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. However, 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 eventually. 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 due to unintended conflicts. For my advice on how to compensate for these weakness of antivirus products 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 arsenal.

 

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 I do of course admit that 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:

10/6/2014-Major revisions, re-ordered two antivirus products, and added an additional product to the review.

10/7/2014-Re-inserted explicit statement mentioning that I am a volunteer moderator (not employee) on the Comodo forums.

10/9/2014-Linked to instructions on how to make sure Bitdefender Free can be installed in English, and added MSE to list of unsuitable AV's.

 
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. My criteria is entirely based on protection, not cleaning. Therefore, if you believe your computer may be infected please first see my article on How to Know If Your Computer Is Infected before continuing to read the rest of this article.

 

I have located reputable 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 spanning back over the last two years. 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 (which has the exact same protection for its Free and Paid versions), are often quite different from those for the Free versions. Many marketing teams try to cloud this difference, but for the purposes of getting the most reliable information I am strict about this. Unless it can be explicitly proven that every protection mechanism is exactly identical to the free version the results for paid products are not considered in this analysis.

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 (CIS), which is also free and includes a firewall in addition to all other components which already come with Comodo Antivirus.

Firstly, I will note that I am a volunteer moderator (not employee) on the Comodo forums. However, this is certainly not the reason I chose this for the number one position. 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. This is because it maintains a white-list of known safe applications. Then, all unknown applications, which include all unrecognized malware, will be sandboxed and isolated from the rest of the system. Thus, this product provides very strong protection against even zero-day malware.

Comodo Antivirus also uses the cloud to facilitate the detection of the most recent malware, as do many other Free Antiviruses reviewed in this article. 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, please see my notes in the Quick Selection guide for advice on how to avoid unwanted software during installation.

 

Panda Cloud AntivirusPanda Cloud Antivirus is an excellent choice for average users, who may find Comodo Antivirus 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. The protection offered by this product is very strong.

 

 

 

 

Avast! Free AntivirusAvast! Free Antivirus 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 Web of Trust, 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.

 

AVG Anti-Virus Free EditionAVG Anti-Virus Free Edition is also a good 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).

 

 

 

 

360 Total Security is also a good choice for average users. Although it has gotten some very stellar reviews, the results I found from looking at the results from the testing agencies referenced earlier in this article show that the protection it provides is roughly the same as AVG, but certainly not as effective as Comodo, Panda, or Avast. This product uses multiple antivirus engines to detect malware. It has cloud protection, and also uses the Avira and BitDefender engines, although these are not enabled by default. For more information about this antivirus, see the separate article on this page.
 
 
 
 
 

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, Avira provides 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 very similar the commercial product, although there are some tweaks. However, the level of protection provided has not been shown conclusively to be identical with the paid version, which is why I did not use the results for the paid version in my analysis. "Bitdefender Free has both local and cloud-based definitions. Thus, users always have access to the most up-to-date definitions. It also has an effective heuristics engine, and uses a component called the Active Virus Control to monitor applications in real-time for suspicious behaviors. In addition it also has a webshield, which seems quite effective at protecting users from both malware infested and phishing sites.

The user interface for this product is very minimalist. Thus, it may be attractive for novice users, although 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. Also, note that if you are having trouble getting Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition to install in English please follow the steps in this post.

 

Please help us by rating this review

End-Note: Please note that I also looked into Forticlient , Kingsoft, and Microsoft Security Essentials. However, I found that the protection offered by these products is subpar. Thus, if you are considering using Forticlient or Kingsoft I would strongly recommend that you instead consider another of the products reviewed in this article.

 
Related Products and Links

Other Articles By Chiron

Related Free Antivirus Software Articles

Related Security Articles

 
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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). Also, Comodo Secure DNS, which is offered with Comodo Antivirus during installation, tends to have many false positives. Thus, I would suggest that you untick the option to Enable Comodo Secure DNS during installation.
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, I would suggest that you untick the option to Enable Comodo Secure DNS during installation. It tends to falsely block many safe pages.
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.

Panda Cloud Antivirus
5
 
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
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
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/

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

360 Total Security
4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Contains many engines for malware detection.
Avira and Bitdefender engines are not enabled by default.
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8.x
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 cavehomme on 17. June 2014 - 19:10  (116804)

I would not install Sky Shiled on my PCs. Why?

- New company / site since Feb 2014 according to Netcraft.

- Zero information on their website about who the company is and where they are located.

- zero reviews other than those placed by the company or its supporters.

Enough said, period.

by MidnightCowboy on 30. May 2014 - 7:19  (116496)

I like the way the "Learn more" button just scrolls you further down the same page with absolutely no other information about the product or where it comes from (unless I'm missing something?) :D MC - Site Manager.

by Anupam on 30. May 2014 - 7:28  (116497)

Well, information about the product is there, but not about where it comes from, or anything else regarding that matter. I didn't notice that... thanks for bringing this up. Caution needs to be exercised then, or maybe wait before more information about this product comes around.

by MidnightCowboy on 30. May 2014 - 8:09  (116498)

I certainly would not install this (at the moment) into anything I had not already consigned to the bin for other reasons. :D Could not find anything for it either over at Wilders which is usually the first place stuff like this appears. There is a "review" for it at Softpedia which states:

"It’s an appropriate solution if you just need a self-sustaining antivirus that does its job but on the other hand, if you might want to schedule a scan, grant permissions to certain apps or even view the quarantine, then you need to look for another antivirus.

