From browser hijacking to botnets, cybercrime is rampant. To combat it, you need a secure antivirus, which usually comes with a hefty price tag. That’s why we’ve put together a guide to the best free antivirus software on the market.
There’s merit to upgrading, including features and a more sophisticated security infrastructure, but, for this guide, we’re focusing on the five best options you can get for the low price of free. We’re going to talk about everything from features to protection and give you the pros and cons of each option.
Evaluating free antivirus software is different, though. Features that are commonplace for paid software aren’t expected and insistent solicitations to upgrade is unwelcome. Before getting into our list, we’re going to define how we made our choices and give you some thoughts on upgrading to paid counterparts.
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Choosing the Best Free Antivirus Software
There are many free antivirus options, but not all of them will make our list. That’s not a matter of list size or overall quality, but of function. Some antiviruses, such as Malwarebytes, don’t protect from threats in real-time. They’re used solely to remove malware already on your machine.
Those options are left out of this list. Our first criterion is that an antivirus scans your machine, but also provides real-time monitoring. Cybersecurity is about prevention, and the free options that scan your machine fall flat on that front.
Obviously, we’re looking at price. The antivirus must be free, not a trial or limited version of the paid software. We are also looking at upgrade paths, though. It’s expected that some features won’t be included with a free offering, so we want to see a logical way to purchase them.
Features matter, but not as much as some other areas. As long as an antivirus provides real-time protection and malware removal, we’re content. Extra features, such as the long list from AVG, get bonus points.
Lastly, we’re looking at protection. We’ll be using the numbers from our antivirus reviews for reference where we tested paid counterparts. Free antiviruses are around 1 to 2 percent less effective, on average. When lab results for a free antivirus are available, though, we’ll make note of it.
Free vs. Paid
There’s a place for free antivirus software. They perform slightly worse than their paid counterparts and often come with a limited feature set, so they’re best when used on a trial basis.
There are a few reasons behind our logic. The first is zero-day malware. Those are attacks that arise the same day an exploit becomes known. Because the malware isn’t in the antivirus’s database, it can’t reference it to know if the software is a threat or not.
Antiviruses use behavior monitoring to address the issue. If software is acting like malware the antivirus has encountered, it’ll flag it for review. Often, the free monitoring system isn’t as sophisticated, leaving you vulnerable to zero-day attacks.
Likewise, you’re getting a rudimentary firewall, fewer protection measures and a shorter list of checks during a scan. It’s dependent on the antivirus and the difference only accounts for a few percentage points in effectiveness, but it’s still there.
Outside of better security, paid antiviruses come with a larger set of features, most notably phishing and ransomware protection. Some antiviruses, such as Kaspersky, have pushed for better webcam protection, too. It was our first choice in our guide on how to secure your webcam.
The better protection scores and larger list of proactive security measures more than justify the price. If you’re a competent web user and regularly monitor what’s on your hard drive, though, a free antivirus will protect you. That said, if you store sensitive data or download a few movies with our best VPN for torrenting, upgrading to a paid antivirus is worth it.
AVG Antivirus Free
AVG is our go-to pick for a free antivirus. It doesn’t do everything exceptionally, but it covers all the bases in a way that few others do. You get a full protection lineup, including multiple scan options, real-time protection and performance scanning.
The basics are AVG’s file and behavior shields. Every file entering your hard drive is scanned, whether it was downloaded from the internet or moved from an external hard drive. Applications on your computer and websites you visit are monitored by the behavior shield for malicious activity.
AVG also includes its web and email shield. The web shield protects against downloads and web attacks that may not require user input. For example, it would block a malicious drive-by download that you didn’t start. The email shield works against phishing, as well as unsafe images and attachments.
AVG calls these “components” and you can customize each. You can turn them on or off and set how they function on your machine. For instance, the file shield gives you options for when a scan occurs, how deep it should go and certain actions that happen when malware shows up.
The scan modes are impressive, too. AVG has six options: basic scan, deep scan, USB scan, file or folder scan, performance scan and boot-time scan. We’re impressed by those options on a paid basis, much less a free one.
It has good lab results, too. AV-Test observed 100 percent blockage of zero-day and widespread malware in its May assessment. AVG had problems with zero-day malware in June, though, blocking only 98.3 percent of samples.
MRG Effitas agrees with those findings, awarding AVG a Level 2 certification in its Q1 full spectrum analysis. When we went through the data in our AVG review, we found that it didn’t allow malware through, it just took time before it was blocked.
As it is an all-around great free antivirus, we recommend AVG. It comes with a free 30-day trialof Internet Security, too, which comes with protection from ransomware, webcam exploits and more.
- Six scan options
- Component system
- Web & email protection
- Not as secure as other antiviruses
- Solicitation to upgrade
www.avg.comStarts from $ 583 monthly
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Kaspersky Free Antivirus
Kaspersky doesn’t advertise its free antivirus, but it’s available for download for anyone willing to look. It has what Kaspersky describes as “core protection,” meaning it blocks suspicious websites and common viruses.
In the real world, that translates to using Kaspersky’s cloud database of malware to scan your computer. It provides real-time protection, too, but not behavior monitoring. In most cases, though, that suffices.
The free version of Kaspersky’s software is simple. There are buttons for scanning and database updates on the main screen. Clicking on “more tools” at the bottom reveals more options. You can activate the on-screen keyboard to protect against keyloggers, view your quarantined files and monitor Kaspersky’s database statistics from the menu.
You’ll find many other options, as well, but they are reserved for paying customers. Among the locked features are network monitor and Kaspersky Rescue Disk, which is a way to clean your machine when it’s critically infected.
The settings are where Kaspersky shines in its free offering. You get control over scans with quick, full and targeted options, as well as automatic scans for external devices. You can also configure the different areas of protection, such as the phishing filter.
Kaspersky got excellent marks from the labs we reference. It received a perfect 18 points from AV-Test during its June assessment in protection, performance and usability. It performed better than the industry average in performance tests, meaning it shouldn’t slow down your machine much.
There’s a lot to like in Kaspersky’s paid variant, though, including webcam protection and the network monitor. Still, the free plan is great for what it is, though. You can read our Kaspersky Anti-Virus review to learn about upgrading.
- Excellent lab results
- Real-time protection
- Easy to use
- Lacks features