For years, if you wanted the best antivirus software, you had to pay for genuine protection and security. Any free antivirus software admittedly lacked some critical features, like fraud protection or link blocking. While some antivirus programs cost money, there are plenty of free options with fantastic features.
You don’t always have to miss out on features like malware blockers just because these antivirus options are free. Plus, you can download these programs and start using them immediately.
The best free antivirus software at a glance
Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition
Theis an antivirus program that revels in a minimalist design that makes it low maintenance. Though the application features no configurations of any kind, it automatically scans your machine in the background using cloud-based detection, subsequently performing a deeper scan if it comes across any malicious software or red flags.
The bundled, real-time virus shield also uses behavior-based detection to protect against potential threats. Newer features include anti-fraud and phishing options that use more advanced filters to warn block and protect you from any sites known to steal identities.
Besides excellent malware blocking and removal, the lightweight program doubles as an excellent anti-rootkit and anti-phishing utility. It performs the latter task by detecting and blocking fraudulent sites.
AVG AntiVirus Free
AVG has two major selling points. First, this free antivirus option has an impressively broad reach. The software will not only search for viruses and malware, but it also helps block suspicious links, prevent suspect downloads, and keeps suspicious email attachments from being used. That makes the app a better choice for a family or elderly users on a budget.
The second benefit is AVG’s affinity with Google platforms, as it has one of the better Android downloads. In addition to its antivirus features, the Android version of the software also has a phone tracker, which allows you to track the location of your lost phone, remotely lock it, remotely enable an alarm to ring, and even remotely wipe your mobile device clean so that your data isn’t exposed to identity thieves or anyone else you don’t want to see your personal information.
ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus
ZoneAlarm provides firewalls and antivirus scanning but then goes a step further to address two growing security concerns: identify theft and data loss. Daily credit-monitoring tools prevent identity theft and a “credit education specialist” to help you work through any alerts or problems. If you don’t already have a service that helps protect your identity and data, this could be the option for you.
If you choose to download this free software you’ll need to know three things: You’ll be getting the beta version of the software, the free license to use it only lasts about a year, and most importantly, if you choose to uninstall it later it can be difficult to remove it completely from your system as some features like its browser extension aren’t necessarily removed during the installation process and may not be easily disabled.
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Free
Malwarebytes offers some of the best and most comprehensive virus-removal software available, frequently making it one of the first go-to sources for tech agencies and support groups alike.
The only caveat with the free version of Malwarebytes is that it’s more of a remediation tool than a live, protective shield. The scanning tool will find and remove anything once you’re already infected — effectively, too — but doesn’t prevent the infection from happening in the first place. For that, you need the premium version or one of the other tools on this list. Still, as a secondary layer of defense, the free version of Malwarebytes is a must.
Malwarebytes also has a free extension (Browser Guard) for Chrome, Edge, and Firefox browsers, which offers web protections such as blocking third-party ads and trackers, blocking webpages that have malware, and blocking online scams.
Avast Free Antivirus
In terms of essential protection, Avast is one of the best antivirus programs available. It received one of the highest scores in the most recent AV Test’s protection test. The latest free antivirus suite from Avast is an impressive package.
With Avast, you can expect an antivirus program that finds and blocks all kinds of threats including viruses, spyware, ransomware, and phishing. And two other features, Wi-Fi Inspector and Smart Scan, can help you spot flaws in your security so you know what you need to fix to protect yourself. The software also includes a Do Not Disturb mode that completely silences alerts and pop-ups while you’re watching a movie or gaming.
A 2019 report on Avast revealed it collects its customers’ web-browsing data (including Google searches, visits to LinkedIn pages, and visits to porn sites) and sells that data through its parent company, Jumpshot. In a report at CNET, Avast said that Jumpshot doesn’t receive “personal identification information, including name, email address, or contact details,” and that it allows users to opt-out of sharing data.
Since it’s a, you’ll be missing out on some features exclusive to the premium package, including remote hacking protection and the ability to protect up to 10 devices. Those wanting such upgrades will need to opt for a subscription plan, which is about $40 per year for one Windows PC or Mac for the first year and then $70 per year thereafter. Still, sticking with the free version will keep you well-protected.
Avast also offers another, newer security suite: Avast One. There are three versions of it: Avast One Essential (the free one) and the premium versions (Avast One Individual and Avast One Family). Avast One Essential offers more protection and performance features than Avast Free Antivirus, and it’s still free. Features include a firewall, a VPN, and tools to speed up your PC. If you’d like more features for free, Avast One Essential may also be worth looking into.
Kaspersky Security Cloud
Kaspersky’s Security Cloud is simply a version of its security software that syncs through the cloud across all your devices so you can manage everything at once, from smartphones to desktop computers. The cloud also makes it easier to keep all the security software updated, and push any alerts to your device so you always know what’s going on. And while it’s a little tricky to find, Kaspersky does offer a free version of the software.
The free version is very limited, however. You’ll get protection from malware and antivirus threats. You’ll also get (restricted) access to features such as a VPN and password storage for a maximum of 15 passwords in “a secure online vault.”
Avira Free Antivirus
Avira’s streamlined free antivirus software is one of the best options for getting exactly the security features you want without any unnecessary extras or annoying bloat. Download options are available for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS — and Mac/iOS compatibility is particularly good, making this a strong choice for Apple users.
The free version of Avira’s antivirus program comes with virus scans and blocking, infected file repairs, real-time updates, a potentially unwanted application (PUA) shield, an ad blocker, and a tracking blocker.
The Pro version is $45 per year and comes with email protection (only for Windows), additional ransomware protection, and web protection for shopping and banking.
How do you know which free antivirus software is right for you?
It all depends on your security needs. Some free antivirus programs only focus on detecting and removing malware, but others may offer more protection in the way of anti-phishing and ad-blocking features. If you browse the web often or download email attachments often, you may want to consider antivirus options that offer web protection and email protection. If you want to be able to monitor and protect all of your devices (mobile and PC) at once with the same program, you should pick a free antivirus software that is available on all of the platforms your devices run on.
The best antivirus for Windows 11
At this time, no antivirus software companies have announced that their products are specifically compatible with Windows 11. That said, most antivirus options that are compatible with Windows 10 should also work fine on Windows 11. Make sure to install one of them if you’re trying out Microsoft’s new operating system.