All-in-all, SkyShield Antivirus might not be all that buffed up with features and well, it’s not that versatile, but it is a straightforward and user-friendly solution that can fit well on any system".

.... and then goes on to give it an almost 5 star rating for reasons I've yet to work out. :)

http://www.softpedia.com/get/Antivirus/SkyShield-Antivirus.shtml

by Anupam on 30. May 2014 - 8:18  (116499)

I agree with you. I just saw the antivirus on one of the download sites, and just thought to share. I didn't give much thought on it. Should have :D. It's fairly new though, so it might turn up on Wilders soon enough, as more people catch up on it.

by Chiron on 30. May 2014 - 17:28  (116510)

I'll see about adding it to my article about How to Report Malware or False Positives to Multiple Antivirus Vendors:
http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/how-report-malware-or-false-posi...
but from what is available about this product it seems to be a far cry from any AV which I could consider recommending. Perhaps that will change in the future.

Thanks for pointing it out though. It's always good to see new players entering the field. I'll keep an eye on it.

by MidnightCowboy on 23. May 2014 - 18:20  (116393)

I had a quick look today at 360 Total Security which is the new product replacing 360 Internet Security "in the near future". I activated and updated the additional engines OK, including Avira, but on running the program, no notifications for scanned downloads or indicators as promised when entering a shopping site, despite all of this being configured in the settings. Can't find any info about which browsers are supported (or not) but I tried using IE11, Chromium and Pale Moon. Guess I'll come back to this once it's had a bit more time to mature. MC - Site Manager.

by burrpenick on 11. May 2014 - 15:12  (116164)

Quick basic help question concerning AVAST: I've been using AVAST free, the trial period is up, can I continue it as is, and will I have adequate protection? Will I now need to manually update and/or run it?

Thanks, George in Tallahassee

by Anupam on 11. May 2014 - 16:57  (116166)

If you use Avast free, you have to register for it, which is free. You can find the registration under Settings. When you register, the program can be used without any problems for an year. After an year, you can again register it. Or, if you reinstall Avast anytime again, you can register it again. Registration is free, so no problem.

by cpuking1 on 6. May 2014 - 17:35  (116061)

Chiron,

It has come to my attention that AVG will not detect any part of Opencandy as malicious. AVG and Opencandy now have a deal that AVG not detect opencandy as malicious. That offends me !! If that is truly the case, then AVG does not deserve to be on your list !! For this reason, I personally will never put AVG on my computer ever again !!

by Chiron on 6. May 2014 - 20:18  (116068)

If you, or anyone else, can provide a link which shows this I will look into it. However, the most I would do is put a disclaimer as the program would still be effective at protecting users from truly dangerous malware.

That said, I will need to see a link before any action can be taken.

Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

by cpuking1 on 6. May 2014 - 21:58  (116070)

Chiron,

I read what I wrote in a Magazine. I do not remember the name of that magazine off the top of my head. I am going to do my best to find the proof of what I wrote here today. I will be back in touch when I acquire that information.

Thanks for your response

by MidnightCowboy on 6. May 2014 - 18:10  (116062)

None of us here, and I guess most outside, do not like OpenCandy or how it operates, but it is not malicious as indicated in our information page about it here.

http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/controversial-advertising-progra...

We also need to remember that unless as individuals we never search for deals and have completely opted out of the consumer society we helped to create, then we are all responsible for OpenCandy's existence.

The bottom line though is there are plenty of OpenCandy free alternatives for most software categories, and the offers it generates are easily avoidable if care is taken during the install process. MC - Site Manager.

by cpuking1 on 6. May 2014 - 18:36  (116063)

Midnightcowboy,

I agree with everything you said 99% !! But what I have a problem with is that an antivirus program creator can be paid not to detect one thing or the other. That is a big problem !!
As far as Opencandy not being malicious, that is a matter of what your definition of what malicious is. My definition of malicious defines Opencandy as malicious. But that is not an arguable point. Just a matter of opinion. I think you could put a disclaimer with AVG that it does not detect Opencandy. Thank you for your response!! You will hear no more from me on this matter !!

by MidnightCowboy on 6. May 2014 - 18:44  (116064)

Please provide links to substantiate your claims about AVG being paid not to detect OpenCandy otherwise you risk the inevitable conclusion that your posts are just trolling. MC - Site Manager.

by cpuking1 on 8. May 2014 - 2:58  (116087)

I can not find that magazine article. I will keep looking.

by cpuking1 on 6. May 2014 - 18:52  (116065)

Midnightcowboy,

I have no link to give you. I read it in a Magazine, and I do not remember off the top of my head what the name of that magazine was. It is not my intention to be trolling, Please feel free to delete my comments. If I find that magazine in the future, then I will be back to give you that info. Have a GREAT DAY sir !!

by sicknero on 6. May 2014 - 20:02  (116066)

Not many AV scanners do detect OC inside installers.

