FAQ

Hopefully, these FAQs will answer your questions. But, if not, please see our specially-created glossary of antivirus terms.

1. Are antivirus programs necessary? Why are they important?

A good antivirus solution is probably one of the most important tools you can have installed on your devices. Just like a good doctor, a good antivirus program isn’t something you need every day, but when your antivirus blocks a virus from invading your computer, or prevents a phishing website from stealing your data, you will be extremely happy that your device is protected.

The best antiviruses can prevent all of the latest malware attacks, including trojans, ransomware, spyware, rootkits, cryptojackers, and more.

Also, antivirus programs have evolved beyond simply providing protection from malware infections — a premium antivirus in 2022 can also include features like:

Firewall.
Network scanning.
VPN (virtual private network).
System tune-up tools.
Parental controls.
Mobile protection.

This variety of useful features can protect users from a huge range of cyber attacks, including spoofing attacks, man-in-the-middle attacks, and exploits. Premium internet security suites like Norton and Bitdefender include all of these and many other features.

2. How does antivirus software work?

Most antivirus programs rely on 3 primary technologies to detect malware on your system:

Signature-based scanning.
Heuristic detection.
Machine learning.

For signature-based scanning, your antivirus compares files to a massive database of known malware files, and flags any files with code that matches the “signature” of known malware. This is the most traditional method for virus scanning, and it’s an excellent tool for detecting most malware files.

Heuristic detection is similar to signature-based scanning — the scanner looks at a file’s code to determine if it’s similar enough to known malware to be considered dangerous. If a known malware file has been slightly altered to bypass signature-based detection methods, a heuristic scanner will still be able to detect it.

Machine learning engines are trained on millions of different malware files and identify suspicious files based on their behavior (instead of looking for similar malware signatures). If a brand new malware file is on your machine, and it does anything suspicious (like monitoring your browsing data, encrypting your files, accessing your webcam, etc.), a machine learning-based scanner will be able to flag and block this file.

Most of the best antivirus programs, like Bitdefender and Norton, use a combination of all 3 malware scanning techniques.

3. What is the best antivirus for my device?

Norton is #1 on our list of the top antiviruses in 2022. There are some close contenders, and many competitors provide unique perks, but overall, Norton provides excellent protection for PCs, Macs, Androids, and iOS devices.

You can also take a look at our curated lists for specific operating systems to compare vendors and choose the best one for you:

  • WindowsNorton. Norton provides one of the best virus scanners around, as well as more features than most competitors and a really intuitive Windows app, all inside affordable plans for 1-5 devices. You can read more about Norton here.
  • macOSIntego. Intego was originally a Mac-exclusive antivirus, and it’s excellent malware detection rating, wide range of system cleanup tools, device backup options, and intuitive parental controls still make it the best choice for Mac users. You can read more about Intego here.
  • AndroidNorton. Norton provides 100% malware detection, excellent phishing protection, comprehensive identity theft protections (US users only), Wi-Fi monitoring, and a pretty good VPN app. You can read more about Norton here.
  • iOSNorton. While iOS doesn’t support antivirus scanning, Norton’s iOS app offers really good web protections, a Wi-Fi security scanner, dark web monitoring, and an unlimited VPN for a really good price. You can read more about Norton here.

4. Do antiviruses detect every type of malware (spyware, rootkits, ransomware, etc.)?

Yes, a good antivirus suite can detect every type of malware, including sophisticated attacks like rootkits and less dangerous files like adware and PUPs (potentially unwanted programs).

SafetyDetectives uses a continuously updated database of nearly 1,000 malware files in our antivirus testing, and this database includes every type of known malware file, including:

  • Viruses.
  • Worms.
  • Trojans.
  • Spyware/adware.
  • Ransomware.
  • Rootkits.
  • Keyloggers.
  • Cryptojackers.
  • And more...

If an antivirus scores a 100% rating (or close to it) on our website, then that means it has been proven to be able to stand up to all of the latest malware threats. Brands like Norton, Bitdefender, and Avira have all earned 100% malware detection ratings in our testing.

Also, some companies make specialized virus detection software — for example, McAfee and Bitdefender both make free rootkit detection kits, and there are some pretty good anti-spyware programs on the market as well.

5. What should I look for in a good antivirus program?

At a minimum, a good antivirus should include excellent malware protections — it should be able to detect and remove both well-known and emerging threats, including ransomware, trojans, and spyware.

