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Free Antivirus Software

Top free PC/Mac protection

Every computer connected to the internet is vulnerable to viruses, but you don't have to pay to stay safe while you online. It's possible to get quality antivirus software and other protective programmes for free. Here's our rundown of the best free antivirus and free internet security software.

Always be careful to check any software you put on your computer is suitable and compatible with your existing set-up. No liability can be accepted for any individual problems caused by acting upon the information given.

Five simple ways to protect yourself

Internet security software to protect your computer is a must these days. But you can boost your level of protection, without any new programs.

  • Even if your computer comes off the shelf with a level of protection, threats change daily. So it's imperative you keep your software up-to-date or else it's useless.

    For Windows 7, 8, 8.1 or 10, just click on 'Start', go to Control Panel (or Settings) and click the 'Windows Update' icon, where it will show you if there are any updates for your PC. Sadly, Microsoft is no longer releasing updates for Windows XP.

    Even dedicated antivirus software (see the best free protection) needs to be updated, and do a full system scan once a week.

    Mac (and Linux) users usually have slightly less to worry about in terms of viruses, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. Mac users should make sure they're installing security updates, and may want to consider installing free antivirus software too.

  • With more and more of us using the web to bank online and do other sensitive tasks, coming up with solid passwords is more vital than ever.

    Don't use the same login for lots of sites. If one falls into the wrong hands, your whole online life is up for grabs. Try picking one and add a few letters related specifically to each site you're logging into.

    Ensure you change passwords frequently. You can use a free password generator to get a completely random (and very secure) password or create your own using Martin's method - see his How to have lots of passwords & remember them blog for full help.

  • Most web crime still happens via email, so be on guard when checking yours. Don't open any attachments you're not expecting, or click any random links you find in the text - see the 20 Ways to Stop Scams for more info.

    If you're unsure if a site's legit, whack the name into Google and see what comes up. It may be listed as a bad 'un.

    Quick questions

    • How can I filter out spam?

      Most big email clients such as Google, Outlook and Yahoo! have their own filtering system to stop spam. Check your settings and make sure the filter is switched on.

      Blocking spam's not an exact science, and important emails may also be blocked. The way around this is to make sure you've added senders whose emails you'd like to receive to your 'accepted' list.

      The same goes for this site's weekly Money Tips Email - its combination of freebies, money, mortgage and debt info means it can easily get caught in spam filters. (For those that don't already get it, you can sign up here.)
    • How can I protect my email address?

      Only give out your email address to people you know. Don't post it on public internet forums (including the MSE Forums) or chat rooms. Spammers often use software robots, or 'bots', to read forums, store any email addresses they find and then spam them.
    • Can email rules block spam?

      If you download your emails to a computer, eg, using Microsoft's Outlook, you can create rules to stop common spam by entering key words, eg, VIAGRA, so those emails are automatically filtered. But spammers try to beat it through mis-spelling words or using numbers in place of letters, eg, V14GRA, so you'll have to block out other combinations too.
  • Looking for a piece of software? Find out which company makes it first and then go to its site to get it there, rather than from a third party site found via Google. For smaller free or shareware programs, try using big sites such as CNET Download, rather than just getting them from anywhere that shows up.

    For advanced downloaders (OK, nerds): when using torrents, avoid .exe files wherever possible. If you must tempt fate, make sure they're thoroughly scanned.

  • Threats to your computer come in different guises with various funky names. Collectively, they're considered malicious software, or 'malware'.

    The main types are:

    • Viruses. Hidden programs that wreak havoc. These are transmitted via websites, email attachments, directly over the internet or via any other removable media. They hide in applications or files and spread from computer to computer, generally wreaking havoc wherever they get the chance.
    • Trojans. Bugs within harmless-looking files. Trojan (horses) are hidden within a harmless-looking file (eg, a picture of a celebrity) or program (ironically, they're often dressed up as antivirus tools). They aim to trick the user into installing malicious software, like spyware or adware.
    • Worms. Can drill in via open web connections. Worms take advantage of any open internet connection. They try to sneak in and replicate on the computer. Once loaded, they often start to send spam email from your computer without your knowledge.

    Quick questions

    • Who's behind malware?

      It's a common misconception that producing computer viruses is the domain of angst-ridden teenage geeks with little to do, showing off to their equally reclusive peers. While there may have been some truth in this at the beginning, and of course it still happens, these days it's often about big criminal business.
    • What happens with stolen information?

