Thinking about the amount of havoc-wreaking viruses on the Web is like thinking about the amount of sickness-causing germs circulating within the public transit system. Most people don’t want to know about the scores of viruses waiting to infect their system, but it’s not something you can just actively dismiss if you want to maintain your health. Like the common cold unknowingly proliferates through the masses, so do worms, Trojans and the vast slew of other infectious malware that saturate the everyday software landscape. Luckily, there’s just as many free antivirus programs to combat the threat of an impending invasion as there are invaders themselves. If you’re looking for protection but don’t want to shell out the money for peace of mind, you’ve come to the right place.
Here’s our roundup of the best free antivirus programs that money doesn’t have to buy.
Looking for Mac-specific antivirus? Check out our guide to the best antivirus for Mac.
Ad-Aware Free Internet Security (Windows)
Lavosoft’s Ad-Aware is one of the most trusted spyware tools and has been a benchmark in the industry for years. The free version provides real-time anti-virus and malware protection, and the latest in emulation technology and identity protection to boot. It also features a scheduler, an applaudable addition given Lavosoft’s heavy reliance on user concern and constant updates, and a less-than-intrusive method of silently blocking pesky malware without the notorious pop-up fanfare of yore. Some of the returning features and software could use an overhaul, such as the mediocre phishing and rootkit protection, but all of the software’s hallmarks are still there and presented in an impeccably streamlined way that is both attractive and light on your system’s memory. Plus, there isn’t a blatant screen nagging users to upgrade around every corner.
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (Windows)
Much has happened since Malwarebytes first introduced its application back in early 2008. Now boasting a whopping 200 million downloads worldwide (and counting), Malwarebytes offers quite a bit more for the nonexistent price tag. It 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. The paid version, which costs $25, opens up real-time scanning, increased heuristic and an automatic scheduler for priority updates and scans.
Microsoft Windows Defender (Windows)
Microsoft’s innate malware protection has slowly been improving over the years, and we think it’s finally worth a look. 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 still 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 the newer operating system.
AVG Free Anti-Virus (Windows/Mobile)
This popular free anti-virus software packs something extra: free anti-spyware protection built right in. It isn’t as potent an anti-virus solution as some free competitors, like Avira AntiVir Personal, but the spyware detection makes a compelling bonus, especially considering that most anti-virus companies (including Avira) only bundle that functionality into their paid packages. At $50, the paid version offers a more comprehensive feature set — such as protection for instant messages, email, downloads, and identity theft — but opting for the premium version is not a necessity if you’re simply look for easy-to-use, yet effective, virus protection with a gorgeous interface to match.
The free version also gives users access to the helpful 24-hour phone support in addition to a simple performance analyzer and one-time tuneup designed to make the most of your machine’s speed and efficiency. A mobile version of the protection software with added incentives, such as a remote wipe and a phone locator, is also available for Android.
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