If you use a Windows system then you're an attractive target for hackers simply because it's the world's most popular PC operating system. The antivirus situation on Windows has improved dramatically over the last few years, but the sheer number of users mean it is still under threat - that's where getting the best Windows 10 antivirus comes in.
Yep, we're afraid that the reality remains that you still need a regularly updated Windows antivirus package to keep you safe from the latest threats. That's because the bad guys are constantly looking for new ways to access your data and control your system.
From ransomware to fileless attacks and blended malware, there are plenty of threats out there - some you'll know the names of, other's you'll never even heard of - no matter how careful you are online.
So which are the best virus protecting products for Windows 10 you can get right now, and is Windows Defender sufficient to keep you safe these days? Find out with TechRadar's guide to the best Windows 10 antivirus.
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Today's best Windows 10 antivirus
Bitdefender Antivirus Plus delivers excellent antivirus protection for Windows 10 PCs, regularly being the top performer with independent antivirus testing labs. One of those big-name labs, AV-Comparatives, crowned Bitdefender as one of the ‘Outstanding Products of 2021’ in its year-end summary, and Bitdefender performed flawlessly in the lab’s latest real-world protection test, blocking 100% of threats with few false positives to boot.
As well as this superb core antivirus engine, you get very capable anti-ransomware protection, and Bitdefender Antivirus Plus is one of the best products out there when it comes to blocking malicious websites on Windows machines.
The package delivers a range of other features, including Safepay, a well-designed and fully secure browser with which you can carry out sensitive tasks like online banking – this is definitely a highlight of the suite. Plus there’s a password manager, vulnerability scanner, and a Wi-Fi Security Advisor which evaluates any wireless networks you use to pick up on any potential security issues. Oh, and a VPN is in here too, albeit a very limited service giving you just 200MB of daily traffic.
While it’s easy to use for beginners, Antivirus Plus also offers some nifty more in-depth settings, like being able to set up profiles to, for example, keep any background activity to a minimum when you’re on a laptop using battery power. In the past, Bitdefender has been a bit more resource-hungry than some antivirus apps, but these days, it runs with far less impact on system performance and does better than most rival products in this respect.
You get very capable anti-ransomware protection, albeit with a minor caveat. Namely that in our testing, we found that Bitdefender didn’t quarantine our simulated ransomware threat (though it did block this malware every time we ran it – so this made no practical difference to the defenses provided, and we remained perfectly safe).
But to sum up, this is a well-featured package with some very smart touches and, the icing on this malware-busting cake, is that it’s good value for money - particularly considering everything you get here.
For those who want more features still, there’s also a top-end package, Bitdefender Total Security, which is worth considering, adding functionality like PC maintenance tools (and bonus mobile apps that could come in handy). With discounts, this flagship product can work out as not much more expensive than Bitdefender Antivirus Plus – at least for the initial year of the subscription – so could be well worth a shot for some users.
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Norton AntiVirus Plus gives you coverage for just one PC, but if you only have a single Windows 10 computer that needs protecting from online threats, then it’s a sterling option for many good reasons.
The core malware protection provided is among the best in the business, the slight caveat being that Norton does tend to produce a few more false positive detections than most in independent lab testing. It’s also worth bearing in mind that this package offers a novel touch for more tech-savvy types in the form of the Norton Insight tool, which gauges the reputation of any given file on your system helps pinpoint more obscure threats.
Furthermore, on the web, Norton AntiVirus Plus does a great job of blocking malicious sites, and you also get the Norton Smart Firewall that keeps you well-informed on any potential risks to your computer.
Bonus features include a password manager, useful PC maintenance and performance monitoring utilities, and a backup tool, which is an unusual inclusion for an entry-level antivirus. While the latter is limited to 2GB of online space, it can also be configured to back up files locally – and it’s commendably user-friendly.
Norton’s interface might be a little odd and quirky, and we found it was a bit heavier in terms of system resource usage than the average antivirus app. That said, other tests (by the independent labs) peg it as a middling performer in the latter department, and Norton AntiVirus Plus undoubtedly remains a great choice for those who simply want to protect their own Windows 10 PC and no other devices.
If you do want to cover more devices, look at Norton 360 Deluxe which defends up to five pieces of hardware, and delivers further security benefits including an integrated VPN.
Avast One is the firm’s new(ish) all-in-one security package which delivers antivirus protection and a host of other benefits besides, including a built-in VPN service.
The Avast One Individual package covers five devices, and its antivirus engine is well-rated by the independent test labs, scoring highly in recent history and placing among the top-ranked vendors. On top of that, you get an added layer of solid ransomware defenses, alongside excellent URL blocking skills to protect your web browsing.
This internet security suite isn’t just about antivirus, though, as it sports a bunch of other security extras including that VPN. It offers unlimited data and is suitably robust (powered by HideMyAss!), even if it isn’t the fastest one out there - Bitdefender’s integrated effort is far quicker, for example, albeit it a much more limited service.
Avast One also has a software updater feature which is better implemented than most, along with webcam protection, plus a bunch of privacy tools including a Sensitive Data Shield that automatically finds files that might contain sensitive data, like names, addresses, or financial details, and stops anyone else using your device from accessing them. Furthermore, some PC maintenance tools are present, including a disk cleaner and performance booster (although the latter, and another module, the driver updater, need to be used with some caution, as we discuss in our full Avast One review).
Another positive facet here is that Avast One takes up very little in the way of resources, and indeed we found that it didn’t slow down our test PC one bit when reviewing the package (your mileage could vary, of course). It doesn’t hurt that Avast has really worked hard to polish the interface and make this product easy to use, too.
