Reviews, rates, and compares 2016 s best antivirus software. See comparisons of Norton, McAfee, Kaspersky, Bitdefender, VIPRE, ESET, Trend, and more.
Dec 18, 2015 A list of the best free antivirus software for Windows, updated December, 2015. See reviews and download links for these completely free AV.
Protecting your PC with an antivirus isn t just for your own benefit. It helps everyone around you, too. If you haven t done it yet, install a free antivirus now.
In our 2015 review of the top free antivirus programs we found several we could recommend with the best of these as good as any commercial product.
Our best free antivirus round-up has been fully updated.
Viruses, spyware, hackers, phishing sites - the web is a dangerous place, and every PC owner needs effective, reliable antivirus software to keep them safe. But this can be expensive, especially as you ll pay again to update the package, each and every year.
Fortunately there is plenty of free antivirus software, many of which are just as capable as their commercial cousins. So if you re tired of annual subscriptions, read on - we ve picked out nine of the best free internet security tools to deliver great security at no cost at all.1. Avast Free Antivirus
You don t have to spend long with Avast Free Antivirus to realise why it s one of the most popular security tools around.
The program is simple to install; a straightforward interface makes it easy to use; a quick first scan should identify any potential threats on your PC, and this all has minimal impact on your system performance.
These aren t just subjective opinions, either. Independent testing by AV-Test has found the program to be a good all-rounder, and it was one of AV-Comparative s Products of 2012.
Avast Free has some useful extras, too. A Software Updater alerts you to program updates you ve missed, for instance, while its Browser Cleanup tool provides a simple way to remove unwanted add-ons from your browsers.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------2. Panda Cloud Antivirus Free
Small and simple, Panda Cloud Antivirus is a lightweight tool which provides free real-time antivirus protection, and can be used alongside many other security tools without problems.
It s the free version of a commercial product, and so has a few missing features. The Pro edition helps to protect you at public wifi networks, for instance, while its USB Vaccine function reduces the risk of malware infecting a USB drive.
The core antivirus protection remains the same, though. And while that doesn t deliver the top detection rates, independent testing shows it s very capable, with the program winning certification in AV-Test s latest report.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------3. ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus Firewall
We have one or two concerns about ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus Firewall, notably that its antivirus database is only updated daily hourly updates are reserved for the commercial version, which leaves you more exposed to the very latest threats,
The program does provide plenty of functionality, though, with a capable, AV-Test-certified antivirus engine, an easy-to-use firewall and some browsing protection.
It does its best to keep things simple. Open the Preferences dialog, say, and you ll find only 10 buttons and settings and most of those you ll never need to use.
The database update means it wouldn t be our first choice, but if you re a fan of ZoneAlarm, or just want a firewall and antivirus tool from the same company, this could be a good choice.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------4. Avira Free Antivirus
Avira Free Antivirus provides two main areas of protection.
A strong antivirus engine rated highly by independent labs for its file detection rates constantly monitors your PC, looking for and eliminating threats.
If you choose to install the Avira toolbar then you also get some web tools an antiphishing tool, ad blocker, social networking protection, although this also replaces your default search engine with an Avira page.
Problems. The interface can seem a little complex, just at first. And the program has more impact on your PC s performance than some other tools. Still, on balance Avira Free Antivirus remains a capable and effective security package.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------5. Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition
Bitdefender s antivirus engine is one of the best around, and a favourite of the independent testing labs, so getting a free version sounds very appealing indeed.
The program is ultra-compact, downloading and installing in less than a minute on our test PC although it does demand removal of any incompatible products first. A very basic interface then provides effective on-demand and automatic scanning, real-time antivirus and antiphishing protection.
Some security companies spend a great deal of time and effort on interface design, but Avira isn t quite so concerned. Sure, Avira Free Antivirus adds a graphical launcher to your system tray, but the core program looks plain, ordinary, and a little dated.
Fortunately Avira scores where it matters. The company seems much more interested in substance than style, and the end result is one of the best security freebies around.
The program is loved by the testing labs. Whether you check out AV-Test, AV-Comparatives or VB100 reports, Avira technology almost always scores very highly. And that s not only in relation to free software. AV-Comparative s December 2014 Real-World Protection Test ranked the program fifth out of 22 mostly commercial contenders, with the same 99.4 protection rate as the highly-rated Bitdefender and Kaspersky. That s a typical score, not a fluke – sometimes Avira tops the list.
