professional, and has worked for media organizations, government agencies, and NGOs in multiple countries. Kate has always had a deep interest in cybersecurity, which has — together with her passion for crafting quality content — allowed her to bring complex topics about antiviruses, password managers, and overall online security closer to our readers. In her spare time, Kate enjoys spending time with her family, cooking Italian food, and doing yoga by the sea.