Free Anti-Virus Programs

Category: Security , Software

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?

The Rankin File

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 antivirus software

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 It also has a scanner that looks for outdated and potentially vulnerable software on your hard drive.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:

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...

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Most recent comments on "Free Anti-Virus Programs"

(See all 115 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

17 Mar 2014

I renewed my Avast security suite. I got called away and when I came back it had installed Google Chrome and tool bar. I do not use Chrome. I am fine with Internet Explorer. I went to log into my bank and it would switch to Google Chrome. Since I do not use Chrome I un-installed it. Internet Explorer would only go to my home page. I called support and they said they wanted to charge me to fix my computer. I said no. I did not get my money back either. I had read somewhere they have a outside oufit do support. They want to sell you computer repair.

Posted by:

07 Apr 2014

I paid for Avast in December 2013 after trying the free version and was satisfied. Then, after a hard drive crashed (not my boot drive), I tried re-installing Avast to find that my keyboard no longer worked. After a RESTORE FROM BACKUP, my keyboard worked again.
On their Avast User Forums, I discovered this keyboard driver thingie is a common problem with no obvious fix.
I asked for a refund. After waiting 4 weeks for any response from them, they told me I was beyond the 30-day guarantee period, so I was out of luck. NEVER AGAIN.

Posted by:

24 Apr 2014

Need to connect two monitors to allow independent viewing of specifications and such. Need advice on what devices are needed for this application? My laptop is a Dell using windows 7. Have purchased 'NETGEAR' and 'Kensington Display Link,' but have no idea their value or connection.

Posted by:

06 May 2014

Why is there no mention of Vipre in this discussion?
It is shown as #1 at this web site.

Posted by:

12 Jun 2014

This article needs updating. Spybot Search & Destroy and Super Anti-Spyware are both way past their heyday, and MalwareBytes is the still the best for spyware protection.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Which is pretty much just what I said, right? :-)

Here are the recent tests on A-V software:

EDITOR'S NOTE: That article doesn't mention MBAM or any other on-demand anti-malware tool. It''s focused on real-time anti-virus tools.

Posted by:

09 Aug 2014

My computers run on a mix of AVG, Panda and Avast, as something invariably goes wrong with one or the other at some stage (usually on an update!)and I find it necessary to change. I have to say that the one that has given me most grief on updates is Avast and it appears I'm not the only one to suffer BSOD, re-boots, etc. after an update from this company. Have it in a Win 7 machine at the moment and so far, so good. Other old machines still running XP seem to be OK on the other AV programs.

Posted by:

27 Dec 2014

You and other highly regarded techies have recommended Avast and I installed it and even PAID to upgrade. It does not work properly eg. does not recognize program updates; poor virus detection BUT most of all after providing a ticket for registering my complaints, they stopped communication and to date have not provided any answers or a refund. AVAST SUCKS!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by:

David Sparkman
19 Jan 2015

I too am beginning to get tired of Avast. It is a good program, and does the job, but it is getting annoying (paid version).
1. Once or twice a day it wants me to buy some new add-on.
2. I am a software developer and it claims that one of my programs might contain a virus so it is constantly removing it from my cloud backup. Telling the software that it is not dangerous has not helped now for more than 3 months. (The program in question makes a registery entry to direct my other software programs.)

Posted by:

Roger M
20 Jan 2015

Your Thoughts on EmiSoft

EDITOR'S NOTE: Of course it's discouraging. That's why diligence is so important, or a tool like Ninite.

Posted by:

18 Feb 2015

all right...followed you thru the obit(advanced care-less syst up to 8.1),got a major malware problem! Where were YOU PFCGeeks?!

So...PFCgeeks(formerly Majorgeeks) is a compensated "Fluffer" for the Porn of slanted misinformation for those, as my father or Grandfather who look to( "Experts )who Eff them over. Perhaps we will speak in person just to verify, and switch tales of our FOB shantys over know....Right???

EDITOR'S NOTE: I read this twice, and I can't figure out what you're trying to say.

