The Top 5 Free Antivirus Programs in 2022
Can you put a price on security? When it comes to antivirus programs, only in some cases. Windows users can fall back on Windows Defender, which is more than adequate and comes pre-installed on every computer that uses the operating system. Dedicated third-party software with advanced security features doesn't need to break the bank though (or even tap at its door). We evaluated 16 antivirus providers, some of which offer free versions of their software. Below, we'll show you which of these impressed us the most.
Each of our Top 5 is freemium software, that is, a basic version of a program offered free of charge in the hope that users will be enticed to purchase subscriptions to unlock additional features. Set against full versions of the same programs, freemium software often lacks certain features, which we've taken into consideration during our review.
Avast Antivirus received good scores from the testing labs, making a positive impression in terms of both security and performance, the two areas where an antivirus program should do well. Its wide variety of features delighted us, even though many of these are limited or unavailable for non-paying users. In terms of basic security standards, the program offers free real-time and ransomware protection, while Web, email, or webcam protection are limited to all but premium subscribers.
The free version of Avast also comes with a password manager, however, all other extras, from a firewall to a file shredder, are again limited to paying customers. The software's mobile app is also free and allows you to GPS locate your devices, or remotely lock them; additional features like an app lock or camera trap are reserved for subscribers.
Avast protects against malware at no charge.
In terms of live support, free users are again reminded of their status: Only paying customers can open support tickets, while everyone else needs to hope that emails they send are answered by kindly support staff. On the other hand, the program's support center, with its Academy for Online Threats is so extensive that we really wonder if it's necessary to contact Avast's support team at all.
There are enough things missing from the program to convince free users to cough up for a premium subscription, however, Avast does include the most important features in a user-friendly package at no cost both on mobile devices and in the desktop app.
Essential features are free
Offers a good degree of security
Authoritative support center
For users of Windows, Panda Security offers free basic protection. This includes scans and even a VPN (limited to 150 MB of traffic per day). You can also take advantage of a free Android app capable of performing real-time virus scans, locating stolen devices, and assessing what sort of permissions your installed apps have.
More extensive real-time protection modules such as ransomware protection, along with a number of Windows and Android features (such as an app lock or call blocking), are limited to paying customers.
Panda Security offers free versions of its Windows and Android apps.
We felt that Panda Security's user interface was somewhat messy, however, beyond that, there isn't much to complain about. The testing labs were impressed with the software, its support is solid, and the variety of subscription packages, make it easy to upgrade in case you need more features than you originally thought.
Free protection for users of Windows and Android
Good testing lab scores
Free VPN (150 MB of traffic per day)
Bitdefender took the top spot in our antivirus comparison, and as such, we think it's the best overall solution on the market. The testing labs awarded maximum scores in security, its desktop and mobile apps are nearly perfect, and the provider offers some of the best support out there.
A free version of Bitdefender is available, however, only for users of Windows. With it, users can perform scans and take advantage of basic real-time protection, which includes ransomware, web filter, and phishing shields.
The top-performing service from our sample. Bitdefender, provides free protection to users of Windows.
There are a few drawbacks in the free version though: Bitdefender Free can only be used on a single device, and doesn't provide any security for smartphones. In addition, non-subscribers will also have to make do without more advanced ransomware protection or network threat prevention.
Still, if you're only looking for basic protection on your Windows computer or laptop, Bitdefender Free is an option worth exploring.
Free protection for a single Windows device
EXPERTE.com's top performer
Excellent testing lab scores
Sophos Home offers both real-time and Web protection for PCs for free, however, in contrast to Avast, limits access to its ransomware shields. It's also best not to expect any extras, like a firewall or password manager, since even paying customers must make do without these owing to Sophos's strict focus on the basics.
Sophos Intercept X is not a 1:1 mobile version of Sophos Home, however, it does offer Android and iOS users a free mobile security app from the same developer. Along with several basic security tools, including app lock, the program also provides a rudimentary password manager and can be used as a multi-factor authenticator.
With Sophos Home, you also won't need to shell out for any antivirus basics.
Gauging the level of security afforded by Sophos Home is difficult since neither of the testing labs that we refer to in our evaluations (AV-Comparatives and AV-Test) has reviewed the software for quite a while. Nevertheless, those results were positive, and more recent evaluations of the developer's enterprise solutions have commended their excellent security standards.
Altogether, the free version of Sophos Home, featuring a user-friendly cloud-based dashboard, is a solid antivirus program that offers more than adequate security.
Can be installed on up to three devices
Free mobile security app
Intuitive cloud-based web interface
The only thing we really disliked about AVG was its support since the division between paying and non-paying users is made painfully clear as the latter aren't afforded any means for getting in touch with the developer's support staff. Making matters worse, even with a Premium subscription, we waited more than a week for an answer to our written query.
