Malicious software threats and attacks are not selective when they pick targets.
What does that mean?
It means that any PC or device that is connected to the internet, a server, or network is at risk to have its data or privacy compromised if there isn't some kind of protection.
Malicious file downloads remain the commonplace tactic for cyber criminals to infect vulnerable, unpatched security systems with viruses, worms, ransomware, Trojans, and other threats.
There is no excuse to leave yourself exposed to attack anymore because of the plethora of free virus protection offered by top antivirus providers to guard you from and prevent security disasters.
The best free antivirus packages may differ in certain features and benefits; however, they are designed to ensure that the average home user is secure.
Let's have a look at what free antivirus protection is all about and who the best free antivirus providers are.
Before I commence, it is important for me to mention that free trials and free antivirus software are two different things.
Otherwise known as free malware protection, free virus protection is a software package that home users can download to scan and protect their systems from malware attacks.
Whereas businesses and enterprises have to pay for more premium-like packages, non-commercial home users can make use of the best free antivirus providers' software to safeguard their PCs and devices.
Here is a quick breakdown for the sake of clarity of the options antivirus vendors usually provide customers with:
The focus of this informative article is number 1, and how it compares to paid products in terms of effectiveness, speed, safety, ease of use, and any other deciding factors when a user selects free virus protection.
You may be wondering how I can measure the reliability of free malware protection when security companies don't perform lab tests on them.
The truth is that vendors pack free antivirus software with full protection into the products; what makes them different to paid products is that the latter are more enhanced with additional features and benefits.
This means that the lab tests conducted on the reliability of the protection, false positives, and performance of the malware protection and scans of paid products, are a direct indication of the effectiveness of the free versions.
So, how does it all work?
Basically, the best free antivirus products have the ability to root out existing malware, so that you can remove it with free malware removal tools or in-built mechanisms. However, the primary ongoing task and function of a free antivirus download is to prevents attacks and threats such as ransomware, botnets, viruses, Trojans, and any other nasty traps created by cyber criminals with real-time protection, zero-day protection, and behavior-based detection.
Most free virus protection products also combat phishing sites, malware-hosting sites, and malicious URLs that compromise your personal credentials and identity theft. Some even flag the fraudulent sites and links as dangerous.
The primary feature is the automatic and scheduled scan, which checks files so that malware cannot launch onto a system or device.
Do not confuse this with free malware removal software, which is usually separate tools that work solely to clean up existing malware infections in a system. These tools are used when you have a nasty infection in your system, and once the system has been cleaned, these tools no longer have any use because they don't offer ongoing protection.
Why should you pick free virus protection?
Here are some advantages to expect from the best free antivirus software if you opt for this route:
On the other hand, there are several drawbacks if you don't pay up:
I have reviewed the best free antivirus providers in order to discern what each package has to offer, as well as the the differences between the corresponding paid products, and why you should maybe opt for the latter.
Let's get started:
Note: The order is ranked so as to reflect the best free antivirus software at the top of the list by taking speed, effectiveness, safety, and ease of use into consideration.
|Malicious URL Blocking|
|On-access Malware Scanner|
|On-demand Malware Scanner|
Now let's look at each one in detail:
Avast Free Antivirus 2017 is quite the sophisticated product for just a free product with over 477 million users who install it.
Users are sure to be kept safe from online attacks and threats with the:
And the Bonus: Vulnerability scan
In general, these are the most important attributes worth mentioning:
Ease of Use: The 2016 version has received a bit of a face-lift with the main window boasting a bit of abstract art and a security status report as the focus in the middle. The menu of icons placed at the top allows you to use the Scan, Tools, Passwords, and Store options. When you mouse over the icons they animate for a more interactive user interface.
Installation: The installation process is simple. When you install the free package, another screen will pop up with a link to protect your Android device with Avast Mobile Security & Antivirus. The installer will configure itself to Google Chrome and add the Google Toolbar to your system unless you opt out.
Speed: Free antivirus software does not have a large affect on PCs in general. Avast is the proof in the pudding with its hardly noticeable impact on a system. The PC manages to perform all its functions as usual.
Effectiveness & Safety: Avast Free Antivirus has effective malware blocking because it initiates a scan before an unknown file can execute any actions; in other words, it wipes out malware before it launches. This is one of the few that does this.
Features: Some of the features you can expect to be included in the free package are:
DeepScan Technology: This scanner scans at boot time and controls found malware automatically. It also scans the system for any outdated software and performs updates at the click of a button. Part of this technology is the Smart Scan which runs the quick antivirus scan on your PC.