Other essential features of a good antivirus program include:

  • Real-time threat scanning.
  • Web security.
  • Anti-phishing protections.
  • Firewall.

If you don’t already have extra features like a VPN, password manager, or system optimization tools, premium antivirus programs like Norton 360 will bundle all of these features for a great value.

Ideally, you want an antivirus suite that covers all major operating systems, including Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. Most of the best antiviruses cover all major devices. However, some antiviruses are better for specific systems — Norton is best for Windows, Android, and iOS, whereas Intego is best for Mac.

There are good antivirus programs out there for every user’s needs — our top 10 list is a great place to start if you’re just trying to figure out which antivirus is right for you.

6. Do Macs need antivirus protection?

Yes. The number of Mac-based malware attacks has been increasing for years. macOS has pretty good built-in security tools, but they aren’t strong enough to prevent all of the latest malware threats in 2022.

There are a lot of good antivirus programs which are specifically designed to provide protection for Macs.

My favorite Mac antivirus is Intego. It scored a 100% malware detection rating in our testing, and it provides some really good additional features, including a secure firewall, comprehensive parental controls, and a device backup feature which is way better than macOS’s built-in backup option. You can read more about Intego here.

7. Do mobile devices need antivirus protection?

Yes. Both Android and iOS security is a huge problem in 2022.

Android-specific ransomware, adware, cryptojackers, trojans, and more have become a big business. If you have an Android device, you should have a mobile antivirus that can scan apps, monitor wireless networks, provide web protections, and provide good anti-theft solutions (Norton is my favorite Android antivirus in 2022).

However, iOS devices are slightly different. While iPhones and iPads devices have been infected with dangerous malware files a few times in the last few years, Apple maintains strict security protocols that are sufficient to protect users from malware, but iOS users are still susceptible to numerous serious online threats, such as:

  • Phishing/smishing attacks. Scam links that trick users into giving away personal information and financial information.
  • Permissions abuse. When apps harvest user data without the user's knowledge or permission.
  • Fleeceware. Apps that trick users into paying for overpriced subscriptions.

Good iOS security apps can prevent these attacks, as well as providing anti-theft protections, parental controls, and system cleanup options.

8. Do I need to pay for antivirus protection?

You don’t have to, but you ought to. Basically, free antivirus programs can do a lot to protect you from malware, but none of them provide the same level of protection as paid antivirus suites do.

There are definitely some impressive free antivirus options out there — Avira's free antivirus is our favorite — but even Avira puts strict limits on its included VPN, password manager, and system cleanup tools.

If you want the best internet security for all of your devices, it’s best to invest in a high-quality antivirus suite, like Norton 360, Bitdefender Total Security, or Avira Prime.

9. What is the best free antivirus?

Avira is the best free antivirus in 2022. It offers a surprisingly good set of protections (although it’s still not as good as the best paid antivirus programs on the market). Here’s what you get with Avira’s free plan:

  • Antivirus scanner.
  • Real-time protection.
  • Firewall.
  • Phantom VPN (limited to 500 MB of free data per month).
  • Password manager (limited features).
  • Web browser security.
  • Basic device optimization.
  • Safe Shopping and Browser Safety extensions.

Yes, Avira is a good free antivirus. However, the data limit on the VPN makes it practically worthless (ProtonVPN's free plan is much better), the free version of the password manager is lacking essential vault security tools, and users don’t get access to Avira’s excellent system tuneup tools or live customer support options.

Honestly, we don’t recommend free antivirus software for most users — for only a few dollars a month, you can get a product like Norton 360 or Bitdefender that offers a full suite of web protections for multiple devices.

10. Will my antivirus slow down my computer?

Most good antiviruses won’t significantly slow down your computer.

A big reason for this is that most antiviruses provide real-time malware scanners, which scan new downloads and running processes in the background, without using almost any processing power.

While users experiencing a malware infection will want to run a CPU-intensive full disk scan to check on their devices — which could result in system slow downs — most users can simply rely on their antivirus’s real-time protections to keep them safe from incoming threats.

Antivirus programs in 2022 are also increasingly offloading their scanning technology to the cloud — Bitdefender, TotalAV, and Avira all use cloud-based technology, which significantly reduces the chance of computer slowdown.

Even if your antivirus causes some system slowdown during scans, most antiviruses include an option to schedule scans for when you’re not using your computer.

1. What is a password manager and how does it work?

A password manager is a program that securely stores usernames, passwords, and other personal details using high-level encryption. To access stored passwords, users will need to enter their “master password”, which decrypts their data.