      Cracking into your computer can reveal a breadth of information about you. It could include your bank details for ID fraud or for just directly taking your cash.

      A program could grab all the emails in your address book/contacts list to find real addresses to sell to spammers. These unsuspecting people may well then be emailed from your address.
    • What happens when a virus controls my computer?

      Some viruses allow your computer to be controlled via a 'DDOS' (distributed denial-of-service) attack. This is where a website is closed down due to simulated, simultaneous use by millions or even billions of users. This can be for political reasons, a ransom, to hurt competitors or 'just for fun'.

      Many people whose computers cause this are unaware it's happening. MoneySavingExpert.com has been hit by such an attack. Ironically, some of the people denied access for three days could've been contributing to the closure via hidden viruses on their systems.

Best free antivirus software

Pay for antivirus software from biggies such as Norton and Kaspersky and it'll cost you £25+ per year. Yet you can get free software which, while not quite as effective or full of features as paid-for programs, still keeps on top of threats.

Regardless of which route you take, remember hackers develop new bugs constantly. All these free antivirus programs offer regular updates, so make sure you get them.

Also, it's not just about how up-to-date your software is though. If you're not using it, what's the point? Try to fit in a full 'on-demand' scan once a week, where the virus scanner goes through all the files on your hard drive. That should make sure nothing slips through the net.

Something to bear in mind before we start

We’re MoneySaving experts, not antivirus experts, so this is just a compendium of free software. We're not ranking them in any particular order, we're just telling you what is out there and the key features of each. So if you're in any doubt, consult a tech exert and check review sites such as PCMag UKTechradar and AV Test.

According to the software companies, these free versions will give you basic protection, but do know that paid-for versions will often go further in protecting you online. You wont get the bells and whistles such as parental controls and webcam protection with all of the free versions, so you'll need to weigh up your requirements.

Antivirus: Free PC software downloads

There are plenty of free downloads available for Windows – here we look at the biggies and their key features. All offer basic scans of viruses, but some include features that might be beneficial to you, including password managers and virtual private network (VPN) functions.

Software Key features
Microsoft Defender Antivirus

✔️ Built into Windows so no need to download and install it.

✔️ Light on resources (it won't slow your PC down).

✔️ Strong parental controls.

 
But...

❌ Middling performance in independent detection tests.

❌ Doesn't include a password manager.

❌ Doesn't include a virtual private network (VPN) feature.

Kaspersky Security Cloud

✔️ Performs well in independent detection tests.

✔️ Includes a limited virtual private network (VPN) feature, which allows you to hide your location and internet traffic.

✔️ Provides a basic password manager.

 

But...

❌ You'll have to pay if you want a more advanced password manager or VPN.

AVG Antivirus Free

✔️ Performs well in independent detection tests.

✔️ Includes a browser extension to help keep you safe when online shopping.

✔️ Scans for PC performance problems.

✔️ You can 'shred' files instead of just deleting, which it describes as 'irreversible'.


But...

❌ Doesn't include a password manager.

❌ Doesn't include a virtual private network (VPN).

Avast Antivirus Free

✔️ Performs well in independent detection tests.

✔️ Includes a 'do not disturb' so you aren't pestered by pop-ups.

✔️ Scan your Wi-fi network to spot any security weaknesses with your router.

 

But...

❌ Doesn't include a password manager.

❌ Doesn't include a virtual private network (VPN).

❌ Can slow your computer down when running scans.

Avira Free Antivirus

✔️ Performs well in independent detection tests.

✔️ Includes a price comparison feature for online shopping.

✔️ Includes a limited virtual private network (VPN) feature, which allows you to hide your location and internet traffic.

✔️ Includes a password manager.
 

But...

❌ Middling performance in independent detection tests.

Panda Free Antivirus

✔️ Includes a PC recovery system, helping you to 'clean' infected computers.

✔️ Includes a limited virtual private network (VPN) feature, which allows you to hide your location and internet traffic.

But...

❌ Doesn't include a password manager.

❌ Middling/poor performance in independent detection tests.

Antivirus: Free Mac downloads

There aren't as many options for macOS as there are for Windows. This is likely to be because previously, the threat of viruses on Mac's was very small, but that's since changed.

Mac's now come with decent in-built security, but if you want to go the extra mile, we've rounded up the best, free antivirus programmes.

