Antivirus software is one of the security staples the average person needs to protect their online activities from steadily increasing cybercrime.
With it, you can avoid common hacks, malware, and phishing attempts - in an environment where more people are working from home (especially after the COVID-19 pandemic).
The best online security and antivirus providers have constantly-updated software that can shield you from new antivirus threats, while making it very easy to set up and start using.
Just enter your email and download the app if using a mobile, and all your devices will be protected under a single account.
Best Free Antivirus Software UK 2021
If you’re having trouble finding the most reliable, Best antivirus software, look no further.
The Hosting Data team has gathered the best on the market today, organised by: operating system used, usability of apps, maximum number of devices, standout features, value for money, and more.
But before you proceed with this guide...
Do you also have these on your devices (we recommend this as well as an antivirus):
Fast Scans and Effective Malware Eradication 🥇
Once upon a moon, McAfee and Norton dominated the market (perhaps AVG and Kaspersky too) - but at the moment, we think Bitdefender is top of the pack.
Testing shows they have super simplicity of use, tip-top value for money, and stellar security - with advanced, comprehensive options.
Whether you’re looking for specific/advanced features or for something that’ll automatically handle the complex stuff after you press go - with apps for mobiles too, Bitdefender Antivirus is a rock-solid antivirus system for 2021.
Tools and Features
This works on both Windows and Mac, allowing you to protect 3 devices under a single account. If you want specific protection for banking, the Safepay option protects you - which is very handy as a VPN can sometimes cause issues with online banking.
Like Norton, they’ve also entered the privacy realm, offering a VPN for web use. We wouldn’t rank their VPN among the top 5 available from other providers, but if you want to get the most amount of value from this package, it's a good option.
How Secure is Bitdefender?
Third-party, independent testing companies consistently rank Bitdefender as one of the top antivirus systems you’ll find anywhere. The main antivirus engine is cutting edge, although it potentially eats up a noticeable amount of your system resources, though they claim to have the lowest impact on performance among the top 4 antivirus providers.
Bitdefender even has a password manager, And of course gives you automatic updates upgrades so that you stay protected against the most advanced threats in cyberspace in the world. Even if your subscription is almost finishing, you’ll always get the most new and improved features available.
Pricing and Plans
The free plan is advertised as lightning-fast. But for £22, you’ll get protection for 3 devices for a year, But know that the most basic tier doesn’t give you Mac OS, Android and iOS protection. You’ll only get Windows desktop protection (no tablet, phone, iPhone or iPad, etc).
Adding on a VPN service from the same provider costs you around the same (instead of this, I recommend you try one of the best ‘free’ VPNs, which we’ve written about previously), which will help you to secure Wi-Fi hotspots, equipped your traffic without any bandwidth limits and to generally stay private when surfing the internet.
Top-Notch Malware Protection 🥈
Another of the big name names in this space, so it's probably no surprise to see them this high up in the list.
Kaspersky made a name for themselves being able to fish out new viral threats. Just in that capability, they’re in the top leagues, while they might miss the more comprehensive features (that aren’t precisely firewall-specific) of some of the biggest competitors.
Tools and Features
Depending on the plan you choose, you get to protect either 1 PCs or device (PC, Mac and Android, under a single account) - it’s more for more machines.
This isn’t a jack-of-all-trades security system. You’ll get an intelligent firewall, customizable and speedy scans, with the ability to snoop out the latest threats. As a great malware scanner its overall ability to protect against malware, this is one of the best options on the planet.
As for the Internet Security aspect, you shouldn't be bothered with loads of messages telling you about its queries oh, and there’s also a password manager, with automated cloud backups. Very good for the fundamentals.
How Secure is Kasperspky?
Bitdefender rates Kaspersky as only 4 points underneath their overall ability to secure personal and work machines against malware. While you won't get a ton of features, the basic antivirus engine is stunningly powerful.
Pricing and Plans
The free plan gives you core protection. But if you want protection under a single account on more than just a desktop, and online payment protection security. If not, the basic tier costs about £23.
They split their plans by PC/device number, with the mid-tier (internet security for about £30) giving you pretty much all the offerings of the highest plan - other special file encryptions in a vault, password managers and parental controls (‘Total Security’ is around £35/year and gives you this).
Every plan has scam email detections, basic web browsing security (at least); while more advanced payment protection doesn't come into play until you get to the mid ‘Internet Security’ tier. One of the best free antivirus software for PC.
#3 Norton Antivirus
Comes With a Range of Innovative and Deep-Reaching Features🥉
Little needs to be said about Norton, as they’re probably the most well-known antivirus security system on the globe. And for a good reason: testing shows they provide the best protection around, with little noticeable effect on your computer’s performance.
