Security Antivirus Software

Security is a big concern for every Internet user. Every day we hear of another website or forum being hacked and information being stolen from its members. With internet security becoming such an issue it’s important to make sure you’re protected.

With the increase in Internet crime and identity theft, you may feel overwhelmed with the options of security software and antivirus software available. Fortunately for you we have compiled a list of our top ten suggestions to help you make the right choice.

Online security is important for everyone. But how can we get the best deals on security antivirus software? Smart buyers always look for coupons that discount their product and save them money, but where are you going to find those coupons? Start searching online, and you’ll probably get lost in all the spam trying to sell you antivirus software. [[…]]

Security 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.


Our Experts Have Tested 37 Products in the Antivirus Category This Year

Since 1982, PCMag has tested and rated thousands of products to help you make better buying decisions. See how we test.(Opens in a new window)

Avast One Essential

Avast One Essential

Best for Comprehensive Free Security

4.5 Outstanding

Why We Picked It

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.

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 antivirus 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.

Who It’s For

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.

PROS

  • 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

CONS

  • Protection limited on Android, more so on iOS
  • Advanced firewall features absent
  • No Wi-Fi Inspector
  • Many useful features require upgrade

READ OUR AVAST ONE ESSENTIAL REVIEW

Available at AVASTSee It(Opens in a new window)

AVG AntiVirus Free

AVG AntiVirus Free

Best for Few-Frills Protection

4.0 Excellent

Why We Picked It

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 labs report 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.

Who It’s For

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.

PROS

  • 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

CONS

  • Initial scan slower than average
  • Fixing found performance issues requires upgrade
  • Boot-time scan can be very slow

READ OUR AVG ANTIVIRUS FREE REVIEW

Available at AVGSee It(Opens in a new window)

Bitdefender Antivirus Free for Windows

Bitdefender Antivirus Free for Windows

Best for No-Frills Protection

4.0 Excellent

Why We Picked It

Bitdefender Antivirus 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.

Who It’s For

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.

PROS

  • Same core antivirus protection as for-pay Bitdefender
  • Excellent scores from independent testing labs
  • Free

CONS

  • Lacks ransomware-specific protection
  • Diminished scores in our hand-on tests
  • First-time full scan unusually slow

READ OUR BITDEFENDER ANTIVIRUS FREE FOR WINDOWS REVIEW

Available at BitdefenderSee It(Opens in a new window)

Avira Free Security

Avira Free Security

Best for Many Security Components

3.5 Good

Why We Picked It

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.

Who It’s For

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.

PROS

  • Mostly excellent lab test scores
  • Features go well beyond basic antivirus
  • Includes VPN and password manager
  • Free

CONS

  • Many features require payment for full functionality
  • Serious bandwidth limitation for VPN
  • Poor scores in some hands-on tests

READ OUR AVIRA FREE SECURITY REVIEW

Available at AviraSee It(Opens in a new window)

Microsoft Defender Antivirus

Best for Windows Die-Hards

3.5 Good

Why We Picked It

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.

Who It’s For

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.

PROS

  • 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

CONS

  • Poor phishing detection score
  • SmartScreen Filter only protects Microsoft browsers
  • Awkward scan scheduling