Security optimize

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.

138 comments
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.

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

You do realize that you are posting to a thread that is over 2 years old? Yet your primary concern is with grammar and spelling, and all you have to say is some childish remark about other members. Guess what Joe...the group already left this discussion 2 years ago and you are talking to...an empty room. Feeling better about your command of the English language and your Spelling Bee Championship from elementary school that you were just awarded? Wizard57M TR Moderator

JCitizen
JCitizen

as every one of my clients that have attempted to use AVG has ended up with a hosed system. Some of them were hosed by malware, and the rest were hosed by AVG!!! (edited) You may be misunderstanding why I mention more than one AV here. AdAware Free does not run an active anti-virus, only a passive one. This is how I can run more than one anti-virus. You cannot run more than one AV real time protection scheme; I've seen some systems get hosed doing that. Also you could add Prevx to that list, as it is a cloud based solution, that does not interfer with the installed AV. It is also a kernel space solution, that is impossible to conflict with anything other than other kernel space solutions. I quit using it because it is not as affective as Rapport for protecting against spy session riding, and it conflicts with Defense + in Comodo. Some of my clients like it though, as they either can't run the others or simply don't like them. You cannot remove viruses with it though(Prevx), even though they say you can with the paid version. I found that it was better to let CCleaner or another AV remove the virus. I was glad to know I had the infection, or potential infection, though. (edited) for clarity. Also - one must turn off the real time virus protection in the AdWatch part of the AdAware console. This is true even on the free one now. It is a paid in the pat-toot, but still worth it to me. I now understand Spybot Search and Destroy has finally come out with a new and improved version. One could switch to it and probably get almost as much real time protection as AdAware - perhaps even more - I need to re-evaluate it.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I've had the Vista UAC stop files from FaceBook that can't be found in any definition or google anywhere. Needless to say, you can be attacked on FB; I've been lucky! It took only logging in as far as user interaction on my part! Have you tried Mozilla or Chrome?

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

The business model behind Facebook relies on you keeping the browser open and reloading the website. It's more likely something on your local machine causing your browser to crash. (not being physically present, I'm just guessing of course)

JCitizen
JCitizen

for older PCs anyway; my clients get hosed by known injection attack packets even though Avira recognized the definition. They have a world class scanner though.

Slayer_
Slayer_

From Title to content, it was completely wrong. Most of what was said (including Avira) are virus scanners, not malware scanners.

philajr007
philajr007

There is no "Wonder Program" or "Wonder Combo Program" that wil fit all situation. One thing I found to help is ClamAV Free AVG and Free MBAM

JCitizen
JCitizen

also employs at least one MVP, and several writers with the same credentials, and nobody is accusing them of favoritism? Now if you were to say this about ZDNet, I might agree, but then I hate ZDNet, so I digress.

colecrew
colecrew

MS Security Essentials is a great product. Try taking a look at the test data before say it is a poor product. I have used it for years and blows McAfee and Norton out of the water.

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

You're the reverse of my thoughts. Avast sucks - couldn't pick up the fake AV crap out there. While MSE seems to be quite good and light in resources.

hedpig
hedpig

no to Chrome..tried mozilla before .should i just use that all the time then?? i am kinda lost in this forum..trying to find comments..LOL. so thanks for your answers..

hedpig
hedpig

any idea what it could be as that is the only place i ever am when i get kicked off IE

JCitizen
JCitizen

I must admit though, that I personally look at the word "malware" as an all encompassing word. In other words - a virus can be malware, but malware cannot be a virus. I know that is goofy, but since there isn't a very good industrial agreed definition; I've been running with that for a few years now.

Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182
Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182

Just on general principles, I don't like to say good things about MickeySoft, but Security Essentials works, and works well. Nothing's perfect, and no single tool will get all of the malware that's out there, but MSSE is a solid addition to any anti-malware toolkit. BTW, does anyone think I'm overreacting when I advocate capital punishment for malware/virus developers?

Craig_B
Craig_B

I believe that MSE is the best free anti-malware product out there. It is very light on resources and works great.

JCitizen
JCitizen

you use the tool that fits the job. MBAM and Avast work famously together! But then a good list of other favorites do to! SpyhwareBlaster SuperAnti-Spyware AdAware Internet Security(free) Comodo Firewall Pro Need I go on?

joseph.r.piazza
joseph.r.piazza

What year did AVAST not pick it up.......only recently did antivirus engines include Malware/spyware for a combination solution........I am not sure if AVAST does both now...but maybe when you had the infection..it was just an antivirus engine. And anyway all these tools will miss something,they can not be 100% perfect since %^^^% code is written every day by sick, stupid, computer hackers/geeks. Again AVAST has been rated No 1 for the FREE stuff the past 2 years...read articles!!

