One of the best ways to stay protected against malware is by using an antivirus. Although most modern operating systems have built-in anti-malware tools, you may prefer a third-party solution. Usually, they not only help you delete malicious software but have additional uses as well. Sadly, most top-of-the-line antiviruses aren’t free.
Yet if you’re thrifty, sometimes a free antivirus is the only thing you need. So, we compiled a list of the best free antivirus suites, regardless of what type of device you’re using.
Best free antivirus software – quick list:
- Bitdefender – The most secure free antivirus
- Avira – The best antivirus for Apple users
- Kaspersky – The best free antivirus features suite
Best free antivirus services – our detailed list
|Platforms:||Windows, macOS, Android, iOS|
|Customer support:||24/7 email, phone, and live chat|
It’s hardly a surprise that Bitdefender is our top free antivirus software. On our overall best antivirus services list it also triumphed against all competition. This praise is all warranted – Bitdefender has one of the most extensive feature lists for a free service.
On Windows, it has Bitdefender Shield – real-time protection against a broad scope of cybersecurity threats. It scans your files and emails in real time, with minimal impact on system performance.
However, the service doesn’t only rely on database data. Their Advanced Threat Defense uses machine learning to detect behavioral threat-like indications. Suppose a software is accessing too much data, making background data changes or uploads. In that case, it will get flagged well before the database entry as a new form of malware.
Bitdefender also has measures against various phishing websites. Every website you visit is thoroughly checked for phishing indications, ensuring your data doesn’t end up on dark web marketplaces.
Bitdefender offers the best customer support for non-paying customers. If you run into any issues, you can contact their support agents via live chat, phone, email, or community forums. When it comes to free antiviruses, almost no services have as many options.
The main downside of this service is that the Mac version doesn’t have a free option. It only has a separate Virus Scanner for malware removal. The iOS app offers minimal features, too.
The base version is free forever, but if you’d like to test the premium ones, you can try all versions (including the most expensive ones that include better features for macOS) for free for 30 days without providing your card information.
- Superb malware protection
- Limits scans if you’re actively using your device
- Many customer support options
- 30-day free trial of all premium versions
- Sophisticated phishing filters
- Not great for macOS or iOS users
- Lengthy initial scans
|Platforms:||Windows, macOS, Android, iOS|
|Customer support:||24/7 live chat and community support|
Successor of previous Avira Free Security Suite, the current tool combines the features that it used to have and sprinkles new additions keeping the service capable and competitive. It feels like a slightly limited, but still excellent version of their paid software.
Although you’ll find many great antiviruses regardless of your device type, support is a key area that distinguishes this service from all the others. Avira has a great free version available for PC, Mac, Android, and iOS. So it covers all the bases and delivers comparable performance across the board.
On independent tests, Avira gets the highest grade score for macOS protection, which is very impressive. It’s an industry staple to overlook Apple users because they traditionally have been safer when it comes to malware. Meanwhile, Avira even has real-world test data to back up its strength.
If you’re a Windows user, they’re scoring just as high on PC. So, whichever system you’re using, you’ll get a quality antivirus. The installation process is simple, and Avira will update automatically, so you won’t have to work for your security.
As a free user, however, as a free user, you get System, ransomware, and web protection. However, the latter will be available separately via the Browser Safety add-on. Even the free version will detect all known ransomware threats, so you’re getting the full suite.
Overall, addons like Browser Safety and Safe Shopping do contribute to your safer browsing. Whether you’re worried about intrusive trackers or someone stealing your data, they have uses. There is even a VPN, but with a cap of 500 MB/month, it can hardly be considered a useful feature.
- Includes password manager
- Supports many operating systems
- Safe shopping suite
- Adds up to your browser protection
- Reliable malware removal
- Lacks features
- Lengthy full system scans
|Platforms:||Windows, macOS, Android, iOS|
|Customer support:||24/7 live chat, phone, and email|
Kaspersky has one of the longest track records when it comes to free services for malware removal. Don’t expect that Kaspersky Security Cloud shares many similarities with their premium Kaspersky Anti-Virus, though. Yet although there’s an everlasting sense that the suite is somewhat held back to keep more features in the paid edition, the package you get does bring value.
You get the usual features like system scans, but there are additional bonuses. There’s a System Watcher feature, which uses machine learning to identify malware that it has had no prior knowledge of. And there’s also the Network Attack Blocker, which alerts you when it detects suspicious connections on your LAN.
Not all threats will come in malicious software, sometimes leaving an unpatched software component that can be exploited by hackers. For that, Kaspersky offers a vulnerability scan that analyses programs that need security patches.