Tools and Features
Some recent tests show Norton Antivirus has the least effect on the performance of the average PC, when compared to the other biggest competitors, although Bitdefender disagrees with this overall.
One of the most useful security features you get access to is web browser protections - plus, turn on the native VPN if you want to encrypt your traffic (with a single click, Fish functions particularly useful as a free Wi-Fi spot protection option).
How Secure is Norton?
The firewall is the best in the game - smart, with continuous upgrades; and the backup can handle up to 2GB of online storage.
When you sign up to any plan, it comes with a 100% virus protection promise. This doesn't mean they guarantee you won’t get any viruses, but if their virus experts are unable to remove any from your device, you’ll get a refund.
Set parental controls, in order to monitor what videos they watch, websites they visit and queries they input into search engines - as well as apps they’re downloading. It even has a GPS location monitoring option, if you want to make sure they’re actually going to school in the morning.
Pricing and Plans
Not exactly free - but you get a 30-day free trial. The basic plan can only be used for one device, but the next step up adds a smartphone or tablet to the mix.
If you want a VPN thrown in, go for the Norton 360 standard plan, which also boosts the amount of free cloud storage you get to 10GB, and adds more devices for Android/iOS. For identity protection, this is probably the plan you should look for.
#4 Avira Antivirus
Easy to Use and Provides Lots of Added Value to the Overall Security 🛡️
Many become familiar with Avira from its free antivirus plan, which is one of the best around. But the premium package is also pretty solid, in a neat UI, and not badly priced: the Avira Antivirus Pro plan (£35/year).
Expect the fundamental antivirus tools, like real-time scanning on downloads, web/USB/cloud interactions, and torrents.
If you’re torrenting a lot, CyberGhostVPN is unbeatable - with dedicated torrenting servers; though you’ll still need antivirus software to be secure.
Tools and Features
You'll also get dedicated security against ransomware attacks, thorough deletions of confidential files - although the more comprehensive security tools such as password managers, secured payments, and so on, are only on the Prime plan, which is a whopping $78/year.
How Secure is Avira?
One of the best antivirus engines around, although not as cutting edge as the top 3 in this guide. All in all, likely expect to have the most common threats covered. If you’re extra cautious (such as having particularly sensitive information to protect), the providers higher up in the guide may be better.
Pricing and Plans
The free version gives you core real-time protection. The premium basic plan is around £35 and handles all the essential security you’ll need on your device such as blocking threats in real-time, repairing files, doing safe web surfing and shopping/banking.
There are also a few cool extra useful features such as blocking irritating ads and basic privacy protection.
#5 Trend Micro Antivirus
Best Free Antivirus Software for Mobiles 📱
A good choice if you want something extremely straightforward: Just installed this and forget about it. The UI is so simple you’ll be started in no time. Keep in mind that the basic plan is only for Windows (higher-up plans allow you to get Mac and mobile device protection too, with password managers and secure file vaults) - and covers one device.
Tools and Features
Third-party testing companies generally rank Trend Micro high for its antivirus engine. You get more than just real-time scans and repairs, such as ransomware defenses, which they name Folder Shield.
This may not be a good option if you have a sluggish machine, as Trend Micro could drain a fair amount of your computer resources. Compared to its performances in the past, new versions have made a leap.
How Secure is Trend Micro?
There's some debate about just how secure a Trend Micro is, but they generally score well with independent labs. One interesting extra is their social networking security option. Do you want something simple and straightforward, this is a good choice.
Pricing and Plans
Get free security on your mobile phone. The Maximum Security plan (£24.95) gives you protection for three devices for up to one year for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS. The cheapest plan is Antivirus+ Security (£19.95), but this is only for one PC.
#6 Avast Antivirus
World-Class Free Antivirus Software 🌎
Want an alternative to one of the top 3 in this guide that doesn't have complicated pricing structures?
Avast is a world-class free antivirus software for PC and Mac; very well-known, with an explosive number of features that can do everything from securing folders against ransomware to inspecting Wi-Fi networks for suspicious vulnerabilities. This is an especially good choice for anti-phishing.
Tools and Features
Get a ransomware shield, DNS hijacking protection, Wi-Fi inspector, great secure browser option, file shredder, password manager, rigorous anti-phishing shield, a ton of customizability, a smart firewall - and the Avast SecureLine VPN, if you go for the premium Ultimate package; plus more.
How Secure is Avast?
Independent lab tests give Avast mixed reviews, but this is on-average a solid choice (not top 3, but easily in the top 10). This might also noticeably slow down your system.
