The internet has given us so much freedom and opportunity that it's often easy to forget that our constant connectivity leaves us vulnerable to many threats.
The risks we face range from a loss of data due to a computer virus, also known as malware, to financial loss to full-on identity theft, which can freeze your life in its tracks. Plus we haven't even begun discussing the threats we face to our personal privacy as a result of putting so much of our lives into the digital space.
However, just because these threats exist doesn't mean we should back down. We haven't stopped flying on airplanes after we realized they could be used for evil. Instead, we put better security systems in place and have dramatically reduced the danger.
The same is true for the internet; we need to put up excellent security systems to keep it the safe and wonderful place that it is.
To do this, you need to start by practicing safe digital habits, but you also need the right tools, one of which needs to be solid internet security software.
As this is so important, the stakes are high when you're shopping for internet security software. We conducted a rigorous review of the many different products out there and came up with the list of 2020's best.
To fully understand why it's so important to have a robust internet security system, consider the following stats about cybercrime, online fraud, and privacy:
The types of internet security software we are going to be reviewing are most often called Internet Security Suites. This is because they are programs that do many things in the background to ensure you are safe.
Additionally, they cover multiple areas of security, helping to keep you protected from all angles.
In this sense, you can think of an Internet Security Suite as your own personal security team, protecting your cyberspace from all directions at all times.
However, not all suites are the same in that they each take different approaches. Some focus more on certain threats and less on others, which is why it's important to know all the different things Internet Security Suites can do so that you can decide which approach is most relevant to you and, therefore, which piece of software will best meet your needs.
When comparing the different Internet Security Suites on the market, we took into account the following characteristics of the different services to help us choose which ones we consider to be the best.
First and foremost, an Internet Security Suite must be able to keep you protected from the many different threats that are out there. Otherwise, what good is it?
This means it must be able to effectively identify and, when necessary, eliminate malware, ransomware, spyware, adware, and any other malicious software that is trying to install itself on your computer.
Also, your suite should be able to keep you protected from bad websites and the links they encourage you to click by using some sort of web browser tool to alert you when you're in a bad area. Email protection is also important, especially considering how effective phishing continuously proves to be.
We ran tests on the different suites we reviewed to see how well each one did in finding unwanted and infected software and either alerting you of it or immediately moving to remove it.
We also look for security suites that don't just focus on the software threats but that go a step or two further to help you stay safe from the many different threats out there.
Internet Security Suites that do this are those that offer you the ability to browse using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which encrypts your WiFi connection to make it more secure and also to prevent your web activity from being tracked, which many see as a major invasion of personal privacy.
Other things these tools do is protect you from identity theft by monitoring your accounts and by scanning your web activity to make sure you're not giving out sensitive information to untrustworthy sources.
For example, if you've entered your credit card into a website you've never visited before, you may get a message that asks you to confirm this.
These additional aspects of an internet security suite are what helps you get full protection. Viruses and other malware are important, but there are many more dangers. It's important to address all potential threats.
For the layperson computer user, how cybersecurity actually works might feel a bit like magic. What even is the internet, anyway?
However, since we all use these tools every day, our security systems must be easy to use and understand. If not, they're practically useless.
For this reason, we put each piece of software through a rigorous interface test to see how easy they make it to understand what is going on.
The scan feature of these tools, which runs a check on the health of your computer and provides you with a report, is a good indicator of how well catered they are to people who don't have a sophisticated understanding of computers.
These programs are constantly running in the background, meaning they are consuming computing power. That they run all the time is unavoidable; threats are arriving constantly. As a result, it's critical that your security software doesn't take up too much of your computer's memory and slow down other processes.
Testing this required installing each program on the computer and analyzing how it interacted with the computer and what impact, if any, it had on its ability to function normally. Obviously, any programs that interfered significantly with computer performance were excluded from our list.
Almost all anti-virus software is made with Windows in mind, as these are the computers that are most-often targeted. However, as the world goes more and more online, and there are more and more devices connected, hackers and other cybercriminals are expanding their target pool and increasingly going after macOS and Android devices.
At the moment, the threat is still low, and if you practice good digital habits and don't take a lot of risks, you probably don't need a full-on security suite for your Mac computer or Android device but this may change. The people in the cybersecurity world know this, which is why so many of the top products out there also offer protection to Mac and Android devices, often at no additional charge.