There are some nice extra features as well. For example, you’ll find a password manager. It’s not as good as the dedicated ones, but it surely beats keeping your credentials in a .txt file on your desktop. Plus, the installer automatically installs add-ons for Firefox and Chrome. Primarily the add-ons highlight dangerous URL links when you’re browsing the web and includes an on-screen keyboard if you suspect that your system has been infected with a keylogger. There’s also a taste of Kaspersky VPN, but given that it’s capped at 200MB/day, this isn’t much of a feature.
Kaspersky offers a fine free antivirus alternative, but you’ll have to deal with the attempts to get you to pay for a subscription.
- Protection against ransomware
- Great mobile apps
- Uses machine learning for malware detection
- Great malware lab test scores
- Password manager
- Limited iOS functionality
- Lacks customer support
4. TotalAV – most extensive free antivirus scanner
|Platforms:||Windows, Mac, iOS, Android|
|Customer support:||guides, FAQs, phone, online forms, live chat|
TotalAV might not yet be a household name, but if you need a free antivirus for personal use, this is one of the best options in the market. It’s an increasingly popular and growing service that takes care of the essentials.
Although a real-time scan is only available for paying users, TotalAV provides a comprehensive Smart Scan. It goes an extra mile beyond checking for malware. The tool also goes through startup programs, finds junk and duplicate files that are clogging your system, even evaluates browser safety.
To compensate for the lack of real-time protection, they’re offering Safe Site extension for Chrome, Firefox, and Edge browsers. It blocks known harmful URLs, which should prevent malware from even appearing on your device.
Independent malware labs widely praise the service. AV-TEST certified it as a top product and gave maximum score in the performance category. So, you can be sure that you’re getting the best possible performance.
With the free version, you can even take a peek into the paid version. After installing the free edition, you can try the Pro version for free. This unlocks all the features you need in your antivirus, including real-time, ransomware protection, and many other additions.
- Smart Scan
- Safe site extension
- Pro version free trial
- Good lab test scores
- No real-time protection
- Locks out many features
5. Sophos Home – best free antivirus for families
|Customer support:||24/7 email|
The main reason you may not have heard of Sophos is that they mostly cater to businesses. Naturally, Sophos Home Free edition retains some of the features that seem directly ported from their business version. Even as a free service, you can manage three devices remotely from a single console. This is perfect for small groups of friends or families.
Sophos Home Free has two main features: Malware Protection and Web Protection. You won’t get any tools against ransomware or real-time monitoring, so you should be extra careful about downloading suspicious email attachments.
Sophos Malware Protection primarily relies on scanning. Sadly, there’s no room for customization here – a full scan is the only option. This means that if you want to scan through some key places on your storage quickly, you’ll have to wait until the full scan completes. Hardly a time-efficient approach.
Web Protection focuses on preventing access to suspicious URLs, including phishing sites. When you’re trying to access a sketchy webpage, you get a High-Risk Website Blocked warning. In cases when the website isn’t blocked, but your download contains malicious code, Download Protection kicks in. It evaluates the file based on the data shared from other computers, the hosted website’s reputation, and displays the appropriate warning.
There is also a Parental Controls tab. There, you can customize what types of content you’d like to block. Considering that you can manage the antivirus remotely from a second device, it’s a good option for parents. It includes alerts about filters some content has triggered and will work with most modern browsers.
Overall, Sophos Home has a basic package that can truly become a handy addition to your family’s security. Suppose you’re the one in your household who’s managing everyone else’s devices. In that case, Sophos Home can make these tasks a lot easier. And it won’t cost you anything at all.
- Parental controls
- Remote management capabilities
- Lightweight antivirus software
- Locks out many features
- Weak internet security measures
- No customisation for scan options
6. Panda Free Antivirus – best free antivirus for Windows
|Platforms:||Windows, macOS, Android|
|Customer support:||24/7 email, phone|
If most antivirus software interfaces evoke existential dread, Panda Free Antivirus is an outlier. Their apps use nature scenes with a stylish UI, which is one of a kind. Yet, despite their unconventional taste for color palettes, background images, and the strange name choice, it’s one of the most capable free antivirus options you will find.
Of course, when I say capable, I only have Windows and Android in mind. Mac, and iOS users will need to look elsewhere because the only versions that are available to them are paid ones.
However, the features list for Windows is a lot longer than you’d usually find. There’s real-time malware protection, you can schedule periodic system scans and blocks against automatic malware execution from USB devices. You can also create a partition on your USB drive for extreme cases when your PC doesn’t boot up due to malware.
If you’re an Android user, you also get real-time scanning not only for your internal storage but for SD memory cards as well. One of the most useful features, however, is the Privacy Auditor. One of the most prominent ways Android apps get malware is in the form of sketchy apps that steal your data due to granted permissions. This feature checks which apps have access to which features so you can remove the ones that are asking for access where they don’t need it.
There are other helpful features as well like battery optimization, and device tracking helps you find lost phones.
Usually, the most prominent groups that need antivirus software are Windows and Android users. And for those people, Panda is a great free choice.
