Free Anti-Virus Programs
I've been using the free Norton antivirus package that came with my computer, but the subscription will expire in a few days. Are the free anti-virus programs any good? What do you recommend?
Protect Your Computer With Free Anti-Virus Software
Your computer is running slow... your high-speed internet connection feels like dial up, and popups are everywhere. What's wrong? It could be a computer virus, or perhaps a bunch of viruses, infecting your hard drive. Viruses not only take up valuable memory and slow down your computer, they can also expose your personal information to Evil Hackers.
The good news is, there are plenty of anti-virus programs that can clean up the mess and keep you safe going forward. Some of them are even free!
Here's a rundown of the most popular free anti-virus packages. I'll also share my take on on free versus paid anti-virus software. Find out which option is right for you.
Free Anti-Virus Programs
- AVG - is one of the most often recommend freeware anti-virus packages. While Grisoft offers a paid version, there is a freeware version of the virus protection on the website. It only offers anti-virus and anti-spyware protection (no anti-spam, anti-rootkit or firewall) but provides very effective protection from the most common threats. The Pro version has Web Shield to screen your downloads, rootkit protection, and free support.
- Avast! - another freebie anti-virus program with a rich feature set, and ease of use. Avast! claims 200 million users worldwide. It is updated regularly, also highly recommended. The Free Home Edition includes anti-spyware, anti-rootkit and malicious website detection. It also has a scanner that looks for outdated and potentially vulnerable software on your hard drive. (See Why I Switched from AVG to Avast Antivirus)
- Avira Anti-Vir - claims over 30 million users worldwide, and the free Personal Edition gets good reviews. There is a paid version with anti-spyware and firewall protection as well.
- BitDefender - is another highly rated freeware anti-virus tool. Like the others, it offers just basic anti-virus protection, and I recommended that you add anti-spyware protection as well.
- Comodo AntiVirus uses a unique approach to detecting and defending against viruses. Comodo claims their Default Deny Protection and Auto Sandbox Technology will completely prevent infections. Comodo also eliminates the guesswork regarding blocking or allowing untrusted software, an issue that trips up many users.
- Microsoft Security Essentials is a free security tool from Microsoft, released in October 2009. It's meant to provide protection not just from viruses, but also spyware, rootkits, and trojans as well. But based on very poor performance on independent lab tests, I cannot recommend this product. (See Microsoft Security Essentials: EPIC FAIL)
Sure, there are other free anti-virus programs I could have listed, but these are the most popular and provide excellent protection, according to my research. And since I noted that most of the programs above do not include spyware protection, let me mention that I recommend the free MalwareBytes Anti-Malware tool. MBAM protects you from spyware and security threats that are sometimes missed by other anti-malware tools. The free version works great, but lacks the real-time protection feature found in the paid version.
Some people swear by Spybot Search & Destroy, Super Anti-Spyware or some other anti-spyware utility. These are very good free anti-spyware programs as well, but in my experience MBAM has done the job for me every time when a spyware "search and destroy" mission was called for.
What You Should Know About Anti-Virus Software
Look for virus protection that comes with frequent, automatic updates and covers all viruses, not just the major threats. If you aren't getting regular updates, at least once every two weeks, you should consider another program. New viruses are created every day, so you need constant, up-to-date protection.
You should also not rely on a single anti-malware program if you are going to rely on the freeware solutions. Standalone anti-virus programs are not a replacement for a firewall or anti-spyware protection. You need all three, and my recommendation is that you use a separate program for each task. I strongly recommend that you also read these two articles to understand more about malware protection and firewalls. The first will tell you my recommendations for the FOUR free programs you need to stay safe online, and the second will demystify the subject of firewalls.
I do have one caution about using anti-virus and anti-virus packages. Some people assume that because the software is free, then more is better. I've gotten reports from people who are using TEN or TWELVE "anti" programs at the same time. The truth is that anti-virus programs like to be left alone, or they can end up in a "death spiral", each thinking that the other is trying to do something bad. Multiple anti-virus programs can interfere with each other, causing system slowdowns or lockups. And running multiple anti-spyware tools at once can have the same result. That's why I recommend that you pick ONE of each.
Paid Versus Free Anti-Virus
Do you really need paid anti-virus software? That depends on you. If you or others in your household are prone to visit the dark corners of the Internet (peer-to-peer music/movie downloads, adult sites or warez), or if you have children that will click and download almost ANYTHING, then you will probably want the best protection possible. Generally, the commercial anti-virus packages with monthly subscriptions offer very high levels of protection, fast updates when new viruses are found, and good customer support. You should also consider a paid anti-virus package if you run a business, or if you have sensitive information on your computer. It's a small price to pay to ensure that your data is secure. Here are some highly rated commercial anti-virus packages:
- NOD32 Anti-Virus
- Avast! Professional
- F-Secure Internet Security
- McAfee VirusScan
- Symantec Norton Anti-Virus
All of these are rated "Advanced" in the latest AV Comparatives report, which is an independent, unbiased testing group. You might also want to read some anti-virus software reviews from PC World. Oh, and if you're wondering why I listed Norton last in that bunch, then good for you. I've had bad experiences with Norton software myself, and have gotten many first-hand reports from others who've had trouble with it. I'm sure it's a good product, but perhaps it just tries too hard. Norton security products are bloated with so many features and options that they really slow some systems down. And they put their dirty little hooks so far into your system that if you ever want to uninstall it, good luck. If you're happy with your Norton security product, then I'm happy for you. But I won't touch or recommend them.
In summary, don't take your Internet security lightly. You really DO need good anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall protection. Oh, and there are two other programs I recommend for your anti-malware arsenal. Be sure to read Free Internet Protection Software to see what they are...
Posted by Bob Rankin on 17 Sep 2011
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Free Anti-Virus Programs (Posted: 17 Sep 2011)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved