If you haven’t bought a new version of your antivirus software in a couple of years, now may be a good time to do so. Malware is evolving faster than ever, and the latest generation of antivirus software is better equipped to handle this rapid pace of change. If your antivirus software is a few years old, it may not be able to defend against this onslaught effectively, even if you faithfully download new virus definitions. In recent years, the technology that powers antivirus software has changed dramatically: An antivirus package you purchased a few years ago may be able to stop known viruses and other known malware, but brand-new, as-yet unknown viruses can be more dangerous, and newer products do a much better job of stopping them.
So which paid antivirus program should you pick? That’s where we come in. PCWorld teamed up with AV-Test (av-test.org), a respected security-software testing lab based in Germany. Together, we looked at 13 paid antivirus products from a number of leading security companies. We provide links here to full reviews of all 13, plus summaries of the reviews’ key points.
AV-Test’s multifaceted testing procedure looks not only at how well an antivirus product can detect malware using traditional, largely signature-based methods (that is, employing a database of known malware types), but also at how well it can block brand-new, as-yet unknown malware. AV-Test also examines how well a security product can clean up after an infection in the event that a piece of malware does get through.
This article focuses on paid stand-alone antivirus products, not free antivirus software or full-fledged security suites. Paid antivirus usually comes with better technical support options and more-comprehensive protection features than free programs. Suites go further still, offering features such as firewalls, parental controls, identity theft protection services, and more.
This year, more and more antivirus packages come with tie-ins to so-called cloud services, in which fresh information on brand-new threats pushes down from the vendor’s Web servers to your PC. This is a trend we began to see over the past year or two, but it has really taken off in this year’s batch of products.
Cloud-based detection takes many forms. In some products, such as Norton AntiVirus, it’s used in reputation-based systems that pull together information on files and file types from users around the world to better detect suspicious files more quickly. Norton calls its system Quorum, but each company that offers a reputation-based process has its own name for the feature.
In other products, such as Trend Micro Titanium Antivirus, the bulk of the malware detection actually takes place in the cloud–remotely, on the company’s servers, rather than on your PC–with the intention of catching malware sooner and reducing the performance impact on your system.
And the Winner Is…
Since an antivirus product is only as good as its ability to block baddies, we based 70 percent of each program’s overall score on its success in malware detection (and blocking and cleanup), with features, ease of use, and overall drag on system performance accounting for the rest.
It was a close race overall, but Symantec Norton AntiVirus 2011 took home the top prize with its excellent malware detection, blocking, and cleanup. BitDefender Antivirus Pro 2011 and G-Data AntiVirus 2011 round out the top three. Check out our top 10 paid antivirus programs of 2011, or click on the thumbnail image above.
In order of ranking, here are the antivirus products we reviewed. (You can click on each accompanying thumbnail for a full-size image of the program’s home or main interface screen.)
Symantec Norton AntiVirus 2011
Pros: Has a good interface and strong malware detection.
Cons: Scan speeds lag behind those of the top performers.
Bottom line: Norton AntiVirus 2011 is a great choice thanks to its strong malware detection and smooth interface.