Password managers also make browsing online quick and convenient by auto-filling login credentials, personal information, payment card details, auto-saving new login details, and generating new complex passwords for online accounts.

The key functions of a good password manager include:

  • Securely storing passwords using high-level encryption.
  • Auto-filling and auto-saving login details.
  • Generating complex passwords.
  • Auto-filling names, addresses, and payment card details.
  • Alerting users to weak, reused, old, or breached passwords.

Typically, the best password managers (like Dashlane, 1Password, and RoboForm) use bank-grade AES 256-bit encryption to secure all stored data, meaning hackers would not be able to see a user’s passwords even if the password manager was hacked. All details are then transported via cloud servers (or sometimes via local networks) so users can access their data on multiple devices.

Many of the best password managers also include extra tools to ensure online safety, including dark web monitoring, virtual payment cards, 2FA code generators, VPNs, and more.

2. Why should I use a password manager?

Short answer: Security and convenience.

Password managers reduce the risk of your data being stolen by generating new complex (virtually unhackable) passwords for each of your online accounts. They also remember all of your passwords, so you don’t run the risk of getting locked out of your accounts.

Having a password manager to generate complex, unique passwords makes it harder for your passwords to be hacked. Password managers also ensure you don’t reuse the same password for multiple accounts, so if one of your online account details are breached, hackers won’t be able to access other accounts using the same password.

Password managers also save time by automatically filling in login credentials, credit card details, vehicle information, addresses, and more — all of this information is also synced across mobile devices, computers, tablets, and even smart watches.

If you want secure, instant access to all of your logins and personal information (on all of your devices), then you should use a password manager.

3. What should I look for in a password manager?

When choosing a password manager, it’s important to consider security, additional features, usability, and pricing.

At a minimum, a password manager should use 256-bit AES encryption to store data. A password manager should also be built using zero-knowledge architecture, and it’s always good if each password manager’s security has been audited by a third-party source (Dashlane, 1Password, and RememBear have all recently received audits).

Additional features you should look for include:

  • Form-filling (credit cards, address, vehicle information, etc).
  • 2FA options (TOTP generators, biometric login, and USB tokens).
  • Password generator.
  • Password sharing.
  • Data breach monitoring.
  • Password vault auditing.
  • Account recovery options.

Some password managers include unique features as well — for example, Dashlane has a VPN and live dark web monitoring, Keeper has an encrypted messaging app, and 1Password has a privacy-protecting Travel Mode.

In terms of usability, a good password manager should offer intuitive apps for all major operating systems and web browsers, and it should make it easy to generate new logins, add information to your vault, and auto-fill saved information.

Pricing is another key consideration. A number of providers offer free plans, but they’re usually pretty limited, so it’s best to compare the prices and features offered by the password managers on our top 10 list to find which brand is best for you. Dashlane is our favorite feature-rich password manager, but its pricing is a bit more expensive than RoboForm, which offers a more streamlined feature set at a cheaper price.

4. What is the best password manager in 2022?

Dashlane is our overall favorite password manager in 2022 — it provides high-level security, it’s easy to use, it’s compatible with all major devices and browsers, and it includes some of the best additional features of any password manager.

Dashlane uses end-to-end 256-bit AES encryption to protect user data — this means that none of your unencrypted information is stored on any Dashlane servers. Dashlane also protects communications between its servers and your devices using TLS encryption, so no user information can be intercepted and stolen.

Dashlane’s also has a wide range of additional features, including:

  • VPN (Virtual Private Network).
  • Password generator.
  • Live dark web monitoring.
  • Password vault auditing.
  • Two-factor authentication (2FA).
  • Automatic password changer.
  • And more…

But there are many other great password managers, like 1Password (includes data-hiding Travel Mode), Keeper (includes encrypted chat app), and RoboForm (one of the best value options).

5. Is it safe to use a password manager?

Yes, it’s very safe! Top password managers utilize one of the highest levels of encryption available on the market — 256-bit AES encryption (the same encryption the military and banks use). And most will use “end-to-end” encryption, meaning data is encrypted on your device before being sent to a server, ensuring that your user data is stored securely.

Most password managers also adopt a zero-knowledge protocol, which means only you (not even the password manager provider) can access your password vault, minimizing the risk of a data leak occurring. This also means if you forget your master password, no one can recover it for you (although some providers like LastPass offer account recovery options).

