How to choose the antivirus software that's right for you

Are you searching for the best antivirus or the best security solution for your Windows computer? There are so many options on the market that you may not know what to choose. You know that you need an antivirus but you don’t know which criteria it should pass in order to provide a solid experience. Many security companies market their products as being the best, having the best antivirus or the best firewall, being complete products and so on and so forth. But whom should you trust? How should you choose your security solution? In this guide, we will share the criteria that you should use in order to choose the best security product for you.

Look for all-inclusive protection

In the past, having a good security product installed on your computer meant only having a good antivirus. Nowadays, a good security product is not just about the antivirus part anymore.

It’s also about good firewall protection, protection when browsing the Web, protection against ransomware and so on.

A good security product must include several security layers that protect you against modern cyber threats. A good antivirus is good against common malware, but that doesn’t mean that your computer can’t get infected by rootkits for instance, which can be even more damaging to you than a traditional virus. That’s why we believe that, when you look for your next security solution, you should check whether it offers all-inclusive protection. This means protection against the following types of threats:

  • Viruses - programs with malicious intents which are characterized by the fact that they can multiply themselves and thus infect other computers or devices. Viruses are usually tied to an executable file which, when you unknowingly run it, also acts as the trigger for the virus.
  • Trojans (Horses) - are malicious software that can disguise as common software and because of that, they can trick you to download and run them on your computer. When you do that, trojans usually open the gate to other forms of malware on your computer.
  • Worms - are malicious programs that take advantage of the security holes and vulnerabilities in your operating system or other software (like your web browser for instance) and use them to infect your computer. Unlike regular viruses, worms can multiply and spread by themselves, without you having to run an infected file.
  • Spyware - software programs that are designed to spy and gather intelligence about you. Spyware tries to hide from you, from the operating system and from your security solution and, after it collects information about you, it tries to send it to hacker-controlled servers.
  • Rootkit - a special type of malware designed to give hackers remote access and control of a device, without being detected by the victims or the security software installed on the infected devices. When a hacker gains access to a rootkit infected device, he or she can use it to remotely access, copy and execute the files on it, change operating system settings, install additional software (usually other types of malware) and so on. By definition, rootkits are a very stealthy kind of malware so they are rather hard to detect and remove from an infected machine.
  • Adware - software programs that display advertisements on your screen, in your web browsers or in other places on your computer. It may not be malware by definition, but adware almost always has a negative effect on your computer’s performance and on your user experience, and can also help infect your computer with malware.
  • Ransomware - a special kind of malicious programs that, once they infect your computer, will take control and encrypt your personal files, like your pictures, documents, and videos. Once that happens, ransomware programs will try to make you pay considerable amounts of money to hackers in order to get your files back.
  • Network attacks - when hackers try to remotely take control of your devices, they can do that through a “break and enter” approach. That’s when you need a firewall to stop network attacks. A good firewall must be able to deflect attacks from the outside but also tell you about suspicious traffic that’s initiated from your computer to the outside world.
  • Web threats - your web browser should be the first in the line of defense against malware. That’s why a good security solution has to include a web protection module that’s able to stop you from visiting websites with malicious content. It’s better to deal with malware in your browser than to have to do that when it reaches your computer.

Choose reliable protection

One of the most important criteria for choosing the best antivirus solution is its reliability. A reliable security product should be able to:

  • Provide protection without causing conflicts with other programs installed on your computer. For instance, when you install it on your computer, a good security suite will check whether similar security programs are already found on your system. If that’s the case, the security suite will first ask you to remove the conflicting software before installing it.
  • Protect its processes from unwanted termination. In order to stop it from detecting them, powerful malware is designed to take advantage of the weak spots of an antivirus. Some malware will try to kill the antivirus solution that runs on your system and take control of the system. A reliable security solution will protect its processes from unwanted termination.
  • Provide up to date protection. An antivirus solution that uses old and outdated malware definitions is a weak product. Viruses evolve continually, they never stop, so antiviruses must do that too. A good antivirus is a product that is constantly updating itself, several times a day.
  • Automate security scans. We believe that a reliable security solution should offer a means to automate antimalware scans. By that, we mean that a security suite must let you schedule antivirus scans. It’s even better if a security product comes out of the box with regularly scheduled scan already activated. It’s even better still if it runs antivirus scans when your computer is idle and isn’t doing anything.

Watch out for the performance

Security products are, by nature, programs that require quite a bit of computing resources in order to do their job. They will definitely use more computing power than your media player, for example. However, all security vendors work to minimize their products’ impact on your computer’s performance. If your computer is not the most powerful on the market, you should take into consideration the performance aspect. Usually, a good security product will:

  • Have a small impact on the boot timings of your computer. Your Windows should start almost as fast as it did before you installed your security product.
  • Have a small impact on your computer’s performance. A very effective security solution is no good if it bogs down your computer. A good security product will know how to use your computer’s resources in a way that doesn’t negatively impact your computing experience in terms of performance and responsiveness.
  • Be fast in scanning your computer for malware. Good antiviruses tend to be faster than others when it comes to scanning your computer for malware threats.

