For years, if you wanted the best antivirus software, you had to pay for genuine protection and security. Any free antivirus software admittedly lacked some critical features, like fraud protection or link blocking. While some antivirus programs cost money, there are plenty of free options with fantastic features.
You don’t have to sacrifice on cost or features to enjoy features like malware blockers at no cost to you. You can download these programs and start using them immediately.
The best free antivirus software at a glance:
- Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition
- AVG AntiVirus Free
- ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus
- Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free
- Avast Free Antivirus
Therevels in a minimalist design that makes it low maintenance. Though the application features no configurations of any kind, it automatically scans your machine in the background using cloud-based detection, subsequently performing a deeper scan if it comes across any malicious software or red flags.
The bundled, real-time virus shield additionally blocks malicious URLs and uses behavior-based detection to protect against potential threats. Newer features include anti-fraud and phishing options that use more advanced filters to warn you away from any sites known to steal identities.
Besides excellent malware blocking and removal, the lightweight program doubles as an excellent anti-rootkit and anti-phishing utility. It performs the latter task by detecting and blocking fraudulent sites through HTTP-based scanning.
AVG has two major selling points. First, it has an impressively broad reach. The software will not only search for viruses and malware, but it also helps block suspicious links, prevent suspect downloads, and keep suspicious email attachments from being used. That makes the app a better choice for a family or elderly users on a budget.
The second benefit is AVG’s affinity with Google platforms. It has one of the better Android downloads and can work well on Chrome, too. The free version offers scans for performance problems to see if you can speed up your PC, but the feature set is still best suited for users who don’t want to do very much except let their antivirus app run.
ZoneAlarm provides firewalls and antivirus scanning but then goes a step further to address two growing security concerns: Identify theft and data loss. Daily credit-monitoring tools prevent identity theft and a “credit education specialist” to help you work through any alerts or problems.
ZoneAlarm also provides its cloud backup service for backing up your data and encrypting it for online protection. If you don’t already have a service that helps protect your identity and data, this could be the option for you.
During installation, be aware that ZoneAlarm tries to set Yahoo as your default search engine. If you don’t want that, make sure you deselect the corresponding box.
Malwarebytes offers 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. They divide options into four modules. Anti-malware protects against and removes malware with automatic scans, while anti-ransomware helps shield files from ransomware attacks. Anti-exploit helps protect against any known vulnerabilities discovered in your system or apps, while malicious website protection keeps you away from fake or malicious sites.
On top of its robust anti-malware scanning functions, Malwarebytes uses Chameleon technology to get the application running on already-infected systems that might otherwise block its deployment.
The only caveat with the free version of Malwarebytes is that it’s more of a remediation tool than a live, protective shield. The scanning tool will find anything once you’re already infected — effectively, too — but doesn’t do much to stop it. For that, you need the premium version or one of the other tools on this list. Still, as a secondary layer of defense, the free version of Malwarebytes is a must.
Malwarebytes also has a free extension for the Chrome browser, which offers much of the same web protections as the premium client.
In terms of essential protection, Avast is one of the best antivirus programs available. It received one of the highest scores in the most recent AV Test’s protection test. The latest free antivirus suite from Avast is an impressive package.
Aside from the usual virus and malware protection — including anti-rootkit and anti-spyware capabilities — the software comes with a slew of customizable options you can toggle on at installation, including protection for your Android devices through Avast Mobile Security. The 2021 version of Avast goes the extra mile to make sure you feel safe using the program. At installation, you will get a straightforward breakdown showing how Avast uses your private information.
The company gets out in front of potential malware attacks by initiating scans before an unknown file opens and preventing it from doing so should it throw up any red flags. The software is good at protecting your PC while online, blocking malicious URLs, and stopping auto-downloads while monitoring your app activity to watch for any suspicious issues. The software also includes a Do Not Disturb mode that completely silences alerts and pop-ups while you’re watching a movie or playing an important game.
A recent report on Avast revealed it collects its customers’ web browsing data (including Google searches, visits to LinkedIn pages, and visits to porn sites) and sells that data through its parent company, Jumpshot. Now, Avast doesn’t deny that it collects and sells user data. Still, according to CNET, Avast said that it doesn’t compile “personal identification information, including name, email address or contact details,” and that it allows users to opt-out of sharing that data.
Since it’s a, you’ll be missing out on some features exclusive to the premium package, including auto-scans and auto-updates. Those wanting such upgrades will need to opt for a subscription plan, which is about $40 per year for one Windows PC or Mac. Still, sticking with the free version will keep you well protected.