For extra security, many top password managers offer multi-factor authentication (MFA) options, like one-time passcodes, hardware security key compatibility, or biometric authentication (Keeper has a wide range of MFA options) — meaning you’ll need to provide an extra layer of verification before accessing your data.

6. Which password managers work with 2FA?

Most major password managers, such as Dashlane, Keeper, and RoboForm all offer 2FA compatibility, including 2FA code generator compatibility (like Google Authenticator) and a variety of USB 2FA tools (Like YubiKey and Fido), enabling users to further secure their password vault.

2FA (two-factor authentication) requires users to supply a second form of verification in addition to their master password. This second form of verification could be:

  • SMS code.
  • Time-based one-time password (TOTP).
  • Biometric scan (like fingerprint or facial recognition).
  • Hardware USB key.

Furthermore, a lot of password managers have built-in TOTP generators, so they can generate one-time passwords for compatible websites. LastPass’s vault auditing tool can even identify 2FA-compatible accounts in your vault so you can easily set up 2FA for as many logins as possible.

7. Should I use my web browser to store passwords and logins?

Using a web browser to store passwords and logins is better than nothing, but dedicated password managers are a lot better.

Most browsers include a built-in password manager that stores passwords and logins within its application. However, most lack a master password and are vulnerable to anyone who gains access to your device, whether physically or remotely.

Reputable password managers use high-level encryption, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and strict protocols to ensure that all information is stored securely — they also offer security tools like password vault auditing and password breach monitoring, which aren’t included in web browsers.

While using a built-in web browser is a somewhat convenient and free option for storing your passwords, there are many better free and premium password managers on the market today. While Dashlane and Keeper offer advanced security features, RoboForm offers the best-value password manager, and LastPass has a good free plan available.

1. Are VPNs safe?

Yes, most VPNs are safe to use as long as they provide industry-standard security features (256-bit AES encryption, a kill switch, and a no-logs policy).

Many top VPNs even have no-logs policies that have been independently verified. And they also provide advanced security features like perfect forward secrecy (regularly changes encryption keys to prevent hackers from compromising past or future keys to monitor your traffic), RAM-only servers (every server reset wipes all data), and full protection against IPv6, DNS, and WebRTC leaks.

If you want a VPN with excellent security features, we recommend ExpressVPN (its no-logs policy has undergone multiple independent audits). You can read more about ExpressVPN here.

2. What is the best VPN in 2022?

ExpressVPN is the best VPN in 2022 — it provides excellent security, enables access to top streaming sites like Netflix and Disney+, maintains very fast speeds, and has easy-to-use apps for all platforms (including routers).

But there are plenty of other really good VPNs out there. If you want advanced, high-end security features, check out ProtonVPN, and if you just want to access streaming sites (big and small), we recommend CyberGhost VPN. If you only want a very user-friendly and secure smartphone VPN, Private Internet Access is an excellent option, and if you just need a beginner-friendly VPN that’s cheap and very fast, try PrivateVPN.

3. Do VPNs work with Netflix?

Yes, most top VPNs enable access to Netflix without any issues. To access Netflix shows, you need to connect to a VPN server in the country where your account was set up — if you have a US Netflix account, you need to use a US VPN server.

Netflix is good at detecting and blocking VPN server IP addresses, but the best VPNs circumvent that problem by refreshing their server IP addresses very often. To improve your odds of accessing Netflix with a VPN, we also recommend using the VPN on a different browser in incognito mode. That way, Netflix can’t use cookies to see your original IP address.

ExpressVPN is the best VPN for Netflix because it consistently accesses Netflix, as well as other major streaming platforms, maintains blazing-fast speeds, and is very easy to use on all platforms and devices.

4. Are VPNs legal?

VPNs are legal in most countries, but there are a few countries that have banned VPNs including North Korea, China, Iran, and Russia. If you use a VPN in a country where it’s illegal, you could get in legal trouble.

If you plan to live in or travel to countries that restrict VPN usage, check what the law says before using a VPN. If it’s not against the law but the government still blocks VPNs, make sure you buy a VPN now because it might be difficult to do so in a restrictive country — ExpressVPN is particularly good for use in countries with heavy internet censorship.

Also, in countries where VPNs are legal, it becomes illegal to use one if you use it to engage in criminal activities.

5. Will a VPN slow down your speeds?

Yes, VPNs slow down your speeds because they encrypt your traffic, and the encryption-decryption process increases the time it takes for VPNs and ISPs to route your data. And if you connect to a distant VPN server, you’ll experience slowdowns because it takes longer for data to travel between your device and the VPN server.