Software Key features
Sophos Home Free

✔️ Performs well in independent detection tests.

✔️ Allows parents to filter what their children can see online.

✔️ Can be used to secure several devices.


But...

❌ Doesn't include a password manager.

❌ Limited browser protection (phishing sites).

AVG Antivirus Free

✔️ Performs well in independent detection tests.
✔️ Offers automatic security updates.

 

But...

❌ The free version doesn't come with the 'file shredder' feature found on the Windows version.

❌ Doesn't include a password manager.

Avast Antivirus Free ✔️ Performs well in independent detection tests.

✔️ Scan your Wi-fi network to spot any security weaknesses with your router.

✔️ Includes a password manager.

 

But...

❌ Missing some features that can be found on the Windows version, incl the 'do not disturb' feature.

Avira Free Antivirus

✔️ Performs well in independent detection tests.

✔️ Includes a price comparison feature for online shopping.

✔️ Includes a limited virtual private network (VPN) feature, which allows you to hide your location and internet traffic.

✔️ Includes a password manager.

But...

❌ Middling performance in independent detection tests.

Bitdefender Antivirus Free

✔️ Quickly performs scans and blocks harmful websites.

✔️ Performs well in independent detection tests.

But...

❌ Doesn't include a password manager.

❌ You can't hide your internet traffic from others.

Firewall software – do you need it?

Antivirus software isn't the only protection your computer needs. If you don't have a firewall, you're leaving all your files and sensitive information vulnerable. Effectively:

👮 Antivirus = the border patrol checking what's allowed in.

🔥 Firewall = the fence stopping it getting to the border in the first place.

So why aren't we all going firewall mad? Well, we tend to connect to the web via a router, and routers provide a hardware firewall. Make sure yours is switched on and set to a high-enough security level.

⚙️ Keep your router up-to-date and check the settings

You might also want to make sure your router is up to date with the latest firmware (fixes), as manufacturers/providers can release new updates to router models, which help keep it secure and can even improve performance. BT, for example, automatically sends updates directly to its routers overnight so it's important to never switch your router off. With other router models, you might have to do the update yourself so it's best to consult the manual or search online for the make and model number if you don't know how to check.

While you're there, check you've changed your router password from its factory-set default. You'd be surprised how many connections are hacked (and how much havoc gets wreaked) because the standard password hasn't been changed. Spend a little time to get your settings right here, as router firewalls give a higher level of protection than software ones.

If you don't always connect via a router, or you're just big on online security, here are the top firewall freebies...

Free PC downloads
Microsoft Defender Firewall
Included with Microsoft Defender Antivirus, this should be enough for most people (especially those who already have router firewalls), but make sure it's switched on and your copy of Windows is up-to-date. The firewall can be set on low, medium and high levels of protection.
ZoneAlarm

The free option from ZoneAlarm gets great write-ups from tech site Techradar, which described it as ‘the best free firewall’ for Windows users.
 

It’s worth noting that this free version lacks some of the options of its paid-for counterpart, such as 24/7 technical support. You’ll also have to contend with ads when using the software.

Comodo Free Firewall

Totally free and compatible with Windows XP (32-bit) and up, Comodo Free Firewall offers a good level of protection according to TechRadar. Yet it can be intrusive, providing notifications when files have been cleared as well as blocked, but these can be turned off.

Free Mac downloads
Application Firewall (built in)

Since the early days, all web-ready Macs have come with some sort of firewall as standard. Which yours offers depends on what version of OS X or macOS you're using. To turn it on/off and change the settings, go to System Preferences > Security or Security & Privacy > Firewall.
 

Application Firewall should provide you with adequate protection in conjunction with a decent Mac antivirus programme.

Know or use any other free antivirus packages or firewall software? Please share them in the free antivirus software forum discussion.

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Adware and spyware

There are other types of malware you can find on your computer. Often legitimate developers will design programs that have useful functions, but they'll also provide the owner with useful information about you or try to sell you things.

📑 Adware. Pop-ups that try to sell you things

Adware is malware that sneaks onto your machine and opens up pop-up windows that sell you things.

It's easy to assume these are related to the site you were visiting, yet often they aren't. If you've closed your browser, but pop-up windows still appear on your desktop, chances are you've been infected.

🕵️ Spyware. It tracks what you do

Spyware is a more dangerous, less noticeable type of malware. It covertly grabs information from your PC and sends it back to its leader out in the cyber-ether.

