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The Best Free Antivirus Protection for 2020 - PCMag.com

The Best Free Antivirus Protection for 2020 - PCMag.com


The Best Free Antivirus Protection for 2020 - PCMag.com

Posted: 14 Jan 2020 02:24 PM PST

How to Choose the Right Antivirus

Free Malware, Spyware, and Adware Protection

 If you don't have any antivirus software installed, Windows Defender leaps into the fray, doing its best to protect you. However, its best just isn't up there with the rest. Microsoft recognizes this fact—when you install another antivirus, Windows Defender goes into hibernation, only emerging if you remove your protection. Still, the idea of getting antivirus without having to pay is attractive. You can upgrade your protection without laying out cash by choosing one of the many free third-party antivirus solutions. We've evaluated quite a few free antivirus tools, so you can pick the one that has the features you want.

Your antivirus should definitely have the ability to root out existing malware, but its ongoing task is to prevent ransomware, botnets, Trojans, and other types of nasty programs from getting a foothold. All of the antivirus programs in this collection offer real-time malware protection. Some take the fight to the browser, working hard to ensure you never even browse to a malware-hosting site, or get fooled into turning over your credentials to a phishing site.

Free Antivirus vs. Paid Antivirus

 If free antivirus tools are so great, why should anybody pay? For one thing, quite a few of these products are free only for noncommercial use; if you want to protect your business, you must pony up for the paid edition. At that point, you should probably consider upgrading to a full security suite. After all, it's your business's security on the line.

Even for personal use, most for-pay antivirus tools offer more than their free counterparts—sometimes a lot more. For example, ZoneAlarm's paid edition adds protection against malicious and fraudulent websites that the free version lacks. And Panda reserves quite a few features for paying customers, among them firewall protection, application control, cross-platform support, and detection of insecure Wi-Fi connections.

In addition, many companies don't offer full-scale tech support for users of the free edition. The first time you need extra help digging a particularly stubborn piece of malware out of your system, you might regret the lack of support.

Independent Antivirus Lab Test Results

 Around the world, researchers at independent antivirus testing labs spend their days putting antivirus tools to the test. Some of these labs regularly release public reports on their findings. We follow four such labs closely: AV-Comparatives, AV-Test Institute, SE Labs, and MRG-Effitas. We also take note of whether vendors have contracted for certification by ICSA Labs and West Coast Labs.

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*Deals are selected by our partner, TechBargains

Security companies typically pay for the privilege of being included in testing. In return, the labs supply them with detailed reports that can help improve their products. The number of labs that include a particular vendor serves as a measure of significance. In each case, the lab considered the product important enough to test, and the vendor felt the price was worthwhile. The labs don't necessarily test a vendor's free product, but most vendors pack full protection into the free product, enhancing premium versions with additional features.

We Test Malware Protection

 In addition to carefully perusing results from the independent labs, we also run our own hands-on malware protection test. We expose each antivirus to a collection of malware samples, including a variety of different malware types, and note its reaction. Typically, the antivirus will wipe out most of the samples on sight, and detect some of the remaining ones when we try to launch them. We derive a malware blocking score from 0 to 10 points based on how thoroughly the antivirus protects the test system from these samples.

Since we use the same samples month after month, the malware-blocking test doesn't measure a product's ability to detect brand-new threats. In a separate test, we attempt to download malware from 100 very new malicious URLs supplied by London-based testing lab MRG-Effitas, typically less than a few days old. We note whether the antivirus blocked all access to the URL, wiped out the malicious payload during download, or did nothing. Sophos Home Free managed 100 percent protection in its latest test, as did McAfee and Vipre.

If you're interested in learning more about our testing techniques, you're welcome to read more about how we test security software.

Useful Features

 Just about every antivirus product scans files on access to make sure malware can't launch, and also scans the entire system on demand, or on a schedule you set. Once that cleaning and scheduling is done, blocking all access to malware-hosting URLs is another good way to avoid trouble. Many products extend that protection to also steer users away from fraudulent websites, phishing sites that try to steal login credentials for financial sites and other sensitive sites. A few rate links in search results, flagging any dangerous or iffy ones.

Behavior-based detection, a feature of some antivirus products, is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it can detect malware that's never been seen before. On the other hand, if it's not done right, it can baffle the user with messages about perfectly legitimate programs.

Any antivirus should eliminate spyware along with other types of malware, but some products include features designed specifically for spyware protection. Features like encryption to protect your sensitive data and webcam control to prevent remote peeping typically show up in commercial products, not free ones. But some free products include features like a simple on-screen keyboard to foil keyloggers.

