Security

10 free anti-malware tools worth checking out

The cost of anti-malware apps keeps rising. Luckily, there are effective tools you can use to prevent and remove infections without spending a dime.

Over the last few years, anti-malware software has become increasingly costly. But believe it or not, there are still ways to protect your computer for free. In this article, I will list 10 free utilities you can use to either prevent malware infections or to help clean up the mess once a PC becomes infected.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition 2011

I have been using AVG's free antivirus product for a few years now, and although it isn't perfect, it seems to be at least as good as most of the commercial anti-malware products. AVG's free edition provides basic protection against viruses and spyware, but the company also offers a more comprehensive security suite called AVG Internet Security 2011. This suite offers the same anti-malware protection as the free edition, but it also provides real-time protection against Internet search and social networking sites.

2: Comodo Antivirus

Comodo Antivirus takes a different approach to virus protection than most other antivirus products do. Comodo is based on the idea that it is foolish to allow code to run without first proving itself to be benign. So Comodo implements a default denial until an executable proves itself trustworthy. To keep the software from being too chatty, Comodo executes unknown code in an isolated sandbox where its behavior can be monitored without running the risk of the executable harming the system.

3: PC Tools AntiVirus Free 2011

PC Tools AntiVirus Free 2011 is a basic antivirus / anti-spyware program that is designed to protect Windows desktops against various forms of malware. Besides its basic detection capabilities, PC Tools includes a feature called Search Defender that is designed to warn you about unsafe Web sites (or phishing sites) before you click on them. The software also includes a File Guard component that monitors the file system and blocks attempted malware infections in real time.

4: Avast Free Antivirus

Like AVG, Avast sells comprehensive security suites, but makes its basic antivirus / anti-spyware product available for free to home users. Although I have never used Avast Free Antivirus, I've recently noticed posts in various message boards from people who claim that Avast provides better protection than some of the commercial products.

5: Ad-Aware Free Internet Security

Although it was originally designed as a product for detecting adware, Lavasoft's Ad-Aware has evolved into a complete anti-malware product. Ad-Aware Free Internet Security provides real-time protection against spyware, rootkits, and more. It also includes a utility called The Neutralizer, which you can use to clean a PC that has already been infected.

6: HijackThis

HijackThis is one of my favorite anti-malware utilities, but it's not for the faint of heart. HijackThis is designed to compile a report of critical file and registry settings that are often prone to viral infections. The thing that makes HijackThis difficult to use is that it makes no distinction between malicious and legitimate entries. As a result, you can end up doing even more damage to a PC unless you know what you are doing. Even so, I consider HijackThis to be a must-have utility.

7: Microsoft Security Essentials

Microsoft provides free antivirus protection for home users through a relatively new application called Microsoft Security Essentials. Microsoft Security Essentials is based on the same ForeFront technology as Microsoft's enterprise class anti-malware software. The difference is that Microsoft Security Essentials is available solely to home users and businesses with fewer than 10 Windows desktops.

8: Windows Defender

Microsoft's Windows Defender is a free anti-spyware utility for Windows. It's not comprehensive, but it does a surprisingly good job of protecting Windows as long as you install it before an infection occurs.

Windows Defender is included with Windows Vista and Windows 7, but you can also download a version for Windows XP. If you are using Windows 7 or Windows Vista, Windows Defender is disabled by default. You can enable Windows Defender by typing the word Defender into the Windows search box and then double-clicking on the Windows Defender option. When you do, Windows will tell you that Windows Defender is turned off and will give you the opportunity to enable it.

9: Malicious Software Removal Tool

Although not a comprehensive antivirus tool by any stretch of the imagination, Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool does a good job of detecting and removing the most common viruses. The Malicious Software Removal Tool works with Windows 7, Vista, XP, and Server 2003. Microsoft releases updates to this tool on the second Tuesday of each month.

10: McAfee virus removal tools

McAfee makes commercial antivirus products, but it also offers some free tools for removing viruses. Specifically, it offers tools for removing Sasser, Bagle, Zafi, Mydoom, Lovsan / Balster, Klez, and Bugbear. You can download all of these tools here.