Pricing and Plans
Avast made a name for themselves for offering a fast, free plan. The pricing is very simple. If you only want protection for one PC, this will cost you around £31. For a whooping 10 devices, pay per roughly £38/year. Note these prices are only for the first year. But it works on mobiles, tablets, PCs, Macs, Android, iPhone and iPads.
Nippy, proven top free antivirus software for Mac and PC.
#7 Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus
One of the Fastest Antivirus Software Out There 💨
If you want something very fast and lightweight (and one of the cheapest in this guide), Webroot SecureAnywhere can be installed in a matter of seconds, using a tiny 15MB of your hard drive storage. The memory usage is just a small, call on threat definitions already stored via the cloud.
Tools and Features
Get a very streamlined app that does incredibly fast virus scans (similar to Malwarebytes). You'll also get a password manager delivered by LastPass. On the basic plan, one account can serve only one device, neither of which can be a smartphone or tablet.
How Secure is Webroot?
We're yet to see some of the big, credible testing labs give Webroot a rating, but they have a strong word-of-mouth reputation. You should get a good level of malware protection, with an impressive array of protections for identity theft and phishing.
Pricing and Plans
These guys offer a 14-day free trial. If you want to get protection for your tablet and smartphone, you need to climb to the Security+ tier which protects up to three devices for 1 year for about £23.50. If you'll only need security for one device and that device is either a PC or Mac, you’ll pay around £15.60.
#8 Sophos Home Antivirus
Automated Safety and Security ⚙️
A good option for those who aren’t technically minded but want a way to easily manage the security of their family, as well as having parental controls for children.
Tools and Features
They use predictive artificial intelligence for threat detection, which is able to turn on-the-fly identify and stop malware that has never before been seen (this uses deep learning capabilities in order to work). It’s also available on the free plan.
Their protection is of course real-time, snooping out: trojans, worms, bots, malware, viruses, potentially unwanted apps (PUAs), ransomware, and more.
Also get parental website filters; control the content your children can view online; and secure several devices in one dashboard, from one location using an intuitive interface.
How Secure is Sophos?
These guys have made a name for being a passable antivirus capable of delivering serious protection for your machine. Perhaps because they aren’t so well-known, they have unusually generous offerings - particularly good for those with multiple computers who want to snatch a good deal from a capable provider.
Pricing and Plans
The Free plan offers you up to 3 devices. Get a whopping 10 devices on the Premium plan (around £26/year).
#9 ESET Antivirus
Best Free Trial Antivirus Software 🆓
If you know more than the average person about antivirus systems, you probably know about ESET. This iRobot-reminiscent provider has been around for a while; while beginners will find them challenging to use, advanced users will find the high level of configurability a pleasure.
Tools and Features
You should find that there’s a light footprint, meaning your system’s resources shouldn't struggle with ESET. There aren’t a ton of features, but the ones that are available can be configured to a high degree.
How Secure is Eset?
The main thing about this is that independent lab tests have found a few questionable results when testing ESET for the quantity of its antivirus engine. If you happen to be studying how antivirus systems work, this could however be a good way to get good heuristics.
Pricing and Plans
Get a 30-day free trial. The most popular plan is Advanced Protection (around £39/year), also known as ESET Internet Security. Get extra security when doing online payments and online banking. The next level down is NOD32, which gives basic general protections (around £31/year). For some reason it doesn’t protect you against hackers.
Buying Guide 🛍️
How Antivirus Works
When you use antivirus software, it scans applications/programs/files for its source coding and makes comparisons with codes stored in its database (containing ‘definitions’).
This could already be installed on your machine or the antivirus could refer to a database stored in the cloud.
Whenever it detects strings of code known to be malware (predictive AI, to some degree, can workout new codes yet to be placed in a definitive database - Sophos Home can do this, for instance), the software besides that element is malware and it’s removed or quarantined.
Is Cybercrime Rising?
During the recent pandemic, people were spending more time online and cybercriminals took advantage of this. In one instance, Europol had to fight against fake coronavirus treatments.
There was also an increase in the number of research hubs, hospitals and medical centers targeted by organized cyber units.
The objective seemed to be access to their systems, sensitive information and intel - although this isn’t the main sector usually attacked.
It’s unclear whether governments were involved in these attempts, especially with the struggle for and against international censorship/surveillance that Edward Snowdon helped to expose.
In recent years, however, hackers have exponentially increased in numbers, with superior equipment to many cybersecurity providers out there. They even use their own quality analysis lab tests and special penetration tools, to “pre-test” whether their malware designs will work - then tweak the designs until the malware seems undetectable.
How Does Antivirus Quarantine Work?
