Malware

Five free antivirus tools for Windows

The field of AV solutions has gotten crowded, making it tough to sort through your options. Here are several solid (and free) tools worth a look.

Without antivirus protection, a Windows machine is a ticking time bomb. Of course, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of possible antivirus solutions for the Windows operating system. Some are worthless and some are viruses themselves. But others are pretty darned dependable. I wanted to share my favorite free real-time antivirus solutions for the Windows operating system. You might already have a favorite, but it's always good to have another option in your back pocket. Just remember to have only one installed at a time.

1: Avast Free

For the longest time I recommended AVG Free to clients. That time has come and gone. Now, when a client needs a free go-to antivirus software package, I always recommend Avast Free Edition. Avast has a ton of features for a piece of free software. But more important, it does a great job protecting PCs from those nasty infections. It also does a good job blocking spyware. The free version is limited to virus and malware protection, but what more do you need? Well, if you need online protection (such as safe shopping), ID protection, and advanced firewall, you'll need to drop some coin for the professional version.

2: Microsoft Security Essentials

If you or your clients are looking for a bare bones antivirus solution that does one thing and one thing only (but does it very well), download and install this outstanding free Microsoft product. What I really like about Security Essentials is that once installed, it's unobtrusive. You will hardly know it's there. Unlike some solutions that bring your machine to a grinding halt, Security Essentials uses little CPU and can do a scan without your even realizing it's happening. Security Essentials is also one of the easiest to install, configure, and use. So for those less-than-savvy end users, this might be the one you want.

3: Avira Free Antivirus

Just two clicks to install, and your machine has some basic, yet solid antivirus protection. No, Avira Free will not protect you from phishing like its premium brother. Nor does it have a gaming mode like its premium upgrade. But Avira Free will do a great job of protecting your machine from viruses, with an easy-to-use interface and an incredibly fast scanning engine. In fact, this might well be the fastest antivirus scan you will ever use. What I like about this entry is that it checks for viruses, Trojans, AND rootkits. Not many free antivirus solutions go that far.

4: BitDefender

BitDefender is one of those solutions that few know about but more should. It's an outstanding solution that has the standard features (virus scan/removal, scheduled scan, immediate scan, quarantine, reporting). It's one of the on-demand solutions. BitDefender does not include any real-time features but makes up for it with a strong scanning engine that can be scheduled for use at any time. What I like about on-demand scanning is that it doesn't interfere with email or Web browsing. When push comes to shove, I always trust the BitDefender line of tools -- and the free version is no exception.

5: Comodo Antivirus

Comodo Antivirus is probably the least well known tool on this list, but that doesn't make it a lesser product. In fact, it could be a strong solution if you're looking for guesswork-free protection. Comodo automates the decision-making process for blocking or allowing trusted or untrusted files. If anything is questionable, it's sandboxed for your examination. Comodo tracks and protects from malware as well as viruses. And with an adjustable security level (via a simple-to-use slider), it's easy to modify the level of protection you want on a desktop. Comodo was also designed with optimization in mind. Although not as unnoticeable as Microsoft Security Essentials, Comodo does do a great job of remaining in the background.

Other options?

Everyone has his or her opinion, and when it comes to antivirus solutions, those opinions can get rather heated. Do you agree with my choices for antivirus? If not, what are your picks? What's your go-to free AV tool?

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

80 comments
luismatoso
luismatoso

For reasons that have nothing to do with the case, I can not use Microsot Security in one of my PC's so I use in this PC the DigitalDefender Antivirus. It has a philosophy very similar to the MSE and is a great option in Antivirus software.

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Diya121

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BALTHOR
BALTHOR

I believe it was a file in System 32.It started with an 'S' like Soi or something.It looked like a key.It was in the Task Manager as a running file.When I clicked it in Sys 32 my desktop background went black!On the Internet this would happen and a pop up would appear saying that my Windows was not genuine.(You can 'end process' for this file in Task Manager.)When I tried to delete it in Sys 32 I got a prompt that said I did not have Administrator rights.I right clicked the Desktop then 'Personalize' then chose the regular Win 7 theme with a click on the image.I deleted the black file with a right click delete and then emptied the recycle bin.In the Task Manager you can right click a file in Processes and open the file location to see the file in it's folder.I have a problem with black screens in my other computers.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

