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...

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 64 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Col Burns
27 Dec 2016

For years l experimented with different free products from only reputable sources.
Bear in mind l only stumbled onto 'Ask Bob Rankin' site last week.
After researching to see if this site is as good as its words, up until thorough investigation l finally gave this site the thumbs up.
Bob Rankin is identical to my thinking and research when it comes down to keeping a PC safe.
I installed the free-version Comodo Internet Security and its firewall along with CCleaner (free) and Malwarebytes Anti-malware (free) a year ago and these worked great ever since so far. Why get paid products when free products like these does the job as good as those?

Posted by:

Justin M
05 Jan 2017

Hello, I just stumbled across this site after hearing about ScanGuard which was free AV all-in-one and it was free up until litterally today. I use Ubunto 16.04 and I'm unsure wether or not I should use that while its free(I'm downloading to my thumb drive and will or may possibly install on my laptop once I see some replies to this).
My question is actually, are there any free AV and or scanners or something that is best or most suitable for Ubunto 16.04? I am learning HTML, CSS, and much more while my kids are in school I'm single dad and need to make sure I am safe online so I can learn too.
Any and all advice is much appreciated!
Thank you very much, I love the site Bob and am adding to favourites/bookmarks now. :)

Posted by:

Nick Els
14 Jan 2017

Hi Bob. What is your take on Sophos?

Posted by:

01 Apr 2017

With regard to using several selected antivirus programs simultaneously as long as they do not interfere with each other. And at least several meet this criterion. Not all AV programs have real-time capabilities, which I feel is also critically important. I would like to combine several on my computer but I do know which is which. Do you of any source that has some kind of listing that shows which programs are and are not compatible with each other, and also, which free programs have real-time capabilities and which do not. I this would be extremely helpful for most computer users.

I have been subscribing to your newsletter for several years now and found it to be invaluable.

Thank you.

AV programs have

Posted by:

Robert Wallis
06 Apr 2017

I didn't read all the comments but hope someone mentioned how painful it is to "uninstall" some of the free programs...if ever you should decide to.

Posted by:

13 Apr 2017

As always, great stuff, Bob! I use BitDefender (paid version). But I also use a really neat app called VoodooShield. Check it out.

Posted by:

26 Apr 2017

I have been using Norton 360 (paid) for the last several years.
I prefer USA software vs Eastern European, Russian, Chinese, Third World dictatorships etc; no good reason, thats just me. Remember a while back, Kaspersky was hacked big time.
Have had absolutly no problems since using 360. No virus, malware etc infections. Sometimes, just for the hell of it, run a anti-malware program. Every now & then run PC Pitstop test, doing that for many years, tells me alot thats wrong.

Posted by:

Ron Graham
16 May 2017

Just one piece of advice when having issues after installing any of these programs. Create a SYSTEM RESTORE POINT before installing the software.

HOW? Windows 7 - Start -> Search for "create a restore point". Select Create button under System Properties

HOW? Windows 10 - Task Bar->Ask me anything" Search for "create a restore point".

Have a great day - Ron (Debug) from Ontario Canada

Posted by:

Lou Damelin
27 May 2017

I installed Avast on an old computer with a P4 and 2 gig of ram. It takes a lot of resources to run Avast. It practically bricked my computer.

Uninstalling was very difficult. I needed additional software to uninstall parts of it; and had to uninstall the rest manually. Windows could not do it.

Panda AV updates in the Internet. It runs very fast on an old computer and does not take up a lot of resources. That is my recommendation.

Posted by:

23 Jun 2017

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,
Not true after 14days free use protection is stopped.
Thanks for my first good read Jim

Posted by:

06 Jul 2017

was useful to read! Great thanks for the info. I use Avast and I'm completely agree that it's pretty good free antivirus.

Posted by:

Anne K.
14 Jul 2017

People ask "Why pay for AV and such software, when the free versions work so well?" My answer: Besides the enhanced support and features of the paid versions, I am happy to reward the efforts of programmers and software engineers whose products help keep me safe. As long as I am blessed to be able to do so without breaking my bank, good work that serves me well deserves to be supported.