About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

139 comments
lisawayne
lisawayne

I do agree with the Avast antivirus utility but to remove the baleful malware and adware, I used to prefer to call on the online technical support department of AskPCTechies to get the problem solved in minutes remotely.

joecseko
joecseko

Wow, with the two previous posts I read, "definately"? (definitely misspelled!), and a complete lack of punctuation before that. Are these educated people? I'll go look at more of the site now, leave the couple guys that I saw to play with their Speak and Spells.

craig.rodgers2
craig.rodgers2

1. MBAM 2. Spybot S&D 3. Combofix With friends and family constantly asking me to clean PC's & Laptops these 3 have never failed me. If you have a stubborn infection you cannot get rid of, disable System Restore, reboot & use these 3 programs for easy and free infection removal.

Harry Reinbot
Harry Reinbot

did you try running your machine in safe mode and then running your anti-virus and anti-malware software. Don't mean to make you sound silly, but LOTS of people would not think of this.

Harry Reinbot
Harry Reinbot

I run AVG and MWB and never have a problem with IE. I run both freeware products and AVG runs constantly and I run MWB once a week with no problem.

gruch_s
gruch_s

The above comments are excellent with many good recommendations. Here are a few that were left out: - rkill, so the others will work - customizing the Hosts file to prevent infection, http://www.mvps.org/winhelp2002/hosts.htm - using WinPatrol portable to remove BHOs that HijackThis! cannot remove - using Nirsoft's IECacheView, IEHistory, IECookieView, MozillaCacheView, MozillaHistoryView, MozillaCookiesView to track down the source of the infection

hedpig
hedpig

well, darn i was hoping for something that would tell me WHY i keep get booted off facebook all the time.. sometimes i get a pop up about dr debug wormer.or something..i can't find anything about this and it makes me nuts.. it is only when on facebook i get completely booted off IE

rroberto18
rroberto18

I've tried them all and although no one program catches everything, this comes the closest. Minimal learning curve, Updates fast. Few false positives. It's the one I run with. As cross-checks, I use (but do NOT run as resident/background): HitManPro (cloud), Emsisoft, Malwarebytes, SuperAntiSpyware. Gave up on MSSE because Windows Security Center wouldn't recognize it -- but that was an earlier version & I know many love it now.

BCheever
BCheever

I don't even see it on the list. The free edition works very well in my testing...

JCitizen
JCitizen

In today's threat-scape; definition based anti-malware/virus are totally obsolete. Avast comes closer to a modern utility than most because of it's heuristic engine. But I have four(or more) freebees to add that will actually help mitigate an infected environment, if you do banking or shopping on line. I realize this article is supposed to be about free malware utilities only, but that is just not going to cut it, and I try to draw attention to this every time I get a chance - [b]SORRY![/b] 1. To block SSL session riding - Rapport 2. To prevent keyboard and video spying - KeyScrambler 3. To prevent inputting private information to the hard drive- LastPass 4. To watch/stop file manipulation processes - WinPatrol 5. To totally prevent hard drive writing - Steady State(XP) 6. AdAware's AdWatch is actually one of the better free malware real time prevention utilities going, MBAM and SAS real time prevention are not free. I don't complain about RAM requirements, all my clients have over 1Gb of RAM anyway - it is not a factor now. Some of these don't particularly need an update for definitions, only to harden and modernize, which they all do magnificently. Simply keeping all your applications, drivers, and operating system fully up to date, can keep many exploits from pwning your system regardless of defined threat! CNET's own update reminders can help, but also Secunia PSI and/or File Hippo's update checker will do a pretty thorough job of it. [b]For the newbies out there;[/b] learn how to set up a standard account and only use it for daily web work. If you have Vista/Win7 you will have to give installations administrative log on to those accounts. It is a lot easier than logging off and onto the administrative side of your PC as in XP. The built in UAC is your friend an probably one of the best free processes that can keep you safe than any other single built-in feature, on Vista and Windows 7.

roisterousbeatz
roisterousbeatz

You can't go wrong with the combo of MS Security Essentials and MBAM. I used AVG in the past, but MBAM found malware AVG did not. I haven't looked back since. Best part is they're both free!