Prefer usability

A good security product must be easy to use both by knowledgeable users as well as casual users with little to no knowledge about security. That means it needs to:

  • Be easy to navigate. A good security solution should provide you with an intuitive way of navigating through its various windows, tabs, menus and settings.
  • Be easy to use on devices with touchscreens. The era of the plain old monitor is dead. These days, the number of PCs with a touchscreen on them is increasing at a very fast rate. Thus, more and more people use touch in order to control how software works. A good security product should have large buttons, tiles, switches of all kinds, check marks and so on - control elements that are easy to touch with your finger too, not only with a mouse’s cursor.
  • Be easy to understand. No matter how easy it is to navigate through a user interface, it’s no good if you don’t understand what each and every item and setting means. The configuration options that are offered should be easy to understand by all users.
  • Be easy to configure. Good products are products which are easy to set… not like those at IKEA :). Security products should be easy to configure.
  • Provide you with easy to find documentation. Just like any good product, good security products must provide an easy way to access their documentation. If Help documentation is available but you can’t find it, what’s the point?
  • Give you complete control of how it works. Many people look for security products that don’t require any special configuration. But there are also people who want to set each and every detail of how a security product works. If that’s the case for you, a good security product must provide you with complete control.

These are all relative criteria because some users are more advanced and have a more technical background, while others are not. Regardless in which category you fall, it’s important that a security product is easy to use for you.

If you are a beginner and you don’t have technical inclinations, look for an “install & forget” type of security product. If you are more of a professional user, you might want to look for a security product that can be configured in detail, one that offers many advanced settings.

Be ready to ask for support

Nothing in this world is perfect, so being able to call for help when something doesn’t work as it should, is very important. That’s why the support options you get are important to consider before deciding to buy a security product. An IT security company that creates good security programs usually offers a large array of support options and, if you have problems with their product, you will be able to:

  • Write an email to them, in which you describe your issues with their antivirus product
  • Have a live chat session with one of their support engineers
  • Call their support service for help, using your phone

None of the support options should cost you additional money, other from what you already paid when you bought the security suite.

Make good use of the bundled tools

Many “complete” security products bundle additional tools besides the core security modules. They may include password wallets, safely encrypted storage space in the cloud, parental control tools and so on. These additional tools shouldn’t hold the first place in your mind when you start looking for your next great security solution but they can be that little push you need in order to make the right choice between two similar security products. For instance, if you travel a lot and you take your Windows computer or device with you, you might prefer a security product that includes a VPN service plan. It will be very handy when you connect to unsafe public wireless networks like those found in airports, coffee shops, conference centers and so on.

If you’re a parent and you have to choose between two similar security suites but only one of them offers a parental control module, you should probably choose the one with the parental controls.

When choosing the right security product for you, you should check whether the additional tools it bundles are:

  • Security-oriented. If a security product gives you for free additional tools that are not security oriented, we believe that they are not worth buying. Those tools are probably just a means to a marketing end.
  • Useful. Whatever they do, the additional tools you get when buying a security product should be useful to you. They shouldn’t be just clones of tools that are already found in Windows.
  • Don’t harm your security or your privacy. Some vendors choose to bundle additional tools that are not helpful in increasing your security or privacy. On the contrary, they are harming it. If a security solution includes shady toolbars, web browsers, browser add-ons or any other tools that lower your security or privacy, you should stay away from that product.
  • Don’t involve additional costs. If you need to pay more money in addition to what you already paid for the security suite, they’re not worth it.

Consider reputation

This may sound a bit conservative like we’re some old-school team of editors who want to favor the big names of the IT security market. That’s not true and we assure you that reputation matters. Buying and using a security product from a company with a good reputation is usually a safer bet than jumping all in with a security product from an unknown firm. Good security solutions tend to remain good as time passes. At the same time, there are many malware programs that disguise themselves as so-called security solutions. When choosing to use an unknown antivirus, for instance, you might end up installing a virus on your computer, which is exactly what you wanted to protect yourself from. So yes, we believe that in the security world, reputation matters a lot!

Be cost-aware

OK, you probably think that all the criteria we’ve talked about are fine and dandy but none of them is as important as the cost of that security solution. Most people tend to choose less expensive products, and while this is a good general approach, it’s not always the best. In the case of security products, that means that you should look for the lowest priced product that fits your needs and offers the protection you need. That product might not be the least expensive on the market. On the other hand, though, imagine how much it will cost you if you buy a bargain security product that can’t protect your personal files from ransomware threats?

Our “Security for everyone” series is meant to help you choose the right antivirus product for you

We believe that the above criteria are the most important when it comes to choosing the best antivirus/security solution for you. We have been writing reviews for security suites in our "Security for Everyone" series for many years and, ever since we began this series, we always strived to answer this question: which is the best security product for you?

Some security suites are better than others in terms of antimalware protection, some are easier to use, some offer many advanced settings, and so on and so forth. In each of our reviews, we cover all the above criteria and then we rate each security product.

Each security suite has its ups and downs, and it’s very hard, if not impossible, to name one as the best for everyone. A security product can be the right one for you as a beginner, while another might be the right one for you as an advanced technical user. Hopefully, the above criteria, together with our security reviews will help you identify the best antivirus product for you.