But most top VPNs take measures to minimize the speed loss. For example, they provide speed-optimized servers in most parts of the world so that users can find nearby servers for fast speeds. They also come with fast VPN protocols (rules that dictate how a VPN connection is established). In our tests, ExpressVPN, Private Internet Access, and ProtonVPN only slowed down our speeds by 15–30% on average, which is really good — websites loaded instantly, 4K videos only took 5–10 seconds to load, and we torrented large 20–30 GB files in 15–30 minutes.

If you experience noticeable slowdowns with a VPN, here’s how to speed up your connections:

  • Connect to a nearby or local VPN server.
  • Use high-speed protocols like WireGuard and IKEv2/IPSec instead of OpenVPN, which is slower.
  • Use wired connections instead of WiFi — a weak WiFi signal can significantly slow down your VPN speeds.
  • Close any web-connected app you’re not using — that way, the VPN will have to route and encrypt less traffic, so you’ll have faster speeds.

6. Can you use free VPNs?

Free VPNs are available, but we don’t recommend using them — most free VPNs lack essential security features, log and sell your browsing activity, have slow speeds, limit how much data you can use, can’t access popular streaming sites, and have buggy apps. It’s much better to get a paid premium VPN like ExpressVPN and Private Internet Access instead.

Still, if you really want to use a free VPN, use our guide to find a good one. ProtonVPN is the best free VPN in our opinion — you get unlimited data, fast speeds (ProtonVPN claims you get “medium” speeds, but we only experienced a 22% slowdown), advanced security features, and access to servers in 3 countries (the US, the Netherlands, and Japan). But you’re limited to 1 device and don’t get streaming and torrenting support.

7. Do VPNs work on all devices?

Most top VPNs like ExpressVPN, Private Internet Access, and CyberGhost VPN have dedicated apps for iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, Linux, and smart TVs. And top brands like ExpressVPN and ProtonVPN also support simultaneous connections, which allows you to use the VPN on multiple devices at the same time (the industry average is 5–7 connections).

But some devices (like gaming consoles) don’t natively support VPNs, so you can’t download and install VPN apps on them. Instead, you need to set up the VPN on your router — that way, all web-connected devices that access the web through your router will use the VPN connection. Most VPNs provide helpful router setup tutorials, but ExpressVPN and VyprVPN actually have router apps so they’re easier to use.

8. Do VPNs block ads and trackers?

Yes, some VPNs have ad blockers that stop ads from loading, which makes sites load faster. In our tests, PIA MACE from Private Internet Access and NetShield from ProtonVPN were always able to block almost all ads on social media sites and media outlets.

And VPN ad blockers can block trackers as well to stop advertisement companies from monitoring how people interact with ads. In our tests, ProtonVPN’s ad blocker provided us with the best protection against online trackers.

Also, VPN ad blockers can block connections to malicious sites, effectively protecting you from phishing attacks that send your traffic to fake sites. But remember — VPNs can’t prevent direct malware infections (like when you download a malicious file). We highly recommend using an antivirus alongside the VPN. There are many good antivirus options on the market, but we like Norton 360 the most because it provides excellent protection against the newest and most advanced malware strains and comes with great additional features (like webcam and ransomware protection).

9. How do VPNs work?

A VPN replaces your IP address (which reveals your location) and secures your data by routing your traffic through an encrypted VPN server. This is how your connection looks like when you use a VPN:
Your device → VPN app → Internet service provider (ISP) → VPN server → Internet

The VPN encrypts all data traveling between your device and the VPN server, making it unreadable. If someone tries to spy on your connection, they’ll only see gibberish — for example, instead of a request to netflix.com, they’ll see something like IH5HUFDY=432JKFD.

And any site you connect to via a VPN thinks your connection is coming from the VPN server, not your device — it assumes the VPN’s IP address is the source of your traffic, so your original IP address remains “hidden”.

And VPNs have tons of use cases — you can use them to access shows and movies on your home country’s Netflix library while abroad, and you can also use them to make your traffic unreadable on public WiFi so that your data is safe.

10. Do VPNs work in China?

The Chinese government blocks most VPNs, but some services still work thereExpressVPN works really well in China and other restrictive countries like Iran and Russia.

Unlicensed use of a VPN in China is technically illegal, but there is yet to be a case of foreigners being caught using a VPN in China.

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