We've outlined some of the core things that these suites can do, but many products go above and beyond and offer things such as:
Cloud storage to prevent data loss.
Parental controls to help you keep your kids safe online.
Password manger to make it easier for you to practice good password habits.
Systems analyses to determine computer performance and optimize it.
Some products offer even more, but we found these additional features to be nice complements to the core protections provided by the security software's core function.
Options that include most or all of these things offer truly comprehensive internet security that will allow you to browse the internet and maintain your digital life worry-free.
Lastly, while internet security is important, there's no need to be spending a fortune on it. Overall, though, there isn't a lot of variation in the market, with most services costing you somewhere between $50-100.
There are a few free options, which we will discuss, that can save you some money but that don't offer you the same features as a full suite.
Internet security companies are quite frequently offering deals and discounts to get you to sign up, and if you pay attention, you can probably get a great service at an affordable price.
In the internet security market, you will find a lot of options, so many that it can be overwhelming, and with so much at stake, we understand how you might be finding it difficult to decide.
To make things simple, four products really stand out from the crowd – Bitdefender, Kaspersky, Trend Micro, and Norton Security 360 Deluxe.
Each service has its own unique set of features, but they all do roughly the same thing equally well. As a result, it's likely the biggest factor in your decision will be the price you are being offered at the time you're trying to sign up.
As mentioned, these companies are frequently running promotions. We have posted the base price for each service, but after you've had a read through the specifics of each one, we recommend you do a price check. If you can get your second choice for half the price, you really aren't losing out on much.
With that in mind, here are the results of our rigorous review – the best internet security software of 2020.
If one of the services that made it into this "top 4" stands a little taller than the others, it might just be Bitdefender.
The things that we love about it are that it's super-fast, running scans in no time and working to keep you safe in real-time, and it's also quite lite; you won't notice your computer slowing down because it's running in the background.
It also has all the things we want to see from a comprehensive suite, such as secure browsing, WiFi protection, system optimization, encryption on file transfers, and a VPN, although you're limited to 6GB of data on the VPN per month, something other companies don't offer. If you want unlimited VPN access, you can get it by paying a bit more per month. This is one thing we're not too excited about when it comes to Bitdefender.
However, in terms of protection, Bitdefender is very good. It catches and identifies malicious software extremely quickly and with remarkable accuracy, meaning you can connect confidently when you have Bitdefender on your side. Because of how quickly it works, Bitdefender is an excellent option for those who are looking for protection while gaming. Threats can emerge in an online gaming environment really quickly, so it's therefore crucial that you have a system in place that can keep up.
The standard plan costs $75 for the year and it covers up to five devices, but Bitdefender is frequently running promotions to cut that price by as much as half.
Kaspersky has been a household name in internet security for the better part of the last two decades, and there's a good reason for that. It is right there with Bitdefender in terms of speed and accuracy when it comes to identifying and dealing with infected and malicious software.
One thing we really like about Kaspersky – in addition to its effectiveness – is its interface. Kaspersky is a pretty complicated tool that experts can manipulate to do different things but the interface has been remade to be easier to understand for more casual users, allowing everyone to harness the power of Kaspersky security.
Your $30/year subscription for one device, or $50 per year for up to five devices, will also give you an unlimited VPN, parental controls, child safety measures, and privacy protection services, along with a password manager.
If we had one knock against Kaspersky, it would be this final point; the password manager is at times buggy and doesn't work, which is something we'd like to see internet security software be able to manage.
Norton Security 360 Deluxe
Norton Security was one of the original internet security companies, and while its original competitors have faltered, Norton has remained relevant with a superior product. It has excellent malware detection capabilities and deals with threats at lightning speed.
Your subscription, which costs an admittedly high $90 per year, also gets you an unlimited VPN and 100 GB of cloud backup space.
Norton also has an easy-to-use interface that gives you all the relevant information related to your most recent scan so that you can understand it and determine if you need to take action. Also, since Norton is now Norton Life Lock, you get additional identity theft protection that you won't get from some of the other products on this list.
The biggest downside to Norton is that it doesn't work that well on macOS, although it does have a version that works with Macs. However, as we've mentioned, Mac users might not need to worry too much about having a top-of-the-line security system.