For instance the FreeFileSync installer, which runs the Open Candy exec OCSetupHlp.dll, is passed by most of the major AV providers. Malwarebytes flags it as a PUP.

https://www.virustotal.com/en-gb/file/cd4ac9204652595b49a2213b9a7e295d9c...

by cpuking1 on 6. May 2014 - 22:31  (116071)

Sicknero

I clicked on your link, and if virus total is saying that Bitdefender does not detect OpenCandy, then that is just wrong! I had to update PDF Foxit Reader yesterday, and it comes with OpenCandy. My Bitdefender Free Edition did detect OpenCandy yesterday !! Then I proceeded to remove it from my system.

by cpuking1 on 6. May 2014 - 21:50  (116069)

Sicknero,

If you read my comments all the way through, then you will see that I have a bigger problem than just with AVG not detecting OpenCandy. I think that all the antiviruses in this list do detect OpenCandy in one form or the other.I am sure there are several out there that do not detect OpenCandy at all. In my opinion that is a mistake. At least detect it as a PUP.

Thank you for your response !!

by miamoore1993 on 16. April 2014 - 22:52  (115749)

Hi,

So far i used and recommends/install Comodo Internet Security to my neighborhood. Though comodo antivirus never had a chance to be in any top 10 best antivirus reviews in my experience my system is stable so far and can be commercially used that does not required activation. My downside is i never used my pc like i dont care..?! Like i dont go to any site that has bad ratings on it or i feel that a site is a bad site or a link is a bad link - I dont download and open any file which is unknown to me. Bad thing is that few people does that. It was confirmed to me when i recommends it to a company and they installed it to hundreds of computers - they say most of their users dont really care what they click because they know someone will fix it.

I wanted to tried avast and bitdefender but it does required registration and activation - and it is a bad thing for offline users. They should remove registration and activation. And should be a standard for any free software.

by Chiron on 16. April 2014 - 23:26  (115750)

Thank you for your feedback. My problem with most of the antivirus reviews is that they tend to put most of the emphasis, in one way or another, on detection of threats. However, I am of the opinion that for a user in the real world what really matters is whether the computer was protected from infection or not, regardless of how it was protected.

As for Avast and Bitdefender, I do understand what you mean about activation. However, hopefully there is a way you can connect your computer to the internet for the small time required for activation. Still, I agree it would be best if they could keep track of users in some other, less intrusive, manner.

Let me know if you have any other questions.

Thank you.

by cpuking1 on 11. April 2014 - 17:11  (115622)

Chiron,

I have looked through you sources as follows :

AV-Test

AV-Comparatives

Dennis Technology Labs

What I found was, is that Comodo Antivirus was not presented as a stand alone product, but as a suite. I only found three from your list of antiviruses, that presented their antivirus as a stand alone product. As per this link :

http://www.av-test.org/en/tests/home-user/windows-7/janfeb-2014/

I have seen testing of antivirus programs, that tested much better within a suite, than as a stand alone product. Do you have any test results of Comodo Antivirus as a stand alone product?

Otherwise I will have to go with one of the other three that were tested as a stand alone product. At this point, I do not see how Comodo Antivirus stands as the best, when I can not find their Antivirus, tested as a stand alone product.

by George.J on 12. April 2014 - 5:07  (115641)

For the record Comodo Internet Security Premium is also freeware.

by cpuking1 on 12. April 2014 - 5:12  (115643)

George J,

Thank you for your reply.
I am aware of that.
Thanks !!

by Chiron on 11. April 2014 - 20:58  (115633)

I should clarify this in the article as well, and I will during my next rewrite. I can use the results for CIS because the core protection, at least against any malware which makes its way onto the system, is identical between the two products. If there does become a difference then I will no longer consider the results for CIS to be comparable to Comodo Antivirus.

I hope that makes sense. If you have any questions, or do not agree that the protection against malware on the system should be considered identical, please feel free to ask.

Thanks.

by cpuking1 on 12. April 2014 - 5:10  (115642)

Chiron,

Thank you for your reply.

All my questions have been resolved.

Your the BEST !!

Thank You !!

by musicollector on 3. May 2014 - 5:21  (116010)

You mean, "You're the BEST !!"

by George.J on 10. April 2014 - 3:29  (115589)

Why does PrivDog extension get installed, even when I've deselected it from installation options of Comodo IS? Is this normal or a bug?

by Chiron on 23. May 2014 - 17:54  (116388)

I'm sorry that I did not respond to this sooner. The PrivDog extension should not be installed if it was deselected. However, I do find that the area where this is deselected is confusing to find. That said, if you are sure that it was deselected, but it still installed, this sounds like a bug. If it is replicable please report it on the Comodo forums.

Thank you.

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