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​​​​​​​Best free antivirus downloads - techradar.com

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Best free antivirus downloads

Paying for a premium service means you get more features, such as spam filters, parental controls, system scans and advanced firewalls. This makes them more suitable for power users, those who want a bit of extra security and anyone who wants their system to run as smoothly as possible. It also means you avoid annoying pop-ups that try and tempt you to upgrade to the full version. And, as you've discovered above, they don't really cost too much to buy

But these days you can get top quality protection absolutely free, with just about every single major vendor out there offering a free antivirus. By doing so, developers gain access to more devices from which they can collect data and therefore improve their knowledge and security platforms, so it’s not in their interest to reduce the amount of protection provided by the free version.

Windows has come a long way in terms of security, but it's still fair to suggest that Windows 10's built-in solution, Windows Defender, is the last free AV app you should trust to keep your system clean.

So if you're determined to get free antivirus, we strongly suggest that you check out our list of best security downloads in 2018 below. We've highlighted their features -and shortcomings - to ensure that you pick out the best one.

 

1. Bitdefender Antivirus Free

 

The best free antivirus scanner in 2018

Operating system: Windows, Mac, Android | Version: 2018 | Features: Phishing protection, Behavioural analysis, Automatic scanning

Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition
Free
Fast scanning
Excellent virus detection
Advanced users may want more control
Scans cannot be scheduled

Essentially consisting of the AV section of the full product, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition's clean, light, well constructed scanning mechanisms – which are almost universally faster than the industry average – and unrivalled virus definitions mean Bitdefender is back at the top of the free tree.

The free version's insistence on running in autopilot mode is a double-edged sword, making the process of virus management easy but taking it out of the user's hands; while we're inclined to trust it, there have been cases in the past of automatic systems going slightly rogue, such as the incident a few years back when Panda Antivirus identified itself as a virus and locked up a large number of Windows systems. 

AV-TEST's testing did pick out a few flaws in its handling of zero-day threats, however. And it's worth pointing out that for you can currently get our top rated paid-for solution - Bitdefender Antivirus Plus - for the equivalent of around $2 per month. That's a tiny amount to pay for a tonne of extra features, such as online banking protection, integrated password manager, permanent file shredder and and free online 24/7 support. 

Review and where to download: Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition

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Avast AntiVirus Free

 

A much-improved free antivirus suite

Operating system: Windows, Mac, Android | Version: 17 | Features: Virus detection, Gaming mode, Password manager, Malware scanner

Avast Free Antivirus
Free
Doesn’t slow your computer
Great virus protection
Irritating privacy settings
Includes links to paid-for components

Avast and AVG haven't yet fully merged, despite the former formally acquiring the latter in mid-2016. The newly combined company says the two free antivirus products will remain separate, although there's apparently a joint AV package on the way soon. Obviously, though, Avast now has a lot more data to work with, having expanded its effective userbase (and, therefore, its threat detection network) to a whopping 400 million users.

The latest edition of Avast Free Antivirus adds an automatic gaming mode to mute popups and reduce system load when you're firing up a processor-hungry game, which is very handy indeed, and the interface has been given a clean new overhaul. There's a password manager, too, which is an undeniably good addition to your security portfolio.

It scores well on AV-TEST's widespread malware benchmark and continues a clean sweep against 0-day attacks – presumably that expanded detection network is really helping. Less impressive is the slight negative effect Avast has on software launch times, and its slightly popup-heavy attitude.

Review and where to download: Avast Free Antivirus

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3. Sophos Home

 

The perfect choice for a home full of PCs

Operating system: Windows, Mac | Version: 17 | Features: Virus detection, Phishing protection, Parental controls, Protects up to 10 PCs

Sophos Home Free
Free
Simple and non-intrusive
Good cloud-based control of protected devices
No scan scheduling
Limited controls for advanced users

Marketing itself as "business-grade security", Sophos Home does a little more than most free antivirus software, and actually seems better suited to families.

You get standard virus protection and anti-malware protection, along with browser tools like anti-phishing and, most importantly, content control. Combined with central management of up to 10 PCs, this means you can effectively lock down your kids' browsing options.

Although AV-TEST hasn't formally assessed Sophos' skills, fellow lab AV-Comparatives offers a decent rating of its abilities. 

Although Sophos Home has always had desktop notifications, there was no premium version of the software for it to encourage an upgrade to. That changed in February with the launch of Sophos Home Premium.

Review and where to download: Sophos Home

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Kaspersky Free

 

Kaspersky's first foray into free internet security

Operating system: Windows | Version: 18.0.0.405 | Features: Real-time scanning, Anti-phishing, Email scanning, Spyware protection

Kaspersky Free Antivirus
Free
Accurate, reliable antivirus engine
User-friendly
Basics-only feature set
Limited technical support

The paid-for version of Kaspersky's Windows security software frequently tops charts of best virus prevention solutions and AV-TEST once again gave it full marks across the board in its latest round of testing.

As you would expect, Kaspersky Free is a scaled down version of the full program - a tool that we really like (more on which below). The free version ditches additional features such as privacy protection and safe payment sandboxes to concentrate on powerful, no-frills and - most importantly - free protection for your PC. The result is a tremendously easy to use and navigate bit of software that does an effective job of keeping you protected from viruses.

Using the nuts and bolts real-world scanning engine of the paid-for suite, Kaspersky Free is fiendishly hard for viruses and trojan horses to break down. And we love that it doesn't constantly pester you with nudges to upgrade to the full version.

But, ironically, we will just for a moment, because Kasperksy Anti-Virus 2018 isn't expensive to buy and yet affords much better protection to your PC (or PCs). The standard price is $29.99 to protect three computers and includes more muscle when it comes to preventing ransomware, spyware and Trojans.

Review and where to download: Kaspersky Free

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5. Avira Free Antivirus

 

Great antivirus, but a little noisy for our liking

Operating system: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS | Version: 2018 | Features: Virus detection, Phishing protection, Built-in VPN, System optimization tools

Avira Free Antivirus
Free
Little impact on system performance
Great detection rates
Installer promotes other Avira products
Lots of popups when running

Avira Free Antivirus for Windows continues to score highly on AV-TEST's stringent testing program, quashing 99.7% of tested threats, and it generally doesn't put too big a burden on your hardware.

It has a clean, friendly interface - with a swish redesign ready for 2018 - and throws up minimal false positives. The introduction of a free security suite to optionally run alongside it – with ransomware and phishing protection, a 500MB/month VPN and various speedup promises – just sweetens the deal. This is one of the best free antivirus packages of 2018. 

So why, then, have we dropped it from the top spot on our list, a position it's held for the past two years? It's the constant badgering. There's a certain level of popups and advertisements that's acceptable for a free product, and Avira has begun to cross the line. It's not as onerous as some – Comodo's over-enthusiastic interface comes to mind – but booting up your PC to see Avira shouting at you once again is jarring. 

Review and where to download: Avira Free Antivirus

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