ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall
ZoneAlarm has long been perhaps the most popular free firewall available, and millions have used it to block unwanted access to their computers. ZoneAlarm generally works well with antivirus software, too, but perhaps you'd be interested in a free antivirus solution that actually incorporates ZoneAlarm's firewall? That's CheckPoint's ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus Plus Firewall. ZoneAlarm Antivirus not only protects your system from unwanted intrusions, viruses, and other malware, but it also includes anti-phishing, site authentication, identity protection, and download management features. It's also available as a premium package. The free tool lacks the premium version's parental controls, virtual browsing, PC tune-up, and support features.
ZoneAlarm Antivirus's firewall component and Identity & Data Protection were active in the program's start window, though the main component, the antivirus protection, was disabled due to a conflict with our existing antivirus solution, which we'd left active to gauge ZoneAlarm's response. We disabled our existing tool, and ZoneAlarm automatically picked up the slack, showing our status for Real-Time Protection, Antivirus Scan, and Antivirus Update. The first thing to do when you're installing a new antivirus program is to update its definitions and make a baseline scan of your computer. We did that, choosing Full Scan with Archives, which we're glad to say found no bad stuff. You can schedule scans, of course, and ZoneAlarm's Settings let you customize scans, too, as well as launch targeted scans, set exceptions, view quarantined files, enable On Access scanning (which scans when you access files) and other options. One feature ZoneAlarm offers is Behavioral Scanning, which includes an extensive checklist of options the program can monitor for suspicious activity. The familiar ZoneAlarm Firewall includes Application Control, which blocks unauthorized access by programs. The Identity & Data tab includes two protection features, Web and Identity, plus 5 GB of online storage space.
ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus Plus Firewall has both online and offline Help options, basic support, and some extras like Top 10 Questions. We found it as easy to use as the standalone Firewall, and a lot easier than using ZoneAlarm's Firewall with another antivirus program. ZoneAlarm has stepped up as a significant player in free antivirus solutions.
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The Best Free Antivirus Software for 2022
Writing malicious software is a big business these days—maybe as big as writing helpful or entertaining software. Malware types differ, but they all have the same goal—to make money. Snooping Trojans steal and sell your personal data. Ransomware cuts to the chase and demands payment if you want your encrypted files back. It may seem unfair that you’re forced to spend money on an antivirus to fight these threats. Well, good news! You can get your PCs and devices protected without spending a dime by choosing a free antivirus solution.
Your antivirus should certainly 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 free antivirus programs we've selected here 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.
Believe it or not, some of these freebies even beat all but the best for-pay equivalents. And since they’re free, you can try several before settling on your favorite.
Our 5 Top Picks
Best for Comprehensive Free Security Avast One Essential 4.5 PCMag Editor's Choice for Free AntiVirus at AVAST See It (Opens in a new window) Why We Picked It Avast has been supplying antivirus protection for as long as there's been an antivirus industry. With Avast One Essential you get award-winning antivirus protection for free, and much more besides. All four of the independent testing labs we follow include Avast in their reporting, and it aces almost every test. It also takes high scores in our own hands-on testing. Other protective services include a permission-based ransomware protection system, a basic firewall, and a bandwidth-limited VPN. Avast does reserve some features for paying customers. For example, the free edition will scan and identify apps with missing security patches and update them at your command, but won’t keep your apps updated automatically. Getting a list of junk files and broken registry items doesn’t cost anything; cleaning up the found mess is a premium feature. Many free antivirus utilities work only on the Windows platform. Avast has varying degrees of protection for macOS, Android, and iOS. Its macOS edition earns high scores from the labs, and its ransomware protection, browser trace cleanup, and VPN work just as they do on Windows. On Android you get antivirus, VPN, junk cleanup, and privacy protection, among other features, though anti-theft is noticeably absent. As is common, protection under iOS is limited, but it does include VPN, filtering fraudulent and malicious websites, and extra protection for your photos. Who It’s For If you consider security software interesting rather than tedious, if a tight budget is the only reason you don’t buy a full security suite, Avast One Essential is perfect for you. The commercial Avast One suite does more, naturally, but this free edition is packed with features. The fact that you can use it to protect all your devices, not just Windows PCs, is icing on the cake. Avast One Essential Review
Best for Few-Frills Protection AVG AntiVirus Free 4.0 $0.00 at AVG See It (Opens in a new window) Why We Picked It In 2016, Avast acquired AVG. After the dust settled, both products use precisely the same antivirus technology under the hood. When you install AVG AntiVirus Free, you’re getting the same powerful protection you get from Avast. The two have different aggregate lab scores because not all the labs report on AVG. In fact, since the lab that skipped AVG is the only one to give Avast a low score, AVG comes out ahead. Like Avast, AVG protects against ransomware by banning all unauthorized changes to protected files. And like Avast, AVG’s free edition will identify junk files and other performance drains but won’t fix any problems unless you pay. Bonus features include a hardened browser, a deal-finding tool for shopping, and a simple network security inspector. Who It’s For Not every user wants the nearly suite-level features of Avast One Essential, and not everyone needs cross-platform protection. If your focus is on powerful protection against both malware and malicious or fraudulent websites, AVG offers the same protection as Avast but in a simpler, more traditional package. The user interface can be important, too. Both Avast and AVG have a widespread international presence, but they’re popular in different regions. AVG AntiVirus Free Review
