The Best Free Antivirus Software of 2018
Internet forums are heavily populated with antivirus skeptics who believe that anti-malware protection is unnecessary or that a free antivirus protection is as good as paid-for computer antivirus software. The former attitude is dangerously naive — you should always use antivirus software to protect your PC. But there is some truth in the latter view. While paid-for antivirus software programs consistently beat free equivalents in our antivirus comparison tests, there are free antivirus software programs that will keep you generally safe.
In addition to installing a good, free antivirus protection, you would benefit from beefing up your firewall. The standard Windows firewall, which has been included with all versions of Windows since XP, is pretty good but does not alert you when programs (including any malware) on the system make connections out to the internet. Installing ZoneAlarm Free Firewall will plug this security gap.
The importance of keeping Windows and software updated with the latest security patches cannot be overstated. It’s also a boring, mundane task. Fortunately, there’s a free tool called Secunia’s Personal Software Inspector that will seek and install updates automatically.
What’s The Best Free Antivirus Software?
So which free antivirus protection software is right for you? After reviewing 6 free antivirus software for PC, Avira Free Antivirus came out as the best free antivirus. It offers excellent virus and malware protection and gives you the ability to easily adjust the computer antivirus software to your exact specifications. If you’d rather not hassle with settings, then try Panda Free Antivirus or Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition. They both have equally good malware prevention but don’t let you tweak much.
Avira Free Antivirus performed well throughout 2017, and in our final antivirus comparison test blocked 98 out of 100 threats, which was an excellent result – if not quite as effective as its performance at the beginning of the year.
While our top three paid-for antivirus products have consistently outperformed Avira Free Antivirus, it’s been the best free antivirus software by some distance over the past 12 months. If you’re on an extremely tight budget and don’t want to spend money on antivirus protection, you should choose Avira.
Since carrying out our test where we compare antivirus software, Avira has released its new version, which claims to scan your computer in less time and remove more malicious files – files that it was previously unable to recognize.
We’ll be testing this version throughout the year to see whether Avira’s winning streak continues.
BitDefender Antivirus Free Edition offers powerful malware protection with a very low system performance impact. It comes with free add-ons that provide such useful extras, icluding a secure web browser and a limited password manager. But Bitdefender’s Free Antivirus interface is hard to figure out and doesn’t offer customization options — you can’t schedule a scan or even perform a quick scan. It’s best for users who are looking for a “set it and forget it” security solution.
The secret to Bitdefender’s success in our antivirus comparison tests is how well it blocks malicious websites. This is a highly effective way to protect PCs because it prevents you from visiting any dodgy sites in the first place. BitDefender Antivirus Free Edition does this better than any of its free rivals, and even more robustly than McAfee’s paid-for software.
It’s worth remembering that not all computer antivirus software prevent you visiting dangerous websites. Windows Defender, for example, lacks the technology to do this, which is one of the reasons we’d never recommend using that alone.
Panda makes one of the best-known security products, and it’s free antivirus software performed well throughout the year, even finishing above AVG Antivirus Free in the last two tests of the year. It has consistently been one of the best free antivirus software, offering top rated virus protection.
Panda’s excellent malware detection scores go hand-in-hand with its high rates of false positives, frequently blocking safe software. But Panda Free Antivirus has a fresh-looking and customizable user interface that’s fun to use. It comes with enough configuration options to satisfy most users and a small system performance impact. On the downside, Panda Free Antivirus offers few bonus features, displays many ads and tries to change your homepage and search engine.
AVG has a long history of providing free antivirus protection and its antivirus software for PC is often the default recommendation in non-specialist newspaper and magazine articles. However, being well known and popular does not always mean being especially good at the job. Over time we’ve seen AVG Antivirus Free produce distinctly average results.
AVG’s results varied wildly in 2017, starting extremely badly before picking up in the last two tests of the year. However, in the last test it progressed again, protecting our test PC against 87 threats out of 100, which is good enough. AVG also makes a paid-for version of its software, called AVG Internet Security Unlimited. This includes extra features including advanced antivirus, hacker attack protection, online privacy protection, payment protection, family protection and mobile protection.
However, when we tested AVG Internet Security it prevented 98 of 100 threats from appearing on our PC. AVG’s Internet Security protective capabilities were noticeably better than those of the current free version, so think twice.
We liked Avast Free Antivirus for its customizable user interface, nearly insignificant performance impact, huge range of configuration options and many extra features, which include a password manager and LAN scanner. But nearly every other computer antivirus software we tested offers better antimalware and antivirus protection. If you already use other Avast security products, such as Avast Free Mobile Security for Android — which is our top rated antivirus software in that category — you may still want to consider Avast Free Antivirus.
Avast Free Antivirus showed a decent level of malware protection in our latest antivirus comparison tests but blocked 28% of safe software, an unsatisfactory high proportion. Because of this, it would suit extremely cautious users, but keep in mind that it’s likely to block safe apps you download and try to install.
Microsoft’s free Windows Defender — called Microsoft Security Essentials on Windows 7 — has rarely done well in our compare antivirus software tests. While it generally lets safe software run, it lets far too much malware through — one in three threats in this test. It performed quite well in only one of our antivirus comparison tests in 2017 (January to March). Since then, Microsoft has said that its anti-malware software is only intended to provide a minimum “baseline protection,” and our results support the company’s position.
But no matter what version of Windows you use, the message is clear: you can’t rely on Microsoft Security Essentials alone to stay safe.