Rescue Disk: The Tools section of the Avast offers a rescue disk as part of its free product. You can create it right away before you even have a need for it. Users can create a bootable USB drive or choose to save an ISO image to burn onto a CD. If your system is attacked by ransomware or malware, rendering the PC unusable, free users have the luxury of the Rescue Disk for a full cleanup.
Browser Cleanup: This is another nifty feature that checks any add-ons to all your browsers and sends you reports on any that have a sketchy reputation. If you want to remove an add-on, you can carry out the removal at a click of a button or tell Avast to skip any particular future scans on the add-on.
Network and Router Scan: This scanner check your network, router, and visible devices for network-specific security holes. It identifies weaknesses in your WiFi home network with a streamlined and simplified technology by flagging any security threats and reporting on any devices it sees to make sure there is authorization. This feature wards off password combinations and default usernames for router-related dangers.
Phishing Protection: Avast boasts unbelievable protection against fraudulent websites. Avast's software checks sites for web analytics, ad aggregators, social media buttons, and any other components that can be manipulated to track your web surfing activities. A useful characteristic of this protection feature is the number that appears on the toolbar buttons to indicate how many trackers Avast has found on any given website; if you want details, you just click on the button. An additional option is to rate your experience along with marked links of color-coded reputation icons.
Password Manager: Avast's password manager includes all the basic features and has the ability to sync across all your devices whether they be Windows, Android or iOS; however, it's a little light on the high-end functions and MAC OS hasn't been included yet. The password manager is built for standard login pages but can't handle two-page SiteKey, which is used by some financial sites.
Avast came out on top because of its good design, strong malware-detection scores, the low system drag, and an overall good impression.
Most of the time, the more you pay, the more features you get; however, home users can feel pretty secure with the free version or the most basic product at a reasonable price.
In saying that, some of us want that extra bit of security seeing that we place our entire lives on our PCs and devices. All our personal information and activities are imprinted within the system's data, and it is our duty to safeguard it against any threats.
I mentioned that the DeepScan is included in the free version; however, if you prefer automatic updates, then you'll have to pay up. Another facet you'll have to dig in your pocket for is the cleanup module which checks your system for any optimization possibilities. Avast's SecureLine VPN is also part of the paid packages.
If you want to learn what else Avast has to offer in terms of all its paid products, take a look at this detailed Avast Review for reference.
AVG impresses with its AVG Antivirus Free 2016 product.
You can expect a wide range of combatant features against malware and threats, such as:
So, this is why AVG is a top choice for the best free antivirus software:
Ease of Use: AVG has a user-friendly dashboard with different panels for the various functions. Each panel has a colored circle that reflects how complete the protection is. The free version tends to provide a little too much information about system status and progress; something that free users might not be interested in because they probably just want basic protection.
Installation: When you install the free version, you are offered the choice between a 30-day trial or a free version; this is tricky in that the only way to opt for the free product is to go back a step and select the Custom install. If you select the free version, there will be ad panels to prompt you to upgrade.
Speed: AVG provides speedy scans with options to run scheduled scans, a scan for the whole PC, one for a specific folder, or a rootkin scan, which is also included in a full scan. Overall, these scans do not slow down the PC performance too drastically.
Effectiveness & Safety: For protection, AVG scores a 100% with its formidable malware blocking tools that block downloads and malicious URLs. There is a clever tool that allows you to scan your PC from your mobile phone if you suspect it has become infected.
Features: Here are the shoo-in attributes that make AVG a go-to option for free virus protection.
Phishing Protection: For any dodgy-looking pages, AVG displays a popup to warn you against the site page; the same mechanism it used to alert you about a malware-hosting URL or malicious download. The page might appear to look very strange after this tool kicks in because AVG removes all the page components that represent the phishing attack.
Identity Protection: The description may deceive you at first, but this feature is actually not related to credit monitoring or identity theft. This is a behavior-based detection tool that is designed to pick up on threatening behavior patterns. AVG is very effective with this detection system in that there are no erroneous warning about safe websites, and there are no popups for every single detected suspicious activity.
Permanent Shredder: After you install the free AVG antivirus version, a new item will appear on the right-click menu termed Permanently Shred with AVG. You need to select this item and confirm the selection in order for AVG to overwrite a file before deletion; this makes it possible to undelete a file. I'd say this is pretty handy for annihilating sensitive files that are beyond the possibility of forensic recovery.
