Antivirus software is essential for every PC. If you don’t install it, you risk losing your personal information, your files and documents, and even the money from your bank account. We’ve tested more than 30 software to help you to choose the best antivirus protection for your laptop.
Malware, Spyware, and Adware Protection
Summer is here, and a lot of us are still waiting for a lovely vacation. Someone will be at the beach, another in the mountains, or even on a cruise. Do not be surprised but Malware coders get vacations, too. Theirs is a job, like any other, in many ways. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be safe from viruses, ransomware, bots, and other malware this summer. The malware office manager schedules vacations, just like any office manager, to make sure somebody’s on the job, creating new attacks on your devices and your data. Before you go on a vacation, check your antivirus subscription to make sure it won’t be taking its vacation soon. If you’re not protected yet, it is essential to install a protecting software as soon as possible. We’ve tested more than 30 antivirus tools and enlisted 3 best options. So you can pick one from the list below.
We call it antivirus, but in truth, it’s unlikely you’ll get hit with an actual computer virus. Malware these days is about making money, and there’s no easy way to cash in on spreading a virus. Ransomware and data-stealing Trojans are much more common, as are bots that let the bot-herder rent out your computer for nefarious purposes. Modern antivirus utilities handle Trojans, rootkits, spyware, adware, ransomware, and more. Uptomag has reviewed more than 30 different commercial antivirus utilities, and that’s not even counting the many free antivirus tools.
360 Total Protection bases its protection on suppressing all unknown programs while the computer is in a vulnerable state, such as when it’s connected to the Internet, and also acts to detect known malware. The McAfee resets the computer to a known safe state on every reboot, thereby eliminating any malware. If you have malware, one of the 3 products on our list should take care of the problem.
We Test Malware, Spyware, and Adware Defenses
We also subjects every product to our hands-on test of malware protection, in part to get a feeling for how the product works.
Our malware protection test necessarily uses the same set of samples for months. To check a product’s handling of brand-new malware, we test each product using 80 extremely new malware-hosting URLs supplied by the famous testing company, noting what percentage of them it blocked. Products get equal credit for preventing all access to the malicious URL and for wiping out the malware during download.
Some products earn stellar ratings from the independent labs, yet don’t fare as well in our hands-on tests. In such cases, we defer to the labs, as they bring significantly greater resources to their testing
Multilayered Malware Protection
Antivirus products distinguish themselves by going beyond the basics of on-demand scanning and real-time malware protection. Some rate URLs that you visit or that show up in search results, using a red-yellow-green colour-coding system. Some actively block processes on your system from connecting with known malware-hosting URLs or with fraudulent (phishing) pages.
The software has flaws, and sometimes those flaws affect your security. Prudent users keep Windows and all programs patched, fixing those flaws as soon as possible. The vulnerability scan offered by some antivirus products can verify that all necessary patches are present, and even apply any that are missing.
Spyware comes in many forms, from hidden programs that log your every keystroke to Trojans that masquerade as valid programs while mining your personal data. Any antivirus should handle spyware, along with all other types of malware, but some include specialized components devoted to spyware protection.
You expect an antivirus to identify and eliminate dangerous programs, and to allow reliable programs working. What about unknowns, programs it can’t identify as good or bad? Behaviour-based detection can, in theory, protect you against malware that’s so new researchers have never encountered it. However, this is often not a panacea. Behavioural detection systems sometimes mark a lot of innocuous behaviours performed by legitimate programs.
Whitelisting is another way to the problem of unknown programs. A whitelist-based security system only allows known reliable programs to process. Unknowns are blocked. This pattern doesn’t suit all situations, but it may be helpful. Sandboxing lets unknown programs run, but it isolates them from full access to your system, so they can’t do permanent harm. These various added layers serve to enhance your protection against malware.
Firewalls, Ransomware Protection, and More
Firewalls and spam filtering aren’t common antivirus features, but some of our top products include them as bonus features. In fact, some of these antivirus products are more feature-packed than certain products sold as security suites.
Among the other bonus features, you’ll find are secure browsers for financial transactions, secure deletion of sensitive files, wiping traces of computer and browsing history, credit monitoring, virtual keyboard to foil keyloggers, cross-platform protection, and more. You’ll even find products that enhance their automatic malware protection with the expertise of human security technicians. And of course, we’ve already mentioned sandboxing, vulnerability scanning, and application whitelisting.
We’re seeing more and more antivirus products adding modules specifically designed for ransomware protection. Some work by preventing unauthorized changes to protected files. Others keep watching for suspicious behaviours that suggest malware. Some even aim to reverse the damage. Given the growth of this scourge, any added protection is beneficial.
Top Antivirus of 2019
Pros: Very good independent lab scores. Excellent score in our malware protection test. Behavioural detection successfully blocked ransomware. Surfing protection is browser-independent. Inexpensive.
Cons: Dismal score in our phishing protection test. Few scores from independent labs. Behavioural detection failed against ransomware launched at startup.
Bottom Line: Emsisoft Anti-Malware effectively handles the basic tasks of malware protection, including ransomware. Its few lab test results are good, as are its scores on our in-house malware protection tests, though it tanked on our antiphishing test.
Pros: Protection for every Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS device in your household. Good scores in hands-on tests. Perfect score in the antiphishing test. Includes new ransomware protection and PC Boost, plus many bonus features.
Cons: Ransom Guard missed one hand-modified ransomware sample. PC Boost web speedup works only in Chrome. Mac edition is less feature-rich than Windows or Android. Still fewer features for iOS.
Bottom Line: A single subscription for McAfee AntiVirus Plus lets you protect every Windows, Android, macOS, and iOS device in your household. It’s quite a deal, and the current edition adds some new and useful features.
Beyond Antivirus: VPN
A VPN, or virtual private network, is one of the smartest ways to protect your online privacy and maintain your data security. We’ve tested scores of them, and these are the best VPN services we’ve reviewed.
When you access the internet over Wi-Fi, do you worry about who might be spying on your data—or even stealing it? If not, you’re in the majority, and that’s a serious problem. Everyone ought to be using a virtual private network, or VPN, whenever they’re on a network they don’t control. 71 per cent of our 1,000 respondents had never used a VPN at all. Even among net neutrality supporters—who you might think would be better informed on security and privacy issues—55 percent had never used a VPN.
What to do with VPN? That attitude to the safety and privacy of personal data creates a tremendous risk when it comes to online security. Public Wi-Fi networks, which are ubiquitous and convenient, are unfortunately also extremely convenient for attackers who are looking to compromise your personal information. How do you know, for example, that “burgerking_wifi_real” is actually the Wi-Fi network for the fast-food restaurant? Anyone could have created that network, to lure victims into disclosing personal information. In fact, a popular security researcher prank is to create a network with the same name as a free, popular service and see how many devices will automatically connect. Only 15 percent of our 2,000 respondents use a VPN with public Wi-Fi.
Surprising facts about your PC
You shouldn’t trust your internet service provider. In its infinite wisdom, Congress has decided that your ISP is allowed to sell your browsing history. 73 percent of respondents had no idea that their ISP was allowed to sell their browsing history.
ISPs are now allowed to throttle or charge extra for some types of content (streaming video, for example) or for traffic from given companies. If you’re concerned about your ISP slowing down your content or charging more for it based on what it is, the only way to prevent this can be to have a VPN. 52 percent of users said they were more likely to use a VPN post-Net Neutrality, and 26 percent said that Net Neutrality’s repeal actually influenced them to purchase a VPN.
Curious figures for surveys
For many reasons, then, using a VPN is a good idea. So if you are interested to see how often people use VPNs, read a paragraph below.
In survey of 3,000 US consumers, more than half of respondents (52 percent) said they do or would need a VPN for security purposes. Yet 48 percent said they have never used a VPN, and 23 percent have in the past but don’t anymore. Just 29 percent—or almost one in three respondents—said they actually do use one.
Of those who reported using a VPN, 18 percent said they do so on their laptop or desktop, while just 5 percent use one on their smartphone or tablet. A mere 6 percent said they use one on all of their devices.
What to do with VPN? In the simplest terms, a VPN creates a secure, encrypted connection. To say simpler, imagine a tunnel—between your computer and a server operated by the VPN service. In a professional setting, this tunnel effectively makes you part of the company’s network, as if you were physically sitting in the office.
While you’re connected to a VPN, all your network traffic passes through this protected tunnel, and no one—not even your ISP—can see your traffic until it exits the tunnel from the VPN server and goes into the public internet. If you will then only connect to websites secured with HTTPS, your data will still be encrypted even after it is out of the VPN.
A simple example: If your car goes out of your driveway, someone can follow you and see where you are heading, how much time you are at your destination, and when you are back. They can even peek inside your car and know more about you. With a VPN service, you are securily driving into a closed parking space, switching to another car, and driving out, so that no one who was originally following you knows where you went.
VPN services, while tremendously helpful, are not foolproof. There’s no magic bullet (or magic armour) when it comes to security. A determined adversary can almost always breach your defences in one way or another. Using a VPN can’t help if you unwisely download ransomware on a visit to the Dark Web, or if you are tricked into giving up your data to a phishing attack.
What a VPN can do is to protect you against mass data collection and the casual criminal vacuuming up user data for later use. It can also protect your privacy by making it harder for advertisers to figure out who and where you are. That’s why VPNs are important, even when you’re browsing from the comfort and (relative) safety of your home.