JCitizen
JCitizen

if you don't give a web-page too much permission. Avast has a page script scanner that looks for bad scripts and blocks them. It only occasionally slows IE8 down, but I like it even better than NoScript. However since FireFox is the only secure browser besides Chrome now, I use it with NoScript also, just because FF is such a good browser! SpywareBlaster has a good active X blocker that can't hurt, because some crackers still put those kind of exploits on web pages, although they may not be as common now. Most of these solutions use little or no RAM at all. They leave the CPU processes light as well!

JCitizen
JCitizen

to muck up the registry, on purpose to see if the CCleaner registry backup worked. I did a repair, that I knew wouldn't work, but it was a junker and I didn't care. It put everything back in its place and never a problem since. In the hundreds of machines I've done registry cleans on, I've never hosed a system. I only run it if I have just had a bad malware attack or if I've uninstalled some pesky software.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I don't add too much to the default checkboxes for file cleaning. The worst I've done is blow away browser cached passwords getting a little too zelous about clearing out browser cruft. I've not seen it lead to a reinstall yet. Registry cleaning is another story; I've seen it lead to reinstalls depending on frequency of cleaning and tool used. CCleaner is probably the only reg cleaner I trust but even then I don't use that function unless there is clear reason to run a vaccum through the hive. Unless malicious, orphan entries don't slow the system down since the reg is a lookup database; random access versus tape storage.. so to say.

JCitizen
JCitizen

cleaning all temp and cookie files will do. Both in the system and browser files. In applications I check everything except in browsers. I always delete: Internet Casche Cookies Download History Saved Form Information Session On the Windows tab in system: Empty recycle Bin Temporary Files Clipboard Windows Explorer: Recent Documents Run(in Start Menu) In Internet Explorer: Temporary Internet Files Cookies Autocomplete Form History I never select all of them in Windows, unless I've been hosed by a bad installation or malware attack. Even cleaning "Wipe Free Space" can defeat some malware that hide in free space marked for deletion. For cookies that need saving, click on Options>>Cookies and save the cookies you want there. I use CCleaner a lot, because it is so effective and so damn FAST!! ]:) (edited) You may need to close Mozilla to get a thorough cleaning.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

for clearing out the rubbish? When I looked at CC, I thought, okay - I'm too impulsive for this tool. I'd be reinstalling in no time ;) So it'd be great to hear which cleanups are safe to use, in your experience? I won't hold you responsible for them, don't worry about it.

JCitizen
JCitizen

it is just run-of-the mill nasty cookies or malware causing your problem. I can't do without the following list. CCleaner AdAware MalwareBytes Anti-Malware(MBAM)[paid license] SuperAnti-Spyware SpywareBlaster and of course I mentioned Avast already. CCleaner works amazingly well for getting rid of temporary files or cookies that interact with those misbehaving files. I've been playing with the new MBAM outgoing malicious IP blocker, and I've found everytime I can't open a page, it is because of temp files trying to communicate with a bad server that is blocked by host file or MBAM. If I run CCleaner, it instantly fixes the communication problem, because it gets rid of the offending files FAST! AdAware with AdWatch does this automatically, but I really like MBAMs IP blocker, as it tells me who the malware are trying to communicate with. Then I run a WHOIS search on that IP to get an idea who the bad guy is - providing it isn't some private address inside an ISP - in which case there isn't really a solution. CCleaner is a quick, fast, down, and dirty solution that doesn't need signature files, so I like cleaning with it when researching bad sites. You must be logged into a standard account to keep safe on this - though. Perhaps you've heard of the [i]limited account[/i] in Windows? I have read that occasionally someone's account at FB gets compromised, and the owner has to change their password and have FaceBook reset the account to fix the infection or settings problem they are facing. Google for FaceBook security settings, to get a good look at how to configure your profile for security properly at FB. FaceBook will never be secure, but at least one can mitigate the problem some.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Right? So all viruses are malware, but not all malware are viruses. Key-loggers, screengrabbers, trojans, and all that, it's malware too, and sometimes there's no point in differentiating. Counter-malware apps however is a problematic term; is it catch-all software that tries to stop/detect/remove all the existing kinds of malware? Or is it a cover-term that includes specialized tools for detecting AND/OR stopping AND/OR removing even one of the types of malware? That's the problem with the name of the blog. The problem with the content of the blog is that it's not a good list.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