Do No Track: This tool gets turned off by default. If you turn it on, it will work in the background without notifying you, and it will actively prevent social media buttons, web analytic tools, and ad networks from tracking your browsing activities.
Browser Cleaner: Cookies and cached files also track your browsing activity; hence this valuable tool reports on them so you can wipe them out at the click of a button. When you press Shift + Crtl + Del, the cleaner will appear as a built-in dialog box in Chrome, Firefox, and Explorer, so you can have access to more detailed control options.
Sometimes to too see the full picture, you have to pay.
This rings true to AVG.
The first aspect worth mentioning is in relation to the interface panels I mentioned above. If you want to see a complete green circle, meaning complete protection, you'll have to upgrade to the paid version.
The paid products also promise data encryption, more robust download protection, and a firewall to lessen those pesky online threats. One of the other features that only a paid user will enjoy is the AVG Web Tuneup. The Tuneup is an essential browser add-in as it rates the safety of a website, but it doesn't end just there. The add-in shares details and a full report of the website, such as the server location and whether SSL security is used.
Another important point to mention is the panel on the dashboard called "Performance."
When you click the button, the PC Analyzer is set into motion; it checks for junk files, registry errors, broken shortcuts, and disk fragmentation. At first it appears to be part of the free version, but once it finishes to launch, it displays the results without actually fixing anything and offers a "Fix Now" button instead.
What's more, when you press "Fix Now", once again nothing is fixed, and rather a one-day free trail of the AVG PC Tuneup kicks into action. This tune up tool really fixes the issues originally detected with two ancillary tools, namely: Tuneup Undelete and AVG Disk Space Explorer. The Disk Space Explorer presents the visual representations of the biggest files that occupy the most space, and it analyzes your disk usage; the Tuneup identifies all deleted files whose details are still accessible on the disk so that it can rate the possibility of recovering the deleted files' information.
The issue is that after one day these tools go dead!
If you choose to install it after the trial, the secure deletion menu changes its name to AVG Shredder. In order to fix this issue you have to uninstall the Tuneup tool.
To get the full picture about AVG's different antivirus paid packages, take a squiz at our AVG Review.
For free virus protection, Panda is a force to be reckoned with.
Some of attributes included in the free antivirus download are:
So let's get right to it:
Ease of Use: The user interface of 2016 showcases a white background with panels and buttons in blue with the biggest one displaying your security status and statistics, and the others there to launch scans, additional security functions, and to extend protection to other devices.
Installation: Installation is fast and simple. In saying that, if you want to download it, you'll need the Panda Security Toolbar for full protection. The issue is that the default search provider is Yahoo and your home page is also Yahoo powered MyStart. Unfortunately, these are the bundles that provide income to Panda in order to provide free antivirus software.
Speed: Panda uses cloud processing power which takes the weight off your PC and places all the heavy lifting on Panda's servers. The ActiveScan is an ActiveX-based online scanner that undertakes searches and destroys active malware along the way. This scanner is not compatible with Windows 8. If malware and ransomware have rendered your PC useless, you can create a bootable Rescue Kit from a clean PC.
Effectiveness & Safety: Panda displays very powerful malware blocking in that it waits for real threats like file creation or modification in order for the scanner to kick in. What this means is that it doesn't just scan a file because it accessed it; rather it looks for suspicious behavior. Panda Free Antivirus also possesses malicious URL blocking, and it destroys files either during or immediately after download.
Features: There are lots of bonus features with the free version which is truly a win for free virus protection.
Cloud Cleaner: A tool built to search for malware, the cloud cleaner is a useful attribute to clean browsing traces and to look for suspicious policies on websites.
Phishing Protection: Panda's anti-phishing toolbar mechanism is the same as the one that fights malware-hosting URLs. There isn't anything to write home about with regards to the phishing protection, so it's best to leave your browser's phishing protection on as well.
Process Monitor: Panda's Process Monitor keeps tracks of all the URLs and running processes on your system. It lists all the active processes with their level of risk and if they are accessing the Internet, marking those with medium to high risk level.
USB Vaccination: Panda scans all USB drives you insert into your system by default, but this vaccination tool kicks things up a notch by making it impossible for another process to automatically launch itself when the drive is mounted. Panda offers the option to vaccinate every single USB drive you insert into your PCs.
