UPDATE: Free Antivirus Programs

Category: Anti-Virus

Readers often ask for my recommendations on antivirus protection. A common question goes something like this: “I got a trial version of Norton (or McAfee) antivirus with my computer, but the subscription expires in a few days. Should I pay, or switch to one of the free anti-virus programs? What do you recommend?” Read on for my updated list of the top FREE antivirus tools, and some tips on choosing free versus paid...

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 popping up 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. Many of them are even free!

Here's a rundown of the most popular free anti-virus packages. I'll also share my take on free versus paid anti-virus software. Find out which option is right for you.

free antivirus software

Free Anti-Virus Programs

AVG Free - is one of the most often recommended freeware anti-virus packages. It blocks viruses, spyware, rootkits, and other malware; scans Web, Facebook, and Twitter links for links to dangerous sites; and warns you of malicious email attachments. Works on PCs, Macs, and Android mobile devices. AVG's Community Protection Network combines information about emerging threats from millions of AVG users, and provides automatic updates.

AVG Internet Security (free trial, $55/year) adds "Online Shield" to screen your downloads; file encryption; updates every 2 hours; has anti-spam and enhanced firewall; and free support. A 30-day free trial is followed by a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Avast! - another highly recommended anti-virus program with a rich feature set, and ease of use. Avast! claims it’s #1, with 230 million users worldwide. It is updated regularly. The Avast Free Anti-virus protects against viruses, spyware, rootkits, and even zero-day attacks that no one’s heard of yet. Its Home Network Security scans your network for weaknesses that could admit malware or hackers. It includes a Browser Cleanup feature that can eliminate stubborn adware toolbars and other unwanted add-ons. Protection is offered for PCs, Macs, and Android mobile devices.

Avast Internet Security ($40/year) adds a firewall, anti-spam, anti-hijacking, and extra protection for login credentials. Avast Premier ($50) adds automatic patching of security holes in your system and file-shredding to prevent recovery of sensitive data. Both come with 30-day free trial periods.

Avira Anti-Vir - claims over 200 million users worldwide. Avira Free Anti-virus gets good reviews for basic anti-malware protection. Free browser extensions protect against phishing and rogue sites. Avira's Protection Cloud serves as an "early warning system," analyzing unknown files encountered by other Avira users, to protect against zero-day threats in real time. Versions are available for PCs, Macs, Android and iOS mobile devices.

Three personal paid versions add additional features, including system optimization and automatic driver updates. ($45 to $80 per year).

Microsoft Security Essentials, (also known as Microsoft Windows Defender on Windows 8 and 10), is free and (cough) worth every penny. The last time I looked at Defender’s test results, they were still at the bottom of every independent testing labs’ lists. See my article Has Microsoft Security Essentials Improved? for details on why I cannot recommend this software.

BitDefender - is yet another highly rated freeware anti-virus tool; it even beat AVG, Avast, and Avira in PC Magazine’s 2014 tests. It scans your drives and memory for viruses only during idle periods to avoid slowing you down. Additionally, it has a real-time shield to stop malware before it infects your machine; zero-day protection against unknown threats; intrusion detection; behavioral analysis to detect when apps are doing things they shouldn’t; link scanning to warn of dangerous sites before you fetch them; and anti-rootkit technology. The free edition is licensed for one PC.

The Family Edition secures up to 3 Windows, Android, or Mac machines for $60/year. The Total Security Multi-Device package covers 5 devices for $100/year.

Comodo AntiVirus uses a blacklist of files to block known malware; a whitelist of known safe files to avoid blocking your legitimate apps; and behavioral analysis to “arrest” apps that are acting suspiciously. Any file not on the whitelist will only be allowed to run in a memory “sandbox” where it cannot alter your hard drive or other resources. Add intrusion detection and cloud-based threat intelligence, and you get very formidable defenses for free.

Comodo Internet Security Pro ($40) covers 3 devices with a $500 “virus free guarantee.” Comodo Internet Security Complete ($90) adds a firewall, 10 GB of TrustConnect encrypted proxy service, and 50 GB of online storage.

A Second Layer of Defenses

Free anti-virus programs used to be one-trick ponies; they addressed only unambiguously harmful things like viruses, trojans, and rootkits. Mere “annoyances” like spyware or adware were ignored, so additional software was needed to address those threats. The ever-escalating features war has made free anti-virus programs more comprehensive.

I still recommend secondary tools such as MalwareBytes Anti-Malware (MBAM) and AdwCleaner for an occasional peace-of-mind scan, and as last-resort malware killers when other software can’t detect or eradicate what’s bugging your system. The free version of MBAM protects against malware and spyware, screens web links to help you avoid dangerous sites, and has some of the highest ratings for rooting out stubborn rootkits. AdwCleaner specializes in rooting out rootkits, toolbars, and browser hijackers. It can find and remove traces of malware that sometimes "resurrect" rogue software after restarting your computer.

