New PCs almost invariably come with a free trial version of a subscription antivirus suite from a company such as McAfee or Norton. But you can probably skip paying for these programs and still be safe online, our latest tests confirm.
Our evaluations, performed in conjunction with International Consumer Research & Testing, an association of independent, not-for-profit organizations, turned up free antivirus programs that should adequately protect all but the most at-risk Internet users from malware—viruses, spyware, and other online threats.
Top 7 Free Antivirus
- - Mobile Security and Protection
- - Strong virus detection and protection against virus
- Easy-to use security defends against viruses, ransomware and other online threats
- Avoid risky websites and prevent dangerous downloads with safe web browsing tool
- Android Security & protection
- Daily Virus Database updates
- Optimized for Amazon Kindle Fire Tablets (Kindle Fire 1st Generation not supported)
- Basic protection for FREE for lifetime
- On-install Scanning
- On-demand Scanning
- Run a quick virus scan on your phone and your phone's SD card
- Protect yourself by blocking harmful websites and malicious applications
Antivirus Software Types
Free Anti-Malware Programs
These are mostly downloads from such names as Avast, Avira, AVG, and Bitdefender. But there’s also the Microsoft Security Essentials anti-malware program that’s available as a free download for computers that run older versions of Windows. On Windows 10 computers it’s called Windows Defender.
Pay Antivirus Suites
Such suites, from brands that include Bitdefender, ESET, and Trend Micro, are meant to provide comprehensive protection in one package. They offer not only malware protection but also a firewall, an antispam filter, and other extras. The latter usually include a child filter, often include a browser toolbar that will alert you when you go to sites that host malware, and sometimes include a file shredder and file backup software.
These offer supplemental protection that you may want because your email program isn’t adequately filtering out unwanted messages. Often built into pay antivirus suites, free options include Spamfighter, which we recommend.
Free security toolbars available for all major browsers provide extra protection against phishing sites, especially if you’re using an older browser version or just want extra protection.
Deleting a file from your hard drive does not remove all electronic traces of it, which can allow someone who accesses or inherits your computer to recover some or all of the file’s data. To eliminate that possibility, you need file-shredding software. Some pay antivirus suites include a file shredder, or you can download Eraser free at eraser.heidi.ie.
Computer Safekeeping Features
Most free stand-alone anti-malware programs focus only on keeping malware from installing or downloading on your system. Some free antivirus suites include a firewall and child filters. For the features listed below, you’ll most likely need a pay antivirus suite.
This feature block attempts to deliver malware via instant messages.
A firewall keeps malware from downloading and prevents a malicious website from grabbing data off your computer. The best firewalls protect you from incoming and outgoing threats and pop up clearly worded alerts when a potential breach is detected.
The filters provided by many email programs or internet service providers might be all you need to block unwelcome mail. The antispam feature on suites (and standalone, and often free, programs) offers supplementary assistance if too many junk email messages are still getting through.
These block access to certain sites unsuitable for children.
If you’re about to inadvertently divulge personal information, a privacy filter will provide a warning.
These toolbars can be placed into popular browsers to help prevent phishing.
This feature allows you to erase files to prevent their recovery from your hard drive.
A suite with this feature will periodically back up your files to another drive.
Free is fine for most people. As long as you surf safely—that is, you never download software from unfamiliar sites (these downloads might carry malicious software) or click on email links to access bank or other personal accounts (these links are favorite tools for cyberthieves)—the free antivirus programs we recommend should adequately protect you.
Consider your computer. Your vulnerability varies by your computer’s operating system, though less than you might think. Apple computers are much less likely than PCs to have been attacked by viruses and spyware, but Macs can transmit infected files to Windows PCs, including those connected to a Mac over a network in your home. Several manufacturers offer a Mac-compatible product.
Some antivirus suites demand more resources than others. Machines with less than 4 gigabytes of memory might run too slowly with such gluttons. Similarly, some programs’ scans take longer than others. If you have an older computer, it’s even more important to look for products that have high scores under “Use of resources” in our ratings.
Choose a pay antivirus suite mostly for convenience and features. An advantage of a pay antivirus suite is that it simplifies your security regimen. It requires just one download and installation and a single upgrade to its database when necessary. Its single interface can also be easier to use than multiple stand-alone programs.
Protection against phishing. Widely used browsers, such as Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, warn you if you go to a risky site used in phishing scams or one that might host malware.