Best for No-Frills Protection Bitdefender Antivirus Free for Windows 4.0 $0.00 at Bitdefender AUS See It (Opens in a new window) Why We Picked It Bitdefender Antivirus Free for Windows offers basic protection that’s precisely the core of Editors’ Choice Bitdefender Antivirus Plus. In truth, it looks more like Bitdefender’s suite, but with many features disabled. Most of the locked-away features make sense, though the absence of ransomware remediation and vulnerability scan is a blow. On the plus side, the unusual defense timeline shows exactly how Bitdefender stopped an attack. And its defense against malicious and fraudulent (phishing) websites is second to none. If you spring for the commercial antivirus, you get vastly more features, more features than found in some security suite products. Among these are a basic password management system, a hardened desktop for secure browsing, a Rescue Environment to recover from malware that disables Windows, and a Wi-Fi security analyzer. None of these come for free. Who It’s For Bitdefender has an excellent reputation in the security world, and the company’s researchers frequently report on important discoveries. Relying on such a company for antivirus protection is a smart move, but you may well be put off by the cornucopia of features in the commercial edition. In that case, try Bitdefender Antivirus Free, which gives you the full core protection without any possibly confusing trimmings. Bitdefender Antivirus Free for Windows Review
Best for Many Security Components Avira Free Security 3.5 $0.00 at Avira See It (Opens in a new window) Why We Picked It Like Avast’s free offering, Avira Free Security is a free version of a full security suite. All the features are visible, but many are locked away. All four of the labs that we follow consider Avira’s antivirus technology important enough to test, and Avira earns mostly excellent scores, with a few clinkers. It didn’t do as well in our hands-on tests, but when our results don’t jibe with the labs, we defer to the lab results. Avira does scan for apps that are vulnerable due to missing security patches, but leaves you to fix any found problems manually. Other features include a simple password manager, a shopping deal-finder, and active prevention of ad trackers, as well as a bandwidth-limited VPN and a comprehensive privacy settings checker. Perhaps more controversial is the inclusion of the Avira Crypto Ethereum-mining component. If your PC is powerful enough to support it, you’ll get an offer to install Avira Crypto. This component works in the background mining cryptocurrency for you. Avira manages the process and skims a bit off the top. Who It’s For Do you want a full-on security suite rather than a bare-bones antivirus? Can your nerves handle the occasional upsell windows when you accidentally click a feature that’s not free? Avira Free Security may be just the thing for you. Avira Free Security Review
Best for Windows Die-Hards Microsoft Defender Antivirus 3.5 $0.00 at Microsoft Store See It (Opens in a new window) Why We Picked It No discussion of free antivirus software would be complete without Microsoft Defender Antivirus. If you don’t have a third-party antivirus, or if your antivirus subscription lapses, Defender takes up the banner of your protection. If you do add or revive some other antivirus, Defender quietly retreats to the sidelines. That’s not to say we’re super-enthusiastic about using Defender for your protection. It gets good scores in some lab tests, but tanks others. Likewise in our hands-on tests it earns some high scores and some very low ones. In typical Microsoft fashion, its protection against fraudulent and malicious websites only works in Edge. It’s good, but you can do better. Who It’s For Hey, you! The one who’s falling asleep reading this article. The one who deeply does not care about antivirus. This one’s for you! To take advantage of its protection, you have to do exactly nothing. For the right person, that’s an ideal solution. Microsoft Defender Antivirus Review
Why Isn't Kaspersky Here?
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free isn't just a free antivirus—it's a stripped-down version of Kaspersky's top-tier cross-platform security suite. Kaspersky's antivirus prowess awes the independent testing labs, who routinely assign it perfect or near-perfect ratings. Unfortunately, we can't recommend it anymore. Here's why.
For years, Kaspersky has faced accusations and censure based on its Russian origins, though none of the accusations have come backed by hard evidence of malicious behavior. We at PCMag focused on the capabilities of the products, not on the brouhaha around the company. However, the current war in Ukraine has raised the stakes. Governments and third parties are cutting ties with Kaspersky. The FCC labeled Kaspersky a national security risk.
After consideration, we can no longer recommend you purchase Kaspersky security products, or even use them for free. We've left the reviews in place, with a warning, since they provide useful information. But at least for now, we're removing Kaspersky products from our "Best for" lists.
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, the paid editions of Adaware and ZoneAlarm add protection against malicious and fraudulent websites the free versions lack. 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 their free editions. 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(Opens in a new window), MRG-Effitas, SE Labs(Opens in a new window), and AV-Test Institute(Opens in a new window). We also take note of whether vendors have contracted for certification by ICSA Labs and West Coast Labs.
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.
The Best Free 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(Opens in a new window), 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.
If you're interested in learning more about our testing techniques, you're welcome to read more about how we test security software.
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 list below you can see which products include these useful features.
What's Not Here?
Numerous free utilities devoted entirely to ransomware protection have come on the scene in the last few years. Alas, many of those have fallen by the wayside, among them Bitdefender Anti-Ransomware, Cybereason RansomFree, CyberSight RansomStopper, and Heilig Defense RansomOff. 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.
The Top Free Antivirus Software
The new Avast One Essential takes the place of Avast Free Antivirus as Editors' Choice for free antivirus utility. It appears in lab reports from all four labs we follow with almost universally top scores, and it includes many suite-level features. 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.