Skip to main content

Whether your computer or device runs Android, Mac or Windows, cybercriminals have an array of sophisticated attacks than can target your machines across their operating systems (OS). As a result, choosing an antivirus software that's designed for your OS and tailored to your computing behaviors is vital.

Not all antivirus software is created equal, so there are many factors to consider.

For example, you’re perusing the internet as normal only to have your computer slow to a crawl as your antivirus software "examines" your online activity. Then, if the software happens to detect a problem, it may not be able to fix it without some time-consuming steps (and despite this, you may not even solve the problem). Worse still, you may even have some antivirus software, but it is too complicated to use and configure, so your system ends up getting infected anyway (and, in some cases, you’re none the wiser).

Worst case scenarios aside, some of the last things you want to think about when your information is at stake are errors, crashes and botched attempts to protect against cybersecurity threats. As a result, it’s important to know what to look for in antivirus software. So, here's our simple guide on how to choose antivirus software, including common pitfalls, recommendations and additional features you should be looking out for.

Does Your Antivirus Software Protect You from Major Threats?

Deciding how to choose good antivirus software starts with the protections it offers. Antivirus, by definition, should protect against viruses but should also include other types of cyberthreats too. At a minimum, you need to be guarded against the most common dangers to your privacy and safety.

The most common cyberthreats you may face include various types of:

  • Malware: Unwanted software programs that infect your devices to disrupt, use or gather data from you. Malware commonly includes viruses, spyware, adware, and ransomware.
  • Scams: Digital schemes that trick you into giving out sensitive information or allowing malicious access to your device. These are usually in the form of emails, websites, texts, bad apps, and online messages. Common scams include spam, phishing and pharming scams.

These threats often overlap to accomplish the hacker’s goals. Some scams deliver malware, while some malware is concealed in unsuspecting places on the web or connected devices. Malware in itself can be a scam and used for extortion, like in the case of ransomware.

Your antivirus should protect against the frequent offenders listed above.

Does Your Program Offer Real-Time Prevention and Rapid Infection Removal?

As the internet is always changing, your antivirus software choice must be on constant lookout to find and stop any security risks. Some cybersecurity software may only treat issues after they’ve occurred. You’ll want your antivirus to have proactive protection, often referred to as “threat prevention”, included, so you can use your devices wherever and whenever you want, without worry.

Threat prevention features in your software should include:

  • Reactive file scanning that will vet any new files for danger before you open them. It compares the file against a full database of known risks to decide if the file is safe to open.
  • Complete system scans that will review every corner of your device for any compromised data. This can help you be sure that nothing is lurking around undetected, as a lot of spyware and malware are designed to be hidden.
  • Web browsing protection that will filter URL links and webpages to judge their safety history and level of potential risk. As the majority of cyberattacks are instigated through an internet connection to your browser, web browsing security is pivotal to your digital security.

Threat removal should be included in all antivirus systems. Just be sure that it quarantines potentially malicious files to allow you to review and remove them later.

Other products, like those dubbed “anti-malware”, may only offer removal without any preventative features. In some cases, these products may even be viruses in disguise, so always be sure to research your providers as well.

Does Your Software Run Accurately and Efficiently?

With antivirus protection, detection itself is only good if the software truly works as intended.

For your cyberthreat protection to be reliable, it must:

  • Find real threats reliably — without accidentally deleting your clean files.
  • Operate without slowing down your device.

Let’s explore each of these aspects in-depth.

Reliable Threat Detection Rates

When antivirus software scans your system’s files, it must accurately say what is and isn’t malicious.

Known-threat databases are compiled by antivirus companies to sort out dangerous data. They are the backbone of an antivirus system and must be kept updated. Cyberthreats are constantly evolving, so it's impossible to rely on antivirus software to protect your computer against every piece of malware, spyware or adware. But some tools are better than others.

