Updated January 13, 2015

Study: Best Antivirus - Norton vs McAfee vs Kaspersky

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From email bugs to identity theft to sophisticated social media scams, cyber-criminals are constantly finding new ways to get at your data. Here are our 3 choices to keep you safe.

A recent report by Microsoft found that 40% of U.S. households have been affected by viruses, resulting in $4.5 billion worth of damage. If you bank or manage your personal finances online, you're even more at risk.

Getting hooked up to an antivirus program is a no-brainer, but the process of choosing one can make your head hurt. Each one offers a unique array of services. CreditDonkey.com considered several different factors in evaluating the best ones.

Roundup Methodology

Here are the main factors we considered in evaluating antivirus programs:

  1. Cost
  2. Features
  3. Ease of use

At first, the pricing scale of antivirus programs seems easy to understand. But keep in mind that software companies charge a licensing fee for a certain number of years, rather than a flat fee. Software packages also differ in the number of computers that they can be installed on.

Adding to the dilemma is the wide range of features each antivirus software has. Do you do business online? Look for identity theft protection and document destruction. Spend a lot of time on Facebook? Check out tools that flag harmful content on your Newsfeed. The more ways you use the Internet and the more web-savvy you are, the more features you'll likely want.

On the other hand, if you're a web novice or just don't spend much time online, you may want an easy-to-use package. With increased features come added confusion, and some programs are simply more intuitive than others. Antivirus software should make your life easier, not more complicated.

We rated each factor on a 1-5 scale to come up with our best-of list.

Best Antivirus for Web Experts: Norton AntiVirus

  • Price: $49.99 for one year and one computer, 3/5
  • Features: Huge collection of features, social media-specific protection, 5/5
  • Ease of use: Free 24/7 tech support helps you make sense of the software, 4/5
  • CreditDonkey score: 4/5

While it's the priciest of the big-three programs we considered, Norton AntiVirus proves that you get what you pay for. The software is a seven-time winner of PC Magazine's Editor's Choice Award. In addition to the standard array of anti-phishing and file-scanning tools, Norton features Norton Pulse, which updates the software with new information on known viruses every 5 to 15 minutes. Power users will appreciate that Pulse runs in the background without diminishing system performance. There's also the option of Safe Web for Facebook, which detects threatening links on your Facebook wall.

Why We Like It
Norton AntiVirus is packed with features that let users tackle specific problems. If you're a “spend more, get more” type, look no further.

The Downsides
Norton lacks a few features that its competitors offer, like ways to destroy sensitive documents. For the price point, that hurts a little.

Best Antivirus for Value: McAfee AntiVirus Plus

  • Price: $59.99 for one year to protect all your PCs, Macs, smartphones, and tablets, 4/5
  • Features: Basic and geared toward the average user, 3/5
  • Ease of Use: Understandable color codes for rating website risks, simple interface, 4/5
  • CreditDonkey score: 3.6/5

McAfee's offering to the antivirus market doesn't boast as many virus-busting tools as Norton's, but it ships with the standard suite of antivirus, spyware, malware, and Trojan detection technology, as well as a two-way firewall to safeguard your online communications. Some features that may appeal to a more casual user: network monitoring that lets you see who's been stealing your Wi-Fi and an integrated browser tool that marks safe, dodgy, or dangerous sites with green, yellow, and red icons. McAfee also includes Shredder, a tool that securely destroys sensitive files you no longer want. There's a reason why Laptop Magazine calls McAfee “one of the best names in antivirus software.”

Why We Like It
Powerful antivirus features and an intuitive browser tool make McAfee AntiVirus Plus a great all-in-one program for anyone who wants protection at a good price. We'd recommend it without reservation to users who want some serious bang for their buck.

The Downsides
The lack of advanced features can be limiting, and increasing your options requires you to spring for the pricier McAfee Total Protection.

Best Antivirus for Basic Use: Kaspersky Internet Security

  • Price: $79.99 for one year and three computers, 4/5
  • Features: Just the essentials, 2/5
  • Ease of Use: User-friendly interface, easy setup, minimal system drain, 5/5
  • CreditDonkey score: 3.6/5

Kaspersky's “extremely user-friendly interface and small footprint” make it “perfect for novices and advanced users alike,” according to Sarah Purewal of PC World. The touch-friendly user interface, which lets you install the program in just four clicks, explains potential security risks in layman's terms. What's more, the program is designed to minimally affect your computer's performance as it runs in the background.

Why We Like It
Kaspersky has worked hard to make its software easy to use, and it shows in its lean interface and no-fuss user controls. More experienced users can still make use of advanced options through the program's “top-level settings.” No matter your level of expertise, Kaspersky Internet Security is great for instant peace of mind on up to three computers.

The Downsides
While families and tech professionals will save money with the software's three-computer plan, single-computer users won't.

Other Options to Consider

We've covered the Big Three, but those with more niche interests might be drawn to some lesser-known programs.

Smartphone and tablet junkies will appreciate AVG Internet Security, which includes free, unlimited mobile protection and support in its standard package. A retail price of $54.99 makes this an intriguing choice for anyone who lives and dies by their iPhone.

Then again, you don't have to spend anything at all to get some protection. Microsoft Security Essentials delivers online security at no cost. The free software protects your computer from a variety of malware and is back-compatible with Windows XP and Vista as well as 7.

Editor's Note: Product analysis based on June 21, 2014 data. Prices and features may change. Please visit the software provider's website for the latest information, including pricing and promotions.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are those of the author's alone. Please support CreditDonkey on our mission to help you make savvy financial decisions. Our free online service is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content.

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