What You Should Know About Anti-Virus Software

I strongly recommend that you also read these two articles to understand more about malware protection and firewalls. The first will tell you about the free programs I personally use 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 “plus” 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.

That's why I recommend that you pick ONE of the real-time protection tools listed above, and optionally supplement with an on-demand scanner like MBAM or AdwCleaner.

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 pirated software), 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.

On the other hand, many of the "premium" features offered in the paid products are included in your web browser, or can be found as free addons to the free versions. For example, malicious link detection is standard in most browsers. Anti-spam is built into webmail services. Free encryption tools are available, but this isn't something most home users care about. And free tools are available to detect and update out-of-date software.

You should 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, and may protect you from legal liability. Here are some commercial anti-virus packages, all of which are rated "Advanced+" in the latest AV Comparatives report, which is an independent, unbiased testing group.

In summary, don't take your Internet security lightly. You really DO need good anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall protection. It's my opinion that most users will do just fine with one of the freebies I've mentioned at the beginning of this article. But if you (or others using your computer) fall into one of the higher risk categories mentioned above, a paid security software suite may better suit your needs.

What's YOUR internet security strategy? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "UPDATE: Free Antivirus Programs"

(See all 38 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Carol K.
03 Sep 2015

I installed Avast free software. Bitdefender was not quite ready for Windows 10, or I would have tried that. My problem is that Avast recommended I uninstall Windows Defender, which I would have been glad to do. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be an option for me. And when you go to its settings, you can't even change them to Off. It's all grayed out. What to do?

Posted by:

03 Sep 2015

Microsoft MSE and Pc Matic - end of story and no drama EVER!

Posted by:

03 Sep 2015

Have been seeing a lot of ads for PCMatic.com. Any comments from you or other users?

Posted by:

03 Sep 2015

I chose Webroot (paid) three years ago after Bob called it the "smallest, fastest and best" antivirus program. I got tired of some of the large, slow packages. Like Steve, I still use it because of its good protection. I have no plans to switch any time soon.

Posted by:

03 Sep 2015

Bob, as you know, I have been a fan of Avast!, for about the past decade. I have used Avast!, both the FREE and Paid versions.

While, I am very pleased with the overall Avast! program -- I am getting tired of their pushing other programs, that are not included in my Paid version. Example: Avast!'s Secureline VPN and Clean-Up, which, both are added costs. Yes, these two programs are included in their Premium version, but, I have their Internet Security version. I wonder why, neither of these programs are included with the Internet Security version. Safe Zone comes with my Paid version and allows me to go safely and securely, to my financial institutes and well known shopping sites, that I purchase from.

I have been considering to try the FREE version of Bitdefender. I have been impressed with their results in independent anti-virus results, that you Bob have published yourself. I have also, read about these results, in other reliable newsletters and online computer magazines.

I found Avast!, by simply trying the FREE version, all those many years ago. I left AVG, for Avast! -- Many it is time, to look for a new Anti-Virus program and Bitdefender, really intriques me.

Posted by:

Ryan James
05 Sep 2015

Just had a really horrible computer mess. Went to start the comp in the morning and it got stuck at the bios routine. Was able to start the comp from a USB clone of drive c: which took 10 minutes to boot Windows.
Turns out it was a worst case scenario of a worst case scenario.
1.The primary hard drive, the WD 500GB, was failing intermittently
2.There was a conflict where I installed the most recent Catalyst Control Center with Avast AV program running. Avast is aware of this issue and has posted an obscure bulletin regarding it.
3.There was a conflict between the latest Win7 update and Avast
4.There were numerous instances of corrupt data which were a combination of 1, 2, and or 3.
5.My back ups were corrupted by corrupt system files
6.The hard drive gave the BIOS misleading information which compounded various problems.
7.The restored corrupt back up acted more or less like a virus moving corruption to my new hard drive.
8.Win7 itself was damaged when I attempted to repair the drive, further corrupting the new drives data.
9.The newest Catalyst Control Center appears to be incompatible with my graphics card. When I reverted to the older driver with the newer control center this compounded the problem.

All of the above was gleaned by starting Win step by step and where it balked I made a note of what program it stuck at and researched it. Oddly, the old HD still works and several disk checking programs find no problem with it. It has to be hot, Windows multitasking, and the graphics card working overtime, then it writes erroneous files to the disk.

Anyway, watch out for the Avast-Win7 and Avast-Catalyst Control Center conflicts. Lots of info on the net about it.

Posted by:

13 Sep 2015

Bitdefender Free! It outperforms other AVs. Highly rated and inobtrusive. Tou dont even know its there. I dont need all the bells & whistles that some of these others like Avast have!

