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?


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 It also has a scanner that looks for outdated and potentially vulnerable software on your hard drive.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 107 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

26 Mar 2013

Hi Bob,

I've been using Comodo Internet Security for the past several months and have been impressed; for best results, however, the default installation requires tweaking to enable the full sandbox capabilities of the program. I'd been using Norton Internet Security for the past couple years; no problems, but just decided to see what was available in the freeware arena. I'm thinking of giving Emisoft's Anti-Malware (it's both anti-virus and anti-malware) a try. Have you or your readers had any experience with that one? Emisoft doesn't include a firewall, but the free version of ZoneAlarm has always served well in past usage.

Posted by:

14 Apr 2013

Generally good article but it definitely needs updating, especially since it is featured in your site menu.

Microsoft's antivirus is getting better and is only good for _casual_ users who don't do much and also don't know much. False positives are essentially zero but detection is still not very good (2013).

CA detection is sub par when compared to AVAST, AVIRA (formerly AntiVir), and AVG and has been for years.

For 2013 I prefer AVAST for its performance, features, and interface, then Avira, then AVG (no rootkit and other missing features) but all are good if supplemented.

BitDefender Free is hard to find on their site and is offered some years and not others. For 2013 it has very limited features (e.g., it just removes any malware it finds -- completely unacceptable to me) but great detection. It might serve for those who otherwise default to Microsoft or are given CA for free by their internet service provider.

McAfee has fallen down over the last few years. Norton has improved over the last few years.

A couple of the cloud scanners are decent (e.g., Panda) but they don't (or didn't) provide protection when disconnected from the web or if the connection to their server fails for any reason -- AND USERS ARE NOT WARNED, so appropriate for supplemental use only.

You should also mention several of the supplemental scanners available. I use BitDefender Quickscan online scanner for a quick (2 min) check of loaded processes, startup programs, etc. It reminds you to run it every few weeks.

OPSWAT has an interesting free metascanner that I like to use. The Metascan Client was updated in early 2013 to scan loaded processes (

The HitmanPro free trial doesn't expire as long as you don't try to use its removal tools nor register it. I use it every time I boot as a supplemental scanner but it definitely affects performance on older or lighter systems while it is running. It also supports full system scans.

Add periodic Malwarebytes (MBAM) and SuperAntiSpyware (SAS) scans to AVAST/AVIRA/AVG and one of the above tools and while you may get an infection, at least it will be found.

My non-tech-friend-recommendation for 2013 is AVAST (or AVIRA or AVG if already used/recommended by someone else) plus Hitman Pro and BitDefender Quickscan.

I also _always_ submit any downloaded files, attachments, and any file flagged by another tool to an online metascanner which uses 20 to 45 different antivirus engines:
a) now owned by Google and upgraded to support 64MB files (add VTUploader to submit files via the context menu; also integrates with Firefox downloader and probably soon with Chrome);
b) from OPSWAT with a 50 MB limit; or
c) (slower, fewer engines, smaller file limit; search for JottiQ tool to submit files via context menu)

Posted by:

Scott Kamlah
18 Apr 2013

I do a full scan with Avast once a week. My question is on the rare occasions it finds something is it better to delete it or move it to the chest? Or does it even matter? Thanks

Posted by:

Ed Boyd
29 Apr 2013

Re: free anti-virus program. There's a program that is available to all Comcast (Xfinity) subscribers free. It is called Norton™ Security Suite and it is almost identical to Norton 360. Comcast is bad about telling its' customers about this, so there are lots of Comcast subscribers that don't have it. Here's the url...

Posted by:

10 Oct 2013

I have used a paid subscription to Kaspersky for about three years now. It is always updated daily sometimes more often and I have had no issues since installing it. I recently was able to get a 3 year subscription for Kaspersky pure 3 which is multi computer combo suite for just $129 so I am happy. their customer service has also always been responsive.

I hate both AV and CA because they install components on your machine that do not come off with uninstall you need to go to a site and get a cleaner to get everything. CA also come under the name total defense and their is a new one called something armor or armor something they have recently set up. Tiger direct offers it and when you actually look at the software and all the components the CA link is buried in their.

Posted by:

25 Oct 2013

I'm not sure why you can't recommend MS Security Essentials. I've read other articles where a head-to-head test was done against most of the big players, and MS SE identified issues about 90+% of the time, whereas none of the others got above 70%. I wish I could remember where I saw the article, I'd link it. I would never again use anything from Symantec - it's cumbersome, slow, nearly impossible to remove. I've tried AVG, Kaspersky, Avast, CA, Panda, cAfee and Zone Alarm to name a few. I used to build custom high-end PC's, and have not found anything that can surpass MS Se, whether free or paid.

Posted by:

Des M
28 Oct 2013

Been going crazy for three weeks with Internet Explorer and Google VERY VERY slow loading of pages. After much searching with problem still unresolved I uninstalled a 'new' program - Avista AV. Eureka!! All my problems disappeared at the same time. Now to give Avira a go.

Posted by:

Dwight Topolinsky
25 Dec 2013

Just today downloaded the FREE AVG. One word - JUNK!! It was so bad I uninstalled it which took forever as well. The program slowed my PC down to less-than-a-crawl. Useless piece of software. I would NEVER recommend this product. It was TERRIBLE!

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.

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Free Anti-Virus Programs (Posted: 17 Sep 2011)
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