First and foremost, using a VPN prevents anyone on the same network access point (or anywhere else) from intercepting your web traffic in a man-in-the-middle attack. This is especially handy for travellers and for those using public Wi-Fi networks, such as web surfers at hotels, airports, and coffee shops. Someone on the same network, or the person in control of the network you’re using, could conceivably intercept your information while you’re connected. Just 19 percent of respondents use a VPN while travelling, which is a dismal result from a security standpoint.
What to do with VPN? VPNs also cloak your computer’s actual IP address, hiding it behind the IP address of the VPN server you’re connected to. IP addresses are distributed based on location, so you can estimate someone’s location simply by looking at their IP address. And while IP addresses may change, it’s possible to track someone across the internet by watching where the same IP address appears. Using a VPN makes it harder for advertisers (or spies, or hackers) to track you online.
Many VPN services also provide their own DNS resolution system. Think of DNS as a phone book that turns a text-based URL like “uptomag.com” into a numeric IP address that computers can understand. Savvy snoops can monitor DNS requests and track your movements online. Greedy attackers can also use DNS poisoning to direct you to bogus phishing pages designed to steal your data. When you use a VPN’s DNS system, it’s another layer of protection.
VPNs are necessary for improving individual privacy, but there are also people for whom a VPN is essential for personal and professional safety. Some journalists and political activists rely on VPN services to circumvent government censorship and safely communicate with the outside world. Check the local laws before using a VPN in China, Russia, Turkey, or any country with repressive internet policies.
What about using a VPN for BitTorrent? Some services allow peer-to-peer file sharing and the use of BitTorrent sharing. Others restrict such activity to specific servers. Be smart: Learn the company’s terms of service—and the local laws on the subject. Only six percent of our respondents report ever having used a VPN with BitTorrent. While that’s a low number, it may simply reflect the fact that not all respondents have ever used BitTorrent at all.
What to do with VPN?
What sorts of online habits respondents actually use VPNs for? In the survey of 3,000 US consumers on VPN use and buying habits, a majority—52 percent of respondents—said they need a VPN for security purposes. In related responses, 26 percent said they need a VPN to safely access public Wi-Fi, and 18 percent need a VPN to share data and files securely. Another marquee feature of VPNs is anonymous web browsing, yet only the most Big Brother–conscious 6 percent of respondents said they need a VPN to avoid government surveillance. Aside from privacy and security reasons, VPNs are also useful in accessing entertainment content not available in your region by switching to a server somewhere else in the world. A sizable 23 percent of respondents said they need a VPN to access streaming content such as Netflix or sports, while 4 percent of respondents use VPNs to access adult content.
The VPN services market has exploded in the past few years, and a small competition has turned into an all-out melee. Many providers are capitalizing on the general population’s growing concerns about surveillance and cybercrime, which means it’s getting hard to tell when a company is actually providing a secure service and when it’s throwing out a lot of fancy words while selling snake oil. In fact, since VPN services have become so popular in the wake of Congress killing ISP privacy rules, there have even been fake VPNs popping up, so be careful. It’s important to keep a few things in mind when evaluating which VPN service is right for you: reputation, performance, type of encryption used, transparency, ease of use, support, and extra features. Don’t just focus on price or speed, though those are important factors.
Some VPN services provide a free trial, so take advantage of it. Make sure you are happy with what you signed up for and take advantage of money-back guarantees if you’re not. This is actually why we also recommend starting out with a short-term subscription—a week or a month—to really make sure you are happy. Yes, you may get a discount by signing up for a year, but that’s more money at stake should you realize the service doesn’t meet your performance needs.
Most users want a full graphical user interface for managing their VPN connection and settings, though a few would rather download a configuration file and import it into the OpenVPN client. Most VPN companies we have reviewed support all levels of technological savvy, and the best have robust customer support for when things go sideways.
If you’re using a service to route all your internet traffic through its servers, you have to be able to trust the provider. It’s easier to trust companies that have been around longer, simply because their reputation is likely to be known. The trouble is that the VPN industry is very young, and some VPN companies have been playing dirty. In this environment, figuring out who to trust is very difficult.
We’re not cryptography experts, so we can’t verify all of the encryption claims providers make. Instead, we focus on the features provided. Bonus features like ad blocking, firewalls, and kill switches that disconnect you from the web if your VPN connection drops, go a long way toward keeping you safe. We also prefer providers that support OpenVPN, since it’s a standard that’s known for its speed and reliability. It’s also, as the name implies, open-source, meaning it benefits from many developers’ eyes looking for potential problems.
As part of our research, we also make sure to find out where the company is based and under what legal framework it operates. Some countries don’t have data-retention laws, making it easier to keep a promise of “We don’t keep any logs.” It’s also useful to know under what circumstances a VPN company will hand over information to law enforcement and what information it would have to provide if that should happen.