Posted by:

Johan B.
11 Aug 2017

Karspersky has a free antivirus too.

Posted by:

23 Aug 2017

I used to use AVG, and was happy with it, but recently bought a new PC laptop, and the AVG Free that I installed absolutely bombarded my screen with pop-up notices to "Upgrade to the paid version" at least 4 times an hour. Uninstalled same. I'm listening now to advice from the bigshots on TV about Kaspersky and other non-US based antivirus apps. I currently use Panda Free Anti-Virus, and I use Malwarebytes Free Version on demand every few days. I also use Advanced System Care daily, and I almost never have a problem with invasions or hijackings! Hope this helps.

Posted by:

19 Sep 2017

I am using PC Matic. You see their ads on TV all the time promoting their 100% USA product. Will you cover their product in future articles. I have not had any problems with them. I left Norton. Now there is news about Karspersky being linked to the Russians in a not-so-good way.

Posted by:

Sophia Callas
28 Sep 2017

I am using Escan Antivirus.it's good antivirus. if you want more information about escan antivirus support contact us USA 1-800-294-5907 Canada 1-844-573-0859 UK 0-808-189-0272 AUS 1-300-326-128.

Posted by:

15 Dec 2017

I've seen Windows Defender actually do its job in Win 10. Nice to see. It has found & removed some junk lately.

I've used many free AV over past 30+ years. My recommendations would change almost yearly so won't share the blow by blow but this year I like AVAST especially for old PCs. However, I go through its settings with a fine tooth comb and turn off the myriad wasteful pieces especially ones for 'cleaning' my computer.

I work on other people's computers too. I find that behavior is the number one key. One person can do what they do with no AV at all and be fine. Another could have the best AV in the world and get their computer so locked up it's almost funny. I tell people every day what to watch out for. Coincidentally the same ones will barely get home and be calling saying they've been 'hacked.' I know it's not cool to mention people's shortcomings and actually, if you're reading articles here, you're not likely one of the ones getting 'hacked' every day. Kudos to you. Let's keep trying to educate. The ones that do make me sad are the elderly getting taken advantage of through social engineering.

Also, I have a huge beef with places that think it's ok to let anyone advertise on their site. There's a well-known site I'm thinking of where they discuss getting rid of certain adware junk things like 'Driver Update' and the 'Slimware' ilk that shouldn't sleep at night IMHO, and what is advertised on that very site, the junk they tell not to install and how to remove it. I suppose it keeps them busy but... I've written to them but never get a response.

Ok, I'll quit. Prob slightly off topic.

Paid AV. It has it's place. Unfortunately too many of them take tremendous resources ( CPU RAM ) to run them so some old machines need free maybe. It's like having a very good seatbelt and roll bars. Can help but if you purposely drive off a bridge, please don't expect them to save you.

Oh, to the Ubuntu question. It's complicated to answer but I don't use AV on my Linux based OS. I believe free Clam AV is still available. I encourage you to keep using Ubuntu and frequent their forums and try some things in command line interface. If you wish to learn, personally, I think it's the way to go. Yes, Windows owns the market but they also love to play The Wizard of Oz acting like they should control what people do and see in their OS monstrosity. IMHO of course. :-)

Peace. Thanks for your good lessons here. I do learn.

Posted by:

11 Jan 2018

I've never paid for AV - I've used Zone Alarm Free for as long as I can remember.

Posted by:

27 Jan 2018

Thanks for the link to the AV Comparatives Report Bob. It was very informative and interesting. I used to run Kaspersky but have been using AGV for a few years now and it was good to see how well they both do when tested. Cheers

Posted by:

09 Feb 2018

Bob I have enjoyed reading for years, thanks. Why will you not post anything about PCMatic? I have been using it for years also. Can not find anybody newsletter that will mention them?? You have another reader asking about it in this posting.. Can you give your very valuable opinion about PCMatic in the future? I know it is a paid AV+, but how does it compare?

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