Avira Free provides better protection than many paid products
If you re looking for an easy life then you can leave the program alone, and it ll do its work almost entirely automatically. But expert users get plenty of fine control. There are options to protect the Hosts file, block autorun, scan archives including a configurable recursion depth, monitor network drives, set the file types to be scanned, even password protect your Avira installation so others can t mess with your settings.
Avira Free Antivirus has a distinct shortage of bonus extras, which might be an issue for some. The Firewall options add little they configure the standard Windows firewall, rather than adding anything new, and even basic web protection requires a separate browser extension.
Still, for us, Avira s stripped-back design is a plus, as it makes it easier to add other security tools without conflicts. Factor in its very accurate engine and Avira is our pick of the free antivirus crop.5. Panda Free Antivirus
Panda Free Antivirus makes a great first impression, with its colourful Windows 8-style interface giving easy access to the program s many features.
We were surprised to find the main screen is configurable, too. If you re unhappy with the layout of the tiles then you can drag and drop them around, delete some or add others.
The verdict on the core antivirus engine is a little less clear. We found it delivered great detection rates in our own small-scale tests, but scanning speeds were a little below average.
The independent testing labs also have some doubts, with AV-Comparatives in particular showing protection levels falling a little towards the end of the year. But that s still good enough to justify a top five position, and the test reports also highlight some other positives the package raises very few false alarms.
Panda s friendly, colourful interface stands out immediately
A useful set of extras start with the URL filter, which does a solid job of preventing access to malicious sites. The USB Vaccine feature tries to protect your USB keys from some infections, while Process Monitor is a Task Manager-like tool, displaying running processes, their open HTTP connections, and highlighting likely dangers.
If all this fails then Panda s Rescue Kit could be a lifesaver. It s able to download and run Panda Cloud Cleaner, which is great for catching the very latest malware, or you can build a bootable USB key to remove the most stubborn of threats.
Panda Free Antivirus isn t quite as powerful as the market leaders, but it still offers very capable protection and some valuable bonus features. If you re looking for a simple package which anyone can use then it s a sensible choice.
Best Free PC Antivirus Software. For Windows PC users, a good antivirus program is a necessity to ward off malware attacks, keep your computer running efficiently.
Maybe you really, truly, don t care if malicious software attacks your computer, or enlists it in a Distributed Denial of Service attack. I ll just wipe it if I have to, you say. But it s not just about you. A recent study showed a kind of herd immunity effect. In countries where a higher percentage of the population used antivirus, even the unprotected ones fared better. So, be a good citizen and do your part. If you don t want to pay for a premium antivirus utility, pick one of the free antivirus products that we ve rounded up for you.
Quite a few of these products are free only for noncommercial use; if you want to protect your business, you have to pony up for the paid edition. At that point, you should probably consider upgrading to a full security suite. After all, it s your business s security on the line. And if you ve grown beyond SMB status, investing in a SaaS endpoint protection system will let you monitor and manage security across your entire organization.
Yes, it s true that Windows 8 and Windows 10 have antivirus built right in, but in our tests and most independent lab tests, Windows Defender hasn t done very well. There have been some signs of improvement in recent tests, which is encouraging.
Your antivirus should definitely have the ability to root out existing malware, but its ongoing task is to prevent ransomware, botnets, Trojans, and other types of nasty programs from getting a foothold. All of the antivirus programs in this collection offer real-time protection against malware attack. Some take the fight upstream, working hard to ensure you never even browse to a malware-hosting site, or get fooled into turning over your credentials to a phishing site
Independent Antivirus Lab Test Results
Around the world, researchers at independent antivirus testing labs spend their days putting antivirus tools to the test. Some of these labs regularly release public reports on their findings. I follow six such labs closely: AV-Comparatives, AV-Test Institute, Dennis Technology Labs, ICSA Labs, Virus Bulletin, and West Coast Labs.
