How to protect your new laptop

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Many of the best laptops come with built-in VPN or malware protection. However, this may not be enough to protect both you and your device from hackers trying to steal your personal information, infect your device with malware and viruses, or your ISP/government trying to track your internet activities for illegal surveillance. 

With the cyber attack arsenal growing and becoming harder to predict, you need the best VPN, the best antivirus, and the best password manager to ward off any targeted attacks, bypass geo-restrictions, and maintain the confidentiality of your passwords and online accounts. With this in place, you'll be able to navigate the internet freely and securely.

However, there are a myriad of options to choose from and it can get very confusing very fast. Read on to find out which are the top three VPNs, antiviruses, and password managers right now; you can rest assured that they're top-notch, as all of these recommendations have been picked by TechRadar experts who test and compare dozens of providers day in and day out. 

The best VPN apps in 2024

The best VPN services do more than just spoof your IP address and save you and your internet activities from being tracked down—they can also help you evade geo-blocks on your favorite foreign content, assist you in online gaming by keeping DDoS attacks and ISP throttling at bay, as well as giving you access to discounts and sales you might not have been able to access otherwise.

Here are our top three recommendations:

1. ExpressVPN: the best VPN service in 2023

1. ExpressVPN: the best VPN service in 2023
ExpressVPN is at the top of the list, thanks to its wide network of servers around the world, rock-solid security, powerful unblocking, and easy-to-use apps on just about every device. 

It's pricier than competitors, but ExpressVPN makes up for it by offering 1 year of unlimited cloud storage and 3 months of extra protection for free on a 12-month subscription. With a 30-day money-back guarantee, you can put it to the test without risking a penny.

2. NordVPN: the fastest VPN around

2. NordVPN: the fastest VPN around
NordVPN is an all-in-one security suite that packs a VPN, ad-blocking, and malware protection all in one value-for-money package. Everything else, from server speeds, customization, and security is top-notch as well.

It knocks it out of the park when it comes to streaming and is the the best Netflix VPN. However, if you’re in two minds, there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try before you commit. 

3. Surfshark: the best cheap VPN

3. Surfshark: the best cheap VPN
Surfshark is the best in the business if you’re looking for premium-level performance and robust security at a pocket-friendly price. It may be a cheap VPN, but you’re still getting unlimited simultaneous connections and class-leading speeds.

With servers in more than a hundred countries, you can stream from almost anywhere, and all of its apps are simple and tailor-made for beginners. Be sure to make the most of its 30-day money-back guarantee and see how it compares to ExpressVPN and NordVPN.

How to pick a VPN to secure your laptop

The following are some of the most important factors to consider when you're out shopping for a VPN:

Security: top of the list, undoubtedly, is the VPN's security. The VPN you pick should support secure protocols like WireGuard, OpenVPN, and IKEv2, alongside offering excellent encryption methods like AES 256-bit. 

In terms of privacy-related features, you will also want to make sure your VPN has a rock-solid kill switch and a strict no-logs policy, as these features both work to ensure your privacy is retained throughout use. It might also be a good idea to check if the VPN offers any cyber security add-ons for an added layer of protection, like port forwarding, multi-hop, or leak protection.

Servers: the number of servers and server locations a VPN has under its belt is also an important determinant. Consider which locations you want to access in your day-to-day or which country's content you wish to stream, and make sure that you choose a provider that has servers in those regions. If you're trying to get around content blocked in your region, you'll also have to make sure that your VPN provider has a server in your country.

Speed: it may seems obvious, but you'll also want to look for a VPN that’s fast, especially if your intended use case is gaming or streaming. This makes sure you are not plagued with any lags and buffering issues.

Customer support: a good VPN will offer ample support for any issues you may run into during installation or otherwise. Popular channels such as email, live chat, and even phone support should all be in place and working smoothly. After all, a VPN is useless if you can't get it to work properly.

Price: needless to say, you don’t want to break the bank on a VPN purchase. However, it’s also important that you don’t compromise your privacy, so strike a nice balance between the features you want and the amount you’re willing to shell out. 

How we test VPNs

Our team of experts review the top 30 VPNs every six months where we analyze the provider’s website and the claims it makes, any changes in its policy, its support options, and whether there are any tracking cookies on its website.

After signing up for the service anonymously, we install its Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux VPN apps and test them out thoroughly — we see if everything works as advertised and how easy to use the apps are, including their design, interface, and overall layout.

Next, we test the provider’s speeds, for which we use a US home connection and a 1 Gbps UK data center—two different sessions for accurate results. We then throw popular streaming sites, like Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and BBC iPlayer, at the VPN service to ascertain its unblocking capabilities. 