Toolbar Cleaner: If you use this software, you will need the security toolbar; however, if you want to get rid of additional toolbars that you didn't request, you will need the Cleaner to come to the rescue. It not only removes plug-ins and tools from your browsers, but also acts as a third-party utility that clears browsing traces and disables programs that were launched during startup. It includes a button to get rid of browsing data for those who aren't aware that the Shift + Ctrl + Del buttons perform this function. Take care to note that if you make any changes to this toolbar cleaner, they are irreversible.
If you want other important attributes to safeguard your online presence like WiFi scanning, file encryption, password management, and parental control, you'll have to choose Panda's paid antivirus products.
To learn the differences between Panda Antivirus Pro and the other premium options, check out our comprehensive Panda Review.
Panda's premium packages offer coverage and full protection for Mac and Android devices. With the free edition, if you press on the "Other Devices" selection you will get a free-trial for Mac or a free Android package with limited features.
Bitdefender is our top choice for the best antivirus software, but when it comes to free virus protection it doesn't come out on top.
In saying that, Bitdefender does offer strong free antivirus software for the average home PC user who wants protection with:
Here is the 411 on Bitdefender's free virus protection:
Ease of Use: Bitdefender is extremely simple to use in that it operates in the background without needing any prompts or constant settings. The main window is very small and it vanishes every time you click on another window. If the background scanner and real-time protection find and fix any attacks, you will receive a brief balloon notification popup near the system tray icon.
Installation: The installation is simple, and what makes Bitdefender desirable is the fact that it works silently in the background until it needs to go full throttle on malware. No configuration is required when you install the free software, and you have the option to turn off real-time protection and the automatic scan, but that'd be silly.
Speed: The software is light on system resources because of its lightweight photon technology and the fact that it's ad-free and operates quietly in the background. The ultra-fast scanner detects and removes malware upon installation.
Effectiveness & Safety: Bitdefender's free installer runs a pre-install quick scan before it launches. This is to eradicate any active malware that will interfere with the installation process. This product works very well on malware-infested systems, but it can be a very cumbersome installation procedure that will need the help of technical support by email. It is important to have a Rescue CD because it solves all the problems. The pre-install scan will request a reboot to finish up the cleanup.
Features: Here are some of the attributes to expect if you use this free antivirus download:
Phishing Protection: Bitdefender uses machine-learning techniques to shield your system from fraudulent content and sites.
Photon Technology: This technology optimizes the scanning processes with regards to the PC configuration so that speed and performance remain unaffected.
Game mode: You can place major system scans on hold for as long as you want while you use your PC for other functionalities.
Cloud Scanning: Bitdefender uses behavioral analysis and cloud scanning to detect unknown or new malware threats so that they get nowhere near your networks. It uses proprietary technology to safeguard your system against any online threats.
Block Rootkit: A quick scan only picks up on spyware and viruses that are active in the memory or present in files that launch at system startup; this is where rootkit comes in. Inactive virus bodies are detected despite the fact that they are not scanned.
For those that choose to upgrade to the paid products, it is worth knowing that the basic Antivirus Plus comes with everything a user needs in terms of protection but with that added X-factor compared to the free version.
You will enjoy ransomware protection, privacy protection, and a spam filter if you upgrade to this option.
To explore the other packages and premium products, peruse this beautifully set-out Bitdefender Review for all the details.
Avira's Free Antivirus software is worth a mention because of its strong protection, user-friendly interface, and performance speed.
So, let's get down to business:
Ease of Use: The user interface is pretty simple; everything you need to know at a glance is displayed on the main window.
Installation: During the installation process the installer offers a range of Avira free products, such as: Avira SafeSearch, Phantom VPN, Avira System SpeedUp, and an Online Essentials Dashboard. The System SpeedUp is actually just a free trial while the others are free. Once you install Avira, the malware definitions are automatically updated so that you're ready to rumble.
Speed: The scanner doesn't slow down the overall speed of a PC despite the fact that it is constantly at work.
Effectiveness & Safety: The malware blocking on Avira is impressive in that as soon as files are opened, Avira gets to work by scanning them. For each detected threat in a file Avira sends a warning message with two buttons for "Details" and "Removal." It can get a bit annoying when you are getting notifications all the time. Both buttons lead to a tiny window with a progress bar which states that the system is being scanned; the "Details" button just lets you know what exactly was detected before proceeding to repair the issue.
Phishing Protection: Avira is a bit disappointing in its phishing protection but makes up for it with its outstanding malicious URL detection and blocking. I suggest that you leave your browser's phishing protection on to prevent fraudulent sites from accessing your information.
