Best free antivirus of 2018: The best antivirus protection without spending a penny

Making sure you always have the best antivirus around is essential in these terrible times of data breaches and malware-activated hacks. The internet of 2018 just isn’t a safe place, and protecting yourself online is more important than ever before.

However, antivirus programmes cost money, which is why you want to know what the best free antivirus packages in 2018 are. If you can keep yourself protected without spending a penny, why wouldn’t you?

That’s why so many free antivirus software solutions exist to keep users protected online, even if they can’t afford to spring for paid-for protection. These free services certainly can’t quite keep up with the pace of paid-for services, but they offer enough peace-of-mind for many users just wanting to browse the web safely.

One piece of advice though: don’t be tempted to try installing multiple packages at the same time. Quite often, you’ll get clashes which can render you less secure – so make sure if you’re switching packages, you uninstall the old softtware first. In this article, we’ll bring you the best free antivirus packages of 2017 to help you keep your PC safe.

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What is antivirus?

Antivirus, also known as anti-virus or AV software, is designed to protect a computer and its user from hackers. In particular, it is meant to stop malware, viruses, worms, and Trojan horses from accessing the computer to steal private information, drain bank accounts or connect to a botnet. Antivirus software may also remove or prevent spyware and adware. Typically, free antivirus software limits its searches to patterns of data or activity that suggest the computer is being controlled remotely. By comparison, paid antivirus software covers a wider range of threats and can highlight vulnerabilities in apps, for example. 

Almost as soon as security researchers are designing antivirus software, hackers are developing malware to evade it. In addition to installing antivirus software, you should also keep your browser and apps up-to-date and never click on links or open files from suspicious sources.

Can I trust free antivirus?

Free antivirus tools come from respected names in the security industry and are more than trustworthy enough. These free tools use the same detection engines as their premium, paid-for offerings and you can see the comparisons by industry specialists AV-Test.org.

The idea of free antivirus is that these publishers hope that you’ll be so happy with the software that you’ll upgrade to a paid-for offering to gain access to a richer set of features. You’re under no obligation to do so though, so you can stick with these free editions for as long as you like.

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Can’t I rely on Windows own antivirus?

For anyone running Windows 7, 8 or 10, the default option will be Microsoft’s own antivirus software. For Windows 7 users, that means Security Essentials; if you’re on Windows 8 or later, it’s called Windows Defender, but despite the different names, they’re effectively the same thing.

And you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is all you need. After all, Windows Security Essentials/Defender is just about the easiest antivirus application to use and get to grips with, and it’s mostly invisible in the way it operates.

If you want the best protection, however, you’ll have to look further afield. For although it’s lightweight and irritation free, Windows’ built-in security hasn’t historically been the most efficient package when it comes to the job of protecting your PC from infection.

Over the past two years, it has consistently allowed more malware to slip through its net than its rival major free antivirus packages. And despite a slight bump in performance in recent times, it still lags a long way behind the competition.

In other words, although you can settle for the standard antivirus protection offered along with Windows, you’ll be better off in the long run with something extra. The question is, which package should you choose? Read on to find out which is best.

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Best free antivirus 2018

1. Bitdefender Antivirus Free: The best straightforward protection

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Bitdefender’s free antivirus is here for those who love to keep things simple. Its free antivirus scanner focuses solely on spotting and blocking viruses, with no snazzy add-ons or extra features. In AV-Test’s last round of testing the Bitdefender engine achieved a perfect score, blocking 100% of known exploits plus 100% of never-before-seen “zero-day” attacks.

What’s even better about Bitdefender is how it has almost no impact on your system, and it won’t pester you unless it finds a virus. Occasionally it’ll pop up ads for the full Bitdefender suite, but you can actually turn this off in the settings.

If you like to tinker with settings, Bitdefender may well not be the programme for you as there’s literally nothing to configure here. However, you can issue immediate scans on individual files and folders with a simple right-click.

Download Bitdefender Antivirus Free Now

2. AVG AntiVirus Free: Effective and with web and email protection

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Alongside scanning suspicious activity on your computer, AVG AntiVirus also scans for dodgy browser add-ons and email attachments. In AV-Test’s most recent report, AVG gained a perfect 100% score against both known and zero-day threats. It’s also the sort of software that’ll appeal to techy types who love to tweak settings as there’s a huge range of options on offer here.

The real issue with AVG AntiVirus is that it’s very pushy with the upsell to AVG’s full-fat security suite. You’ll get occasional popups pushing you towards other AVG products and inside the main interface are numerous links and buttons leading you to purchase pages. Once you’re set up though, these can all be disabled and you’ll be able to leave it running in the background.

Download AVG AntiVirus Free Now

3. Avast Free Antivirus: Excellent all-around security

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Alongside regular antivirus detection, Avast’s free antivirus protection includes an updater that ensures you’re never running an old version of its app. It also includes a Wi-Fi inspector to warn if your network’s not secure and a hardened web browser for online banking and shopping. There’s also a free password manager and a 30-day trial of Avast’s VPN service.

In AV-Test’s latest report Avast didn’t quite hit the 100% mark, obtaining 99.4%. However, it did achieve a perfect score against known malware but was let down on its interception of “zero-day” attacks. It’s also worth noting that Avast is littered with links to buy the premium version, including popups for purchasing products. Thankfully, it’s made a bit more usable by clearly indicating what features are actually included with the free package, unlike AVG.

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4. Avira Free Antivirus: Lightweight but highly configurable

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If you like to play with settings, Avira is for you. It’s light on features, but there is a complete Free Security Suite you can download from Avira to bolster your computer defences with web protection, password manager and software updater. Going with this option does result in quite a few in-interface adverts and upgrade popups though.

AV-Test found that Avira fell just short of the 100% protection rate, with an average of 99.9% against malware and 99.4% on zero-day tests. It’s not perfect, but it’s by no means enough to not trust Avira’s offering with your important data.

Download Avira Free Antivirus now

5. Panda Free Antivirus: Stylish and with a USB rescue-disk creator

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Panda Free Antivirus is a lightweight security tool with a flat, Windows 10-style interface. It’s not as minimal as the likes of Bitdefender, it offers a similar level of basic capabilities without nagging you about its existence.

You’ll get real-time antivirus detection and website protection to alert you if you’re visiting a dodgy website. Pay attention when installing as, by default, it’ll switch you to its Panda Safe Web search provider instead of your standard default. It also features a built-in tool for creating bootable USB rescue disks to detect and remove malware stuck in the depths of Windows.

In AV-Test’s tests, Panda caught 99.8% of malware and infections and 99.5% of zero-day malware. Rather credible when it’s free and largely unobtrusive.

Download Panda Free Antivirus now

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