The best free antivirus software in 2021

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. 

Short in time? Here’s our top 3 picks:

  1. Bitdefender – The most secure free antivirus
  2. Avira – The best antivirus for Apple users
  3. Kaspersky – The best free antivirus features suite

Today’s best free antivirus services

1. Bitdefender – the most secure free antivirus

Bitdefender antivirus image

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 Shieldreal-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. 

Free Bitdefender will protect you from network threats as well. The service’s web attack prevention detects and blocks brute-force attempts and prevents your device from becoming part of a botnet. 

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.

Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • Not great for macOS or iOS users
  • Lengthy initial scans

2. Avira Free Security – best antivirus for Apple users

Avira antivirus image

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. 

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, you’ll be limited to only System protection. Features like Web Protection or Ransomware Protection are not available, and it will ask you to pay, which might be frustrating. 

Avira even offers privacy tools that come in the form of browser add-ons installable for Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Edge. It isn’t a very complex suite, it mostly toggles Do Not Track requests for websites and blacklists with known URLs of phishing and malware websites. There is even a VPN, but with a cap of 500 MB/month, it can hardly be considered a useful feature.

Pros

  • Includes password manager
  • Supports many operating systems
  • Safe shopping suite
  • Adds up to your browser protection
  • Reliable malware removal

Cons

  • Lacks features
  • Lengthy full system scans

3. Kaspersky Security Cloud – best free antivirus features suite

Kaspersky antivirus image

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.

Pros

  • Protection against ransomware
  • Great mobile apps
  • Uses machine learning for malware detection
  • Great malware lab test scores
  • Password manager

Cons

  • Limited iOS functionality
  • Lacks customer support

4. Sophos Home – best free antivirus for families

Sophos home antivirus image

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.

Pros

  • Parental controls
  • Remote management capabilities
  • Lightweight antivirus software

Cons

  • Locks out many features
  • Weak internet security measures
  • No customisation for scan options

5. Panda Free Antivirus – best free antivirus for Windows

Panda dome antivirus image

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. 

Pros

  • Modern UI
  • VPN capabilities
  • Good protection against malware
  • Sales tracker
  • Protection against infected USB drives

Cons

  • Limited support for macOS and iOS
  • Frequent false-positives

6. Malwarebytes – best free lightweight antivirus

Malwarebytes image

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.

Pros

  • One of the lightest options
  • Works well with weaker devices
  • Detects malware hidden in deep layers
  • Good malware labs results

Cons

  • No real-time protection capabilities
  • No additional features

How we curated our best free antivirus software list? 

We test all antivirus services we mention, and 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. 

Is a free antivirus good enough? 

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.

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.

FAQ

How can I get free antivirus? 

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. 

Is it safe to use a free antivirus? 

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.

Will my computer become slow if I install an antivirus? 

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.

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