This is the point that has to sink home in your mind.There's a conspiracy against computers.You could probably browse the web and find hundreds of virus scanning programs.Virus is the major problem in the computer industry.Virus can enter everybody's computer while they're on the Internet.I even see a case for virus getting into your machine when you're not even connected to the telephone lines.At a higher frequency than computers are currently operating the hackers have their hacking network.In essence virus are just pop ups at that frequency.If you saw them you would close them,but you can't see them is the problem.This group can virus,as an example,all of the wireless cards in computers across the Internet all at once.Some work hard for a fix.The fix gets stolen and you have the hackers as the perpetrators and as the heroes.

delwar10
delwar10

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thegreenwizard1
thegreenwizard1

And if I think there could be a virus or malware: drWEB (Russia) and MBAM all on demand and to finish: IOBIT Malwarefighter (China) and SOPHOS (GB). And each one find something different.. I was using Comodo, but it make to complicate for regular user to control the firewall.

danielt551
danielt551

For the longest time I have used most of the free tools listed and they work well, but I found that Comodo complete suite has worked the best for me.I introduce to most ppl the free apps, but fail to do the updates them selves.This is the only hang up about free apps:you have to some work.What is so hard about using your fingers? Oh well.

kkzls
kkzls

Dr web - cureit it is a free tool for personal use and it is good. I'm using it for on demand scans. It detects almost any kind of infections and cleans the infected systems. Avira is my favorite free AV scanner.

Jonno-the-First
Jonno-the-First

I am feelin a little guilty using Avast for free. Its so good its hard not to. So some time in the future I hope to be able t oafford their chargeable program. in the meantime I recommend it to all friends etc. AVG? Gone, and so is Comodo and Microsofts MSE. Avira is also very good...

Bob B.
Bob B.

I use MSE for anti virus, Commodo Firewall and run Malwarebytes from time to time to catch some of the outliers. Maybe this is old school but I still run SpyBot Search and Destroy and AdAware and they will sometimes pick up an oddball offender. WinPatrol is also an excellent product and I believe they still have a free version. Gizmo has a sunscriber's discount for the paid version as well.

mtabishs
mtabishs

I am just another AVG turned Avast user. :)

rm.hutchings
rm.hutchings

I run Avast as my ongoing firewall/antivirus and then alternate Malwarebytes and MSE full scans from night to night. Also run MSE quick scan in the morning, first thing. VERY important to UPDATE the definitions and rules engines *constantly* ! Also use Security Task Manager to view all running processes (maybe 2 times a day).

glnz
glnz

What do you all think about Lavasoft Ad-Aware free, which runs in the background? I've been running it for a long time, but I can't recall it picking up anything. My main anti-virus is Avast Home Free, which seems to be very good. Every now and then I manually update the passive blocks in Spybot S&D and SpywareBlaster, and every now and then I manually scan using Avast, MalwareBytes, Spybot S&D, MRT.exe and Ad-Aware, but my machines have been very very clean for a long time. (Maybe with some thanks to NoScript on Firefox, changing the username and password away from the defaults on my DSL modem-router and using OpenDNS [with the OpenDNS web sites also programmed into my DSL modem-browser].) Should I uninstall or turn off Ad-Aware?

dmvazquez
dmvazquez

Standar User privileges. No AntiVirus. No problem for regular users.

jasonemmg
jasonemmg

I have Webroot Internet Security Suite. Works well. Does not slow my system. Also I use AVG-Free and Malwarebytes on another PC I have.

JuliaX111
JuliaX111

Nobody mentions the one I install for the sad people who still insist on running IE online.. google it up, look at it's results (That's how I found it when it slaughtered everything except Clam a few years back) .. Rising Free 2011 .. seems sleek and in 150 installations this year not a single callback.. my only gripe with it is it takes forever to update if you install anything later than a month or so from "new" version release.. It's a little strange to get used to at first, then t runs silently in the background and seems to take virtually no system resources whatsoever. http://www.freerav.com/

Gisabun
Gisabun

I wouldn't even recomment Avast if it was the only free product available. A fully up to date Avast and it couldn't detect the fake Anti-Virus XP garbage a few years back? I like MSE. Small and lightweight. Only thing wrong is that the icon says it's out of date for definitions. Instead of "complaining", just update automatically. Unsure if it can be adjusted, but complaining about a [weekly?] scan is a small pain. Avast would be my other choice.

