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4 things you need to know about antivirus apps


An antivirus app can help protect you against a variety of malicious computer activity that's generally referred to as "malware." A virus is a type of malware that can make copies of itself and transmit those copies to other devices, usually in a stealthy manner. If you are shopping for an antivirus app, there are several features to look for.

What to look for when shopping for antivirus software has a ton of antivirus programs you can take for a spin, but the sheer number can be daunting. Let's show you some ground rules to create a shortlist of winners.

  • ASC Ultimate Antivirus screenshot
  • Free vs. Paid
    The cost advantage of a free antivirus is hard to ignore, but it usually comes with a catch, like pop-up ads, giving the company your email address, and letting the company collect usage data. Malware detection and protection also may be more limited than paid products.
  • Scoring a discount
    The best paid antiviruses almost all generate income from annual subscriptions, rather than a one-time fee. Some like Malwarebytes give you a discount if you buy a 2-year subscription instead of a 1-year ($39.95 instead of $49.90). In other cases, you can often renew a subscription with an activation code purchased from Amazon or another online retailer for substantially less than the price on the antivirus publisher's website. And retail stores sometimes offer large mail-in rebates if you qualify for an upgrade to a new version of the antivirus app.
  • Notable features
    It can be handy to have a variety of tools under in your bag. For example, some antivirus programs bundle a password manager, helpful for creating and organizing strong passwords. They may also come with a mobile version and include app locking and call blocking. Antivirus programs like Bitdefender let you manage and monitor all protected devices from a single screen, which is useful for families.
  • License limitations
    Paid antiviruses usually have multiple versions to choose from. Sometimes the products are distinguished by features, and sometimes you are limited to a specific number of devices that a single license can be used on. The cheapest subscription tier may be limited to a single device. Which each tier, the cost per user gets cheaper. For example, they may ask $20 a year for a 1-device license, and $30 a year for a 3-device license. Meanwhile, others like McAfee have no device limits. Lastly, you may be able to download a mobile version from the iOS App Store or Google Play Store separately from a paid desktop version.

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Tom is the senior editor covering Windows at