Cloud-Based Security Pools: Avira pools its history of virus exposure in order to combat any threats that affect any user across the globe. If one user is attacked by a new, nasty virus, all of Avira's users will be able to detect it.
Browser Safety: The browser safety tool marks search results with safety icons in different colors along with a small pull-down bar that lists the details of the current site, as well as the number of trackers and adverts that Avira found and blocked. The bad news is that this tool only works on Chrome and Firefox.
Android Safety: This link downloads Avira Free Android Security for free so that you can engage anti-theft mechanisms and manage your devices from the online dashboard.
If you feel that you need technical support on demand, then the free version isn't for you. You'll have to rely on the support forums and Q&As to get a sense of what to do should you get lost in the woods. Paid users have access to immediate support by phone, email, and web tickets.
What's more, you also get additional features besides the free virus protection that comes standard with the free version.
This package includes e-mail scanning and protection to make sure that malware does not sneak its way into your system through spam emails, as well as network protection, game mode, and advanced web protection.
Another important aspect to take into consideration is the firewall. You can be misled to think that the free version gets it because it appears on the main window, but it just leads to a report on the built-in Windows's firewall.
To get a sense of what the other packages offer for premium subscribers, as well as for more information of Avira, click on this excellent Avira Review.
ZoneAlarm offers free virus protection powered by the security giant in the industry, Kaspersky. How it works is that Check Point licenses Kaspersky's antivirus engine for ZoneAlarm, and this means that they are a great competitor for free antivirus software and paid products.
Some of the main attributes of Kaspersky are left out of the free version of ZoneAlarm, but here are some of the features to expect from the free antivirus download:
Let's take a closer inspection at the other attributes:
Ease of Use: The set up is clean and easy with 3 panels on the main window for Antivirus, Firewall, and Identity & Data.
Installation: The new version is better in that it took away the default settings of the toolbar, home page, and search browser that used to change to a third-party one to keep it free. However, the toolbar offered anti-phishing protection which now isn't the case.
Speed: Your PC will not be affected by the effective scans that run on the system even though the protection offered by the scanner is at a top-notch level.
Effectiveness & Safety: The malware blocking is a success with ZoneAlarm's real-time protection for all files. ZoneAlarm gets to work right away as soon as it is exposed to malware. The software sends a large notification window and keeps adding all the threats it find to it in the form of a list with the option to eliminate the risks. The free version has the ability to detect malware-hosting websites in order to steer the browser away from them, but the annoying part is that it checks all downloaded files for malware.
Features: Overall, it includes most of what you get from Kaspersky but not all the advanced features.
Firewall: ZoneAlarm's firewall is very powerful with its ability to hide your PC from outside threats as well as its resistance to all outside attempts to disable its protection. The firewall avoids popup queries by automatically configuring permissions for programs found in its large database, but at the same time, it doesn't screen all programs at its default sensitivity level.
Online Backup: If you install ZoneAlarm, you get 5 GB of online storage for backup hosted by Check Point's partner IDrive.
Credit Monitoring: Identity Guard, another Check Point partner, offers a credit monitoring service for year at no extra cost. Users have to enter their personal information, including credit card details, so that the tool can know what to safeguard. This identity lock attribute stops transmission of user-defined personal information from your PC. There is a setting that before any transmission takes place it checks with you first.
If you upgrade to the Pro version, there are lots of bonuses that you will enjoy at a low price.
Firstly, IDrive will give you 1 TB of online backup instead of 5 GB.
Secondly, you will be able to set the scanner at optimal settings so it only scans when a file is opened or launched, and you can choose Smart Mode which works according to rules that determine when a scan is necessary. Another thing the Pro version comes with is the scanner's ability to scan mailbox files and network drives.
The firewall will detect and block exploits at a network level, something that the free version doesn't offer.
The main features you will miss out on with the free version are the Web Monitoring and the Cloud Protection. Web Monitoring allows ZoneAlarm to block all access to known malicious URLs, while Cloud Protection adds to the antivirus's local threat database with more information from the cloud.
To learn about the other premium products with even more security features, read our ZoneAlarm Review.
What you can learn from this is that there is no reason to be without antivirus protection because of all the free virus protection packages and providers this article has detailed, who rank among the best free antivirus software vendors out there.
With free antivirus protection you get the basics that any paid product comes with minus a few features.
The latter can be frustrating if you are looking for top-notch protection through which you know you are secure and can sleep at night peacefully, or the simple fact that free versions don't even come with customer support.
The bottom line is to stay protected whether you do so for free or at a certain price.
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