Creeping Critter
Creeping Critter

Microsoft essentials = It's okay at least it keeps my mom's computer clean and stays in silent mode. AVG = Weak. Found too many viruses using something else(avast). Sophos = Also weak. Same situation.(how come this one wasnt mentioned?) McAfee = Weak even though i get the full version from my ISP. I now stick with AVAST and Malwarebyte. I might go pay for them soon!

andrew232006
andrew232006

I use the free version of malwarebytes anti-malware for on demand scans. In my experience this has worked better than all of the commerical anti virus programs. I also use AVG for it's resident shield and link scanner. But most importantly, I use Chrome instead of IE.

mhenriday
mhenriday

I've always used the free version of Avira on Windows boxes, not least because of its consistently high zero-day ratings over at the Shadow Server Foundation. I note, however, that recently Clam, which I've used on my Linux boxes, has been getting top ratings even for Windows (http://www.shadowserver.org/wiki/pmwiki.php/AV/VirusMonthlyStats) - perhaps reason for a change ? With regard to AVG, which due to ease of use I've been recommending to retirees, I've been disappointed by how difficult the firm is now making upgrading to the free version of AVG 2012, without inadvertently installing either AVG Internet Security or the AVG Toolbar, or both. Perhaps time to change to AVira Free, which is pretty upfront concerning what is free and what isn't ?... Henri

jelabarre
jelabarre

I had tried out Comodo for a while on my brother's system, but eventually wiped it off because it couldn't manage to remember exceptions and allowed applications from one moment to the next. Come on, how difficult could it be: when I say an application is allowed, look at the exe, do a checksum of it, and ***REMEMBER*** that information. Don't come back and ask me AGAIN about it when I open the very same exe 15 minutes later.

mike
mike

I have been using Symantec Endpoint Protection for a few years now and am impressed with what it catches, its small footprint and ability to watch the whole network. This does not mean that occassionally a culprit does not sneak through but Ithink that is the same fro every program out there. We sometimes sit and wait for the rogue and attack it with specialized tools.That is why we are the techs

merijean
merijean

I would appreciate opinions on SuperAntiSpyware.com. I've used some of the listed AV's but tend to come back to this one.

Mdoyle55
Mdoyle55

I ditched AVG after a serious rogue attack, which it did not detect. For a time I used Comodo Firewall and Avast! anti-spyware-malware (at that time, the full Comodo Internet Security solution inexplicably slowed some of my systems to a crawl). later, in the interest of simplicity, I just switched all my systems to MSE and have been happy with it so far. My one gripe with MSE is that it just will NOT run scheduled scans on my Windows 7 HP (64 bit) system. I'd like to know more about Microsoft Firewall vis a' vis it protecting againt outgoing traffic. Is it really different from previous versions??

SteveWisc
SteveWisc

CORRECTION!!! live.sunbeltsoftware.com

SteveWisc
SteveWisc

Sunbelt also has a FREE fully updated virus scanner as an .exe for those times a computer is so infected that software can't be installed. Read more about it at live.sunbelt.com

SteveWisc
SteveWisc

I know we are talking FREE software BUT ( there always is)-I haven't seen anyone mention Vipre from Sunbelt. ( and no, I have NO connection with the company at all, except as a VERY happy customer). They have a Basic and Premium version that's fully functional for 15 days. Updates many times a day and I have *never* noticed a system slowdown when it's updating or scanning. The Premium version has a very good firewall and will block dangerous web sites (which can easily be added to exceptions if you really want to visit the site). Vipre Premium is $39.95 for one year/one computer,. I've been in the computer game since 1981 and over the years I have used ALL the anti-virus software that's been available, both free and purchased. Vipre is the first *fully featured* software that has NOT slowed my system down.

excelsystems
excelsystems

With over fifteen years in the industry, I have always recommended AVAST to my clients as it does exactly what it meant to do, above all it does not affect overall pc performance.