Overall, if you're looking for ironclad security and don't mind paying a bit more for it, then Norton Security 360 Deluxe could be the product for you.
If you're interested in an Internet Security Suite that works equally as well on Mac and Android devices as it does on Windows, then you'll probably want to go with Trend Micro.
It tested extremely high in its ability to detect and deal with malicious software, but it also has one of the most user-friendly interfaces of any of the products we reviewed.
Trend Micro has all the added bells and whistles we like to see, such as a password manager, comprehensive identity theft protection, ransomware protection, and parental controls, although it doesn't offer any free cloud storage space or VPN access.
We found some of the parental controls to be a little too easy to work around, but they will still work for the vast majority of users.
At the time of writing, a one-year subscription runs to $99.95 per year, which is a bit on the pricey side, but it seems they are almost always running a promotion that nearly halves the price to $59.95, which is a steal for a product that is so effective and also so adaptable across multiple platforms.
Some of the products that didn't make it into the top-tier but that are still excellent options, especially if you can get a deal, or perhaps for free with the purchase of a new device.
These options include:
Avast is a completely free option that offers you many of the same services as a paid subscription, such as a VPN. A slow scan feature and a lack of a firewall keep it out of the top four, but it's still an excellent option.
AVG offers you tons of protection and security features, and it also has a robust system optimization tool that helps you save battery life and improve overall computer performance. It's advertised as free, but the free option has very few features. If you want more features, better pay for something else, but AVG can offer decent, basic protection for nothing.
McAfee has been the leader in personal cybersecurity since the beginning. Its product isn't top-of-the-line anymore, but it's still good. A subscription allows you unlimited devices, and McAfee is still excellent at keeping you safe. Be warned, it runs pretty heavy on your computer and at times can interfere with performance.
Almost all the products we've reviewed so far have been paid subscription services, even if they offer a free version.
In general, paying for one of these services is recommended as they give you total protection and keep you safe from a wide range of threats.
However, if you're a savvy internet user and know how to spot suspicious links, phishing, and other sources of malware, you might be able to get away with not having to get a subscription to an Internet Security Suite by using the following two tools:
This is internet security software that comes pre-installed on Windows computers, and, soon, other Microsoft devices. By default, it is working in the background to protect you against certain threats, and it's quite good at what it does.
Don't get us wrong, it doesn't provide the same level of protection as the services listed above, but it's pretty close, and if you do your part by staying away from potentially harmful areas on the internet, you'll likely find you won't have any issues and will stay safe from the biggest and most common threats out there.
Of course, Microsoft Defender is only available on, well, Microsoft products. Which means you're out of luck if you have Android or macOS. As we've mentioned, though, you could probably get away with the same approach considering the lower risk these devices face. To be safe, you could also start using internet security software that is supported by and protects your specific device.
If you choose to go the Microsoft Defender, or the "I have a Mac and therefore can't get viruses," routes, then you'll want to know about Malwarebytes.
Malwarebytes is a free program you can download that will scan your computer, identify malicious software, and then delete it. However, with the free version, this is not an active process; you need to initiate it. If you get a Malwarebytes subscription, you can automate this, but at that point, we would recommend you use one of the programs mentioned above.
Overall, Malwarebytes is a great tool for when you discover your computer has become infected with some sort of malware or virus. Of course, we want to avoid getting to this point, but if it does happen, Malwarebytes can usually bail you out.
However, while combining Malwarebytes with a less stringent defense system will work most of the time, know that you are exposing yourself and taking more of a reactive than a proactive approach.
Plus, the free Malwarebytes version is not equipped to handle complicated viruses and other programs, and it could fail, meaning you will have to take even more drastic measures to clean your computer, i.e. restore it to a previous version or reinstall Windows.
But for people who know what they are doing and are looking for a more hands-off approach to cybersecurity, these two programs will help you out.
The internet does not need to be a scary place, and with the right internet security software, it won't be.
To make it easier for you to understand the crowded personal cybersecurity market and find the product that is best for you, we've conducted a detailed review of the many different options and created this list of the best.
Use this knowledge to make an informed decision that will lead you to be as safe as you can possibly be while enjoying the many benefits of your digital life.