Detection rates grade your antivirus’s performance based on how often it accurately labels clean files and potential threats. A good detection rate will have high success rates for the following:

  • True positives: When the program determines harmful files are malware.
  • True negatives: When the program determines harmless files are safe to open.

As a result, the ideal antivirus software needs to avoid giving you:

  • False positives: When the program determines harmless files are malware. If your software’s threat threshold is too aggressive, completely safe files might be removed.
  • False negatives: When the program determines harmful files are safe to open. This can occur if the threat database hasn’t discovered and logged new or obscure threats.

Pay special attention to ratings on the software's false positives. You don't want to choose software that removes the files you need. You also want to look for a program that multiple independent labs have tested and verified extensively. Organizations like Virus Bulletin, TechRadar, NSS Labs and AV-Comparatives perform tests and provide reviews on anti-malware tools and antivirus software for Windows, Mac, and Android OS.

The threat detection and remediation of products also vary across operating systems. The best Mac antivirus software is not necessarily the best performing software on a PC, for example. So, read up-to-date news and testing analyses from reputable bloggers and trusted news sources to determine the most current, high-performing programs for your OS.

Must Run Well Without Slowing Your Device

With antivirus software running in your computer's background all the time, it must be able to perform efficiently. Effective products are capable of scanning during a variety of tasks being conducted by your machine, including:

  • File copying and pasting.
  • Archiving and unarchiving.
  • Installing/uninstalling applications.
  • Launching applications.
  • Downloading files.
  • Browsing websites.

Not all security software performs perfectly across the above test cases. However, you'll notice some programs are more efficient at certain tasks than others. Pick software with features that are tailored to the type of computing you're most commonly doing. Also, consider choosing a comprehensive package that you can customize to suit your needs later on or should they change (for example, if you think your home machine might become your work machine when you’re working from home). Even if you think you might not need a certain feature now, it may become helpful in the future.

Is Your Antivirus Software Easy to Use?

Always be sure that you can easily use and navigate the antivirus software you choose to install. Buying antivirus software and turning it off because it's too complicated to use will only open you up to more attacks and breaches. Worse still, people often let the programs run in standard mode but fail to keep them updated with the latest software releases. Software updates are the way cybersecurity providers protect you from new and emerging cyberthreats via patches. It’s important to always make sure your antivirus software is updated regularly.

In rare cases, it might not be clear if your antivirus software is even running. If this happens, you can do a simple test to make sure it’s still running/running properly. Created by cybersecurity experts at the European Institute for Computer Antivirus Research (EICAR), an EICAR test file is a harmless simulated virus that most commercial antivirus software is tested on. You can download it from the official website (which should trigger your software) or open a notepad file and copy and paste the following string:


Saving this notepad to your system should trigger an alert automatically. Be aware that some software will automatically quarantine the file. If nothing is triggered, then your antivirus software might be turned off or is not working as it should.

Most people aren't cybersecurity professionals, let alone well-versed in the inner workings of antivirus programs and settings. So, you don't necessarily need a program to set up firewalls or run side programs that take up half of the average computer's computing resources. It depends on the type of computing you do and if you keep sensitive data on your machine, like patient records or corporate finance documents. With that in mind, the basic ease-of-use features you'll want to include are:

Automatic updates: Choose software that updates, patches and re-configures automatically and without your intervention. Constant updates will keep your system safe from the latest cyberthreats.

Simple user interface: Find software that’s easy to navigate and understand. You should be able to quickly determine if a threat's been detected and remediated or not. You should also be able to determine if your antivirus software is running correctly without downloading a test file or using the above EICAR code.

Customer support: Something that is often forgotten about, reliable customer support services are an important part of effectively protecting your system and increasing your antivirus program's usability too. People often choose free software and, when they run into issues later, they don't have access to assistance that could help them to solve their problems. Whether you are or aren’t well-versed in using antivirus programs, having access to competent customer support teams who can help you get the most from the software is important. You'll also have more peace of mind and confidence that your system is well-protected.

A good antivirus software choice on a secure computer.