beck.joycem
beck.joycem

Windows Defender? I've never known it find anything more after I've run AVG, MBAM, SuperAntispyware, SpyBot and Spyware Terminator. That lot usually cleans up, with CCleaner, often using Safe Mode for some of it. But some times the nasties are more than usually stubborn. The variety of responses just confirms this - the variability of installations and users means we all need to be open-minded, and regularly read stuff like this to see what other people have found useful. I've just downloaded Hitman Pro to add to my list of Weapons of Muck Destruction.

verd
verd

The author has missed the boat Melwarbytes is the best program and it is not on the list, viurs scanners are NOT good melware removers

raman061189
raman061189

I would personally rate Avast Free Anti-Virus higher than the AVG counterpart. Have been using Avast for 3 yrs now and comparing with other Anti-virus tools, I can say (from my personal experience) that it is better and much lighter than any of Norton and/or McAfee's paid versions (These are the only ones I've tried apart from Avast and AVG)..

jacobus57
jacobus57

So, like the notoriously self-promoting, MS-kissing Deb Shinder, Brien Posey is ALSO an Microsoft MVP. Interesting that both of these "authors" are "award-winning." Methinks that TechRepublic needs to vet its contributors just a wee bit better...

jacobus57
jacobus57

I used to recommend AVG to clients who did not require a more robust, paid solution, but I ceased doing so after I had to rebuild an infected machine. MS Security Essentials is an extraordinarily poor product, hogging resources and riddled with holes. The free version of Avast (once it is properly configured) is excellent, including a rootkit scan. And MalwareBytes is a glaring omission. This tool has saved my bacon--and my clients' machines' bacon--more than once. It really isn't difficult to write a decent article about malware protection, but it does require some experience in the field, as well as real research.

romine1
romine1

Next to Malware Bytes, I've found Superantispyware to be a fantastic tool, totally free of any spyware, that does a good job of cleaning malware. Free.

ejv
ejv

This list was valid in '05-'06. Good luck trying to use these tools to clean the multitude of rogue A/Vs that are so prevalent today; and the Root-kit infections. TDSS Killer anyone?

Excelmann
Excelmann

From the realm of the bizarre . . .. Use FireFox to download; it is much friendlier and quicker than IE. IE sometimes acts like you're stealing the family jewels. Also, download before running the monthly update so you can delete the MSRT from your update.

jdeliz
jdeliz

Wow really AVG??? who paid you off? Free AVG doesn't stop anything, sure it might report it, but it won't remove it. And how is this an anti-malware list and you don't mention Malware Bytes Anti-Malware!!

van_helsing_80
van_helsing_80

the title should be "10 free Anti-Malware tools and Anti-Virus applications"

gharlow
gharlow

Malwarebytes, Autoruns, Hijackthis, gmer, combofix, cwshredder... Not to mention a decent bootable repair disk for when you cannot get any kind of access to a machine. And of course the most important virus removal tool of all... The experienced mind!

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

I think the author is confusing anti-malware with anti-virus. Like the others posted before me, there are a few that aren't listed [the author didn't do his homework]. Personally, I don't think most of the free "anti-virus" products do a decent job as it is. Most require you to go to the paid anti-virus/anti-malware suites. Avast shouldn't even be in the top 20. Worked at a company using the managed pro version. I made sure that they were kept up to date in both definition and programs updates. Yet we had 3 systems infected with the fake anti-virus malware. They weren't detect - and these weren't new malware [unless it was a variant]. Since then, I don't touch Avast. Was at a computer security seminar and the speaker [obviously a computer security specialist] said that he uses MSE over any other free or paid anti-virus [and anti-virus suite].

PurpleSkys
PurpleSkys

...and I didn't see Malwarebytes either...good tool when trying to remove AV2010 and others

John K.R.
John K.R.

To not see Spybot on this list. It has helped me out quite a bit in the past. I've also heard a lot about Malware Bytes but haven't used in a great deal personally. Of course, it is just a list of 10. Nothing more, nothing less.

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