Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free (Windows)
Much has happened since Malwarebytes first introduced its application back in early 2008. Now boasting a whopping 300 million downloads worldwide (and counting), Malwarebytes continues to provide some of the best and most comprehensive virus-removal software available, frequently making it one of the first go-to sources for tech agencies and support groups alike.
The program uses Chameleon technology to get the application running on already infected systems, triggering the “mbam-chameleon” app when necessary and helping install and update any required drivers crucial to the software’s functionality. Afterward, the app targets any processes that may have blocked Malwarebytes from running in the first place before scanning for other system threats. Access to the knowledgeable support network and the slew of language options are also an added perk to the free software.
Malwarebytes is the premiere removal-only software on our list, but it’s exclusively removal only. It can’t thwart incoming attacks or provide real-time protection like AVG or Avast can. Although the paid version ($25) opens up options for real-time scanning, scheduling, and increased heuristic updates, the freemium version is more than sufficient in eradicating deeply-entrenched viruses — even when commercial products fail to do so.
Microsoft Windows Defender (Windows)
Microsoft’s built-in malware protection has slowly been improving over the years, and we think it’s finally worth a look (albeit briefly). Although Microsoft Windows Defender is enabled by default — offering real-time protection against spyware and pop-ups — it can also be disabled if Windows users want to utilize other defensive programs instead of the one bundled with your PC. The software’s monitoring system recommends actions when urgent attention is required, but interruptions are minimal, helping you stay on task without having to revert to an annoying dialogue box every five minutes.
The software supports 64-bit platforms, updates virus definitions quickly, and sports a easily-navigable user interface regardless of your operating system. While Defender automatically runs in the background, you can also manually schedule scanning and removal times to a time that’s convenient for you or if you notice something suspicious with your system that leaves you skeptical. Note that software also provides the same level of malware protection as Microsoft Security Essentials, hence the latter is not even compatible with newer versions of Windows.
Check Point Zonealarm Free Antivirus + Firewall 2016 (Windows)
This antivirus software packages comes with exactly what you might expect: antivirus software and a firewall for free. The firewall is robust, offering multiple levels of sensitivity. At higher levels, more potential risks will trip the firewall’s alarm and be barred from accessing your system, while simultaneously alerting you to the prevented incursion. While protection like this can be comforting, it can also get a little obtrusive. Thankfully, for those concerned with annoying notifications disrupting you constantly, the firewall’s settings can be changed on the fly to account for any situation, whether you need iron-clad protection, or more leniency when installing new programs.
The antivirus software itself is a good solution for anyone in need of virus protection. Check Point reads files immediately the moment they’re opened, and programs right when they’re launched, scanning them quickly and flagging them should they pose a risk to your PC. You can also scan your PC using the usual scanning options like a quick scan and full-system scan.
Unfortunately, Check Zone is devoid of any sort of phishing protection. And the program also has a reputation for spotty consistency, being both overzealous and too lenient when differentiating between good and bad programs.
However, the core antivirus program and a firewall aren’t all you get with Check Point Zonealarm Free Antivirus + Firewall 2016. users also receive 5GB of free cloud storage for system backup. While it won’t backup the entire contents of your drive, you can keep important files securely backed up in the cloud in case of a terminal infection. In addition to this, you’ll get extra levels of security like credit monitoring and identity protection.
Avira Free Antivirus (Windows)
Independent tests from AV-Comparatives.org consistently place Avira near the top of the list for detection and blocking rates — and the latest software is no exception. Clad in a somewhat cluttered interface and built with the same technology as the premium Avira packages, the freemium offering touts solid protection when it comes to viruses, worms, Trojans, and all manners of malware that may potentially infiltrate your system.
The software might be a bit slow when it comes to installation and execution depending on the amount of data stored on your machine, but the scanning is well-optimized and hassle-free once underway, providing quick and seamless threat detection that ranks among the best. Additionally, the software provides blocking for spyware and tracking cookies, and intercepts harmful websites should you opt for the bundled Avira toolbar.
Once-premium tools like Avira’s SocialShield parental monitoring program are also included in the free software, giving users an intuitive way to monitor their children’s social media habits — assuming they cooperate, that is. The bundled 5GB of online storage is a nice touch, along with the complimentary mobile app for Android and iOS, but they hardly makes up for the nonexistent tech support and the program’s relatively large memory footprint. All in all, Avira Free Antivirus boils down to a competent malware detection and removal program, but one that will essentially leave you helpless if anything goes wrong.
Emsisoft Emergency Kit Free (Windows)
While Emsisoft’s kit won’t protect malware from infecting your system in the first place, the software collection does a nice job of cleaning up malware-seeped machines that are unable to install some of the more robust antivirus software elsewhere on our list. The intuitive kit has little trouble working working alongside other antivirus software and is designed for experts and novice alike, incorporating both an automatic and a manual commandline scanner catered to more advanced users and those looking to perform batch jobs.
It’s also entirely installation-free, meaning users can quickly run the program off a portable drive when installing antivirus software on an already-riddled system is out of the question. Although it’s extremely portable, it does an excellent job of debugging and removing most malware (including rootkits) without placing unnecessary strain on your system, and you can even submit suspicious files for review if the latest reports and definition updates fail to quarantine or remove the potential threat.
It’s not the most extensive program when it comes to functionality and elaborate features, but Emsisoft Emergency Kit Free is still great little tool for the worst case scenario, especially when combined with the included HiJackFree and BlitzBank software that provides considerably more control over your system. We recommend extracting the software contents to a portable flash drive so you’ll be better prepared just in case the worst does befall on you.
Updated 2-23-15 by Brandon Widder: We have recently removed Comodo Antivirus, one of our previous recommendations, in wake of recent allegations concerning the software’s use of PrivDog. In essence, the advertising product’s HTTPS interception technology verifies sketchy certificates it probably shouldn’t, thus posing various security risks to users.