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Whether your computer or device runs Android, Mac or Windows, cybercriminals have sophisticated attacks to target machines across operating systems (OS). Choosing an antivirus software that's designed for your OS and tailored to your computing behaviors is important.

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

There's nothing worse than perusing the Internet only to have your computer slow to a crawl as your antivirus software "thinks" about your decisions. If the software happens to detect a problem, is it going to fix it without making you take 20 complicated steps?

The last thing you want to deal with when your information is at stake are errors, crashes and botched attempts to protect against cybersecurity threats. You need to know what to look for in an antivirus software. So, here's a guide to choosing an antivirus software, including common pitfalls and recommendations.

Does Your Antivirus Software Protect You from Major Threats?

Deciding how to choose the best antivirus software starts with the protections it offers.

Antivirus by definition should protect against viruses but should also include other threats too.

At a minimum, you need to be guarded against the common dangers to your privacy and safety.

Cyberthreats you may face include various types of:

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

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

At a minimum, your antivirus should protect against the frequent offenders above.

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

Your antivirus must be on constant lookout duty to find and stop any cybersecurity risks.

Some cybersecurity software may only treat issues after they’ve occurred. You’ll want your antivirus to have proactive protection on top of this so you can use your devices without worry.

Threat prevention features in your software should include:

  • Reactive file scanning which will vet any new files for danger before you open them. It compares the file against the antivirus’ full database of known risks to decide if it is safe.
  • Complete system scans review every corner of your device for any compromised data. This can help you be sure that nothing is lurking around undetected.
  • Web browsing protection that filters URL links and webpages to judge their safety history and level of potential risk. Internet security is pivotal to your digital protection.

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

When you’re browsing, be sure you’re choosing a true “antivirus” that offers prevention and removal. Other products like those dubbed “anti-malware” may only offer removal without any preventative features.

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 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. These are the backbone of an antivirus system and must be kept up to date.

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’ 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.

The ideal antivirus software also 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.

You also want to look for a program that multiple independent labs have tested and verified extensively. Organizations like AV-TEST, NSS Labs and AV-Comparatives perform tests and provide reviews on anti-malware tools and software for Windows, Mac, and Android OS.

Pay special attention to ratings on the software's false positives. You don't want to choose software that removes the files you need.

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.

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 perform efficiently. Effective products are capable of scanning during a variety of tasks, including:

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

Not all security software performs perfectly across 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, should they change. 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 open yourself up to attacks and vulnerabilities. Worse yet, people often let the programs run but fail to keep them updated with the latest software releases.

Most people aren't cybersecurity professionals, let alone well-versed in the inner workings of antivirus programs and settings. 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.

The basic ease-of-use features you'll want include:

  • Automatic updates: Choose software that updates, patches and re-configures on the fly without your intervention.
  • 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.

Customer support is an important component of increasing a program's usability, too. People often choose free software and, when they run into issues later on, they don't have access to assistance that helps them solve their problems.

Even if you aren't well-versed in using antivirus programs, having access to competent customer support teams can help you get the most from the software. You'll have more peace of mind and confidence that your system is well-protected, too.

Do You Want Additional Bells and Whistles from High-Performing Software?

Some features can recommend one antivirus product over another. New features are regularly developed around emerging trends to help keep users protected, and most companies aren't reserved about touting the features' benefits.

While detecting the latest cyberthreats is difficult due to the fast-changing nature of cybersecurity, new features can help keep you safe.

Multilayered web browsing protection can sort through and deter threats in real-time. Some features in software like Kaspersky Total Security or Kaspersky Security Cloud include:

  • Threat ranking and proactive blocking for URL links, webpages, and email attachments
  • 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
  • Cloud backup services with encryption

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 master password.

System performance cleanup and optimizing to boost the speed and power of your device. Some antivirus programs even keep your programs, drivers, and operating system up to date.

At-home Wi-Fi monitoring to 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.

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.

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

Many other features exist, so be sure to shop around and compare based on your needs.

Other Essential Questions to Ask Before Choosing an Antivirus Software

Once you’ve found some antivirus options, there are a few more things to consider.

Here are some questions to help you narrow your search for an antivirus:

What devices and operating systems does this software protect? Nowadays, many people at least own a smartphone and a computer. Your antivirus software may not be available across all the devices you’d like to protect. Some products like Kaspersky Security Cloud 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 against any malicious activity. Products like Kaspersky Total Security can guard up to 10 devices on a single antivirus package.

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 start working improperly, in order to take action.

If this the case for you, make it a priority to implement effective antivirus software. 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.

Related articles:

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

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