The Best Free Antivirus Software In 2023

Best Free Antivirus Software

7 Best Free Antivirus Software

You’ve heard that Windows comes with antivirus protection built in. What you may not have heard (but probably guessed) is that the built-in protection isn’t as effective as the best third-party antivirus solutions. Fortunately, you can up your antivirus game with no need to shell out your hard-earned simoleons. There are quite a few free antivirus tools available, so you can protect your PCs and devices without busting your budget.

Your antivirus should certainly have the ability to root out existing malware, but its ongoing task is to prevent ransomware, botnets, Trojans, and other types of nasty programs from getting a foothold. All the free antivirus programs we’ve selected here offer real-time malware protection. Some take the fight to the browser, working to ensure you never even browse to a malware-hosting site or get fooled into turning over your credentials to a phishing site.

Believe it or not, some of these freebies even beat all but the best for-pay equivalents. And since they’re free, you can try several before settling on your favorite. Read on for thumbnails of our full reviews, followed by details how we evaluate free antivirus software and how to choose the right one.

Avast has been supplying antivirus protection for as long as there’s been an antivirus industry. With Avast One Essential you get award-winning antivirus protection for free, and much more besides. All four of the independent testing labs we follow include Avast in their reporting, and it aces almost every test. It also takes high scores in our own hands-on testing. Other protective services include a permission-based ransomware protection system, a basic firewall, and a bandwidth-limited VPN.

1. Avast Best Free Antivirus Software

 

Pros & Cons

Reason To Use
  • Many excellent antivirus lab scores

  • Very good scores in our hands-on tests

  • Protection for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS

  • Generous VPN bandwidth limit

  • Includes privacy and performance features

Reason To Not Use
  • Protection limited on Android, more so on iOS

  • Advanced firewall featuresabsent

  • No Wi-Fi Inspector

Many useful features require an upgrade

Avast does reserve some features for paying customers. For example, the free edition will scan and identify apps with missing security patches and update them at your command, but won’t keep your apps updated automatically. Getting a list of junk files and broken registry items doesn’t cost anything; cleaning up the found mess is a premium feature.

Many free antiviruses: utilities work only on the Windows platform. Avast has varying degrees of protection for macOS, Android, and iOS. Its macOS edition earns high scores from the labs, and its ransomware protection, browser trace cleanup, and VPN work just as they do on Windows. On Android, you get antivirus, VPN, junk cleanup, and privacy protection, among other features, though anti-theft is noticeably absent. As is common, protection under iOS is limited, but it does include VPN, filtering fraudulent and malicious websites, and extra protection for your photos.

Why Use It

If you consider security software interesting rather than tedious, if a tight budget is the only reason you don’t buy a full security suite, Avast One Essential is perfect for you. The commercial Avast One suite does more, naturally, but this free edition is packed with features. The fact that you can use it to protect all your devices, not just Windows PCs, is icing on the cake.

2. AVG Best Free Antivirus Software

Pros & Cons

Reason To Use
  • Excellent scores from three labs

  • Very good scores in all our hands-on tests

  • Free

  • Boot-time scan removes persistent malware

  • Some useful bonus features

Reason To Not Use
  • Initial scan slower than average

  • Fixing found performance issues requires an upgrade

  • A boot-time scan can be very slow

In 2016, Avast acquired AVG: After the dust settled, both products use precisely the same antivirus technology under the hood. When you install AVG AntiVirus Free, you’re getting the same powerful protection you get from Avast. The two have different aggregate lab scores because not all the lab reports on AVG. In fact, since one of the labs that skipped AVG is the only one to give Avast a low score, AVG comes out ahead.

Like Avast, AVG protects against ransomware by banning all unauthorized changes to protected files. And like Avast, AVG’s free edition will identify junk files and other performance drains but won’t fix any problems unless you pay. Bonus features include a hardened browser, a deal-finding tool for shopping, and a simple network security inspector.

Why Use It

Not every user wants the nearly suite-level features of Avast One Essential, and not everyone needs cross-platform protection. If your focus is on powerful protection against both malware and malicious or fraudulent websites, AVG offers the same protection as Avast but in a simpler, more traditional package. The user interface can be important, too. Both Avast and AVG have a widespread international presence, but they’re popular in different regions.