1711rob
1711rob

For several years i used to use AVG but like a few other's have noted got tired of the bulk and slow down just was not doing what is used to. I have used avast free plus Zone alarm free amd malwarebytes and will not use anything else.

manishmertia
manishmertia

Hi, can someone please advise if a free anti virus software that can cleans & disinfects the file from virus without affecting the file itself. i.e. the infected file is disinfected/cleaned and file is still there for use. Most of anti viruses either delete the infected file or move to some kind of vault (secure area??) which is no more available to use. In past years there were some anti viruses s/w available but not now any more (at least not in my knowledge). Manish Mertia

kstenbch
kstenbch

I used to use AVG. While they have solved most of the problems of false positives, I noticed that I could not successfully use System Restore with AVG. It had to be shut down and restarted. The only problem is AVG automatically restarts when the system boots back up to finish the Restore process. The only way to prevent this is to uninstall AVG and run down every piece it leaves behind (Revo fixed this just fine). However, it is a pain to have to uninstall the program every time you want to or need to restore. I use Avast now. It isn't perfect, (some false positives and it flags Malware Bytes Antimalware "virus" database tracks as viruses sometimes) but the Sandbox Feature doesn't have an equivalent in AVG. I haven't made up my mind, but it seems like a good idea to run "possibly suspect" files in " a separate" space until sure that it is not malware or crapware.

info.idre
info.idre

Immunet is nowadays owned by Sourcefire, that also owns ClamAV. At the moment, there are two versions of Immunet Protect AV: 1. Free (only cloud-based signature database = online) 2. Plus (cloud-based signature database = online + computerbased signature database = offline) The Plus-version is a shareware, that costs $24.95! The Free version is very light-weight and note, it can be used together with other AV softwares without any problems. I am using Immunet Free online together with my ESET Smart Security v.5 without any problems just to have a second opinion. Immunet Free & Plus quarantined previously too many False Positives, but the Immunet development team has lately changed the detection engines, so nowadays no false positives are reported and quarantined. The malware detection rate is about 99% in line with BitDefender. Its detection rate is much higher than its closest competitor: Panda Cloud! Immunet community consiss of 2 million users and the database has today 29,000,000 signatures (threats), but both the community and the database is fastly growing for every day! Immunet has no firewall module. Under development is now an Enterprise version for Beta testing. I assume, this one will be a pretty expensive shareware. I highly recommend the lightweight Free version for personal use. But install the latest version, not any old version! Documentation is almost zero, but the support on its forum is good. Email support can be received on its email address: support@immunet.com as well! Cheers, sweidre

g3po2
g3po2

I agree with everything you stated in your article. I might add AVG to the list. Also, there are numerous "on-line" scanners that I like to run from time to time just to make sure my primary anti-virus software is catching things. Just a suggestion, but you might want to add the comment that only ONE interactive anti-virus program should be installed on any given computer. There are a number of primarily anti-maleware programs that do not remain memory resident, such as Maleware bytes, Super Anti Spyware, so you have to remember to run them manually from time to time. My theory... The geographical location of a software company is frequently a major factor in what gets caught and more importantly: when. Although most viruses spread quickly, I have often-times seen situations in which a virus that was originally introduced in Europe is "caught" by an Anti-virus software program from Europe long before it is picked up upon by a company located in the U.S.A. or in the far-East. Running or managing numerous different computers for various clients over the years, many of which have any of the AV software programs you mentioned (plus some you did not), will be as much as 24 hours late in adding a new virus to their database updates. Hence, it is my opinion that if a virus is introduced in the Seattle area first, Microsoft's AV product will most likely "notice" it first. As virus-makers become more devious, they may deliver a number of variants to the signature of their product. Hence, Kaspersky may name the virus "ABC", and Trend Micro may name essentially the same virus as "XYZ", once again, although both are essentially the same virus. Just some thoughts...

Sepius
Sepius

What about Clamwin? it is pretty good, just does not integrate well with Outlook, but I don't actually care about that, move to a newer mail client is my cry.

