We should all know the rules of how to protect our privacy and keep Windows secure: Don't open unexpected messages and emails, don't download apps from shady sites or tap questionable links, don't give out personal information, use secure passwords, and keep your Windows software up to date.
And you can take a few extra steps to ensure you are safe online with a PC: Use a VPN to protect your internet traffic, an end-to-end encrypted messaging app to keep people from spying on your communications, and a password manager to keep track of login credentials.
But if you are looking for a place to start with keeping your Windows device secure, a good first step is to run the best antivirus software, which monitors your app downloads and watches for malicious software and suspicious software behavior.
And here's the first important thing for you to know about the best antivirus solutions: Microsoft Defender — the free antivirus program and security software that comes free with Windows 10 and until recently was called Windows Defender — does a fine job of protecting your PC. (Amazingly, Microsoft provided no built-in protection for Windows back in the days of Windows 98 and XP.) Using Microsoft Defender should be your starting point for security on Windows, and most users will find they don't need to go any further.
However, you can make the case that the Windows security ecosystem is healthier when users don't depend on just one company for protection from a virus. If you favor robust platform diversity, you can easily find solid malware protection from third-party security companies that are up to the task of guarding your PC for free. And most let you also protect all your devices with an annual subscription — though, it's important to note, that's largely unnecessary outside the Windows realm.
To that end, we've put together a list of the best antivirus solutions for Windows, encompassing both free and subscription options. These picks of the best antivirus programs are a combination of recommendations from independent third-party labs AV-Test and AV-Comparatives and our hands-on testing.
Note that CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of the products featured on this page.
Looking for free antivirus protection or virus detection, willing to pay for broad antivirus coverage across all your devices, or needing to remove a virus or malware from your PC right now? Here's where to start.
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Free version? Yes, built into Windows 10
Paid version: Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection is available to corporate users for a fee
Honestly, if you consistently practice safe computing — you keep your software up to date, for example, you use strong passwords and you steer clear of unexpected emails and links — you probably can stay clear of trouble. And with Microsoft's free Microsoft Defender Antivirus software running on Windows 10, you have a safety net if you do let your guard down. (Note that Microsoft recently changed the name of Windows Defender to Microsoft Defender and has expanded the service to other platforms.) This one is literally built into Windows — just leave it turned on (it is by default) and let it do its thing and this will cover the basics. Microsoft pushes new updates daily.
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Platforms: Windows 10 plus MacOS, Android, iOS
Cost: $100 per year for five devices, on sale for $60
For a long time, respected security company Norton Security from Symantec has earned high marks from AV-Test for malware detection. A five-device subscription is normally $99.99, but you can sign up for $59.99 to get coverage across PCs, Macs, Android devices, and iPhones and iPads. (But note, again, that we don't think antivirus protection is terribly useful outside the Windows realm.) In addition to virus protection, you get 100GB of automatic backup to the cloud, safe-browsing tools, a VPN, an easy device management via a web-browser console and LifeLock identity-theft protection.
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Platforms: Windows 10 plus MacOS, Android
Free version? Yes, after 14-day trial expires
Paid version: $40 per year for one device, $60 per year for three devices
Malwarebytes does protect your PC from a virus or malware, scoring well in recent independent testing for guarding against malware infections. But that's not really what Malwarebytes is known for. If you find yourself in trouble, the go-to disinfectant for many is Malwarebytes. You can get protection and disinfection for one device for $40 a year. To cover 10 devices — any combination of Windows, MacOS and Android — it's $130. To get the free antivirus version, download this trial version, which "downgrades" to a no-fee on-demand cleaner with fewer features that detects and removes malware when you run a scan.
Also worth considering
In addition to the three antivirus apps we recommend above, a handful of other anti-malware tools are worth considering among the best antivirus protection if you find them at a better price or for whatever reason prefer to use one over our picks above.
Free version? Yes
Paid version: $80 per year for three PCs; $120 Family Pack per year for 15 devices
If you'd like to take a step up in securing your PC without taxing your wallet, it's hard to beat Bitdefender's free antivirus software for Windows 10. The Windows security software offers real-time monitoring for viruses, malware and spyware and ransomware protection. Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is easy to set up and stays out of your way until you need it. And the protection it offers is solid. Bitdefender consistently earns top marks for its antivirus protection and usability from the respected AV-Test independent testing lab. The free antivirus version covers one Windows PC. For broader protection, Bitdefender Internet Security is $80 MSRP and available at the moment for $45. It lets you protect three PCs, set up parental controls on a kid's computer and run a VPN. To protect every device you own, the Bitdefender Family Pack can secure 15 total device — Windows, Android, iOS and MacOS — in your home for $120 MSRP and discounted to $60 right now.
Platforms: Windows, MacOS, Android
Paid version: $80 per year for three PCs
The free antivirus tool from Avast earns top marks from AV-Test for malware detection. And it can also remove malware to get your system back under control after an attack. The free antivirus program monitors one PC and can also warn you about unsecured Wi-Fi networks and manage your passwords. If you want to guard more than one device, starting at $80 you can protect three PCs, block spam and phishing emails, and identify shady websites with Avast Internet Security software. Avast also has free antivirus tools for Android and MacOS and a security app of iOS that includes a VPN and can watch for unprotected Wi-Fi networks.
If you need to cover more than three PCs, AVG — which was acquired by Avast in 2016 — offers similar coverage against threats through its AVG Internet Security software, starting at $80 for 10 PCs.
Platforms: Windows 10 plus MacOS, Android, iOS
Cost: $110 per year for 10 devices, on sale for $45
It feels like the company has been around forever, first on its own in the '80s, then as part of Intel starting in 2010, and then again on its own when Intel spun it off in 2017. And it's been around forever because quarter after quarter it creates solid security software that protects your PC. (In recent evaluations by AV-Test it had perfect scores on detecting 0-day attacks and blocking current widespread malware.) McAfee Total Protection guards against viruses and offers ransomware protection, wards off shady websites, includes a password manager and lets you manage all your protected devices through web console. A 10-device subscription is normally $110 MSRP, but currently is $45 for any combination of Windows, MacOS, Android and iOS devices.
Platforms: Windows 10 plus MacOS, Android, iOS
Cost: $90 per year for 10 devices, on sale for $50
Maybe not as well known to consumers because of its focus on enterprise security, Trend Micro quietly brings its business expertise to the home with its Maximum Security tools. Trend Micro's software earns high marks from AV-Test — scoring 100 percent of detecting 0-day attacks and widespread malware. And Trend Micro does a good job of not taxing system resources. Trend Micro's 10-device subscription for desktop and mobile devices is $90 MSRP but discounted currently at $50.
Cost: $59 per year for three PCs
If you are looking for something easy to set up and use, ESET may meet your needs. It earns top scores for usability and offers solid virus protection. And its Android antivirus gets top marks in third-party tests.
What about Kaspersky?
Based in Moscow, Kaspersky Lab has for years produced effective antivirus software for business and home customers. But in 2017 the US government prohibited Kaspersky software on federal government computers because of alleged ties between Kaspersky and the Russian government.