3. Bitdefender Best Free Antivirus Software For Windows

Pros & Cons

Reason To Use
  • Reason To Use

  • Same core antivirus protection as for-pay Bitdefender

  • Excellent scores from independent testing labs

  • Free

Reason To Not Use
  • Lacks ransomware-specific protection

  • Diminished scores in our hand-on tests

  • First-time full scan unusually slow

Bitdefender Antivirus: Best Free for Windows offers basic protection that’s precisely the core of Editors’ Choice Bitdefender Antivirus Plus. In truth, it looks more like Bitdefender’s suite, but with many features disabled. Most of the locked-away features make sense, though the absence of ransomware remediation and vulnerability scan is a blow. On the plus side, the unusual defense timeline shows exactly how Bitdefender stopped an attack. And its defense against malicious and fraudulent (phishing) websites is second to none.

If you spring for the commercial antivirus: you get vastly more features, more features than found in some security suite products. Among these are a basic password management system, a hardened desktop for secure browsing, a Rescue Environment to recover from malware that disables Windows, and a Wi-Fi security analyzer. None of these come for free.

Why Use It

Bitdefender has an excellent reputation in the security world, and the company’s researchers frequently report on important discoveries. Relying on such a company for antivirus protection is a smart move, but you may well be put off by the cornucopia of features in the commercial edition. In that case, try Bitdefender Antivirus Free, which gives you the full core protection without any possibly confusing trimmings.

4. Adaware Best Free Antivirus Software

Pros & Cons

Reason To Use
  • A lightweight antivirus program
  • Can run as a supplement to other antivirus programs
  • Silent mode mutes notifications and limits resource use
Reason To Not Use
  • Some useful features are only usable with the paid version.
  • Limited configurability.
  • Real-time email scanning is not included.

Adaware Antivirus installs in minutes: is light on system resources and can be used in one of two ways. The first is in regular mode where it checks for threats as they happen, but the other lets you use it in addition to your primary antivirus program.

What this so-called “second line of defense” does is disables real-time protection but still lets you use Adaware Antivirus to manually scan for existing threats. This feature is helpful if your primary AV software doesn’t seem to find malware that you know is infecting your computer.

Whichever way you use it, Adaware Antivirus provides a defense against ransomware, spyware, viruses, and other forms of malicious software. You can find those threats through a quick, full, or custom scan.

Scanning: Daily, weekly, and monthly scheduled scans are supported, and you can even run a scan to just check certain things, like only rootkits or just tracking cookies and boot sector viruses, for example.

For real-time protection: you can toggle on or off the following options: scan archive files, scan email databases, deep scan that checks CHM files and executable files, smart scan that skips previously checked files, scan boot sectors, scan files as they move throughout the network, and skip scanning files that exceed a custom file size (e.g., 10 MB to skip video files).

You can also protect the program’s settings with a PIN as well as enable gaming/silent mode to suppress notifications.

The official list of compatible operating systems includes Windows 10, Windows 8, and Windows 7.

5. Kaspersky Best Free Antivirus Software

Pros & Cons

Reason To Use
  • Free password manager included
  • VPN offers 300MB of daily use
Reason To Not Use
  • Need a subscription for more advanced features

Eugene Kaspersky, who founded Kaspersky Lab, argues that offering free protection to its customers is part of its core mission. Yes, you will see upsell offers in Kaspersky products (including a can’t-miss red “Upgrade package” button on the Kaspersky management console), but they are, by and large, much kinder and gentler than those of their competitors. For the most part, installing the free Kaspersky product doesn’t change your daily experience.

Kaspersky’s free product includes two of the more useful extras we’ve seen in this category: a free password manager and a VPN that offers 300 MB of daily use. If someone’s not already using a third-party password manager, this is a good option, and the VPN capabilities are valuable for anyone who wants casual access to a protected network without a lot of fuss.

Like so many security software companies, Kaspersky’s headquarters are behind the old Iron Curtain. If that bothers you, good luck finding an alternative that doesn’t have a few Eastern European connections.

