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 sicknero on 14. July 2014 - 21:13  (117332)

I guess you've been a bit unlucky - I've run CIS free for two or three years now with very few problems, although I do always install onto a clean system.

I've not tried GeekBuddy but the Comodo forums can be helpful.

by MidnightCowboy on 15. July 2014 - 5:33  (117337)

We encounter these issues all the time with a variety of products and they are always local, due mostly to corrupt system files or the incomplete removal of other security software. MC - Site Manager.

by BroKen on 7. July 2014 - 19:17  (117210)

avast FREE ANTIVIRUS now comes with OpenCandy.

"OpenCandy is integrated into SoftwareUpdater since a couple of months. We use it to offer additional software to our customers in avast Free under some conditions. It helps us paying for the traffic caused by Software Updater in Avast Free." (June 2014)
https://forum.avast.com/index.php?topic=150764.msg1099392#msg1099392

by Chiron on 24. July 2014 - 15:02  (117548)

Thank you for pointing this out to me. I have now added a warning to the article.

by BroKen on 24. August 2014 - 10:42  (118177)

Your warning: "Take care to avoid the default inclusion of the Chrome browser and OpenCandy during the install process by using the custom install option" (accessed 2014-08-24). That has been bothering me. :)

It would be very unusual to be given the option to reject OpenCandy. What you can reject are the downloads suggested by OpenCandy, but those come only AFTER OpenCandy itself has been installed, assigned you a permanent identifier, snooped through your stuff, phoned home info about your computer, your software, your geolocation, etc. It then selects downloads based on that info and on its previous interactions with you.

Last I checked, the user could avoid OpenCandy by not including the Software Updater component when installing avast or by removing it later. Note that Software Updater is not the avast updater.

the other thing: The OpenCandy offers are not made, or not only made, during the installation of avast. They come when the Software Updater functions, as long as it is installed.

by sicknero on 24. August 2014 - 17:44  (118183)

According to Open Candy's own information, the OC component itself installs nothing on your system unless you accept one of the bundled offers. I've checked this for myself and it's true.

What happens is that when you run an installer that includes OC, the installer runs a dll which activates the bundled offers.

If you refuse all the offers then the dll is terminated and deleted after the original installer completes and nothing is left behind. I've also tested this for myself.

However, if you accept any of the offers then OC will install an auto-updater along with whatever offer you accepted.

The OC dll will "phone home" anyway, unless you block it, with the following information;

"A. Operating system version and language, country location and timezone of the computer running the installer, and the language of the developer’s installer
B. That the developer’s installer was initiated, and whether it was completed or canceled
C. Whether any third-party recommendations were made and if so, whether they were accepted or declined
D. If a third-party recommendation was accepted, whether the recommended app’s installer has been downloaded and the installer initiated
E. That the recommended third-party installer was initiated, and whether it was completed or canceled."

Note that the OC dll can be intercepted and blocked anyway, by programs like CIS.

by BroKen on 24. August 2014 - 21:50  (118187)

LOL. The link removed in the paragraph below because of the bad WOT rating was to OpenCandy's FAQ; accessed accessed 2011-03-27.

by MidnightCowboy on 25. August 2014 - 4:44  (118189)

Although you might like to think it's funny, our site rules are designed to protect visitors from potentially harmful links. Of course there are grey areas and situations when having a bad WOT rating does not present a hazard, but once we begin to make exceptions the whole system becomes meaningless. We do however expect members to read the rules before posting and abide by them for the benefit of the community. MC - Site Manager.

by BroKen on 25. August 2014 - 11:20  (118192)

The comic element was the entrance of WOT in this particular conversation, in a rebuttal of the claim that OpenCandy is benign. The opportune arrival of reinforcements. I apologize for the unclarity.

by sicknero on 26. August 2014 - 16:58  (118212)

I got the joke and enjoyed the irony too : )

I stand by my comments re; OC in general but fair cop, I hadn't properly looked into the situation with Avast in particular.

by BroKen on 24. August 2014 - 19:47  (118184)

Not sure why anyone would be comforted by the fact that the dll is removed, when (1) the snooping has already been done at that point, (2) it leaves a permanent identifier on the computer, what OpenCandy used to call a "non-reversible identifier" [link with bad WOT rating removed as per site rules], and (3) its dossier on you is kept remotely.

Thus it is, or was, FALSE that "nothing is left behind."

In any case, you are describing the typical case in which OpenCandy comes with an INSTALLER. This is NOT the case with avast.

The dll is in fact NOT removed in the case of avast (not that it matters). You may "verify" that via the avast forum thread linked above. It remains and gets triggered repeatedly by avast's Software Updater component (which is something akin to the Secunia Personal Software Inspector).

Sophisticated users can block OpenCandy, certainly, but those are likely not the users seeking recommendations for free anti-virus programs. Also, the presence of OpenCandy gives insight into the values and ethics of the avast company.

by rfithen on 24. June 2014 - 2:19  (116900)

360 Total Security Rocks!

It's like McDonald's "I'm lovin it!"

Yes I realize it is new. I've been on the net since all the others were new also. I too like to live dangerously.

* Patch windows with Windows Updates.
* Built-In System Cleaner.
* Built-In Start Remover.
* Built-In Sandbox. (similar to Avast)

One of the best guis I have seen in a while since others mucked theirs up. You ever try changing the detailed settings in newer versions of Avast?

It might just be me but it seems my machines run faster with 360 Total Security on. Probably because of the patches applied. It seems to find patches that Windows Update did not find.

* I have not run it on a purposely infected machine.
* It did remove startup items I did not want removed. (They were easily restored)

I would recommend only for an Advanced user for now. We don't know yet if their system cleaner is going to destroy something important.

Lenovo R60 Windows Vista 32-Bit
Acer Aspire 5532 Windows 7 Pro 64-Bit

by Oldspice68 on 2. July 2014 - 7:00  (117079)

Seeing as my last post was deleted, because I dared to mention SERIOUS privacy issues with 360, check out this link.

http://www.ibtimes.com/privacy-issues-chinas-qihoo-360-technology-which-...

by Chiron on 2. July 2014 - 12:32  (117091)

This seems to be just an assertion. This does not necessarily mean it is true. Have you found any other sources which back this up. I found many which linked back to this same article, but are there any which have reached the same conclusion through analysis of the product itself?

Thanks.

by MidnightCowboy on 2. July 2014 - 8:43  (117082)

Your other post was deleted because of the racist content. Implying that something Chinese, or from any other source for that matter, must be bad will not be tolerated here. MC - Site Manager.

by Chiron on 26. June 2014 - 1:48  (116927)

Thanks for providing this very helpful information. During my next re-write I will very likely be adding this AV to the article. It'll be interesting to see how it compares in tests.

Thank you.

by George.J on 24. June 2014 - 2:29  (116901)

I'd be using it, if my internet was faster. To update 3 engines takes thrice as much time.

by Bhat59 on 22. June 2014 - 16:35  (116875)

Few have commented on 360 Internet security and have told to wait until it is mature. I din't understand what it meant. I have already switched to 360 Internet security on my Windows 7(and also on my Android phone). Earlier I had Avast, AVG, Panda Cloud and Bitdefender. I liked 360 IS because it updates quickly. Also it doesn't install unwanted software during installation. I am also interested to know why it is not included in FREE AV list.

by Chiron on 26. June 2014 - 1:49  (116928)

I will be considering this AV for my next re-write.

Thanks.

by Kleepto on 11. June 2014 - 23:01  (116735)

Chiron how can we trust your review when many other sites rate Comodo very low and you stated that you are "a moderator on the Comodo forums" this seems to me to be a bias toward a product.

As a software developer i created 5 viruses for testing with and Comodo only detected 1 of them while BitDefender and avast detected all 5

How can you assure me that you are not biased

by Chiron on 12. June 2014 - 0:06  (116736)

I absolutely understand your concern, and it is one which I would likely worry about for others as well.

The difference between my approach towards rating these products and that utilized by other sites, is that I put protection first, and don't really care about detection unless it increases the protection. Most other sites put a premium on detection, which is not always a good indicator of the protection a product will offer.

Comodo Antivirus does not have the best detection, and as you mentioned Avast and Bitdefender do tend to have better detection ratios than Comodo. However, that does not tell you everything you need to know about the security product. The main difference between Comodo Antivirus and the others in the list is that Comodo Antivirus utilizes a default-deny architecture, whereas the rest utilize a default-allow architecture. What this means is that with Comodo Antivirus any unknown application (which includes all malware not already detected) will be partially isolated from the rest of your computer. However, with a default-allow antivirus all unknown applications (which includes all malware not already detected) will be allowed to access your computer.

Thus, I rank Comodo Antivirus higher than the others not because of detection, but because its ability to detect the user from real-world malware is much larger than the rest. Remember also that zero-day malware, which is what users should be most wary of, is not detected at very high rates. Thus, a default-deny architecture does provide significantly more protection, even though its detection rates may be lower.

Of course, the downside to default-deny architecture is that the same isolation will be applied to legitimate programs which are not yet trusted by Comodo. Thus, the user will have to interact with it more than they would a default-allow program. This is why I mentioned that my top pick for advanced or intermediate users is Comodo Antivirus. This is because it requires some additional interaction. However, for those who do not want a piece of software which requires much interaction my top pick is Avast.

I plan on making this distinction much clearer in my next re-write. I hope this explanation was helpful. If you still have questions I am more than happy to clarify/explain further.

Thank you.

by Kleepto on 13. June 2014 - 1:23  (116753)

You have not given me any reason to think that you are not biased towards this product and only told me things i already knew about comodo and I even created one of my viruses to target programs that Comodo trusted, I was hoping it would still check these but didn't appear too, maybe there is a setting somewhere that I missed to make it check these programs if there is how do I turn it on ?

Also how can you not rate cleaning as important i don't want to have to install another program to do the clean up if i get infected, i put 20 viruses on my comp and Comodo wasn't able to clean them up for me where as even Norman got half them removed and it is well crap not worth the memory it takes up

by Chiron on 14. June 2014 - 22:16  (116772)

Please do create a bug report for this vulnerability in this area:
https://forums.comodo.com/bug-reports-cis-b132.0/
of the Comodo forums. I can then better evaluate this there and, if it does turn out to be a vulnerability, forward it to the Comodo devs for consideration.

I believe that the architecture of any software intended to protect a computer is of utmost importance. Sadly, most free products which refer to themselves as Antiviruses do not utilize a default-deny architecture. If there are any others I am not aware of please do let me know. However, realize that this article ties my hands when it comes to products other than those which refer to themselves in the name as Antiviruses.

As for cleaning, I considered including that in the comparison. However, the truth is that if a product has already allowed the system to be infected I would recommend using multiple products for cleaning. No one product can be trusted to entirely clean a computer. Therefore, I do not include cleaning because my main focus is on prevention of infection, not in cleaning an infection which is already there. Perhaps I should update the article to make this more clear.

Thank you.

by MidnightCowboy on 13. June 2014 - 4:32  (116755)

These types of comments hold no authority at all because absolutely no details are provided. This is the very reason why Wilders forum now disallows posts about home made "tests" because they are meaningless. Please provide details of the code you are referring to, how the tests were conducted and on what system using our site PM facility to so that Chiron can pass this on the the Comodo developers. Once this has been done, we will be able to respond here correctly, but not until. MC - Site Manager.

by George.J on 13. June 2014 - 8:15  (116757)

Sometimes I'm concerned about lab tests too. I mean AV-Comparitives doesn't test the free versions of AVG and Avira, and compares it against the free versions of Avast, Panda, Forticlient, Qihoo, which is an unfair comparison. Infact Avira came out first in the latest results, but they tested the IS version, not the free one.

by Chiron on 14. June 2014 - 22:21  (116773)

Agreed, it is very frustrating. However, in order to try to introduce more impartiality to the review I stuck to using these reviews, which have stated methodology, and use only the results for the Free versions. Thus, I am not judging them with respect to each test, but over all three labs for the previous three times the Free version was tested. I also take into account AV architecture, meaning default-deny and default-allow, and use that in my recommendations. I use default-deny being higher, but less user-friendly. That is why Comodo AV is rated number one (as my main criteria is protection) but Avast is rated just after because of higher user-friendliness and detection rates.

If you believe there is a better way to go about this please do let me know. I went through a lot of ideas before I came up with this one, but I also realize that there are issues with it.

Thank you.

by MidnightCowboy on 13. June 2014 - 8:59  (116758)

I've always been concerned about reliance on test results when choosing an antivirus solution but at least with the reputable labs you have access to the methodology. MC - Site Manager.

by MidnightCowboy on 4. June 2014 - 9:56  (116613)

I've had the latest FortiClient running on several machines for a while now, one of which is mine, and everyone including me is very happy with the results.

http://www.forticlient.com/

It's getting good results from AV Comparatives and VB for those who follow such things.

https://www.virusbtn.com/vb100/rap-index.xml

Be aware that the update process will kill you if you have a slow connection, but it's no worse than a lot of others.

Also, the stated Application Firewall is disabled unless you are registered into their FortiGate system.

The parental control/web filter is truly class leading and the configuration options are many, allowing for a considerable amount of fine tuning if needed.

IMO in combination with WinPatrol and say ZoneAlarm free firewall for those who must use something other than Windows, this is an efficient solution. MC - Site Manager.

by Chiron on 4. June 2014 - 13:53  (116619)

Thank you for pointing this out to me. I will evaluate this AV and consider it for my next re-write.

Thanks again.

by MidnightCowboy on 10. June 2014 - 6:25  (116704)

The updates for FortiClient are on demand (manual) which won't suit everyone but if your habits are such high risk that you need updates every hour then IMO you should be using Linux anyway. MC - Site Manager.

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