Overall, this is a well-rounded package, and while it’s not top of the field in some areas, Avast One is consistently strong enough across the board, providing a lot of features to make it a compelling buy. Also worth remembering is that if you want more devices covered than five, you get a beefy 30 pieces of hardware on the higher-tier Family plan.
Trend Micro’s entry-level Windows 10 antivirus is another product which is designed for a single PC. Indeed, this baseline package is Windows-only, although there’s a separate app for Macs – and coverage for multiple devices via a flagship security suite, which we’ll come back to.
One of the major strengths of Trend Micro Antivirus Plus is that it puts an emphasis on making things easy for novice PC users, avoiding jargon, for example, and explaining choices and settings in plain language. But while this is an easy to use suite, and a great choice for the less tech-savvy, more demanding users will probably want to steer away due to the lack of configurability and options available.
This product also benefits from a very good quality antivirus engine, with Trend Micro being one of the top performers going by the rankings from the independent test labs. That said, one slight weakness is more false positives, or errant detections of malware, occurring compared to the average antivirus.
Antivirus+ also delivers strong ransomware protection, with a dedicated Folder Shield that could help block even undiscovered ransomware trying to compromise your PC.
While Trend Micro Antivirus+ is rather heavy in terms of resource usage compared to rivals, overall it’s a high-quality antivirus package. True, it’s not loaded with features, but you do get impressive URL filtering and anti-phishing tech, plus a Pay Guard feature to keep your online banking secure.
Those wanting more features and coverage across multiple devices (or different platforms) should look at Trend Micro Maximum Security, which supports up to 10 devices (Windows, Mac, Android or iOS), adding a secure file vault and password manager into the mix.
Microsoft Defender is the built-in antivirus that comes with Windows 10 to be used as a default option if you don’t want to take the trouble to search for one yourself. While you might assume that it isn’t very high-quality as a result – and indeed Windows Defender, as it used to be known, was a questionable offering in the not-so-distant past – this antivirus is now a solid offering.
Indeed, it’s better than some of the big-name competition out there, and Microsoft Defender scored top marks in a recent evaluation by AV-Test, as well as being one of the middling performers in testing done by the other major independent lab AV-Comparatives.
Its defenses are robust enough, then, but bear in mind that what you don’t get is much in the way of features. Microsoft Defender is about the antivirus essentials only, complete with just a few extras: a basic firewall, URL blocking to keep you safer online, and some limited parental control options (which are Edge-only on the browser front).
If you want more than just the basics, and if you need top-notch protection, then you’ll be better served considering one of the above products – but that said, Microsoft Defender represents a reliable enough option now, and you can trust it to be true to its name and defend your PC. Defender offers the advantage of being free, and a no-hassle solution, already being there, on-tap, in Windows 10.
Editor's note: Kaspersky Anti-Virus for Windows used to appear on this list. Considering the current climate however, we've taken the decision to remove the provider. Although much of the company's core processes are now take place in Switzerland, the fact that its headquarters remain in Moscow and there have been previous allegations around government coercion, it feels prudent to use the provider with caution. And, when there are so many other excellent providers to choose from, it's impossible to whole-heartedly recommend Kaspersky at this time.
Is Microsoft Defender good enough to secure Windows 10?
It used to be the case that Windows suffered badly from security vulnerabilities and malware attacks that only third-party Windows 10 antivirus software could protect against. However, over the years Microsoft has made a concerted effort to improve the security of Windows, not least with the inclusion of Microsoft Defender by default in Windows 10.
That said, in the past, Defender (formerly known as Windows Defender) has been regarded as a fairly poor security solution, and simply a ‘better than nothing’ option. That isn’t true anymore, though: in fact, Defender now holds its own. One independent antivirus testing lab, AV-Test, rates Microsoft’s solution highly.
And of course Defender has the added advantage of being a hassle-free solution which comes already integrated with Windows 10, and it’s free. If you just want basic protection which works, Defender is all you need.
However, the additional security and privacy features that other third-party antivirus apps provide can make them very attractive choices in their own right.
Your system is secure with Defender, but if you want added peace of mind, it’s likely worth investing in the additional protection – the top-rated antivirus engines, extra anti-ransomware capabilities and other features – that Bitdefender Antivirus Plus and the other best Windows 10 antivirus packages afford.
Should I get free or premium antivirus?
If you're simply looking to protect your PC from viruses, trojans, and worms, then free Windows 10 antivirus from any reputable provider, will keep you protected against these.
The difference with paid-for versions is that they add additional features that aim to protect tighter security, better privacy protections, and even tune up your PC.
For example, extra security features might include ransomware protection and the ability to ensure certain files or folders are locked down against any changes by third-party programs.
For privacy protection, there might be the inclusion of a VPN which allows for more anonymous web browsing. There might also be features in paid software to kill tracking cookies and other privacy protections.
Some paid-for plans even include features such as tuning up your PC, by getting rid of junk files from temporary or cache folders, as well as fix any registry issues that might also be slowing down your PC. If you like the idea of all the whistles and bells, then you may deem it worth shelling out for a more complete internet security suite.
So, overall, if all you want is the most essential virus protection, then free software will do its job. However, if you want a wider range of malware protection, extra privacy controls, and even additional tools to help your PC run more smoothly, then paid-for anti-virus can often offer some or all of these, and more.
- Having trouble with your computer? It may be valuable to know how to start Windows 10 in Safe Mode.