Fuzzilla
Fuzzilla

I agree with most everything stated here. "banaun wrote: AVG -- too weak in detecting viruses Avast -- so far so good Avira -- Many features BitDefender -- not my cup of tea, causing crash with certain software Comodo -- not suitable for newbie McAfee -- slow MSE -- simple Clamwin -- not bad Panda Cloud -- not bad ." Every two years I try everything listed here (as well as Norton & 360cn) to keep current. After 8 years with McAfee I switched to Comodo. Simply, it just works. It is well suited for newbies, offers enterprise-class protection including the #1 rated Firewall, Cloud support, profiles, DAT's are pushed no less than twice an hour, it's light on resources, it's fast, (and much more), and can be installed and used by a newbie out-of-the-box (the default settings are secure) who can then learn and grow with Comodo by enabling features as you understand them. Comodo can Look intimidating at first, just chill. :o) Documentation is totally excellent, the forum is employee-staffed and honest. I've been a Comodo user for two years after growing tired of McAfee. Your mileage may vary, for me I am surprisingly impressed and bought a license this year just to say "Thanks!".

pmshah
pmshah

In my experience Avira-Free provides the BEST protection of the lot amongst freeware antivirus software. I had to move away from it as the daily updates started to grow very large. It does not have any incremental updates, You have to get the whole signature every time. Evry few weeks there would be a version update requiring literally 100s of MB of downloads ! On slower connections it can literally take hours!. The funny thing is that the users in third world countries who can least afford the paid version and have the slowest connections are the worst affected !

wjohanne
wjohanne

I used AVG for many years until the significant and noticeable slowdowns started to happen upon scanning. I've got a quad-core system and the processors ground to a halt when scanning happened. Since using Avast, I barely notice it's there, until it picks up a virused file, which quickly gets quarantined. This is *the best* program (imho).

jfuller05
jfuller05

Jack writes about Avast!, "Well, if you need online protection (such as safe shopping), ID protection, and advanced firewall, you???ll need to drop some coin for the professional version." I admit I'm a rookie IT pro, so maybe that's why I'm confused. Do I really need the pro version of Avast to do my Amazon shopping safely? I've always thought AV solutions promoting their pro versions with "safe shopping" as nothing more than gimmicks to get the public to buy the paid solutions. Or maybe the paid offers a sandbox type environment which is safer?

scndtnr
scndtnr

...and I've often recommended it, but I'm getting tired of it's nagging me to upgrade to the Pro version. Excepting MSE, do the others in the list show the same proclivity to nag? My current recommendations are MSE, MalwareBytes (for ad hoc scans), and safe browsing habits.

glnz
glnz

Bob - is your Ad-Aware active in the background -- you might see something like AAWtray.exe in your process list -- or are you just running a manual Ad-Aware scan from time to time? I ask because I have both Avast and Ad-Aware running and I'm thinking I might drop the Ad-Aware from active processes.

sebailey4
sebailey4

The new Ad-Aware is a full AV now not just ad cleaner. You would not need to run Avast with it at the same time. Running two will definitely impact your system. It scored high in several of the online reviews as Best Free AV. Side note I use VIPRE both corp edition at work and home edition. BEST solution available! New version 5 released today also. BTW a quote from the cnet review "Ad-Aware now includes antivirus protections licensed from Sunbelt, the makers of Vipre" (Sunbelt is GFI now)

Bill_M.
Bill_M.

SAS can also be considered for protection, but just like Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, it is not an antivirus. Those two are only anti-spyware and can't be a substitute for a real AV. However, it wouldn't harm your system if you pair either one with an AV even if real-time protection is enabled in their Pro version.

Madsmaddad
Madsmaddad

I do like Vipre, I have been using it (paid version) for two years now. BUT, it is time to renew and the renewal cost is £30 (or was it £39.99?) which is more than I paid for the license and update over the last two years. That's why I am looking at this blog today, to determine what I should change to. I have Comodo Firewall, so am tempted to try the AV with it.

RobertMoore12
RobertMoore12

I used Avast for years, too, but most clients don't update the free version for virus signatures which makes it useless after a while. I now use MS Essentials because it does not nag to buy and it keeps itself updated. With MSE, Malwarebytes, and Stinger I have no troubles with any Malware or virii.

RobertMoore12
RobertMoore12

McAffee has a standalone AV program called "Stinger" that can be run from a thumb drive that does a pretty good job of getting rid of viruses without destroying files.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Is that one of the moon men from Rocky and Bullwinkle?

Greenknight_z
Greenknight_z

You can turn off auto-updating in Avast, but it's on by default, and the tray icon displays an alert when it's turned off. Don't blame the program if idiots turn off the updater - they can turn off Windows updates, too.

scndtnr
scndtnr

Gidney, to be specific. It was either that or Boris...

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