For more info on our procedures, check out TechRadar’s VPN testing methodology page. 

Using a VPN FAQs

Are VPNs safe?

All of the providers that feature on our best VPN services page are extremely secure. However, if you want to find out for yourself whether a VPN is trustworthy, make sure it has a strict no-logs policy so it doesn't track your IP or internet usage. 

Next, it should support the most secure protocols (WireGuard, OpenVPN, and IKEv2) and offer industry-standard AES-256 encryption. Lastly, important security features like a kill switch and leak protection should all be available as well.

Is it legal to use a VPN?

Using a VPN is legal in most countries of the world—as long as you don't use it to hide illegal activities in which case you may still face punishment in the form of fines or imprisonment.

However, countries like North Korea, Iraq, and Turkmenistan have completely banned all VPNs within their borders. Then there's China and Russia which only allow you to use government-approved providers. Turkey isn't as strict as it merely blocks access to the sites or servers of VPN providers that don't follow its rules.

The best antivirus in 2024

A top-shelf antivirus program helps you stay protected from viruses, ransomware, malware, and all kinds of cyber criminals who may try to steal your personal information and use it to commit identity theft and/or financial fraud.

Here are the three best antivirus software on the market right now: 

1. Bitdefender: the best antivirus software right now

1. Bitdefender: the best antivirus software right now  
Bitdefender is the best antivirus service right now, eliminating both known and unknown threats at lightning-fast speeds.

Plus, it takes up very little system resources and comes with tons of extras, including an app lock, a firewall, a Wi-Fi scanner, and real-time data breach alerts. Try it out risk-free with a 30-day money-back guarantee. 

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2. Norton: the best antivirus for malware and identity protection

2. Norton: the best antivirus for malware and identity protection
Norton boasts excellent scan speeds, malware-detection scores, and add-ons, but its identity theft protection is simply outstanding. It monitors the dark web and stolen data banks and alerts you in the event of a breach. 

I recommend signing up for its auto-renewal program, as it comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee and a Virus Protection Promise.  

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Avast One

3. Avast One: the best antivirus software for gamers
Avast is not only the best at identifying and removing malware but it also comes with a fantastic gaming mode that's enabled by default and removes frustrating ads, popups, and reminders, making it a top choice for gamers. 

The free plan packs all the basics, but the premium one shines through with add-ons like a VPN, webcam monitoring, a password manager, and more.  

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How to pick an antivirus to secure your laptop

First and foremost, consider the level of security you desire — basic protection from malware or all-around protection from cyber threats? If you’re leaning towards the latter, go for a full-fledged internet security suite that not only comes with extras such as a VPN, a password manager, dark web monitoring, parental controls, and integrated online storage but can also cover various devices on a single plan.

As you might have guessed, such solutions are admittedly on the pricier side, so if you’re someone on a tight budget or are looking for more basic protection, entry-level paid plans or free antivirus products like Bitdefender and Windows Defender are also a great option.

The quality of the antivirus engine is also very important, as this is what determines its malware detection rate. Ideally, look for solutions that can catch over 95 percent of malware without churning out a lot of false positives.

For this, you can combine the results of our detailed antivirus reviews and the ratings given by independent labs, such as AV-TEST and AV-Comparatives, that test antiviruses day in and day out.

Next, consider your level of expertise. If you know your way around tech software, you can opt for customizable antivirus software, but if you're less knowledgeable about all things technology, I'd suggest looking for a provider that offers easy-to-use apps.

How we test antivirus software

Before anything else, we check the antivirus’s malware-detection and removal capabilities by trying to access dangerous websites, purposely downloading malware, and throwing custom-made malware files at it. 

We use our in-house expertise to craft new malware that the antivirus program would have never seen before, as this gives us a better idea of the provider’s real abilities. 

For even more accurate results, we combine our test findings with the results of the most popular independent testing labs like AV-Comparatives and AV-TEST.

In the next step, we test the provider’s compatibility and performance by installing its apps on various devices and noticing how much slowdown is caused. For this, we also use online speed test sites that supplement our real-time feel with numbers and statistics.

We then try out the different add-ons on offer, like a VPN, file encryption, parental controls, or a password manager to see if everything works as it says on the tin. Lastly, we test customer support by asking questions and noting down the speed and accuracy of the replies.

Using antivirus FAQs

What is the best antivirus of 2023?

Based on our testing, Bitdefender is the best antivirus on the market right now. It boasts excellent malware detection and removal capabilities, is lightning-fast, and takes up very little storage space so you don't need to worry about sacrificing system speed for security. 