6. Avira Best Free Antivirus Software For Security

Pros & Cons

Reason To Use
  • Mostly excellent lab test scores
  • Features go well beyond basic antivirus
  • Includes VPN and password manager
  • Free
Reason To Not Use
  • Many features require payment for full functionality
  • Serious bandwidth limitation for VPN
  • Poor scores in some hands-on tests

Like Avast’s free offering: Avira Free Security is a free version of a full security suite. All the features are visible, but many are locked away. All four of the labs that we follow consider Avira’s antivirus technology important enough to test, and Avira earns mostly excellent scores, with a few clinkers. It didn’t do as well in our hands-on tests, but when our results don’t jibe with the labs, we defer to the lab results.

Avira: does scan for apps that are vulnerable due to missing security patches, but leaves you to fix any found problems manually. Other features include a simple password manager, a shopping deal-finder, and active prevention of ad trackers, as well as a bandwidth-limited VPN and a comprehensive privacy settings checker.

Some industry observers found fault with the Avira Crypto Ethereum-mining component; they’ve stopped worrying. With the Ethereum merge complete, that sort of mining is no longer possible, and Avira Crypto is gone.

Why Used It

Do you want a full-on security suite rather than a bare-bones antivirus? Can your nerves handle the occasional upsell windows when you accidentally click a feature that’s not free? Avira Free Security may be just the thing for you.

7. Microsoft Defender Best Free Antivirus Software

Pros & Cons

Reason To Use
  • Built into Windows
  • Some good lab scores
  • Very good hands-on malware protection score
  • Simple ransomware protection
  • Always on if no other antivirus is present
  • Free
Reason To Not Use
  • Poor phishing detection score
  • SmartScreen Filter only protects Microsoft browsers
  • Awkward scan scheduling

Best Free Antivirus Software

No discussion of free antivirus software would be complete without Microsoft Defender Antivirus. If you don’t have a third-party antivirus, or if your antivirus subscription lapses, Defender takes up the banner of your protection. If you do add or revive some other antivirus, Defender quietly retreats to the sidelines.

That’s not to say we’re super-enthusiastic about using Defender for your protection. It gets good scores in some lab tests, but tanks others. Likewise in our hands-on tests it earns some high scores and some very low ones. In typical Microsoft fashion, its protection against fraudulent and malicious websites only works in Edge. It’s good, but you can do better.

Why Use It

Hey, you! The one who’s falling asleep reading this article. The one who deeply does not care about antivirus. This one’s for you! To take advantage of its protection, you have to do exactly nothing. For the right person, that’s an ideal solution.

Free Antivirus vs. Paid Antivirus

If free antivirus tools are so good, why should anybody pay? For one thing, many of these products are free only for noncommercial use. If you want to protect your business, you must pony up for the paid edition. At that point, you should probably consider upgrading to a full security suite. After all, it’s your business’s security on the line.

Even for personal use, most for-pay antivirus tools offer more than their free counterparts—sometimes a lot more. For example, the paid editions of Adaware and ZoneAlarm add protection against malicious and fraudulent websites the free versions lack. And Panda reserves quite a few features for paying customers, among them firewall protection, application control, cross-platform support, and detection of insecure Wi-Fi connections.

In addition, many companies don’t offer full-scale tech support for users of their free editions. The first time you need extra help digging a particularly stubborn piece of malware out of your system, you might regret the lack of support.

Which free PC antivirus software is right for you?

Every security software package involves a trade-off between protection and convenience. The free packages we describe here add another layer to that equation, with varying degrees of advertising designed to convince you to upgrade your free program to a paid subscription. Each package also offers a mix of added features, which may or may not be of value to you.

In terms of effectiveness against online threats, we don’t believe there’s a profound difference between these packages. That means the best way to choose is to install a package and try it out for long enough to decide whether the interface and the upsell offers are acceptable. If you find a package too intrusive, uninstall it and move on to the next candidate on the list.

Finalize

From what I’ve discovered, each of the antivirus programs on the list above has its own pros and cons. So, the best software for you will depend on what you need. For example, if you want a program that protects you from most kinds of threats, Microsoft Defender is the best free antivirus software.

 

 

 

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