The top performers in our review are Norton Security with Backup, the Gold Award winner; Bitdefender Total Security Multi-Device, the Silver Award winner; and Kaspersky Internet Security, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 products.
All-in-one internet security products protect multiple devices with various operating systems from a single license. You pay less than if you bought a separate license for each device, and you have just one subscription-renewal date. The convenience of a single license encourages you to protect all of your devices including your mobile devices. Furthermore you can manage all of your devices from a single online portal, which means you can add or remove devices under protection without much effort.
Our computer protection software reviews include products that protect at least three computers or mobile devices running different operating systems. If you have consolidated on a single operating system, we refer you to our Best Antivirus Software for Windows Review or our Mac Antivirus Review. We also invite you to read more articles about computer protection.
We share our evaluation process with you here in case it helps you to research computer security software. We maintain that malware detection rates and performance results verified and published by independent test labs are the most important selection criteria. Unless a product detects and eliminates threats without bogging down your computer or mobile device, extra features are irrelevant. However, once a product proves its ability to prevent or remove malware without system slowdown, then the next basis for product differentiation becomes the extra features.
For all-in-one internet security products, it's important to consider test results for each of the operating system modules that pertain to your situation. For example AV-Test – a respected software test lab – periodically publishes results from testing internet security software on Windows and Mac computers as well as Android devices. Let’s review the various test methodologies according to operating system along with the range of possible platform-specific features.
The Windows test results from February 2015 contain two protection tests: One measured detection of widespread malware using more than 12,000 samples; the other measured detection of brand new malware with more than 200 samples. The industry scored 99 percent. By way of contrast, the security component built into Windows 8, Windows Defender, eked out a 74 percent detection rate. Our Gold, Silver and Bronze Award winners all achieved 100 percent malware detection rates in tests conducted by AV-Test in January and February of 2015.
The lab also checked to see if the products bogged down system performance while visiting websites, copying files or downloading software. The industry average performance hit was three seconds. Windows Defender slowed systems by five seconds.
In addition, AV-Test looked at how accurately each product distinguished between malignant and benign files to establish the rate of false positives. Out of more than half-a-million samples the industry average was six false detections. In this test, Defender beat the industry average. But of course Defender’s better-than-average false-positive results do not begin to make up for its below-average malware detection rates.
The Mac OS X tests from April 2015 measured how well internet security software products were able to detect Mac OS X malware, whether or not the process produced any false positives and the extent to which the security software slowed performance on host systems. Our Gold, Silver and Bronze Award winners each turned in perfect Mac malware detection scores in tests conducted by AV-Test in March 2015.
The Android tests from March 2015 subjected Android internet security product components to more than 3,000 malicious apps to measure detection rates. The tests also checked usability as defined by effect on battery life, speed and traffic generation. A couple of the Android tests also measured whether the products issued false warnings while installing or using perfectly legitimate apps from the Google Play Store and from third-party app stores. Our Gold, Silver and Bronze Award winners detected 100 percent of malicious Android apps in tests conducted by AV-Test in March of 2015.
Six out of the 10 products in our review include some limited iOS features. Because of the rigorous Apple Store vetting process for iOS apps, iPhones and iPads are almost completely secure against malicious apps. And iPhones have antitheft features built in. Therefore the multiplatform security software publishers focus on augmenting iOS with antiphishing, parental controls and password managers. See details in our side-by-side comparison.
In addition to test results, we consider feature sets and put them through their paces. The feature sets vary according to operating system. The most complete feature sets are in the Windows components of multiplatform computer protection software. Antiphishing is now just as important as antimalware. Fortunately all of the products include it in their Windows components. Furthermore most of the products we reviewed can detect threats that attempt to infiltrate via email and instant message. All of the products that we reviewed can automatically check for threats to Windows that try to move in when you attach removable storage such as a USB thumb drive.
The Macintosh component feature lists are usually not as extensive as the Windows component. Most of the products in our review support antiphishing on Mac machines. It is not by coincidence that the three products at the bottom of our ranking do not protect Macs from malicious websites. Relatively few include parental controls, backup utilities and encryption.
The sorts of features you might expect to find in the Android component of the products we reviewed include antitheft features, call blocking and message filtering. Many of the products also protect you from malicious websites. Some of them include parental controls and backup utilities. Most of the products we reviewed have an application advisor that warns you if an app demands permissions that might threaten your privacy.
One of the most important functions to consider with computer protection software that supports multiple operating systems is how well you can manage preferences and subscriptions from a single console. In our experience with these products, all of them provide excellent centralized account management and access to theft-control features. All of them provide a great user experience in this regard. However the ones that stand out and deserve the slightly better ease-of-use scores go a step further to include some ability to perform scans on various device installations from a central console so that you are not limited to performing the actions from a specific device.
The convenience of multiplatform computer protection software is becoming apparent as many of us acquire more and more computing devices. Furthermore we are entrusting ever-younger children in our families with computing devices. And older children are bringing the Windows vs. Mac and Android vs. iOS debates into the home, which means that households wind up with lots of different devices to protect. Which of the winning products is right for you depends on your situation. Among our Gold, Silver and Bronze Award winners, each one is missing features that you might require, so examine our side-by-side comparison. You'll find that when you consider multiplatform security essentials, they all achieve excellence and lack for nothing. Whether on Windows, Mac or Android, they scan malware effectively, tread lightly on system resources, demonstrate accuracy in discerning safe files from infected ones and protect you from malicious websites. Also, the publishers respond to support requests with live operators 18 to 24 hours per day.
So they each excel in what matters and you might not require your security software to bundle features that you have already taken care of with alternative applications and utilities. For example Bitdefender provides 2GB of online backup whereas Norton provides 25GB. Is bundled backup important to you? Kaspersky doesn’t offer backup at all. Bitdefender has chosen not to include a password manager with its multiplatform security product. Norton and Kaspersky include the feature on Windows, Mac, Android and iOS. All three include parental controls on Windows. Only Kaspersky extends parental controls to Mac. But Kaspersky excludes them from Android and iOS. Norton includes parental controls on Windows, Android and iOS but not on Macintosh. Our recommendation is that you isolate your short list to Bitdefender, Norton and Kaspersky and compare them closely so that you can render a final verdict that meets the requirements of your household.