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The best antivirus software 2021

Every computer running Windows needs to run one of the best antivirus programs, even if that program happens to be one of the best free antivirus programs.  

The Windows Defender antivirus software built into Windows 10 is very good, but while it certainly holds its own against other free rivals, it still can’t quite match the features of the best paid antivirus protection.

Paid antivirus suites offer you a bonanza of features that often go far beyond basic malware protection. 

You can get dedicated defenses against ransomware and webcam hijacking, extra functions such as file shredding or system optimization, and even features that compete with stand-alone services like password managers, cloud-backup solutions or identity-theft protection.

Antivirus makers normally offer multiple paid Windows products that have identical malware protection but mounting numbers of extra features as the retail price goes up.

For example, there’s the basic Kaspersky Anti-Virus, the midrange Kaspersky Internet Security and the top-line Kaspersky Total Security. The different feature sets are aimed at different customers, and we’ll explain this further in our section about antivirus protection pricing and features at the end of this buying guide. 

Don’t forget to check out our list of the best free antivirus software halfway down this page.

The top 3 best antivirus brands

What is the best antivirus software?

Our top pick for best antivirus software is Kaspersky Total Security, which gives you excellent malware protection, a full complement of extra features and an easy-to-use interface.

Right behind that are Bitdefender Antivirus Plus, an entry-level paid program that is perhaps the best bargain in antivirus software, and Norton 360 Deluxe, which offers excellent protection with unlimited VPN service and a ton of extra features, including the option to add LifeLock identity protection.

Any one of these three would serve you well, but the ideal choice would depend on what best fits your circumstances. For more, see our section on how to choose the best antivirus software below, or our stand-alone antivirus buying guide.

For the best free antivirus protection, we liked Kaspersky Security Cloud Free, which sailed past Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition for the top spot. 

Both offered excellent protection against malware without slowing down your system, but Kaspersky’s free program lets you schedule scans, has a quick-scan option, adds a ton of useful extra features and had the smallest impact on system performance we’ve ever seen.

Our free rankings immediately follow our paid rankings below.

The best antivirus software you can buy today

Top Pick

(Image credit: Kaspersky)

1. Kaspersky Total Security

The best antivirus protection overall.

Anti-theft: Yes | Backup software: Yes | Firewall: Yes | Game mode: Yes | Hardened browser: Yes | Parental controls: Yes | Password manager: Yes | Ransomware rollback: Yes | Webcam protection: Yes | Virtual keyboard: Yes | VPN: Limited upsell | Wi-Fi scanner: Yes

Excellent malware protection

New stalkerware protection

Password manager, parental controls

Limited VPN usage

Microphone protection hard to enable

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