Posted by:

Ivan White
25 Sep 2015

Please to keep in mind, after hearing from Bitdefender and some other people, it is not yet ready for windows 10 and does not function correctly (according to them in scanning), this is the free version I am speaking of, I am told by them they do plan to update it but gave no date...

Posted by:

John Reeder
09 Nov 2015

You don't mention Kaspersky (free). I installed it several years ago upon the recommendation of your friend Leo (Ask Leo). It seems to do the job although I upgraded to a paid version.

Posted by:

Don Brohm
20 Nov 2015

Just removed Avast free and went back to MS Security Essentials on windows 7. The NAGS from Avast just became too much. Yes, I do realize MSSE is not very highly rated.

Posted by:

31 Dec 2015

I have used all of the recommended free programs over the years and have settled with Panda for my desktops and laptop. It uses very little resources, is fast, and keeps up-to-date.

Posted by:

Mr Beans
15 Jan 2016

Bob Rankin! Just wanted you to know how much I have appreciated your advice over the years. I have no computer background but have had to use computers since the early days and I appreciate the way your advice is given so someone still with one foot in the 20th Century can understand.

Thanks again! You rock!

Posted by:

15 Jan 2016

Hello everyone:

This is the system I have set-up:

I run Malwarebyte's full time. I run Super AntiSpyware on schedule for three times a week, then Hitman Pro runs only on start-up.

My computer has been clean for the last year or two. Each program has caught something.

I go to only three places: mail, Amazon and Barnes and Noble for a few books.

Thanks for your time.

Posted by:

19 Jan 2016

I recently uninstalled Avast because it apparently was responsible for a Windows 10 issue that locked up the Start menu & Cortana. When I Googled the problem, I found a lot of highly-technical back-and-forth that was way above me, but the understandable advice was: Uninstall Avast. That worked for me. (I agree with Don Brohm that the nags were excessive - I sure won't miss them!)

Posted by:

Luis Robles
13 Feb 2016

Hi there thanks for your wonderful posts like this i have been going trough all of your recommendations of antiviruses so far I have tried Kaspersky, Mcfee (came with the PC) and now currently trying bitdefender trial, which is okay, ill try esod next just wanted to point out that the link is wrong it starts with ww2 when you click on it. Thanks Bob.

Posted by:

17 Mar 2016

One caution I would give readers is to take care din downloading 'Free Version' software from the source vendor's website. Many download sites mimic the source site, alongside "free download" services. Each of these derives their income by including adware of various kinds in the download bundle. The more honest sites give you a means to opt out, but that is not always clear to see and many users just do not pay attention to it. If you have had problems after downloading free software, this is the most likely cause.

Posted by:

08 Apr 2016

Bob, I read your newsletters religiously. I see you are on PCPitstop as a contributor. I wonder why I have never seen you suggest them. I have been with then actually longer than you and trust both of you very much. How do they compare to you other antiviruses?

Posted by:

09 Apr 2016

I use AVG Free,IO Malware Fighter, C Cleaner and have no complaints.AVG keeps nagging to upgrade but since it is free I guess it has a right to that.
My biggest line of defense though is not to leave anything personal on the computer. Before I switch off, everything is cleared from my computer, cookies, cache, everything.Also check Document and Setting, especially 'Local Settings', for some reason non of the cleaner programs seem to find them in there. They tell you that you need cookies to give you a better experience online, load of BS, I have allowed cookies to stay in the past and there is no difference without them. What they do do is to retain your personal details so you don't have to keep re-entering them. I'll re-enter them, small price to pay for security. I know in an ideal world you should be able to leave anything on your computer but it is not an ideal world. Even Cloud has been hacked. If you must keep your personal details handy, put them on a USB flash drive and only insert it when needed, all other times remove it.

Posted by:

Cliff Stewart
05 May 2016

I was hit with a virus onApr. 30th (Hacked)it was taken out over a 2 day period @ a cost of $430.00 by Global Mind It.I think they put the Virus in and took it out and it never existed in the 1st place.I changed my bank info(which they had,I stopped payment)and have been getting nasty phone calls,live chat etc.threatening with attorney,messing up my computer etc.I think(according to Canada Anti Fraud )that I,m safe now as these people have been under in vestigation for quite some time.Is there anything else I should do??

Posted by:

Carlos Jean Andrews, Sr
21 May 2016

I have been using PC Matic for a few years and it keeps my wife's Laptop, my Lap Top and my Computer in top shape. Our problem is the DSL with ATT. We live in the country and are a couple of miles from the main connection so we have the slowest speed which cost around $40.00 a month. With PC Matic you can install it on 5 computers at $50.00 a year. To me that is a good deal!

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