In the media and political mouthpieces, we have three feared horsemen of the Apocalypse; Cybercrime, Cyberespionage, Cyberwar. They are all nothing new; same mundane crime, spying and warfare that's always gone on. They all get the "cyber" preface not because they involve implanting electronics in the body to mimic and enhance existing functions, but to make them sound like cool soundbites. Crime accounts for the highest financial damages. Espionage accounts for the second highest. "cyberwar" accounts for very little true physical or financial damages. But the politicians gov contractors would really like you to ignore the reality of that last horseman. So, which do we focus on? The answer from experts is.... none of them. They are all symptoms of our accepting shoddy products with ignored security defects. You fix the security defects and the three horseman go away. Crime and Espionage only use computer systems because the development quality enables them to. One does not have a computer break in because someone cracked there security; they have a computer break in because the computer system had unaddressed security flaws. This focus on a "cyberwar" bookieman and need for a specialized branch of the military is also very much a US obsession. It was a rather nice article to have pop up in my morning reading (TR's sister CNet no less): http://news.cnet.com/8301-27080_3-20024210-245.html

Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182
Murfski-19971052791951115876031193613182

You are correct; laws already exist -- in some countries -- to prosecute cyber-criminals, since their actions are criminal regardless of the medium involved. It just gets kind of frustrating when they seem to get away with it because they can't be found, or because they're in with the power structure wherever they happen to be operating. Sometimes when I get really frustrated, I tend to overreact a bit.

SycoRant
SycoRant

Let's punish the real criminals. I'm referring to the politicians inside the Beltway who are determined to destroy net neutrality in a you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours deal with Comcast and other providers. The real danger of malware is the risk of infecting our national electronic infrastructure and our defense-related "hack-proof" networks. But the politicians are too busy squabbling with each other, intruding into our personal lives, encouraging companies to send IT jobs overseas, and begging for handouts on K-Street to protect our general welfare. That's why I believe in "Capitol" Punishment - let's get smart and vote everyone in both parties out of office.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Every limb should be removed. Therefore they can never type again and never create more malware.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I don't think someone should be murdered by the state because they released malware. Even mob members have to be proven to have earned the death penalty in addition to crimes lesser than murder. Now, if the criminal shows intent to kill by creation an use of the malware; that is something very different. Regardless of the chosen weapon, they are trying or successful at killing someone. At that point, it depends on the local relevant laws response; life in prison, death row or whatever. If capital punishment includes prison time then yeah, I'm must more in agreement. Time served can easily be balanced against equivalent real world crime and damages to get relative measure of time for digital world crime and damages. -------------------- MM, cheers for the email. Please don't take it personally, I rarely respond directly by email. I can understand "mostly a joke".. my mostly joking version involves perpetrator's fingers and a nice heavy oak piano key cover. ;) I don't think your comment is that far off topic and worth considering though. As hinted above; we have existing analogs to draw on. A grifter crew in the physical world is really no different from a crew in the digital realm. We have existing laws and measured severities based on damages inflicted by grifters; those should port over relatively. I think the only real difference is in tracking and detaining grifters who use a digital medium. A good police operation can take down a grifting crew but once you involve the network, you need police cooperation from outside one's own borders. As for the lone whackjob who creates and releases a virus just to watch the damages gleefully; we're getting into mental issues here. I'd consider such a person similar to a pyromaniac; they both derive pleasure from infusing damages (be it compulsive or not). Again though, we have physical equivalents and such things should not be special or romanticized just because they involve a computer instead of a book of matches. We don't need to separate it and create new laws.

Big B
Big B

the crime and thus punishment should be carried out on the damage they caused. Did they screw up an individuals computer or a hospital computer? Did they bring down a small business network or a utility infrastructure? All punishable crimes, but I wouldn't wish a guy death for making my computer crash, but I would if he crashed the hospital computer that was keeping my loved one on life support.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

While I have nothing supportive to say about malicious developers; does the damage caused by a piece of malware amount to enough to justify it as a capital crime?

JCitizen
JCitizen

do not require it to nail the virus(not malware) immediately. Avast primary does NOT rely on definitions, but the viruses are very Avast aware, and will sleep in dormant mode in the temp files. I simply run CCleaner at least once a day, and Avast will never find them, because they are gone. I've seen Avast kill many files that made a move without any definition, and I let it set in quarantine until it could be identified. I've never had a false positive that stopped my applications from working. I also never find anything on scans with Avast because it stops them before they get on the computer. Quite frankly - now days we need more than definition based utilities anyway. You are not going to catch todays worst malware before it does damage to your pocket book - BEWARE!

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Hackers and Geeks are not writing malware; criminals are. The real Hackers and Geeks, (rather than mass media BS representation), are the people warning the public and pleading with vendors to fix the vulnerabilities that malware exploits.