Malware attacks happen every single day, so it's important to protect your computer from them. Antivirus doesn't have to cost a fortune, though. In fact, there are plenty of free options available that will go a long way to keeping your computer - and data - safe from hackers. Here are six free antivirus apps available for your PC.
Should you get free antivirus?
With several huge malware and ransomware attacks making the headlines over the past year or so, no-one should be under the illusion that they can get away without running any antivirus software. Since it doesn't have to cost any money, there's really no excuse.
While free antivirus doesn't always offer the most complete protection, it's better than having none at all and free versions often use the same 'engine' as their paid-for products.
When we talk about complete protection, we mean that free versions tend not to include any of the extra features you'd find in a paid-for internet security suite. These can include specific protection from ransomware as well as spam filtering, parental controls, password managers and support for Android devices.
If you want the extra features that a paid-for version includes, you'll find recommendations in our best antivirus roundup.
Is free antivirus really free?
And some free antivirus products will be supported by adverts, typically on Android versions. You can find out if it's worth installing antivirus on Android and whether iPhones need protecting from malware or not.
These days, antivirus software should comply with GDPR in Europe and with other privacy regulations in other countries.
Does free antivirus software work?
Privacy is perhaps not the most important factor. Antivirus software is designed to prevent your PC and laptop - plus phone and tablet - from being infected by malicious code which could cause issues ranging from annoying pop-ups through to stealing your personal information or even deleting or encrypting your files.
The effectiveness of antivirus software changes over time, and a product that stops all viruses today may not do that tomorrow or in a month. No antivirus software offers a cast iron guarantee that it will stop 100% of malware, but many come close to this figure. And it's essentially the same virus protection you get from the paid-for version of that product.
What you'll find below are reviews of the leading free AV programs and their performance in the most recent tests. You really can get something for nothing, so be sure your computers are protected with one of these products.
Best Antivirus software reviews
Avast Free Antivirus
Unlike some firms, Avast doesn’t hide its free antivirus offering so you can’t find it. A big orange button makes this version more obvious than its paid offerings, so it’s a good start.
As well as basic antivirus protection, it offers protection from unknown threats and a handy password manager so you can log into sites in your browser by remembering just one password.
You don’t get the browser extension that warns of fake sites (such as banks), nor a privacy shield or spam filtering. Those come with Avast’s Internet Security package, while Premier adds automatic software updating and a file shredder.
The good news is that Avast’s antivirus protection is solid. In AV-Test's June 2018 report, it found that 99.2% of zero-day attacks were protected against by Avast, and 100% of malware was detected.
It also offers good performance and usability, according to AV-Test's most recent report.
Avast asks you to opt-in to receive relevant offers, which may persuade some over AVG's forced opt-in to sharing data. Overall, then Avast is one of the best free antivirus packages around.
Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition
Bitdefender rightfully has an excellent reputation in the antivirus world. Its products are simple, robust and reliable - what more could you need? Its paid-for version is our number one recommendation right now, too.
While its full product suites can get expensive, its free version is a very good basic package.
Overall, Bitdefender is easy to use, is lightweight and – in general – offers good protection for your PCs.
Kaspersky is another big name in antivirus, and it offers a free version for PC.
It's no surprise that the free version doesn't come fully-featured. You won't get parental control, online payment protection, or VPN functionality. But you will get all of the essentials, including file, email and web antivirus, automatic updates, self-defense, quarantine and more.
Kaspersky's paid-for version scores well in AV-Test's May and June report, with almost 100% detection and protection, and top scores in both performance and usability.
It's a solid choice of free antivirus for your PC.
Avira Free AntiVirus
Avira is also a very strong contender in the free antivirus space.
The interface is well designed and easy to use, and you'll get a SearchFree Toolbar: a website safety advisor and the option to block advertising companies from tracking you online.
File scans can be scheduled and by default there’s a quick scan set to repeat every 168 hours or, as we techies call it, weekly. We reckon a quick scan could run more frequently than this, though.
AV-Test gave Avira great scores in its May test, but slightly lower than industry average in June.
Ultimately, Avira does a good job – even when compared to paid-for Internet Security programs.
AVG Free Antivirus
AV-Test found that it protected against and detected 100% of threats in its May report, and that performance and usablility was actually better than Avast's good scores. However, in its June report the software scored lower than the industry average when faced with zero-day malware attacks.
AVG runs transparently in the background, and that you won't really notice it. And that’s exactly what you want from your antivirus.
AVG has a simple-to-understand dashboard so, if you do ever venture to it, it’s very clear whether it’s up to date and protecting your PC.
In addition to an AV engine, it also warns you of unsafe web links and can block unsafe email attachments.
Microsoft Windows Defender
Windows Defender is built into Windows 10 and Windows 8, so it’s arguably the easiest option for most people since it’s probably in operation already unless you’ve disabled it or installed another antivirus program.
With Windows 7, you'll get Defender's predecessor - Security Essentials, but with Windows 8 and 10 you get the newer version that offers better protection against rootkits and bootkits. Defender is a credible and reliable AV engine. OK, it’s not the very best out there, but it certainly does the job.
AV-Test found that Windows Defender detected and protected against almost all attacks, and it scored well for performance. Usability is what lets it down.
There are better paid-for choices, but if you’re running Windows 8 or 10 with Defender built in, all you need to do is check that it’s enabled.