When antivirus software sends an infected file (or one suspected of being malware) into a quarantine, this means it removes/deletes the original file from the original location - also making necessary edits; disabling it from running its program.
Once the infected file has been deleted from the original location and disabled, it's then migrated to a hidden folder that no program can use, including you. No user will be able to access it.
It will remain there until you’re brought to the quarantine screen to make a decision on what to do with the final file. In some rare cases, you can manually quarantine a suspicious file, if the antivirus scanner does not detect it.
Are Quarantined Viruses Actually Removed?
Not unless you decide for them to be permanently deleted. If you don't make this decision, they’ll remain in a safe, hidden folder on your computer.
You can also delete it yourself manually, and infected files can remain in quarantine for an indefinite amount of time.
This takes up precious hard drive space.
As good practice, you should regularly delete files that have been placed in quarantine.
In rare instances, bits of codes are incorrectly detected - ones that are important for your computer to be able to run properly. This shouldn't be too much of a problem, as you can usually clean any quarantine files, rather than deleting them.
What's the Easiest Way to Protect Your Computer & Info? 🗺️
#1 Use a VPN
You can also choose a safe browser such as Tor Browser. The VPN itself will encrypt traffic bouncing between you and the network you’re accessing the internet through.
You can let your VPN run in the background and a good provider will have anti-leak protections.
There should also be a ‘kill switch’ meaning that even if there is a break in your VPN’s connection, the internet is never allowed to run without encryption.
NordVPN (NordVPN review) ranks as Hosting Data’s best value for money VPN, with fast speeds, amazing features, and top security/privacy.
#2 Do Regular Antivirus Scans
Set your provider to run a full system scan on a schedule of about once a week (which the best free antivirus software providers will absolutely let you do). This is about right for active internet users. If you happen to come across an infected file, this will make sure it doesn't remain on your computer for long. If quarantined, you can quickly clean it.
#3 A Dedicated Machine for Sensitive Data
Well, this isn't the easiest option, unless you already have a spare machine… Talk to any internal auditor and you may find they have a dedicated computer or laptop for especially private or business information.
When dealing with tax data, crypto/banking account info, and so on, they may use this machine alone. They might not even connect that device to the internet at all, to completely minimize the chance of being infected.
#4 Avoid Downloading From Strange Waters
This one is a matter of discipline and common sense. If you're unsure about the credentials of the website you’re visiting, avoid downloading any files from them.
You may also need to limit how many websites you use to access content for free that should otherwise be paid for (“free movie websites” are notoriously known for having trojans).
The Most Common Cyber Attacks: 10 Types
A cyberattack is any aggressive action targeting a computer information system, network, infrastructure, or personal device (carried out in order to modify, delete or steal data):
An email is sent pretending to be from a trusted sender, in order to get personal information or to motivate the target to do something specific.
You might download an attachment from the email that actually contains secret malware, and infects your computer.
What Is Spear Phishing?
It’s much more targeted. Attackers research the target in detail and craft messages that seem very personal and relevant. Of the two, spear phishing is much harder to identify and shield against.
Hackers may spoof the ‘From’ part of the email so it seems to be coming from a company you have dealings with - or even clone websites. This is to trick you into entering personally identifiable information (PII) or steal login details:
- Hover - hover over any links but do not click: just hover to see the link’s URL
- No haste - take time when in your inbox, to improve your analytical reasoning
- Headers - pay attention to these: the return-path & reply-to should be the same
- Sandboxing - this lets you risk-free test an email you suspect
#2 Denial-of-Service (DoS) / Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS)
A DoS attack cripples a computer system’s resources so it can no longer meet service request demands.
A DDoS is larger-scale and also directly attacks system resources, spreading malware from other machines controlled by the cyber-attacker.
Botnet attacks use millions of systems infected with malicious code, all under a hacker’s administration.
These attacks do not give the attacker any access; rather, it sends the target into downtime. This may be in order to compete against a business competitor, which can also be accomplished by destroying their resources.
Some variations of DoS and DDoS are: ping of death, smurf, teardrop, PCP SYN flood, and botnet attacks.
#3 Man-in-the-Middle (MitM)
Whenever a hacker places themselves in communications between a server and a client, this is known as a MitM attack:
- Session hijacking MiTM - when the hijacker takes the client’s IP address and attaches it to their computer
- IP spoofing MitM - also involves substitution, used in order to receive/send data packets from/to the target.
- Replay MiTM attack - messages are intercepted and resent, pretending to be one of the actors in the original session.
#4 Malware Attacks
The term malware is generally known as malicious software, which is any piece of undesirable software installed into your system without your approval. Oftentimes, it hides inside trustworthy codes (such as programs) and spreads in secret:
- File infectors.