It's also extremely easy to use, with a simple interface and real-time protection that's enabled by default. Opt for the Total Security plan and you'll enjoy a ton of extra cybersecurity tools, all of which you can try risk-free, thanks to a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Do I really need antivirus in 2023?

The best password manager in 2024

A password manager is a must-have for both security and productivity. It can create strong and unique passwords for every account you have and store your data in an encrypted manner, protecting your personal information from intruders. On the other hand, features like auto-fill can crank up your productivity by saving you the trouble of filling out online forms and login credentials manually.

Here are the best password managers that are worth your time and investment: 

1. NordPass: the best password manager right now

1. NordPass: the best password manager right now
NordPass is a feature-packed password manager that offers compelling plans for just about everybody, including individuals, businesses, and families. 

A stripped-down free tier is quite decent, but the premium plan can detect weak/reused passwords and allows six multiple logins. With a 30-day free trial and a 30-day refund policy, you can try it without risking a single penny. 

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2. Dashlane: the most secure password manager
Dashlane is one of the most popular password managers for security, thanks to real-time phishing alerts, dark web monitoring, multi-factor authentication, and a bundled Hotspot Shield VPN

It’s also easy to use and equally good for families and businesses, as it can cover up to 10 devices on a single plan. 

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3. Bitwarden: the best free password manager
Bitwarden is tailor-made for those pinching for pennies, offering premium-level features like unlimited password storage, cross-platform synchronization, and optional self-hosting on its free plan. 

However, if you also want the ability to detect weak passwords and unsecured websites, consider upgrading to its premium plan. 

How to choose a password manager to secure your laptop

Once you’ve zeroed in on a password manager that’s compatible with your laptop, which could be Windows, Mac, or Linux, make sure that the security it offers is top-notch. All of the providers in our list of the best password managers have never been hacked, as they use rock-solid encryption and security measures to protect your passwords and passkeys.

Also, make sure that the password manager you choose doesn’t share your personal information with unauthorized third parties. To do this, you can research how transparent the provider is about the information it stores about you and how it stores/uses it.

Next, consider the level of security you want. While entry-level and free password managers can pull through nicely for the basics, premium plans offer foolproof protection from all verticals—they’re one-stop shops that come with extras like password sharing, synchronization across various devices (this won’t be an option with password managers that store data locally on the device itself), biometric login, two-factor authentication, dark web monitoring, and more.

Another factor is how new you are to password managers. If you are, you should look for one that’s easy to use, with simple apps and interfaces. If you're a password manager aficionado and want to migrate from one password management solution to another, the one you pick now should make it convenient and quick for you to do that.

How we test password managers

According to our testing methodology, we test the top 30 password managers on various fronts and in different real-world scenarios to see if something breaks or if it doesn’t work as promised. We try all of the apps and browser extensions of a provider and make sure that it offers a consistent experience across all devices and browsers.

Then, we check whether essential functions like auto-fill, cross-device syncing, multi-factor authentication, and biometric login work as they should, all of which is to make sure that our recommendations are top-notch—changing your password manager after finding out a major flaw is a headache, to say the least.

In addition to evaluating how simple and easy to follow the provider’s setup wizard is, we also test all of its support options, including live chat, email ticketing system, and phone.

Password managers FAQs

What is the difference between free and paid password managers?

While free password managers can store an unlimited number of passwords and passkeys and keep them away from the reach of intruders, their paid counterparts come with valuable add-ons for all-around protection, like dark web monitoring, cross-platform synchronization, multi-device support, multi-factor authentication, bundled VPN/antivirus/parental controls, and more.

Are password managers safe?

All of the best password managers are very safe, as they employ rock-solid encryption methods and zero-knowledge architecture, meaning no one other than the user—not even the password manager company or cloud backup service—has access to the passwords contained in the encrypted vault.

However, password managers, like any other computer system, aren't foolproof, so it's best if we supplement them with healthy cybersecurity practices. This includes selecting strong passwords and avoiding sharing personal info over insecure channels of communication like email, among others.

Olivia Powell
Tech Software Commissioning Editor

Olivia is the Commissioning Editor for Tech Software at Tom's Guide. With a background in cybersecurity, Olivia stays up-to-date with all things cyber and creates content across sites including TechRadar Pro, TechRadar, Tom’s Guide, iMore, PC Gamer and Games Radar. She is particularly interested in threat intelligence, detection and response, data security, fraud prevention and the ever-evolving threat landscape.

With contributions from