Internet security is an important issue for all of us. It’s easy to be complacent and assume that it’ll never happen to you — you’re too sensible and secure with your data after all, right? But keeping your computer secure from various threats online is no longer just about avoiding clicking on the “wrong” link, and utilizing common sense. Nor is it just about protecting yourself from viruses.
It’s worth it to invest in software like Norton or McAfee — two of our top picks — that can help keep your computer secure.
What threats are out there?
Zero-day vulnerabilities are one key way of suffering a breach of your information before anyone even knows an issue is there. Effectively, they’re software flaws or bugs often found by cyber criminals, before many companies realize what’s happened. Due to their popularity, commonly used software like Java, Adobe’s PDF reader and Flash Player are ripe for exploitation with many zero-day attacks stemming from the popular plug-ins.
In recent times, popular browsers like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer have suffered from such pivotal vulnerabilities. Your computer could be infected just by visiting a legitimate website that has been compromised before the flaw has been patched.
Viruses are a significant threat, but it’s more insidious things like malware that can affect your life, such as by stealing your personal data and even being instrumental in identify theft. Ransomware, which traps your data behind a paywall, is another nefarious method that’s growing in popularity. In 2018, security specialists at Kaspersky Lab registered Ransomware attacks on 179,934 unique users, while also blocking 796,806,112 attacks launched from online resources located in 194 countries across the world. It’s an alarming number that’s only set to grow as more people use PCs, and more criminals work to find exploits in the system.
Even the US government in conjunction with the UK’s National Cyber Security Center has recently warned of attempts by Russian hackers to compromise millions of routers and firewalls, including homes and small businesses across the world. The amount of financial damage caused by cyber crime is steadily growing each year too, with the annual loss amounting to $1.33 billion, compared to $781.84 million in 2013.
There’s also the issue of hardware-level CPU flaws, such as Spectre and Meltdown, which have highlighted some huge weakness points in how our PCs work. Alongside that, you need protection for those times you connect your laptop to a public Wi-Fi network, otherwise you’re opening yourself up to some significant risks.
How to protect yourself
With the threat greater than ever, it’s a crucial time to invest in security software that will check for security vulnerabilities. No matter how careful you think you are online, there’s a hacker out there who can find a way to get in. It’s a constant battle to keep your computer up to date and secure from new threats that emerge daily. Security software can go some way to detecting such issues, stopping them from infecting your PC, while protecting your data. Antivirus tools can detect suspicious looking activity via its heuristics, while firewall and malware protection can stop things at the source.
For this roundup, we’ve taken into account general ease of use and features, as well as effectiveness. Here are some of the best security software suites on the market right now:
The background: Norton has been a well established name in the security world for many years now. Odds are you’ve used at least one of its products at some point for your computer, as Norton software is often bundled with new PCs. In the past, Norton software has suffered complaints about slowing down performance but that’s been corrected in recent years, making this a great suite for covering all your needs.
Like all the other suites here, Symantec has switched to a subscription based payment model, meaning you get a license for a year for up to 10 PCs, Macs, smartphones, and tablets. That way, all your security needs are catered for, even if you use different systems at home. It isn’t just for anti-virus any more either.
What it offers: Besides anti-virus protection, there’s an intelligent self-sufficient firewall which provides advanced protection without disturbing you with incessant pop-ups and warnings. It’s highly capable and effective, without impacting your computer’s performance in any way.
For the concerned parent, there are parental controls that restrict your child’s internet time, the sites they can browse, what they can search for, and whether they’re allowed to access any social networks. Automatic backups can also be arranged via the suite, with 25 GB of secure cloud storage alongside local solutions.
Other features include a password manager to encourage you to use more complex passwords to keep secure, and a spam filter for taming your inboxes. Also, security and anti-theft measures are available for your smartphones — whether Android or iOS based.
The price: The parental controls package alone is a separate program for $49.99 so family users in particular will appreciate the full suite. For those looking for a more streamlined anti-virus and firewall service that only works on one computer, Norton Security Standard priced at $39.99 is the ideal alternative with Norton Security Deluxe offering similar for up to five devices for $49.99.
The background: McAfee is another big name in the security suite world and a fine alternative to the might of Norton.
At its simplest, it scans for viruses and malware quickly, without any noticeable performance issues. It works for all your Mac, Android, and iOS devices too.
What it offers: Where McAfee Total Protection offers a more rounded experience is through its additional features. There’s anti spam protection that works with the most popular email clients such as Microsoft Outlook, Thunderbird, Netscape, IncrediMail, and Shuriken. Its ability to detect and block spam is unparalleled, proving to be a huge benefit to those of us with long standing email addresses that are prone to spam.
There are parental controls too that are a little more complicated to set up than Norton’s, but tough enough to keep your kids from breaking through. These allow for age-appropriate website filtering, a filter list, as well as online scheduling.
Most impressively is the True Key identity manager which allows you to set up a list of known devices, utilizing FingerPrint, Face, or multi-device authentication so only the right people get to your data. Five True Key licenses are available through McAfee Total Protection so you can easily share out such security features across your household members. There’s also Total Security, which adds file encryption vaults for storing particularly sensitive files.
The price: McAfee Total Protection is priced at $59.99 for one user license, $89.99 for five devices or $99.99 for 10 devices, with your mileage varying depending on the size of your household.
The background: Slightly cheaper than many other security suites, Bitdefender Internet Security 2018 has consistently garnered great reviews and results when it comes to quickly and effectively dealing with viruses and malware. Its intelligent antivirus means you can leave it in the background, working hard to keep you safe with minimal input from yourself.