- Modern UI
- VPN capabilities
- Good protection against malware
- Sales tracker
- Protection against infected USB drives
- Limited support for macOS and iOS
- Frequent false-positives
7. Malwarebytes – best free lightweight antivirus
|Platforms:||Windows, Android, macOS, iOS|
|Customer support:||24/7 email|
Sometimes when looking for an antivirus service, you might feel that your pick isn’t light enough. This is especially the case with providers that have the same apps as their premium versions, full of features you can’t use unless you opt for a subscription. The Malwarebytes Free version is nothing like that.
If you only need an antivirus to clean up your PC every once in a while, Malwarebytes is an exceptional tool. However, users usually employ Malwarebytes as an additional antivirus, because it can remove threats that go undetected by other scanners. For example, the program examines your system’s boot records using a rootkit scanner – so it operates even in the deepest layers of your system.
Sadly, this means that you won’t find things like firewall protection, a VPN, or a password manager. Malwarebytes Free is a by-design lightweight solution that takes up little system resources and sacrificing additional features in favor of efficiency. So, suppose you have an older or weaker machine. In that case, you should take note because you’ll get a much lower startup impact with Malwarebytes when compared to other options on the market.
The main problem is that it doesn’t have any web protection features. It does block dangerous URLs from the web, but this doesn’t apply to email attachments. So, the malicious files that you get via other sources will find no resistance and will end up on your system. This is a concern, so you should use some real-time protection measures like the default Windows Security.
You’ll be able to install Malwarebytes on Windows, macOS, ChromeOS, Android, and iOS devices. As is often the case, the iOS version is a laughing stock as it provides protection against malicious URLs only.
If you’re using the free version and later decide that you need a bit more, you can get a 14-day free trial for Malwarebytes Premium. It adds features like ransomware protection, anti-phishing measures, and a solution against crypto-jacking.
- One of the lightest options
- Works well with weaker devices
- Detects malware hidden in deep layers
- Good malware labs results
- No real-time protection capabilities
- No additional features
How we selected and tested
Ranking the best antivirus programs is quite a tedious task. We test a bunch of different antivirus services before selecting the ones that deserve a spot on our list, paying utmost attention to their usability, intuitiveness, and virus detection rates.
We also gather data from respectable anti-malware labs like AV-TEST and AV-Comparatives. Then, we draw conclusions for the best ratio between safety, performance, and other additional benefits like customer support and extra features.
Video review: best free antivirus in 2021
Is it safe to use a free antivirus?
A free antivirus solution is the bare minimum, but it’s better than no protection. Sometimes it may be comparable or better than built-in antivirus apps. For this reason, it’s essential to be picky and learn what you actually get – if you install an antivirus, it will likely disable other built-in options.
However, you should keep in mind that free antivirus tools sometimes don’t have an essential feature called real-time protection. This means that a free app will only eliminate the existing threats – it won’t stop new malware from entering your system.
Free antivirus vs. paid antivirus
When it comes to free and paid antivirus programs, the latter option is usually the better one. For example, when you get a paid antivirus tool, you can be sure that it will protect your computer from online threats as you’re browsing the web. Also, paid applications will always offer customer support like live chats, while their free versions will only let you use their knowledge bases.
In addition, paid antivirus tools pack a lot of useful features that can improve your online experience. Built-in VPNs, parental mode, and various browser extensions can be of great use for both beginners and advanced users.
However, when chosen carefully, even a free antivirus program can be enough. Take the free version of Bitdefender as an example. It uses the same advanced technologies as the paid version to protect you from malware. The only thing the free option lacks are some extra features.
So, if you only need basic protection against malware, a free antivirus software can be enough – but only is chosen wisely.
Is it worth it to pay for antivirus?
If you want the best possible experience, it does make sense to pay for the subscription. You’ll usually get more online protection features and won’t have to look at all the grayed out icons that ask you to subscribe when pressed. Plus, it usually means better customer support in case something goes wrong.
Usually, getting a free antivirus is as simple as going to the provider’s website and downloading an app. In other cases, you might need to go to the dedicated app store like Google Play or Microsoft Store to download the app. Most free antivirus services don’t require registering, so you should be able to use them from the get-go. Usually, it makes more sense to register because that way you can get a free trial of the premium version.
If you’re sticking with respectable antivirus service providers, there’s nothing wrong with using the free version. Usually, it will just be a bit limited when compared to the paid version, but you’ll feel safe using it.
If you have an older device, it may have a harder time complying with some antivirus service demands. Very frequent background scans can make your system feel slow especially when they are happening when you’re doing other tasks. However, these days, computers have a lot more resources than they did before, so the impact on performance should be minimal.
As of today, the best free antivirus is Bitdefender. It uses machine learning to detect suspicious software behavior, offers customer support even for non-paying users, and protects you from network threats and phishing.