Apart from that, the free version is solid, providing access to a range of different scans, real-time protection against viruses, ransomware, and other types of malware, and an email shield as well. Additional tools, such as webcam or online-banking protection are behind paywalls.
AVG offers free protection to Windows and smartphone users.
AVG's smartphone app is free, however, you will have to put up with ads. Alongside scans and real-time protection, non-paying users can utilize the app's data shredder to permanently delete folders or files, as well as its photo vault, in which you can store sensitive images. Some of the app's anti-theft tools are offered at no charge, whereas a few, like the camera trap, are only available to paid subscribers.
Overall, AVG's free desktop and mobile apps are a solid choice.
Free desktop and mobile protection
Offers good security and performance
Easy to use
Avira's breadth of features is similar to that of Avast, and includes real-time and email protection on the desktop, as well as remote device location and locking in the mobile app. If you're looking for more than that, like a password manager, for instance, you'll have to pay. On another sour note, Avira's most recent scores from the testing labs were somewhat lower than in the past.
Unfortunately, the free version of Malwarebytes Antivirus is somewhat too limited for our preferences. Since real-time protection is reserved for paying subscribers, users of the free version will have to content themselves with running scans. The two testing labs we consulted scored the program differently, with AV-Comparatives awarding it a "satisfactory" in Security & Performance owing to an overabundance of false positives. On the plus side, Malwarebytes impressed us with its ease of use and support, which includes a live chat.
360 Total Security
360 Total Security rounds out our list of the best free antivirus programs. Unfortunately, owing to a lack of recent scores from the testing labs, we weren't able to assess how well the software provides security. Further, we were disappointed with 360's support, which completely ignored our query. Should none of the above be all that much of an issue, the program's nice package of features makes its free version worth a look.
How We Tested
When selecting our Top 5 free antivirus programs we paid attention to three factors: Their position in our comprehensive ranking, the number and quality of features offered in their free versions, and finally, the number of devices that the software can be installed on without having to pay. As such, there were a few differences between the best free options and our overall ranking, such as Bitdefender, which came first in the latter, but only third in this assessment owing to its lack of (free) support for mobile devices.
In our antivirus reviews, the following categories were scored:
Installation & Usage
Download, installation, setup: We started from square one with each program and let you know what you need to do to get up and running. Extra points were awarded for free antivirus software that doesn't require inputting a payment method. Since these programs should be used fairly often, their user interfaces should be intuitive and accessible for all kinds of users, especially those with limited technical backgrounds.
Bitdefender's user interface does everything right in our book.
A number of tools, like scans and real-time protection, come standard with nearly every antivirus program, however, how extensive they are can vary considerably from provider to provider. Increasingly, it's become common for expanded features, like parental controls, cloud-backups, a VPN, or even a password manager to be offered. We like to see a nice variety of options for the basic tools, and useful extras included with paid subscriptions.
Security & Performance
In this area, we relied on the expert opinions of two independent testing labs, AV-Test and AV-Comparatives. Both regularly assess the most well-known antivirus programs in order to gauge the level of security they provide as well as what impact (if any) scans have on a system's performance.
In terms of support, we like to see a well-organized help center with FAQs and guides, along with options for getting in touch with the provider's support staff, ideally via email/tickets and live chat or a hotline.
Norton offers some of the best support out there.
To learn more about our testing process and criteria, be sure to consult our comprehensive article on the subject.
Being safe online doesn't need to cost an arm and a leg, and the freemium antivirus programs we've explored above are all a testament to that. The trade-off for reliable real-time protection, should you be unwilling to fork over any cold, hard cash is reduced functionality or second-class service. If rudimentary security features are enough for you, a number of interesting and free options are available.
Should you still be undecided, you can check full reviews for all 16 programs we assessed in our exhaustive evaluation.
What does an antivirus program do?
An antivirus program protects your computer, laptop, or devices against viruses, Trojans, ransomware, and other malware. A good antivirus program will allow you to both scan and protect your system in real-time, constantly monitoring for threats in the background. Many antivirus programs come with additional security features like parental controls, a VPN, or an adblocker, while for mobile devices, anti-theft measures like GPS location and remote locking or access are highly sought after.
What Is the best free antivirus program?
Deciding what the best antivirus program is depends to a great extent on what your needs and objectives are. The most important criteria (in our mind) are security, performance, user-friendliness, price, support, and presence of a mobile app. In EXPERTE.com's evaluation of free antivirus programs, Avast excelled in all of these categories, coming out first in our ranking.
Do free antivirus programs provide enough security?
Free antivirus programs offer access to fewer features than their premium counterparts, however, the level of security they provide is the same. Whether or not a free program is adequate enough for your security needs, depends almost entirely on what these are. Should you be able to make do without certain features (like email or webcam protection), free programs can definitely cover all of the figurative security bases.
- Trend Micro
- G Data
- 360 Total Security
- Internet Security
- Virus Protection
- Free Antivirus
- Android Antivirus
- Avast vs. Avira