One easy way to keep your PC protected is to install all security updates, both for Windows and for browsers and other popular applications. Windows 10 makes it easier than ever to stay up to date, but there are plenty of security holes in older Windows versions, in popular apps, and in add-ons. Scanning for vulnerabilities in the form of missing updates is a feature most often found in commercial antivirus products, but it does turn up in some free ones. In the chart below you can see which products include these useful features.

What's Not Here?

 This article reports only on free antivirus products that received at least a good rating in our reviews—three stars or better. Microsoft Windows Defender Security Center joined the party with a three-star score not long ago; it's now at 3.5 stars. Yes, it's more of a Windows component than a free product. Yes, the very best free antivirus utilities offer many more layers of protection. But Windows Defender protects everyone who can't be bothered to install a third-party antivirus tool.

Several free utilities devoted entirely to ransomware protection have come on the scene in the last few years. Alas, several of those have fallen by the wayside, among them Bitdefender Anti-Ransomware, Cybereason RansomFree, and CyberSight RansomStopper. In any case, these are useful companion products, but they don't do the job of a full-scale antivirus utility.

There are also numerous free antivirus utilities that work solely to clean up existing malware infestations. You bring out these cleanup-only tools when you have a nasty malware problem. When the malware's gone, they have no further use, since they offer no ongoing protection. Our favorite in this category is Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, and it's one you should try if you've got a malware problem. But since they're free, you can keep trying others if the first one doesn't do the job. When the scare is over, you'll need a full-blown antivirus for ongoing protection.

What's the Best Free Antivirus?

 Our current Editors' Choice for free antivirus utility is Kaspersky Security Cloud Free, which took near-perfect scores in recent tests. Avast Free includes some useful bonus features not found in Kaspersky, including a password manager and a network security scanner. However, due to a problem with sharing of user data between Avast and its subsidiary Jumpshot, we can't call it an Editors' Choice at present. If you do have a little cash in your budget for security, the best paid antivirus software does offer more and better protection. If not, try a few of these free tools and see which one you like best.

Worried you might already be infected? Check out our article on the signs you have malware.

Editors' Note: We are aware of the allegations of Kaspersky Labs' inappropriate ties to the Russian government. Until we see some actual proof of these allegations, we will treat them as unproven, and continue to recommend Kaspersky's security products as long as their performance continues to merit our endorsement.

The best antivirus protection of 2020 for Windows 10 - CNET

Posted: 04 Apr 2020 12:00 AM PDT

We should all know the rules of how to protect our privacy and internet security and keep Windows secure: Don't open mysterious messages and emails, don't give out personal information, don't tap questionable links or download apps from shady sites, use secure passwords and keep your Windows software up to date.

You can also take a few extra internet security steps to make sure you're safe online with a PC: Use a VPN to protect your internet traffic, a password manager to keep track of login credentials and an end-to-end encrypted messaging app to keep people from spying on your communications.   

Best Windows antivirus software

But if you are looking for legitimate antivirus suite to keep your Windows device secure, a good first step is to run the best antivirus software. The best antivirus suite and antivirus tools monitor your app downloads and watch for malicious software and suspicious software behavior.

And here's the first important thing for you to know about the best antivirus software and antivirus products: Microsoft Defender -- the free antivirus program and internet security software that comes free with Windows 10 and until recently was called Microsoft Windows Defender -- does a fine job of protecting your PC and providing internet security. (Amazingly, Microsoft provided no built-in protection for Windows back in the days of Windows 98 and XP.) Using Microsoft Defender should be your starting point for the best antivirus security on Windows, and most users will find they don't need to go any further.

However, you can make the case that the Windows security ecosystem is healthier when users don't depend on just one company for protection from a virus or malware. If you favor robust platform diversity, you can easily find solid virus or malware protection from third-party security companies that are up to the task of guarding your PC for free. And most let you also protect all your devices with an annual subscription -- though, it's important to note, that's largely unnecessary outside the Windows realm.

To that end, we've put together a list of the best antivirus products for Windows, encompassing both free antivirus programs and subscription options. These picks of the best antivirus programs are a combination of recommendations from independent third-party labs AV-Test and AV-Comparatives as well as our hands-on testing.

Note that the free and paid security services discussed here are independently chosen by our editors. We're in the process of updating this full list, so check back for an update.

Update, Oct. 21: This list previously included Avast's antivirus as an alternate free choice, but we've pulled that recommendation in light of a report from Avast that its internal network was breached this year, possibly to insert malware into its CCleaner software. This is the second such security issue from Avast in under 3 years

Our recommendations

Looking for free antivirus protection or virus detection, willing to pay for an antivirus solution that offers broad coverage across all your devices, including from ransomware and phishing, or needing to remove a virus or malware from your PC right now? Here's where to start.

Microsoft

Free version? Yes, built into Windows 10

Paid version: Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection is available to corporate users for a fee

Honestly, if you consistently practice safe computing -- you keep your software up to date, you use strong passwords (with the help of password manager) and you steer clear of unexpected emails and links -- you probably can stay clear of zero-day attacks and ransomware attacks. And with Microsoft's free Microsoft Defender Antivirus software running on Windows 10, you have a safety net if you do let your guard down. (Note that Microsoft recently changed the name of Windows Defender to Microsoft Defender and has expanded the service to other platforms.) This antivirus program is literally built into Windows -- just leave it turned on (it is by default) and let it do its thing and this will cover the basics. Microsoft pushes new updates daily.

Read more: The best password managers and how to use them

Norton

Platforms: Windows 10 plus MacOS, Android, iOS

Cost: $100 per year for five devices, on sale for $60

For a long time, respected security company Norton Security from Symantec, now called NortonLifeLock, has earned high marks from AV-Test for virus and malware detection. A five-device subscription via Norton Security is normally $99.99, but you can sign up for $59.99 to get coverage across PCs, Macs, Android devices, and iPhones and iPads. (But note, again, that we don't think antivirus protection is terribly useful outside the Windows realm.) In addition to malware and virus protection, you get 100GB of automatic backup to the cloud, safe-browsing tools, a VPN, an easy device management via a web-browser console and LifeLock identity-theft protection.

Read more: The guide to password security (and why you should care)

Malwarebytes

Platforms: Windows 10 plus MacOS, Android

Free version? Yes, after 14-day trial expires

Paid version: $40 per year for one device, $60 per year for three devices

Malwarebytes does protect your PC from a virus or malware, scoring well in recent independent testing for guarding against malware infections. But that's not really what Malwarebytes is known for. If you find yourself in trouble, the go-to disinfectant for many is Malwarebytes. You can get protection and disinfection for one device for $40 a year. To cover 10 devices -- any combination of Windows, MacOS and Android -- it's $130. To get the free antivirus version, download this trial version, which "downgrades" to a no-fee on-demand cleaner with fewer features that detects and removes viruses and malware when you run an on-demand scan.

Read more: Special report: A winning strategy for cybersecurity (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Also worth considering

In addition to the three antivirus apps we recommend above, a handful of other anti-malware tools are worth considering among the best antivirus protection if you find them at a better price or prefer to use one over our picks above.

Platform: Windows

Free version? Yes

Paid version: $80 per year for three PCs; $120 Family Pack per year for 15 devices

If you'd like to take a step up in securing your PC without taxing your wallet, it's hard to beat Bitdefender's free anti-virus software for Windows 10. The Windows security software offers real-time monitoring for viruses, malware and spyware and ransomware protection. Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is easy to set up and stays out of your way until you need it. And the protection it offers is solid. Bitdefender consistently earns top marks for its antivirus protection and usability from the respected AV-Test independent testing lab. The free antivirus version covers one Windows PC. For broader protection, Bitdefender Internet Security is $80 MSRP and available at the moment for $45. It lets you protect three computers, set up parental controls on a kid's computer and run a VPN. To protect every device you own, the Bitdefender Family Pack can secure 15 total device -- Windows, Android, iOS and MacOS -- in your home for $120 MSRP and discounted to $60 right now.

Read More: This is the best free password manager

Platforms: Windows 10 plus MacOS, Android, iOS

Cost: $120 per year for 10 devices, on sale for $45

It feels like the company has been around forever, first on its own in the '80s, then as part of Intel starting in 2010, and then again on its own when Intel spun it off in 2017. And it's been around forever because quarter after quarter it creates solid security software that protects your PC. (In recent evaluations by AV-Test it had perfect scores on detecting 0-day attacks and blocking current widespread viruses and malware.) McAfee Total Protection guards against viruses and offers ransomware protection, wards off shady websites, includes a password manager and lets you manage all your protected devices through web console. A 10-device subscription is normally $120 MSRP, but currently is $45 for any combination of Windows, MacOS, Android and iOS devices.

Read more: 6 steps to secure your Windows 10 machine

Platforms: Windows 10 plus MacOS, Android, iOS

Cost: $90 per year for 10 devices, on sale for $50

Maybe not as well known to consumers because of its focus on enterprise security, Trend Micro quietly brings its business expertise to the home with its Trend Micro Maximum Security tools. Trend Micro's software earns high marks from AV-Test -- scoring 100 percent of detecting 0-day attacks and widespread viruses and malware. And Trend Micro does a good job of not taxing system resources. Trend Micro's 10-device subscription for computers and mobile devices is $90 MSRP but discounted currently at $50.

Read more: This is the browser you'll want if you care about online privacy

Platform: Windows

Cost: $59 per year for three PCs

If you are looking for something easy to set up and use, ESET NOD antivirus may meet your needs. It earns top scores for usability and offers solid virus protection. And its Android antivirus gets top marks in third-party tests.

What about Kaspersky?

Because the company has been in the news the past few years, let's talk about Kaspersky Lab -- specifically about the federal ban that blocks US government agencies from using Kaspersky products.

Based in Moscow, Kaspersky Lab has for years produced some of the best antivirus software for business antivirus needs and home customers. But in 2017 the US government prohibited Kaspersky software on federal government computers because of alleged ties between Kaspersky and the Russian government.

Notably, the ban does not apply to its consumer products. But, like China-based Huawei, the question remains: If the federal government doesn't think the products are safe enough for its own devices, should consumers avoid it as well?

In a statement sent to CNET, the company said, "Kaspersky Lab has no ties to any government, and the company has never, nor will ever, engage in cyber offensive activities. Kaspersky Lab maintains that no public evidence of any wrongdoing has been presented by the U.S. Government, and that the U.S. government's actions against Kaspersky Lab were unconstitutional."

In Kaspersky's favor, it continues to earn top scores and awards for virus and malware detection and endpoint security from independent testing labs. And it's reasonably priced, with basic antivirus protection for three devices running $30 a year, or blanket protection for 10 devices -- with Kaspersky Total Security -- for $75 a year. In comparison, the Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus program costs $37.50 per year for three devices -- and a single device on Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus costs $30 a year. 

In the end, even though no one has ever publicly produced a "smoking gun" linking the company to Russian intrigue, we think any of the options listed above are a safer bet. And, if you are a US government employee or work with the federal government, you'll want to steer clear of Kaspersky.

Antivirus basics: What to look for

Picking the best antivirus software for Windows means finding one that keeps your PC safe, doesn't take up a lot of system resources, is easy to use and stays out of the way till you need it. Here's what to look for.

Effectiveness. Antivirus scans for a known virus and malware, of course, and can offer real-time protection. And it watches for shady websites and suspicious links to keep you out of trouble. It can also offer ransomware protection and monitor unexpected behavior that may be a sign of new and not-yet-identified viruses and malware. You want antivirus that can successfully identify these unknown online threats without flagging too many false positives.

Light on system resources. You don't want antivirus that taxes your PC's resources. If after you install antivirus, websites open slowly, apps download or open sluggishly, or file copies take longer than expected, you may want to try another service. The good news is, all our picks offer a free trial to let you try out the antivirus program, so if your system feels sluggish after you install antivirus solutions, you may want to keep looking.

Cost and discounts. Don't just pay the sticker price for antivirus. Before you buy, check for discounts on a company's website. Another way to save: The prices we list above are for 10 devices -- if the company offered that package -- but you can trim your cost with antivirus packages if you need to cover just three or five devices. You may also find discounts on an app's Amazon page.

Privacy. To be effective, antivirus software needs to monitor what's going on with your PC and check in with company servers about unusual behavior. The companies say they anonymize this technical data as much as possible to protect your privacy. But if you want to know more, the security companies on our list post privacy policies on their websites, so read their privacy statement to learn what the companies do with the information you share.

Protection for other platforms. Microsoft is by far the biggest target for viruses and malware. But Android is second, with the largest threat coming from sideloaded apps -- those you install outside Google's Play Store. Google said in the last quarter of 2018, 0.99 percent of apps installed outside the Play Store were a potentially harmful app, or PHA. For those installed from the Play Store, the number drops to 0.042 percent. To stay safe, we do not recommend sideloading apps, but sometimes, like with Fortnite, you might want to. In that case, running virus and malware protection from a trusted security company is not a bad idea.

The threat to MacOS and especially iOS are low, in part because of the tight control Apple has over its app stores. While the Mac does rarely come under attack via sideloaded apps, if you download apps only from the Mac and iOS app stores, and keep your guard up when clicking links and download files, you should be OK without an antivirus app on Apple devices.

Read more: 20 pro tips to make Windows 10 work the way you want (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Originally published earlier. Updated to clarify Norton pricing details and LifeLock service options, and to note the removal of the earlier Avast recommendation.

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