Best Free Antivirus Software

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Introduction

Antivirus software provides an essential layer of protection from viruses, trojans, worms, spyware, adware, dialers, keyloggers, and rootkits. Don't let the name antivirus confuse you. These days every good antivirus has good detection rates for all forms of malware, not just viruses. The term malware includes viruses, trojans, worms, spyware, adware, dialers, keyloggers, rootkits, and any other software which performs malicious activities on a computer.

 

Sadly, the amount of malware currently in circulation is so large that no antivirus could possibly detect all of it. Despite vendor's claims, no single antivirus solution can detect nearly all new malware. There are some products out there, including some in this review, which include technologies which are able to adequately protect a computer, but any product which relies mainly on detection is statistically doomed to fail at some time. Also, using more than one real-time antivirus at the same time uses much more system resources, can cause system errors, and can even reduce protection. For my advice on how to compensate for these weakness of antivirus products, to a large extent, please see my other article about How to Stay Safe While Online. Having a good antivirus product does go a large way towards adequately protecting your computer, but in this day I would highly recommend that you add additional layers to your security.

 

Below I have reviewed some of the most effective Free Antivirus products currently on the market. In order to make this review more unbiased, although of course my own intuition and experience does affect my judgment as well, I came up with a particular methodology for comparing these products. This methodology is described in the following section.

Recent Changelog:

9/14/2014-Replaced http links with https links wherever possible.

 
Methodology For Comparing Products

The main motivation behind why I came up with this particular methodology for this review is that I value system protection against real world threats above all other categories by which an antivirus is commonly judged. It does not matter to me whether an antivirus protects the user by detecting malware, blocking dangerous sites, behavioral analysis, sandboxing, or any other approach. The most important thing is that at the end of the day your system is safe from infection. Thus, that is the attitude I have taken towards reviewing these products.

 

Therefore, I found Antivirus testing organizations which claim to test products against situations which resemble real-world situations. I narrowed these down by further requiring that the organizations have a relatively long record of producing good, seemingly unbiased, results. The organizations I ended up with, and therefore used for this review, are:

AV-Test

AV-Comparatives

Dennis Technology Labs

From here I looked at all tests ranging to the beginning of 2013. However, if there were more than three tests within that range I used only the most recent three. Also, if given the choice between results from different operating systems, I chose that for the most popular operating system. At the moment Windows 7 is the most popular operating system.

Also, I only considered results if it was specifically the Free Version which was tested. This is because the results for the Paid Version of the products in this review, with the exception of Comodo Antivirus, are often quite different from those for the Free versions.

In addition, I did not count it against any of the products if they were not tested by multiple organizations. As long as they were tested by at least one, within the above-mentioned period, they were considered. This criteria was chosen because there are many reasons to choose not to participate in a test. Thus, it should not be held against the product if they were not tested by multiple agencies. However, if they were not tested by any, this makes it impossible to compare them in an unbiased fashion.

 

Once this data was collected, I then looked at the overall results for the Free Antivirus products discussed in this review, and ordered them mainly according to the quantitative results. However, my own knowledge of the products, and the reviews and experiences of others, were also considered. The results are presented and discussed below.

Discussion And Comparison

Comodo Antivirus is my top pick for advanced users or for Intermediate users who are okay with an antivirus software which will occasionally ask them for input. However, if you do not fall into those categories, or for any other reason find it to not be a good fit for you, then you will likely find my next pick suitable. Also, for those who prefer a complete solution, there is always Comodo Internet Security, which is also free and includes a firewall in addition to all other components which already come with Comodo Antivirus.

The reason I made this my top pick for advanced users or users who are okay with a somewhat talkative antivirus software, is because it is the only product which I feel confident saying that it will protect you against nearly 100% of real-world threats. I have a lot of experience with this product. I am a volunteer moderator on the Comodo forums and have been using it for a long time. I know this product very well, and am entirely confident in its ability to protect.

Comodo Antivirus uses the cloud to facilitate the detection of the most recent malware, as do many other Free Antiviruses reviewed in this article. However, Comodo also incorporates a Behavioral Blocker, which will automatically sandbox all software which it does not know for sure is safe. Thus, the user is protected from nearly all malware, which will either be detected by the antivirus component or sandboxed by the Behavioral Blocker. It will also analyze unknown applications for suspicious behavior, and alert the user accordingly.

However, as mentioned previously, users who do not want a somewhat talkative antivirus should continue to my next pick. Also, by default Comodo Antivirus has small advertisements (which can be disabled as shown here). Also, during installation users should be sure to click the Customize Installer option, which is near the bottom-left of the installation window. This will allow them to uncheck additional software, which the installer will automatically install with Comodo Antivirus unless unchecked. This software is not dangerous and includes a browser, and ad-blocking addon, and an optional paid service which would allow Comodo technicians to assist you with any computer problems you have. These, and a later option to change your homepage to support Comodo, can safely be unchecked during installation. Even with this extra hassle, this software is still my top pick, but I do wish they made the installation process simpler and made this advertising option more visible.

 

Avast! Free AntivirusAvast! Free Antivirus is has very good protection rates. Avast has many different protection shields, boot-time scanning, a behavioral blocker, an internet site ratings plugin, script malware protection, and access to cloud-based protection. It's arguable whether their ratings plugin offers comparable levels to WOT, but the script malware protection can prevent certain browser exploits, a feature not available in any of the other free AV's reviewed.

However, do note that Avast requires a free registration to function after 30 days, and the default installation installs the Chrome browser unless you uncheck it. Also, note that the OpenCandy advertising component is integrated into the Software Updater tool in Avast. More information about OpenCandy can be read here. Thus, if a user selects this option during the install they will end up with OpenCandy on their computer. My advice would be that if you want to install Avast you should not use the Software Updater tool.

 

Panda Cloud AntivirusPanda Cloud Antivirus is another excellent choice for average users, who may find both Comodo Antivirus and Avast too confusing. It has a simple interface, completely automated features, access to cloud-based protection, and has been shown to be very good at protecting a computer. Panda Cloud Antivirus has a behavioral blocker, web protection, and access to cloud-based protection, all of which will help increase your security.

 

AVG Anti-Virus Free EditionAVG Anti-Virus Free Edition is also a decent choice for average users. My analysis of the results, as discussed in the methodology section, does show that it does a decent job of protecting your computer. However, it appears that the above Antivirus products tend to do better. Also, it comes with advertisements (but they can be disabled).

 

Avira AntiVir Personal EditionAvira AntiVir Personal Edition is another product which has a very good reputation. However, the free version was not tested by any of the three testing organizations I referenced in my methodology. Therefore, I cannot currently recommend it above any of the previously mentioned products.

However, other comparative tests do show that it has very high detection rates for malware. Also, many users have used it and found that it is very effective. Also, users have access to cloud-based protection. AntiVir is certainly a good choice for a free antivirus, but due to the lack of real-world testing, at this time I cannot recommend it above the other products in this review. Hopefully in the future they will have the free version tested by these organizations as well.

 

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is another free antivirus product which has a very good reputation. However, the free version was not tested by any of the three testing organizations I referenced in my methodology. Therefore, I cannot recommend it above any of the previously mentioned products.

The engine for this product appears to be the same as for the commercial product. However, the level of protection provided has not been shown identical with the paid version, which is why I did not use the results for the paid version in my analysis. The user interface for this product is very minimalist. Thus, it may be attractive for novice users, though more advanced users may be frustrated at the lack of customization. Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is a good choice for a free antivirus, but due to the lack of real-world testing, at this time I cannot recommend it above the other products in this review. Hopefully in the future they will have the free version tested by these organizations as well.

 

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Quick Selection Guide

Comodo Antivirus
5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
This has full real-time protection capability, including real-time antivirus, behavioral blocking features, cloud-based protection, and an automatic sandboxing function which protects users from nearly all malware.
The automatic sandboxing function, although not very intrusive, may be too talkative for some users. Also, by default non-intrusive advertising is enabled (although it can easily be turned off).
Version 6.x
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.x

Take care to avoid the installation of unwanted software during installation. To do this use the customized installer button, which is on the lower left-corner of the screen during installation. Additional software, including a browser, an ad-blocking addon, and an option paid service which would allow Comodo technicians to help you with computer problems, are all included by default.
Also, note that although the download page linked to above does not list Windows XP as being supported, Windows XP x32 is fully supported, although Windows XP x64 has significant limitations.

Avast! Free Antivirus
5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
This has full real-time capabilities, behavioral blocking features, script malware protection, and a low rate of false positives.
Default settings require certain user interaction. It is bundled with Chrome browser by default, and if not carefully avoided during installation the user may accidentally install OpenCandy (see discussion for clarification).
Version 9.x
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.x, Mac OS

Take care to avoid the default inclusion of the Chrome browser and OpenCandy during the install process by using the custom install option. The attempt to install these will also be repeated at the program update if the automatic option is chosen.
Quick Start Guide: http://www.avast.com/download-documentation
Forum: https://forum.avast.com/

Panda Cloud Antivirus
4
 
Combines a web service with a stand-alone program
High detection rate of malware, web protection, some behavioural blocker features
Detection rates of real-world malware is slightly lower
http://www.cloudantivirus.com
Version 2.x
32 and 64 bit versions available
Free for private use only
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.x
AVG Anti-Virus Free
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Behavioural blocker
Slightly lower signature detection rates
Version 2013.x
32 and 64 bit versions available
Free for private use only
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.x

Forum for support

Avira AntiVir Personal Edition
3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Outstanding detection of malware
Not the most user friendly
Version 14.x
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Free for private use only
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.x
Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition
3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
High detection rates, very user friendly
Lack of customization
Version 1.x
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Free for private or educational use only
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.x

 
Editor

This software category is maintained by volunteer editor Chiron. Registered members can contact the editor with any comments or questions they might have by clicking here.

 
Tags

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Comments

by rfithen on 4. August 2013 - 2:34  (109890)

The antivirus portion seems to work fine; but the program is blocking me from known good sites like: instantbird, portableapps download section, some downloads on sourceforge; etc. ....and when clicking "continue anyway" it does not seem to react properly. just my take.

by MidnightCowboy on 4. August 2013 - 5:35  (109891)

Antivirus programs are designed to protect their users. Within this process there are always likely to be some false positives.

http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/what-false-positive-antivirus-de...

Specific to your experience, I can't comment about Instandbird because I have no knowldge about how they operate but Sourceforge have recently introduced a wrapped installer (like cnet)
http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/cnet-downloadcom-wrapped-install...
which will certainly explain Bitdefenders intervention there.

http://www.reddit.com/r/technology/comments/1jk1gz/sourceforge_starts_us...
http://www.davescomputertips.com/sourceforges-new-installer-bundles-adware/
http://www.ghacks.net/2013/07/17/sourceforges-new-installer-bundles-prog...
http://malwaretips.com/Thread-Sourceforge-net-adds-adware-installers-pro...

I always recommend users research what they want to install via Google first in case something is missed by their antivirus, in which case the above links would have provided the information necessary to make an informed decision.

Genuine false positives can and should be reported to Bitdefender for the benefit of other users.

http://forum.bitdefender.com/index.php?showforum=138

MC - Site Manager.

by althu21 on 18. August 2013 - 19:05  (110199)

360 Internet Security 2013.
From more than last 7 years I'm a regular visitor of this site.But this is my first post as yesterday I saw a review on 360 internet security. Then I searched about the software & got interesting results.
Quick installation. Attractive interface. Good scores in antivirus tests, both from PCMag and independent labs. Built-in feedback form for reporting any problems.

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2422024,00.asp

by George.J on 19. August 2013 - 1:33  (110201)

Interesting...We've had a thread about it on our forum. http://www.techsupportalert.com/freeware-forum/security/9818-qihoo360-an...

by George.J on 19. August 2013 - 2:06  (110202)

Anyone who's looking to download the software can go to the official English website: http://www.360safe.com/

by Looker on 23. August 2013 - 4:01  (110278)

I used Avira for several years. But Avira finally started upgrading itself on its own to v13 after bugging me everyday to do the upgrade (and me refusing). Not cool. Then it tells me to uninstall Spybot and (I think it was) Emisoft as they are "incompatible". Also not cool.

So fine. I uninstall Avira and start installing Avast. But I'm reading its eula and I get to the disturbing part below. It seems Avast is now spyware and DOES collect your personal info and provides it to its "business partners". VERY uncool!

Is this new? Do others find this objectionable, too? Am I misinterpreting something? Other parts of the eula were questionable as well.

[below is copied from eula]

"Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the AVAST privacy policy, you consent during the term of this Agreement and for one (1) year thereafter to (i) AVAST sharing information collected by you during your installation or registration of the Software with AVAST’s distributors and other business partners and (ii) use of such information by AVAST, its distributors and other business partners to present you with information that may be relevant to you, including offers of software, services or other products."

by George.J on 23. August 2013 - 4:26  (110279)

I wouldn't be surprised since most softwares have EULA along these same lines.

(i) "Sharing information" as in the samples found in individual computers for testing false positives and other information. Using the same to update database signatures etc etc... I think can disable this by deselecting Avast Community Program.

(ii) Mailing you about Avast information, according to your preferences, and finding if you have Chrome installed on your PC, if not recommend the product to you during installation.

Definitely not spyware.

by AJNorth on 5. September 2013 - 10:27  (110540)

Yes, what a shame that SourceForge decided to add a wrapper to their installers (and they use to be a completely reputable site...).

by taylor1277 on 8. September 2013 - 7:12  (110590)

i found this here on your website,i have been using it for a month now and i would like to say that maybe its time we take one of the everyday we hear about antivirus programs that are bloated so badly today and help out those that brought me Unthreat Antivirus.Hope this isn't against the rules,but if anyone else out there is looking for a good antivirus,give this a try.thanks love the website.

by liubomirwm on 8. September 2013 - 12:48  (110596)

There is another great AV, Bitdefender (it is the Antivirus of the year according to AV-Comparatives and has won the Best Repair for 2012 award from AV-test) and it has a free version, which you can download from here: http://www.bitdefender.com/solutions/free.html Note that you can't configure any of it's settings, but it takes care of everything automatically and discreetly using Top notch technologies). And, my favourite is Avast. It has more features than any other free AV. In the tests, Avast is outperforming every other free anttivirus program, incl. Your #1 selection, Avira. The only free AV which beats Avast is Bitdefender. And like they say- "It beats all viruses...and antiviruses. Always AWAKE) So, the #1 AV should be Bitdefender, and the second, my favourite Avast. Thank you for the great site, Ian!

Edit: MSE has a very very low detection, in fact, it has the lowest test results, LOL

by RandyDoqa on 12. September 2013 - 0:52  (110658)

Can you please till me if Avast is still the best choice as free antivirus software or not, i am asking because in your review i noticed that you rated "Microsoft Security Essentials" and "Avira AntiVir Personal Edition" with 5 stars and "Avast! Free Antivirus" with 4.5, so i want to know if "Microsoft Security Essentials" is the best choice now or not, or it is "Avira AntiVir Personal Edition" or it is still "Avast! Free Antivirus"?

I follow your review for my choice so i want to know which is the best now.

And thank you so much for your review.

by Geekster on 12. September 2013 - 1:19  (110661)

Qihoo 360 Internet Security is really an excellent freeware suite worth and evaluation

by George.J on 12. September 2013 - 2:16  (110662)

Agreed...

by liubomirwm on 12. September 2013 - 9:04  (110668)

Hi RandyDoqa, of you take a look at my prevoius post you will understand that the 2 best free AVs are #1BitDefender AV free edition and #2avast free antivirus. BD free has no settings and no advanced features but it's using the same engine and definitions as the paid products of Bitdefender(AV of the year and best repair of the year) so it has the same detection as the paid products of BD. My favourite AV is Avast, it has many features, but it doesn't have the detection rate of Bitdefender. So the choice is yours- Bitdefender or avast(i mean that are the best free AVs in the world). Of course you can use other AVs but these are the ones i recommend. Oh, and don't believe that Qihoo 360 is better than these AVs, it has no chance against them. :)

by JonathanT on 14. September 2013 - 5:03  (110700)

Avast is certainly one of the best choices, basically any of the major AVs provide good protection with good computing habits. :)
The rating shouldn't be displaying that, my bad.

by dnr on 22. September 2013 - 6:20  (110914)

I ended on this site looking for review that might address the fact that, as you mentioned for AVAST, these guys are collecting data on us and passing it around to there friends and [of coarse] making money on it some how. I decided not to stay with AVG because of there personal data collection policies, "email, web sites" and more. That was enough for me. Soooooo...... what to do.

That would be a real help to the masses [like us] if techsupportalert could include in there reviews if the AV software collects personal data and if it does, what data and how much.

by MidnightCowboy on 22. September 2013 - 7:28  (110915)

The majority of software vendors collect user data for either marketing or product improvement purposes. Exactly what they do collect is detailed in their FAQ and EULA which users should read before installing the software. Additional information that may be of concern to some users can be found in their own support forums, and in the case of security software, in the Wilders forum.

http://www.wilderssecurity.com/

Gizmo's Freeware will not be including this type of information in reviews unless there is a major concern about any one product which would likely be removed anyway. MC - Site Manager.

by George.J on 22. September 2013 - 7:40  (110916)

Exactly it's just that these users are too paranoid about privacy, when most of the information collected are non-personally identifiable. Also FAQ section of good software's covers what information they collect.

by mrinmoyjk on 22. September 2013 - 17:46  (110923)

On their website ( http://www.comodo.com/products/free-products.php ), it says Comodo Internet Security is free. I've no idea as I've never used it. It also scored well: http://www.av-test.org/en/tests/home-user/windows-7/julaug-2013/ .

by whycue on 23. September 2013 - 14:00  (110950)

My new PC came with Windows 8 - are there any recommended free antivirus/antispyware programs I can use with it?

by Anupam on 23. September 2013 - 14:14  (110951)

Any of the AVs suggested in the review will work fine. You can also read the comments to look for suggestions which are not covered in the review.

I personally use Avast, and it's working great with Windows 8.

by Paxmilitaris on 27. September 2013 - 20:40  (111003)

With Avast, you have to be careful not to get stuck with the Internet Security.

How does http://www.bitdefender.com/solutions/free.html rank?

by AJNorth on 28. September 2013 - 8:56  (111067)

Some may find the following post in the Avira Support Forum of interest:

"We’ve listened: Goodbye Notifier Ads!

Dears Customers,

The so called “Notifier” which for the Free Antivirus users pops up once a day (if you didn’t install the Avira Search Free Toolbar) to sell you something is about to disappear.

Starting with October 1st, you will never see it again.

For more information, please have a look here: http://techblog.avira.com/2013/09/27/weve-listened-goodbye-notifier-ads/en/ ."

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

In addition, the first Beta of Avira Free A/V 2014 has been released.

by AJNorth on 28. September 2013 - 17:32  (111069)

Greetings,

Having used the Comodo Firewall (in various incarnations) for over a decade on several machines (with high regard), and their full suite off-and-on, my experience with the current version running on a client's Win 7 laptop (I7-3630 QM, 8 GB DDR 3) for the past four months has been quite favorable.

Comodo I.S. has enjoyed a reputation for keeping a clean system clean; its ability to remove detected malware had been somewhat low previously, but has been improving of late.

A recent overview by Tom's Guide of the various free antivirus solutions discussed above, and a few more, can be found at http://www.tomsguide.com/us/best-free-antivirus-software-2013,review-178... . From their conclusions:

"If, in your eyes, protection against malware is more important than the defenses against phishing and Web threats, then Comodo wins with some top-notch real-time defenses."

As that well-known disclaimer goes, your mileage may vary. Best of luck.

Cheers,

AJN

by MidnightCowboy on 28. September 2013 - 23:40  (111073)

IMO their conclusion is a bit ambiguous considering most malware now comes from web threats. MC - Site Manager.

by AJNorth on 30. September 2013 - 10:04  (111074)

Indeed; all the more reason to employ a defense-in-depth strategy, which includes (amongst other things) using a secure browser (such as Firefox with an add-on such as NoScript) -- not to mention not doing casual browsing with administrative privileges (or much of anything else, for that matter...).

Still, the results reported by AV-TEST are impressive.

by Chakra on 29. September 2013 - 5:34  (111075)

They should have done this a lot earlier, but I will take it. Any news on the webshield and the ask toolbar in the free version?

by AJNorth on 29. September 2013 - 8:53  (111078)

The only description of the 2014 Beta I am able to find at this time is at http://www.softexia.com/anti-virus/avira-free-antivirus/ . Under "What’s new in Avira Free AntiVirus 2014 14.0.0.373 Beta," it describes a fix to the ask [sic] installer, so it appears that the toolbar has been retained, unfortunately (hopefully as a selectable option). They also provide a download link (the executable is 117 MB).

by JonathanT on 30. September 2013 - 9:36  (111106)

That is excellent news!

by AJNorth on 30. September 2013 - 10:05  (111107)

I agree, JT.

Of course, it remains to be seen just how well v. 2014 will perform, so Neil Rubenking's testing & review (PC Magazine), along with those of the various A/V testing labs, are eagerly awaited. (Too bad they're apparently retaining the Ask toolbar...)

As a side note, given the recent positive reviews that Comodo Internet Security has garnered (AV-TEST; Tom's Guide), might you consider putting it in the queue for a review?

Cheers,

AJN

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