Do You Want Additional Features from High-Performing Software?

Sometimes, it’s good to have additional features. In terms of cybersecurity software, new features are regularly developed around emerging trends to help keep users safe and protected. While detecting the latest cyberthreats is difficult due to the fast-changing nature of cybersecurity, new features can be an important factor in your decision-making process because they can help to keep you safe in a variety of ways that you may not have considered.

In modern cybersecurity, it is often said that a multilayered security/web protection approach is necessary to keep users truly safe. This means that staying secure online involves multiple approaches. In other words, the antivirus software itself is not the only thing protecting your data. Additional features, like password managers, VPNs and payment protection facilities are equally important for preventing cyberattacks on your computer or home network. Here is a list of features that you should look out for:

Password managers store your unique, hard-to-remember passwords in an encrypted “vault.” These are high-security solutions that only require you to remember one primary password. Many vaults also allow you to store sensitive documents and images inside them as well.

System performance cleanup and optimizing to boost the speed and power of your device. Some antivirus programs even remind you that your programs, drivers, and operating system need to be updated, and warn you of programs that could freeze your system as a part of their standard operating procedure.

At-home Wi-Fi monitoring, which can let you know exactly what devices are on your personal wireless network. Alerts for new connections can help you find any potential invaders in your private internet space. Some of these services even have GPS tracking in case any of your devices get stolen.

Online account data leak monitoring can take all your accounts and check them against known data breaches. If your credentials have been stolen, you’ll be notified to help you take action.

Hard drive integrity monitoring can check theperformance, status, and temperature of your internal and external drives, so you know whether your system is properly optimized. They also notify you as soon as any problems arise.

Virtual private network (VPN) services can give you a secure, encrypted internet “tunnel.” This allows you to browse the internet safely and anonymously — even on a public Wi-Fi.

Many other features exist, so be sure to shop around and compare based on your needs. At Kaspersky, we have three levels of digital home security. Our premium protection includes all the features mentioned above, covers up to 20 devices and also contains:

  • Threat ranking and proactive blocking for URL links, webpages, and email attachments.
  • Two-way firewalls and spam filtering.
  • Secure browsers for financial transactions.
  • Parental content controls.
  • Secure deletion of sensitive files, browsing history, credit monitoring or other virtual breadcrumbs like passwords.
  • Remote IT support.
  • Identity Protection via a digital safe.
  • Anti-phishing software.

Other Essential Questions to Ask Before Choosing an Antivirus Software

Once you’ve found your antivirus software options, there are a few more things to consider. Here are some questions to help you narrow down your search for an antivirus:

What devices and operating systems does this software protect? Nowadays, many people own a smartphone and a computer (or more devices). Your antivirus software may not be available across all the devices you’d like to protect. Some products can cover multiple devices, whether they are PC, Mac, iOS, or Android.

Can this software protect my whole family? Your safety is only as strong as your network’s weakest link. Each member of your household can be an access point for criminals to breach your digital security. With both adults and young children using all types of devices, you’ll likely want a plan that guards many devices (in different ways) against any malicious activity.

Does this software have more features than I’ll use? Be sure you’re getting a software package that has what you’ll need. You should be able to choose between multiple options to get the protection you require.

Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for people to avoid purchasing antivirus software until they suspect an attack. Whether it's a slow computer or suspicious glitches, we often wait until our computers' systems stop working properly before acting. If you think this is the case for you, make it a priority to implement effective antivirus software today. The right program can find the threat and block it without impacting your computer usage in the slightest. If you are proactive, you’ll be able to navigate your digital life with peace of mind.

Kaspersky’s internet security received two AV-TEST awards for the best performance & protection for an internet security product in 2021. In all tests, Kaspersky showed outstanding performance and protection against cyberthreats.

Related articles:

Recommended products:

What to Look for In a Good Antivirus Software: Choosing Protection for an Android, Mac or Windows System

Kaspersky Logo