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Best antivirus software 2022: Which? Best Buys and expert buying advice

Our tough lab tests reveal the best free antivirus and paid-for antivirus for Windows, plus read our expert advice on whether to choose free or paid-for antivirus, or if you can simply stick with Microsoft Windows Security
Michael Passingham
Padlock on keyboard 412507

Looking for the best free antivirus software? You've come to the right place. Find out which one meets your needs by using the results of our in-depth antivirus lab tests. 

We bombard free and paid-for antivirus software with tens of thousands of threats in our tests, including viruses, ransomware and phishing attacks designed to compromise and steal data. We repeat this four times a year, as new threats are emerging all the time. This means you can be confident that any program we say is the best, really is.

Thanks to our tests, we can also save you money. We know that free and paid-for versions of the same software have the same protection. So unless you want extra features or extra piece of mind, opt for one of our best free antivirus programs. 

Looking for antivirus for your Mac? See our expert pick of the Best antivirus software for Apple Macs 

Best free antivirus software for Windows

You can save yourself around £45 to £80 a year by choosing a good free antivirus program. But be careful – we've found some free software is annoying to use, has irritating pop-ups and simply isn't as good as rivals when it comes to protecting your data. So you need to make sure the software you install is one of the best antivirus programs, which you can do by using the results of our tough, independent lab tests. 

Which? members can log in to see the full results. Not yet a member? Join Which? to unlock our antivirus results, along with all of our online reviews, including laptops, desktop PCs and mobile phones.


Best paid-for antivirus software for Windows

We recommend you install one of the best free antivirus programs if you want to save money, as they can perform just as well as ones you can pay for. However, what you do get with paid-for software are extra features, such as multiple licences and password managers. So if you need these, make sure your antivirus software is worth your money by picking one of the best paid-for antivirus programs from our independent lab tests.

Which? members can log in to see the full results. Not yet a member? Join Which? to unlock our antivirus results, along with all of our online reviews, including laptops, desktop PCs and mobile phones.


Popular antivirus for Windows

Find out more about the most popular antivirus programs.

Avast Free Antivirus

Avast is one of the best known antivirus companies that offers a free edition of its software. It might be light on features, but as long as it gets the basics of security and anti-phishing right, it could prove to be an excellent choice. We’ve put it through its paces, along with Avast’s paid-for options.

Norton 360 Deluxe

You’ll find Norton pre-installed on lots of laptops and it’s a popular choice in high-street retailers. It can be very expensive, however, so it will need to put in a strong showing to prove it’s worth the cash.

Kaspersky Internet Security and Security Cloud

Kaspersky offers both paid-for and free software, and we’ve tested them both.

Other antivirus on test

  • Bitdefender Internet Security Bitdefender might not be the best-known brand, but it's reliable when faced with a deluge of viruses, it could still be worth buying.
  • ESET Internet Security ESET has previously performed well in our tests and it comes with a few extra features, including a network monitor.
  • F-Secure SAFE F-Secure comes with a host of extra features, including parental control and banking protection.
  • G Data Internet Security G Data comes with various extra features, including a backup tool and email protection.
  • McAfee Total Protection One of the most famous names in antivirus is on test once again and includes extra goodies such as a firewall and email monitoring.
  • AVG Internet Security If you choose to pay for AVG, you’ll get some extra features, including spam protection and a safe banking browser.
  • AVG Free The free version of AVG comes with the same baseline protection as the premium option, so could be the ideal choice if you don’t want extra features.
  • Malwarebytes Premium Malwarebytes is pretty light on features, but if its protection is up to scratch it could still be a great choice.
  • Sophos Home Premium Sophos no longer offers a free version of its product, so Home Premium is the cheapest way to get the company’s antivirus protection in 2022.
  • TotalAV Internet Security TotalAV advertises prolifically online, so we’ve run it through our full test for the first time to see if it’s any good.
  • Panda Dome Advanced Panda lacks some features, but if it’s brilliant against malware it could be worth a look.

Windows antivirus features comparison table

Below, we've arranged all the antivirus software we've tested alongside the key features you might expect to find. If you want to find out more about each feature, scroll on.

Avast Premium SecurityYesYesYesYesNo
Avast Free AntivirusNoNoYesYesNo
AVG Internet SecurityYesYesYesYesNo
AVG AntiVirus FreeYesYesYesYesNo
Avira Antivirus ProYesYesYesYesNo
Avira Free SecurityNoYesYesYesNo
Bitdefender Internet SecurityYesYesYesYesYes
  • Email protection Whether the software includes protection for for Windows Mail or Outlook.
  • Password manager Whether you get access to (either within the main software or via a web browser extension) to a password manager tool.
  • Anti-phishing Whether the software provides a browser extension that protects you from phishing attacks.
  • Ransomware remediation Select specific files to lock when ransomware strikes. This only kicks in if the antivirus has failed to spot the ransomware to begin with, so is a last resort.
  • Parental controls Install this software on family members' devices to control their access to the internet and programs at specific times of day.

Video: how to choose the right antivirus

Free antivirus vs paid-for antivirus software

We've found in our tests that free and paid-for versions of the same antivirus software have exactly the same underlying protection from viruses and phishing attacks.

In other words, free antivirus will always be as effective as a last line of defence as the paid-for version.

This means when you're paying for antivirus software, you're really just paying for extra features that won't all necessarily improve your security, but might still be handy. The features table above summarises some of the more popular extras you can get if you pay for antivirus rather than opting for a free version. 

Paid-for features could also stop malware and phishing attacks sooner. For example, by paying for email protection, your antivirus could spot a virus-laden email before it ever reaches your inbox. Whereas without, you might end up downloading the malicious file only for the antivirus to block it before it can run. Either way, this is effective, but if extra peace of mind is something you think is worth paying for, it's worth considering.

Another thing worth knowing is that paid-for antivirus software will often grant you multiple licences, which is the ability to install the software on multiple devices. Some subscriptions will include different types of devices, such as Macs, Android devices and iPhones. This also allows for the use of family controls (mentioned above), which can be handy. 

If being able to install the software on multiple devices is the only reason why you're paying, consider using the free software on each separate device with a different email address. 

Should I use Windows' built-in security?

In addition to all of the packages featured above, we also test Windows' built-in security by itself. In many ways, it's a very effective tool. It's reliable for blocking malware from running, although it's a bit overzealous warning you about files and programs that are in fact completely benign. 

However, it doesn't score brilliantly in our web test, and allows the downloading of some malware without blocking it. But it's worth reiterating that if you do download malware, Windows should block it if you end up running it. But this isn't helpful if you download a file and immediately share it with someone else or move it to a USB drive for use later.

It therefore rates really poorly for false positives in our tests. It also provides no additional anti-phishing tools for browsers other than the pre-installed Microsoft Edge, although Edge itself is quite good at blocking phishing attempts. 

It's only mediocre at detecting Mac malware and can't detect malware designed for Android devices. 

Overall, though, Windows' built-in security is pretty effective. While it doesn't have additional features that can bolster your security further, its reputation for being toothless in the past is very much that – in the past.

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How we test antivirus software

Our test involves subjecting every piece of software to tens of thousands of threats, including viruses, ransomware and phishing attacks designed to compromise and steal data. We repeat the test four times each year and the scores you see below are based on a full year of testing, giving you confidence that our recommendations have performed consistently all year. 

For more, see our guide on how we test antivirus software