While a VPN can protect your privacy online, you might still want to take the additional step of avoiding paying for one using a credit card, for moral or security reasons. Several VPN services now accept anonymous payment methods such as Bitcoin, and some even accept retailer gift cards. Both of these transactions is about as close as you can get to paying with cash for something online.
Some important things to look for when shopping for a VPN are the number of licenses for simultaneous connections that come with your fee, the number of servers available, and the number of locations in which the company has servers.
Most VPN services allow you to connect up to five devices with a single account. Any service that offers fewer connections is outside the mainstream. Keep in mind that you’ll need to connect every device in your home individually to the VPN service, so just two or three licenses won’t be enough for the average nested pair. Note that many VPN services offer native apps for both Android and iOS, but that such devices count toward your total number of connections.
Not only smartphones and PCs
Of course, there are more than just phones and computers in a home. Game systems, tablets, and smart home devices such as light bulbs and fridges all need to connect to the internet. Many of these things can’t run VPN software on their own, nor can they be configured to connect to a VPN through their individual settings. In these cases, you may be better off configuring your router to connect with the VPN of your choice. By adding VPN protection to your router, you secure the traffic of every gadget connected to that router. And the router—and everything protected by it—uses just one of your licenses. Nearly all of the companies we have reviewed offer software for most consumer routers and even routers with preinstalled VPN software, making it even easier to add this level of protection.
The number and distribution of those servers is a key consideration. The more places a VPN has to offer, the more options you have to spoof your location! More importantly, having numerous servers in diverse locales means that no matter where you go on Earth you’ll be able to find a nearby VPN server. The closer the VPN server, the better the speed and reliability of the connection it can offer you. Remember, you don’t need to connect to a far-flung VPN server in order to gain security benefits. Depending on where you live, a server down the street is as safe as one across the globe.
The number of servers a VPN company provides is at least partly a function of how many subscribers it supports. But more is almost always better, and more servers mean that you’re less likely to be shunted into a VPN server that is already filled to the brim with other users. NordVPN is at the forefront with over 5,200 servers, followed by ExpressVPN, and Speedify all of which have 3,000 servers or more each. But the competition is beginning to heat up. Last year, only a handful of companies offered more than 500 servers, now it’s becoming unusual to find a company offering fewer than 1,000 servers.
In the most recent round of testing, we’ve also looked at how many virtual servers a given VPN company uses. A virtual server is just what it sounds like—a software-defined server running on server hardware that might have several virtual servers onboard. The thing about virtual servers is that they can be configured to appear as if they are in one country when they are actually being hosted somewhere else. That’s an issue if you’re especially concerned about where your web traffic is travelling. It’s a bit worrisome to choose one location and discover you’re actually connected somewhere else entirely. Some VPN companies take a smart view to virtual servers, using them to provide VPN support for regions where it might be too risky to physically house a server. When VPNs use virtual servers, we prefer that they are transparent about it and share those locations with customers.
Best VPN Services
What follows are the results of our VPN testing. These are the best performing products, taken from among dozens we’ve tested
Computer and software providers work hard to make sure that the devices you buy are safe right out of the box, but they don’t provide everything you’ll need. Antivirus software, for example, consistently outperforms the built-in protections. In the same vein, VPN software lets you use the web and Wi-Fi with confidence that your information will remain secure. It’s critically important and often overlooked.
Even if you don’t use it every moment of every day, a VPN is a fundamental tool that everyone should have at their disposal—like a password manager or an online backup service. A VPN is also a service that will only become more important as more of our devices become connected. So stay safe, and get a VPN.
Click through the review links of the best VPN services below for detailed analysis and performance results.
Pros: More than 5,200 servers in diverse locations worldwide. Unique, specialized servers. Six simultaneous connections. P2P allowed. Browser apps. Blocks ads, other web threats. Strong customer privacy stance.
Cons: Expensive. Cannot purchase additional simultaneous connections.
Bottom Line: NordVPN wraps a slick client around a strong collection of features for securing your online activities and an enormous network of servers. It’s our top pick for VPNs.
Cons: Expensive. Few simultaneous connections allowed.
Bottom Line: ExpressVPN is a comprehensive VPN service with an impressive server fleet and excellent features. But, compared with the competition, it allows for fewer simultaneous connections, and it’s more expensive.
Pros: Affordable, flexible pricing. The fastest connection. Robust server network. Integrated ad-tracker blocking.
Cons: No P2P or BitTorrent support. Few server locations.
Bottom Line: Speedify VPN offers VPN protection from a trusted name in security in addition to flexible pricing. That said, it lacks advanced security features and doesn’t allow BitTorrent.
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