Posted by:

02 Mar 2015

Hello, I to have had issues with some virus programs, malware, etc. programs. Some of them are good but, yes, they install junk and try to change your browsers. I found this program called Revo Uninstaller. It acts like your control panel showing all the installed programs, but it shows you the dates they were installed etc. It asks what kind of uninstall you want. I choose the last entry, which also includes stuff hanging after it uninstalled the program I didn't want and stuff in register. Just be careful to only delete the bold items in the register. It double checks. You can also right click on any line of your list of installs and it goes to google to see if it is (malware, junk etc.) then if you want to uninstall its up to you. Good program, I use it all the time when I think something installed without me knowing it. I usually go by the date and if it is real current, then I know it is the one to uninstall. Hope this helps somebody.

Posted by:

Chris Russell
11 Mar 2015

Free AVG 2015 I have says anti-rootkit is installed.

Posted by:

05 Apr 2015

I agree - Avast sucks is right!! I just had a problem with them on my renewal saying it wasnt renewed when it actually was and then I ended up paying until 2017 . Now I am trying to get a refund and cant even get through to them. I also think they try to convince one, one has some other malicious software ad ons so they can charge you extra when you ask them to activate your software.
I should have stayed with Norton - they have service and I think they actually keep jobs in the states.

Posted by:

06 Apr 2015

Bob, after many, MANY years of subscribing to your Internet Tourbus (probably from the beginning...) it is time for me to thank you. I always know where to go for an answer that I can trust. Don't know what I'd do without you.


Posted by:

ken Cooper
16 Apr 2015

Hi Bob thanks for the informative thoughts on anti spyware, I have avast and malwareBytes, but ran super anti spyware, to try it, and it came up with 253 additional issues

Posted by:

18 Apr 2015

A agree with those who have had good results with MSE. AVG and Avast, in my experience are resource hogs - and I have run both the paid and free versions. I'll never use a Norton product as they are too intrusive and also resource hogs. McAfee and CA products simply do not do perform well enough for me. In years of servicing computers for myself, friends and family and at work, I have never had a virus get past MSE. It doesn't stop PUPS, so for those I agree with Bob's recommendation of Malwarebytes.

Posted by:

08 May 2015

My experience with paid antivirus software.

When I first got into the PC compatible computers I used Norton as that is what my military unit used and it seemed to work well. When Desert Storm was finished a lot of computers were coming back with the "Stoned" virus and Norton did not identify it but McAfee did. We used a diskette copy that was able to find and eliminate it. I changed to McAfee. Later after a major update my computer started running real slow. It was McAfee. If it was turned off the computer ran rather good. A call to McAfee tech support was not fruitful. I changed back to Norton and have been with it for 10 years maybe. Moral? Keep looking for good software, try to keep up with the news on viruses, worm and Trojans and keep off the suspect websites.

Posted by:

12 May 2015

Best combination for me has been Microsoft Security Essentials and Malwarebytes Premium.

Haven't had a problem at all in any of my computers.

Posted by:

24 May 2015

I sell computers (assembled/branded) and by default I supply them with AVG (free), MBAM & Spyware S&D.

People must understand the difference between UPDATE & UPGRADE. If you press upgrade then you end up paying.

One more thing, while installing a new program, one must carefully check all the screens before clicking NEXT. Why? may software comes with Toolbars, Home & Search pages and different Add-on.

Finally, make it a point to run your scanners for your own safety.

Posted by:

Ivan White
27 Aug 2015

Concerning Antivirus, I believe at my age now I have tried at one time or another every antivirus there is in the world. and some of them are real doozies, with great promises and give you a lot of trouble.

One antivirus that I liked, did not slow the machines down, is and has been very under rated by many just because it does not snort, ring bells and light up like a Christmas tree and that is Bitdefender. I used Bitdefender free which is a very good antivirus and always has a very high rating and yet people think, that because it does not do what they think it should do it does nothing, Ohhh how foolish that is. Bitdefender is a good one for XP-8.1 windows, it is not ready yet for windows 10, now this is the free version I am talking about, but they told me it will be in time. Give it a try, just because it does not find anything (which is very good as you do not want it too) does not mean it is not working and I also never got a false positive with it either glad to say and I would have it right now but I am on windows 10 and as I said, it is not quite ready for it yet.....

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Free Anti-Virus Programs (Posted: 17 Sep 2011)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved