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.

 
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 process simpler.

 

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.

Avast is also relatively light on resources. 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.

 

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.

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. Bundled with Chrome browser by default (see notes).
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 Chrome browser during the install process by using the custom install option. The attempt to install Chrome will also be repeated at the program update if the automatic option is chosen.
Quick Start Guide: http://www.avast.com/download-documentation
Forum: http://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 Anonymous on 13. April 2009 - 16:32  (19796)

***Products that failed the VB100 April 2009 test***

AEC (Trustport) (Failure reason: 10 wildlist misses)
eEye (Failure reason: 11 wildlist misses)
Filseclab (Failure reason: 53 wildlist misses, 21 false positives)
Finport (Failure reason: 266 wildlist misses, 12 false positives)
K7 Computing (Failure reason: 2 false positives)
MicroWorld (Failure reason: 4 wildlist misses)
Norman (Failure reason: 10 wildlist misses)
PC Tools AntiVirus (Failure reason: 12 wildlist misses)
PC Tools Internet Security (Failure reason: 12 wildlist misses)
PC Tools Spyware Doctor (Failure reason: 12 wildlist misses)
Rising (Failure reason: 10 false positives)

by Anonymous on 11. April 2009 - 18:10  (19697)

Any possibility of reviewing Comodo Free Anti Virus?

by JonathanT on 12. April 2009 - 3:28  (19710)

I believe Comodo is too untested to be included here. According to Comodo their detection rates should be on par with the top products by the end of this year so we'll see. :)

by Anonymous on 12. April 2009 - 18:56  (19747)
by JonathanT on 13. April 2009 - 3:30  (19766)

I personally would like to see the results of several more tests before recommending it.
Thanks

by Anonymous on 12. April 2009 - 18:45  (19745)

Are tou creasy???Like a Firewall is good but the AV make fals Alarm and work not too much

by Anonymous on 9. April 2009 - 16:47  (19587)

I would definitely continue to use Avira, but I've noticed two problems that I can't stand:

1) Avira seems to affect how the computer is restarted. Basically, it somehow causes Windows to kill off all processes without waiting for the process to close naturally. This can cause data loss.

2) Perhaps as a precautionary measure, Avira won't allow alternate Windows shell blackbox/bblean/bbmien (see boxshots.org) to run. Instead of presenting a dialog, however, the process just hangs. Killing off Avira allows blackbox.exe to function normally.

This has been tested on two fresh installs of Windows XP. I do not know if anyone else is affected. I've since switched to the clunkier Avast.

by Anonymous on 9. April 2009 - 14:29  (19585)

check out this website. www.youtube.com/mrizos tests all kinds of security software.

by Anonymous on 8. April 2009 - 5:35  (19511)

Though only FREEware is included here, it seems that for a newcomer to have an idea of what one is getting into, some comparisons with commercial software should be adressed.

PCTools Doctor 6.0, and VIPRE seem to have come to the top of the hierarchy and may deserve a look at.

- http://www.pctools.com/spyware-doctor-antivirus/

No malware can catch it all, free or near free($19 for 1 year is practically free). The response to the company to resolve issues with new threats that are not yet included in the software, is critical.
Freeware may not provide a good turn around... while your system is being eaten from the inside.

Bench-marks... are needed. Broad statements as to how good something is, like, 'excellent', 'above average', 'i have not had any problems with it' etc... can be very deceiving.

All you have to do to feel your heart fall into your pant-sit, is run a few of these tools, and you find out the sad truth.

Your perfect little setup you thought was protecting you, is missing a massive amount of obvious cr.p and vice versa. ...and some that you run are pure fraud, that invent threats that do not exist, to get you to buy the product. Some are CPU hogs that take for ever to do the same job others do in a flash.

A truly comprehensive anslysis needs to be done that takes all the tools on the market and compares them all to the same task! A mirrored HD for each one of them in that many identical separate machines. Cluld be done in several identical machines in which the identical HDs are swapped as needed.

That is a lot of machines and man-hours...

.

by Anonymous on 9. April 2009 - 17:45  (19588)

I don't trust this post even a little bit.

by JonathanT on 8. April 2009 - 6:02  (19515)

I removed some questionable products and links.

If you want to look at some antivirus tests you could check out AV-Comparatives and AV-test.

I don't really understand your statements of " system is being eaten from the inside" and the "sad truth". One can protect their computers adequately with freeware, they are not bound to get infected or something.

by MidnightCowboy on 9. April 2009 - 1:36  (19549)

Agreed 100%. In my inevitable fashion I would even go even further and suggest that the first analysis should be that of self. Again I repeat that most of the infected machines I get to see are installed with Dud32, Najinsky and other assorted commercial 'wonderware'. User interaction remains one of the greatest threats, especially regarding internet security. Free or paid anything won't install into some sort of magic 'net angel' without help, but with a little knowledge and a bit of thought FREE is more than enough. Links to all you need are here on this site, and so is the help.

by JonathanT on 9. April 2009 - 3:26  (19554)

I completely agree! For example there are many experienced users on Wilders Security who go with no security software and still do not get infected, while there are some people who run 10 scanners and still get infected.

by Anonymous on 9. April 2009 - 12:28  (19577)

I'm behind a custom-rule configured NAT/SPI router.
I use
-Virtualization (Sandboxing)
-Instant System Recovery software.
-Proxomintron.

No resident AV; no software Firewall; no HIPS!
The last two (2) years, I've visited the nastiest sites.

Dr. Web CureIt,
Kaspersky Virus Removal Tool,
and Norman Malware Cleaner
have found Nothing.

I have downloaded the Trial Versions
of all known AVs.
In the worst case, the found just cookies...

by Anonymous on 7. April 2009 - 17:53  (19470)

There are of course many cross-overs and variables which is why the whole lot is now collectively referred to as malware. Thank you for pointing out though that my original post was maybe a bit too specific when in reality such a definition is not possible.

by Anonymous on 5. April 2009 - 14:46  (19331)

Finally removed Dr.Web. Thank you J.T.

by peter on 4. April 2009 - 10:16  (19254)

I've attempted to cleanup this thread by removing the childish and unwanted comments. I apologize to those legitimate posters whose posts have also been removed because of the way in which these threads are layed-out.
More detailed and more informative debate continues on our Forum, which I would urge ALL of you to join.

http://www.techsupportalert.com/freeware-forum/forumdisplay.php?f=13

by JonathanT on 4. April 2009 - 13:16  (19262)

Thanks Peter.

by dalimit on 3. April 2009 - 20:54  (19208)

AVZ antiviral toolkit is a great and fast on demand scanner with database update.

by Anonymous on 2. April 2009 - 18:30  (19139)

Maybe someone can explain for me what differences between antivirus and antispyware? Do antispyware can detect and remove virus?

by louis058 on 3. April 2009 - 11:32  (19194)

Antivirus can detect, block and remove VIRUSES (which are bad programs that can kill off your computer), Antispyware can detect, block and remove SPYWARE, ADWARE, and a load of other minor threats such as keyloggers, trojans etc, spyware are programs that is set to record information about the user, which may include bank details, adware are programs that display ads in your computer in some way which will be annoying, though not as damaging, trojans are programs that appear to be good, but once in your computer, offer assess to your computer to a potential cracker (hacker in layman terms), and keyloggers are programs that log the keypresses you do, so they can detect the passwords that you type in while online. Most Antivirus nowadays offer both antivirus AND antispyware components, which includes Avira, Avast and AVG. I find Avira the best because it doesn't use much resources, it doesn't cause any problems, and its detection rate is extremely high, with just a few false positives.

by MidnightCowboy on 3. April 2009 - 19:57  (19231)

Excellent answer. Virus = stuff coming in; spyware = stuff going out.
Also highlights the need for additional protection over and above that provided by Windows firewall (incoming only) if your PC contains information you don't want to share with the rest of the world. A third party firewall won't necessarily prevent an attempt to "phone home" but it will alert you to it.

by Anonymous on 5. April 2009 - 7:50  (19310)

-spyware is *also* stuff coming in.

-virus can *also* be stuff going out
(= think of the case of a virus that
multiplies itself by expanding into/infecting new PCs).

by Anonymous on 15. April 2009 - 6:41  (19898)

Hey Good article,Thanks for it.

by MidnightCowboy on 5. April 2009 - 14:40  (19330)

Agreed, including worms, but in order to do the damage it's designed for in general terms a virus needs to come 'in', and spyware needs to get 'out'. There are of course many cross-overs and variables which is why the whole lot is now collectively referred to as malware. Thank you for pointing out though that my original post was maybe a bit too specific when in reality such a definition is not possible.

by Anonymous on 2. April 2009 - 11:27  (19105)

Free 1 Year license key for Bitdefender IS 2009 - see www.raymond.cc

by MidnightCowboy on 2. April 2009 - 12:03  (19110)

The suite has some interesting features and it's general AV/Spyware capabilities are about on a par with Avast! although script malware detection is no where near as good as Avast! or Avira. The firewall component is very poor. You could provide third party protection with Script Defender although the firewall strength is still an issue.

http://www.softpedia.com/get/Security/Security-Related/AnalogX-Script-De...

by Anonymous on 2. April 2009 - 9:19  (19092)

You can use Avast Antivirus, that one is very popular in Europe.

by Anonymous on 1. April 2009 - 18:25  (19058)

malwarebytes is a great on demand scanner for free

by JonathanT on 2. April 2009 - 5:34  (19082)

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