Viruses and malware are bad news — they can slow down your PC by mining cryptocurrency, modifying important files, and messing with the way your system behaves. If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’re making an effort to avoid these infections — or looking for a way to exterminate them.
Luckily, there are a host of free, high-quality programs built specifically to keep your PC safe from all manner of viruses and malware. Better yet, these free options are often just as good, and in some cases better, than premium apps that offer similar functionality and features.
Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition
Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition revels 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 options that use more advanced filters to warn you away from any sites that have been known to try to steal identities.
In addition to commendable 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.
The only downside to BitDefender’s free antivirus solution is that it’s a little hard to find. The BitDefender site wants to funnel you to the paid options, but the free one does still exist. Download it from the Toolbox here.
Avast! Free Antivirus 2018
In terms of basic protection, Avast is one of the best antivirus programs available, scoring a 5.5 out of 6 in in 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 & Antivirus. The 2018 version of Avast goes the extra mile when it comes to making sure you feel safe using the program; at installation, a very clear breakdown shows exactly 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 from occurring. The 2018 version also watches the behavior of specific apps to see whether they are doing anything suspicious
As a free program, 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 ranges from $60 to $120 a year. Still, sticking with the free version will keep you well-protected.
AVG Free Antivirus
AVG has two major selling points. First, it has an impressively broad reach: The software will not only search for viruses and malware, but also helps block suspicious links, prevent suspicious 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 (check out more Android security apps here).
ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus 2018
ZoneAlarm provides firewalls and antivirus scanning, but then goes a step further to address two growing security concerns: ID theft and data loss. Identify theft is prevented by daily credit-monitoring tools and a “credit education specialist” to help you work through any alerts or problems.
ZoneAlarm also provides its own 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 Zone Alarm does try to set Yahoo as your default search engine. If you don’t want that, make sure that you untick the corresponding box.
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free
Malwarebytes provides 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. Options are divided 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.
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 in the first place. 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.