Security companies typically pay for the privilege of being included in testing. In return, the labs supply them with detailed reports that can help improve their products. The number of labs that include a particular vendor serves as a measure of significance. In each case, the lab considered the product important enough to test, and the vendor felt the price was worthwhile. The labs don t necessarily test a vendor s free product, but most vendors pack full protection into the free product, enhancing premium versions with additional features. I ve worked out a system for aggregating lab results, yielding a lab score from 0 to 5, or N/A if there just isn t enough data.
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PCMag Antivirus Test Results
In addition to carefully perusing results from the independent labs, I also run my own hands-on malware blocking test. I expose each antivirus to a collection of malware samples, including a variety of different malware types, and note its reaction. Typically the antivirus will wipe out most of the samples on sight, and detect some of the remaining ones when I try to launch them. I derive a malware blocking score from 0 to 10 points based on how thoroughly the antivirus protects the test system from these samples. Avast Free Antivirus holds the current top score in this test, tied with one of our Editors Choice paid antivirus utilities.
Since I use the same samples month after month, the malware-blocking test definitely doesn t measure a product s ability to detect brand-new threats. In a separate test, I attempt to download malware from 100 very new malicious URLs supplied by MRG-Effitas, typically less than a day old. I note whether the antivirus blocked all access to the URL, wiped out the malicious payload during download, or did nothing. McAfee and Symantec, both paid products, hold the very best scores in this test, though some free antivirus utilities have done fairly well.
Just about every antivirus product scans files on access to make sure malware can t launch, and also scans the entire system on demand, or on a schedule you set. The one exception in the current collection is a tool aimed very specifically at detecting attempts to exploit vulnerabilities in the operating system or applications. That tool, Malwarebytes Anti-Exploit Free, is designed for use in conjunction with a regular antivirus.
Blocking all access to malware-hosting URLs is a nice way to avoid trouble. Many products extend that protection to also steer users away from fraudulent websites, phishing sites that try to steal login credentials for financial sites and other sensitive sites. A few rate links in search results, flagging any dangerous or iffy ones.
Behavior-based detection, a feature of some antivirus products, is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it can detect malware that s never been seen before. On the other hand, if it s not done right, it can baffle the user with messages about perfectly legitimate programs.
One easy way to keep your PC protected is to install all security updates, both for Windows and for browsers and other popular applications. Starting with Windows 10, Windows updates aren t optional for consumers, but there are plenty of security holes in popular apps and add-ons. Scanning for vulnerabilities in the form of missing updates is a feature most often found in commercial antivirus products, but it does turn up in some free ones. In the chart above you can see which products include these useful features.
What s Not Here
This article reports only on free antivirus products that received at least a good rating in our reviews three stars or better. Among those that didn t make the cut is Microsoft Security Essentials / Windows Defender. All of the independent labs I follow do include Microsoft in testing, but most use it as a baseline. If a product can t do better than the baseline, it s got real problems. There may be hope, though. In the latest report from AV-Test, Microsoft earned a decent 14 of 18 possible points, much better than its previous failing grade of 9.5 points. And Dennis Labs awarded Microsoft AAA certification, its highest rating.
There are also numerous free antivirus utilities that work solely to clean up existing malware infestations. You bring out these cleanup-only tools when you have a nasty malware infestation. When the problem s gone, they have no further use, since they offer no ongoing protection. Our Editors Choice in this category is Malwarebytes Anti-Malware 2.0, and it s definitely one you should try if you ve got a malware problem. But since they re free, you can keep trying others if the first one doesn t do the job. When the scare is over, you ll need a full-blown antivirus for ongoing protection.
What s Best
Our current Editors Choice products for free antivirus utility are Avast Free Antivirus, AVG AntiVirus Free, and Panda Free Antivirus. All three get very good scores from the independent labs, and in our own tests as well. All three include some useful bonus features. Avast in particular packs a password manager and a network security scanner in its toolkit. If you do have a little cash in your budget for security, the best paid antivirus products do tend to offer more and better protection. If not, try a few of these free tools and see which one you like best.
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Best free antivirus. Everyone should run an antivirus program on their computers, but there are so many choices, that choosing one can be confusing. Some are simple.
Antivirus software doesn t have to be a luxury. Following are the best free antivirus for Windows and Mac, plus other free antivirus tools to keep you safe online or off.