Malicious spyware programs have become much more advanced in recent years, undoubtedly due to their potential for criminal money-making, so some of yesterday's top spyware removers can no longer cope.

Basic anti-adware/spyware measures:

To put your mind at rest, you'll need to download some extra software. In the meantime, there are four basic ways to fight back:

🔒 Use a pop-up blocker

If you're being troubled by adware, use a pop-up blocker to alleviate the symptoms while you find a solution. Be aware though, that not all pop-ups are bad - some sites open new windows in this way. If you want to see them, hold down CTRL while clicking the link.

🔍 Check whether you allowed the spyware

There are a couple of legit spyware programs. Google's Desktop can send info on what you've been searching back to Google, and Alexa's toolbar can do the same. In both cases these firms want to monitor your computer to help develop their products with data about searching habits.

Whether you allow this depends on how you want the information to be used. It's mostly harmless but does mean someone, somewhere has access to your searching habits.

🕵️ Be careful when downloading 

The usual way for ad/spyware programs to get on your computer is by attaching themselves to other things you download. So make sure you check the veracity of download sources before getting files.

🤓 Delete programs you don't use 

Use the add/delete function on your Control Panel to get rid of any programs you don't need any more - they may be corrupted.

Ad/spyware removal: Free PC and Mac downloads

Like most antivirus tools, spyware removers work by comparing what's on your machine to a list of known offenders. As ever, the top anti-ad/spyware programs are commercial, but that doesn't necessarily mean you need to buy them. Try these first:

Free PC downloads
Adaware Antivirus

Provides real-time protection, blocking malware as it finds it, rather than waiting until the end of the scan, and it's easy to use. Yet reviewers have said it isn't as powerful as it could be, and that most features are locked in the free version, so advise against making it your primary tool.

Malwarebytes for Windows (1)
Offers powerful on-demand infection detection. Tech publications recommend using it alongside other antivirus software.
Spybot Free Edition
Easy to use and features an immunisation tool that blocks websites known to harbour malware, but reviews indicate it's fairly processor-hungry, so if your computer isn't the quickest it might be an unwelcome addition. Again, should be used in conjunction with antivirus software.
Free Mac downloads
Malwarebytes for Mac One of our top picks for adware/spyware removal on Windows, there's also a free version of Malwarebytes for Mac, which PCMag UK describes as being handy for use alongside an antivirus tool.
MacScan 3 (2) Built to detect and remove spyware and adware. Offers decent protection against Malware threats and providers automatic tracking cookie removal.
 

(1) Malwarebites for Windows Free version only provides real-time protection for 14 days after you download it; (2) MacScan 3 only offers a 30-day free trial, after which you'll pay $49.99 (£36ish) to upgrade to a full year's protection after that if you choose to.

Free back-up options

We've all had moments of horror (even in this very office) where due to hardware failure, power cuts or just plain ol' silly mistakes, precious documents disappear. As more and more of our lives are committed to the digital domain, backing up data is becoming increasingly important. Since there are ways to do it free, you'll only have yourself to blame if you don't.

If your PC broke, what files would you miss most? These are the ones you should be backing up as a minimum.

Use hardware

If you'd rather keep more tangible copies of your files, you can store them on an external USB hard drive. As technology marches on, storage space is getting increasingly cheap with 1TB (1,000GB) for as little as £40 if you buy online.

For a well-reviewed site where you can find storage hardware, try MyMemory* – or Amazon has plenty of options, with well-known brands such as Seagate, LaCie, Toshiba and Western Digital (WD) receiving decent reviews.

Use online storage

Online storage services, or 'cloud' storage services as they're also known, use a virtual hard drive that's installed on your desktop and linked directly to your online space.

There are a whole load of online storage services available, with many offering a fair few GB of free space - see Free Online Storage for a full list.

Software of the last resort: Recovery programs

If you've already lost valuable files, there may still be hope in the form of recovery programs. If you're running Windows 10, Microsoft now has its own free Windows File Recovery programme you can download. It's a bit "techy" as you have to enter some code, but HelpDeskGeek has provided instructions on how to use it.

If you want something that's easier to use, freeware programs Disk DrillPC InspectorPuran File RecoveryRecuva and Restoration work to recover lost files, but as you might expect, it's a bit of a lottery as to whether they're able to succeed.

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