- Macro viruses.
- System/boot-record infectors.
- Stealth viruses.
- Polymorphic viruses.
- Logic bombs.
How Do Ransomware Attacks Work?
Ransomware hijacks a person's files/computer system, blocking the user from accessing it. The information is encrypted, holding this data hostage Without a key to unlock it.
The goal is to make the victim have to pay the ransom amount in order to get the decryption key, so that the block can be released.
Many times, the victim pays the ransom yet still isn’t given the key. In order for the cyberattacker to stay anonymous, they often require ransom payment in some form of cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin, making it harder to track them down.
In 2019 alone, roughly 2,400 ransomware attacks cost the US $8 million (the FBI and Europol both consider ransomware to be a big digital threat, with Europol naming it the main cyber threat for 2019 - although it's been a terror for the last 30 years):
Famous Ransomware Attacks:
Ryuk (2018-2020) - “Ryuk” ransomware attackers used phishing to hold victims ransom: malicious emails with infected/criminal links and attachments. These attacks led to $60 million worth of damage globally since 2018, targeting 100+ companies (notably, EMCOR, an engineering and industrial construction organization, was affected).
SamSam (2018) - an attack mostly infected the city of Atlanta (who alone had to spend $2 million to recover), Colorado and San Diego. It was later used by Iranian hackers, who targeted over 200 companies in the US & Canada.
This led to $30 million in damages. Attackers asked victims to make a payment for the first decryption key, to prove that they would actually provide the other decryption codes.
WannaCry (2017) - an apt name: one of the worst ransomware attacks to ever occur. This led to $4 billion in losses and used emails, in order to scam 200,000+ companies and people, including Nissan, Renault and FedEx. With that four billion in losses, each machine needed $300 to be released.
But if you think that’s a lot, the 2016 Petya ransomware attacks have caused 10 billion dollars in financial losses since its release!
#5 Six More Common Types of Attacks
Which works against hash algorithms Useful verifying signatures, software and messages.
Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
Which runs scripts in your browser or scriptable application.
SQL Injection Attack
Lets attackers read sensitive data from website databases, or even issue commands.
Sniffing out user passwords via social engineering, guessing, or getting access to a passcode database.
Spreading malware by looking for websites with poor security and embedding malicious scripts into the PHP or HTTP code at the top of the page: this either installs malware or redirects to spoof websites.
Based on network traffic interception, in order to gain credit card numbers, passwords, and other pieces of confidential data transmitted over a network.
Is Antivirus Really Necessary?
Is antivirus necessary in 2021? In short, yes. Today, spending on “third-party” antivirus protection is an essential piece of risk management.
The term ‘risk management’ describes foreseeing worst-case scenarios and planning ahead of time. If you’re like most people, you probably do online banking/shopping. You have different accounts containing personal user data and stored details. All of this can be exploited by a cyber-criminal.
Do You Need an Antivirus for Windows 10?
Mac OS, Android, iOS and Windows have inbuilt security against malware, to some degree or the other. The Mac OS is most notorious for this, to the point that some people believe it’s immune to viruses and hackers.
If you get a new Windows machine, it will probably come with Windows Defender Security Center, but independent testing labs scores for this are poor (although it’s been improving over the years). It's particularly ineffective against viruses targeting browsers like Chrome and Firefox (non-Microsoft browsers).
We recommended you keep this as a Plan B option, rather than your main antivirus tool.
Do I Need Antivirus if I Have a Vpn?
Yes. An antivirus system has a different function to a VPN. These encryption tools make it practically impossible for your ISP (Internet service provider) or a Wi-Fi service to insert malware into your browsing session. But it doesn’t actually have protections against the virus itself. This is where antivirus software comes in.
Even if you have a VPN, you need to be cautious about phishing attempts when online. For instance, if you get an email with dangerous attachments and links, a VPN will not protect you. When you receive an email, never open up files with strange formats such as .js, .jar or .exe. If you’re very unsure, use sandboxing.
In Conclusion 🏁
Common sense/best practices, a good-quality affordable VPN (SurfsharkVPN review), and a top-performing antivirus provider will give you the most comprehensive protection against cyber attackers in 2021 and beyond.
According to raw data, BitDefender gives you the overall best value for money vs. performance/security, with Kaspersky very close on its heels.
And Norton antivirus is extremely integratable with all the most important online activities; protecting browsers as you go about confidential things such as online banking - and they even provide a one-click VPN with a large number of regions (although the VPN’s overall features are very sparse compared to something premium like ExpressVPN - see ExpressVPN review).