What it offers: The firewall works much like the antivirus, which is also intelligent enough to leave running in the background, effortlessly blocking any possible intrusions and filtering your network traffic safely.
Where things get even smarter for Bitdefender Internet Security 2018 is its multi-layered ransomware protection that keeps your files safe from unwanted encryption, along with safe browsing that filters out potentially harmful websites. Even suspicious search results are tackled by Bitdefender with the program highlighting which results are safe before you even click on the link. Bitdefender’s viewpoint isn’t just about cure, but prevention too, cutting viruses and malware off at the source in order to keep you safe.
Unusually, for a security suite, a VPN facility is also included with the program, encrypting the internet traffic you send across for up to 200 MB daily. It’s a relatively small feature given its low data cap, but it’s also great news for those considering dipping their toe into trying out a secure VPN service.
Continuing its original features, there’s webcam protection that limits webcam access to trusted programs so your webcam will never be activated without your permission. File encryption is also an option.
For the concerned parent, filters and blocks can be applied, but there’s also the option to have remote control of your kids’ activities so you can see at any time exactly what they’re looking at on their computer. In all cases, it’s quick and easy to set up too.
Expect a slight performance dip when in use, especially if your computer is older, but Bitdefender Internet Security is highly effective in keeping you safe from harm.
The price: $44.99 gets you a license for up to 3 devices for a year.
The background: Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Plus deals with security matters slightly differently than others. Most notably, it maintains a relatively minimal local malware database, making it ideal for people with aging computers that are limited for space and processing power.
What it offers: Instead of using a large database, Webroot relies primarily on behavior-based detection to classify if an unknown program is safe or malicious. It’s a clever way of doing things, reporting back to its cloud database and learning en masse for everyone using Webroot’s software. Impressively, that also means it’s able to reverse a ransomware attack, providing the ransomware hasn’t encrypted so many files that it’s overloaded Webroot’s journaling system.
Thanks to that, it’s near perfect when it comes to malware protection with PCMag reporting a full scan often only taking minutes rather than rival products taking nearly an hour or so.
Besides its antivirus and malware protection, there’s also a firewall feature that works in conjunction, detecting if network activity has been provoked by unknown programs that could be connected to a virus. It’s even possible to use the program to repair damage after a malware attack with Webroot doing a fine job of cracking down on this even happening in the first place.
Other security features include a somewhat outdated but re-branded version of LastPass as a password manager. It’s not perfect and certainly dated looking, but it just about works in terms of basic functionality. Upgrade to SecureAnywhere Webroot Internet Security Complete, and there’s cloud storage for the backup conscious.
Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Plus’s greatest strength is its near non-existent footprint. The main application is only about 1 MB in size and hardly uses any processes or services, meaning it’s incredibly speedy to use, and won’t trouble your computer, no matter how ancient it may be by modern standards.
The price: It’s well-priced at $44.99 for three devices per year, with the Complete package including cloud storage priced at $59.99.
The background: Another security suite that aims to keep things flexible and lightweight for those with older computers is Avast Internet Security 2018, a highly effective antivirus software tool. It consistently garners very high detection results across many tests, and does so speedily. Reassuringly, false positives are rare so you can generally be confident that the program knows exactly what it’s doing.
What it offers: On top of that core foundation of effective antivirus protection, there’s a standard supply of security features such as its sandbox tool. This allows you to run potentially harmful applications in a secure environment, so that you don’t run any risks. Safe browsing facilities have been included, blocking phishing schemes, fake sites, and the risk of hackers via a comprehensive firewall feature.
An anti spam module also goes some way to blocking unsolicited spam messages, and there’s VPN support via SecureLine. The VPN tool isn’t free and is billed as an additional subscription service, but no extra setup is required so it’s very convenient.
Where Avast falters is its lack of included technical support, and its lack of parental controls. For the more technically minded person without a family, however, this is a fine option to pursue. Even more so if your computer is old and needs a less demanding security suite.
The price: Avast is a little on the expensive side at $59.99 for one computer per year, with SecureLine VPN support incurring an additional cost of $79.99 per year.
The background: ESET has established a strong reputation for forensic accuracy while maintaining a small footprint on your computer. That trend has continued with its latest suite.
Numerous tests have shown its ability to ward off nearly 100% of virus and malware-based threats, while rarely detecting any false positives. It does so without any slowdown for your computer or while browsing, so you’ll be pleasantly surprised by your experience.
What it offers: Besides antivirus protection, ESET Internet Security 2018 has an effective firewall feature that can easily be left running in the background with minimal interaction required. An exploit blocker tool keeps an eye on any exploits that hackers might try to take advantage of, while a ransomware shield protects you from losing your data behind a nefarious paywall.
Unlike other products, there’s also anti-botnet protection, ensuring your PC won’t become part of a larger bot network attack against other users. There’s banking and payment protection too, appreciating that most of us use online banking on a regular basis and require the most effective protection here.
There are also parental controls that are somewhat hidden away but comprehensive, and webcam protection. The latest suite also includes laptop activity monitoring, allowing you to collect images captured by your laptop’s webcam if it happens to be stolen. It’s a small but useful touch in the fight against crime.
The software’s user interface is a little lightweight and prone to hiding away useful features, but other than that, it’s highly effective for protecting your computer.
The price: One license for one device costs $49.99 per year, so it’s an expensive option if you want a solution across multiple devices.