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Should you pay for antivirus software?

With fantastic Best Buy antivirus software available free, paid-for packages have to work hard for your cash. See whether they're worth the cost

Laptop antivirus

50% of Which? members have paid for antivirus software in the past three years, according to a survey of 1,229 people conducted in February 2019.

With malware rife on the internet, having effective antivirus is a must to protect your computer against online threats. But is it really worth paying for protection?

With a range of free and paid-for packages available and, if you’re a Windows 10 user, the option of relying on Windows Defender, it can be difficult to decide where to turn. We take a look at your options.

Best Buy antivirus software – head straight to the best paid and free packages

Paid antivirus: what do you get for your money?

Paid packages typically cost between £20 and £60 – more if you need to buy multiple licences for use on more than one device or computer.

While free packages will usually only protect one computer, some paid packages enable you to protect multiple devices and oversee all that from a central hub. That means you don’t have to install a separate antivirus on each device you own.

Paid packages usually offer a range of additional features compared with their no-frills free counterparts. Here’s our breakdown of some typical extras, but check our antivirus reviews to see what each individual package offers.

  • Password manager: This helps you to more effectively manage your passwords for online accounts and services. However, bear in mind that Best Buy password managers could be far better options.
  • Safe banking: When you visit a banking website, this should automatically activate and increase your browser security. We find, though, that the effectiveness and coverage of safe-banking features can be patchy.
  • Parental controls: Take control of what subject matter the young ones can access on your devices. However, bear in mind that Windows 10 already has good parental controls built in.
  • Anti-phishing: Paid packages can offer superior protection against phishing attacks, flagging up dodgy websites and messages intended to steal your data.
  • VPN: This can help you to use public wi-fi more safely. Be aware, though, that there may be a limit on how much bandwidth you can use.

Browse our guide to the best paid antivirus packages for more.

Free antivirus: does it offer enough security?

Importantly, most free antivirus software should offer all the core tools you really need to keep your computer safe from internet threats. If you can live without the sorts of extras described above, you might wonder if it’s really worth paying for protection.

With free antivirus packages, expect to find:

  • Malware protection: Free antivirus usually gives virtually the same malware protection as its paid-for siblings. While some free packages supposedly lack anti-ransomware shields, they’ve still blitzed all ransomware in our testing.
  • Anti-phising: They might not always claim it, but Best Buy packages can eliminate phishing attacks often as effectively as paid-for software.
  • Simple user interfaces: As free packages tend to have fewer features and extras, the menu systems can be more stripped back and simple to follow than paid rivals.
  • Online support: Support being available via email, live chat and even on the phone is reserved for paid-for software, but good free packages usually have a range of useful online advice should you have a problem.
  • Occasional extras: Although you typically don’t get many features, we’ve tested some free packages that offer a few extras, including one service with a password manager included.

Browse our guide to the best free antivirus for more.

Is paid or free antivirus right for me?

You should only pay for antivirus software if you want to protect more than one device and you’re convinced that the extra features it offers are worth the price. Otherwise, just install a good free package.

If your PC is running Windows 7, you should download a dedicated antivirus – free or paid – as Microsoft Security Essentials just isn’t up to the job.

If it’s on Windows 10, though, Windows Defender is a now a credible line of defence against malware. However, it’s still not up there with the best free antivirus software we’ve tested.

If you’re using a Mac and you’re concerned about viruses, you can read about the best protection in our guide to antivirus software for Apple Macs.

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