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Free Antivirus Software

  1. Every computer connected to the internet is vulnerable to viruses, forcing us to pay the software protection industry's charges to stay safe.

    But it's possible to get legal, professional-quality antivirus and other protective software for free. Here's our rundown of the best free antivirus and free internet security software.

    Five Ways To Protect Yourself

    Internet security software to protect your computer is a must these days. But you can boost your level of protection, without any new programs:

    1. Keep your software up to date
    Even if your computer comes off the shelf with a level of protection, threats change daily. So it's imperative you keep it up-to-date or else it's useless.

    For Windows 7, just click on "Start", go to Control Panel and click the "Windows Update" icon, where it will show you if there are any updates for your PC. The same goes for users with Windows 8, 8.1 or XP.

    Even dedicated antivirus software (see the top free protection below) needs to be updated, and do a full system scan once a week.

    Mac users (and Linux users) have slightly less to worry about in terms of viruses, as there still aren't as many floating about for them. Nonetheless, Mac users should grab free antivirus software too.

    2. Protect your identity online
    With more and more of us using the web to bank online and do other sensitive tasks, coming up with solid passwords is more vital than ever.

    Firstly, don't use the same login for lots of sites. If one falls into the wrong hands, your whole online life is up for grabs. Try picking one and add a few letters related specifically to each site you're logging into.

    Ensure you change your passwords frequently. Use a free password generator to get a completely random, but secure password.

    3. Switch it off!
    Switching your computer off when you aren't using it doesn't just save energy, it stops others accessing it. At the very least, disconnect your broadband when you're not online.

    While your PC's on, and after you've been browsing, is a prime time for malware (malicious software) attacks. So switching it off is a good preventative measure.

    4. Don't open unknown email attachments
    Most web crime still happens via email, so be on guard when checking yours. Don't open any attachments you're not expecting, or click any random links you find in the text (see the Phishing Scams guide).

    If you're unsure if a site's legit, whack the name into Google and see what comes up. It may be listed as a bad 'un.

    5. Only download software from trusted websites
    Looking for a piece of software? Find out which company makes it first and then go to its site to get it, rather than a third party site found via Google. For smaller free or shareware programs, try using big sites such as Download.com, rather than just getting them from anywhere that shows up.

    For advanced downloaders (OK, nerds): when using torrents, avoid .exe files wherever possible. If you must tempt fate, make sure they're thoroughly scanned first.

    Know All The Main Threats

    Threats to your computer come in different guises with various funky names. Collectively, they're considered malicious software, or "malware". The main types are:

    1. Viruses. Hidden programs that wreak havoc
      These are transmitted via websites, email attachments, directly over the internet or via any other removable media. They hide in applications or files and spread from computer to computer, generally wreaking havoc wherever they get the chance.

    2. Trojans. Bugs within harmless-looking files
      Trojan (horses) are hidden within a harmless-looking file (eg, a picture of a celebrity) or progam (ironically, they're often dressed up as antivirus tools). They aim to trick the user into installing malicious software, like spyware or adware.

    3. Worms. Can drill in via open web connections
      Worms take advantage of any open internet connection. They try to sneak in and replicate on the computer. Once loaded, they often start to send spam email from your computer without your knowledge.
     
  2. Antivirus Software - Free PC Downloads

    McAfee. Normally paid-for, but free to MBNA & HSBC customers
    All MBNA cardholders signed up for Online Card Services can get a year's free access to McAfee's Online Banking Suit, which includes its antivirus, spyware and adware programs, and more.

    It's £60, thought you can get it cheaper via offers. If you don't cancel before the free year's up, it takes £30 for the next year's access (50% off the RRP).

    And HSBC customers can get 12 months' McAfee Virus Scan Plus, (RRP £40), for nowt. Forumites are sceptical about it, though.

    Download: http://www.mbna.co.uk/protection-security/mcafee/

    Kaspersky. Normally paid-for - free to Barclays customers
    Barclays' online banking customers can grab a free 12-month Kaspersky Internet Security antivirus subscription (RRP £50).

    It comes very highly-rated by various tech publications, so it's a must-have if you bank with Barclays. You can renew it free after the first year, but you'll need to reactivate it again.

    Download: http://www.barclays.co.uk/Helpsupport/Freeinternetsecuritysoftware/P1242557966961

    Microsoft Security Essentials - totally free
    Microsoft's Security Essentials antivirus package is completely free to users of "genuine Windows machines", so it'll verify your copy. Four versions are available, for XP, Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.

    The software's unobtrusive and provides quick and comprehensive protection from viruses, trojans, and spyware. For casual Windows users, it feels and runs like part of the regular operating system rather than an added extra. But some experts say it's not as good as it used to be.

    Download: http://www.microsoft.com/Security_essentials/

    Windows Defender - totally free
    For Windows 8, Windows Defender replaces Microsoft Security Essentials. Windows Defender runs in the background and tells you when you need to take specific action. You can use it anytime to search for malware if your computer isn’t working properly, but reviews are mixed on how thorough the scans actually are.

    Download: http://www.microsoft.com/en-GB/security/pc-security/windows8.aspx

    Avast 2014- totally free
    Alwil's Avast 2014 antivirus is the latest version and boasts an improved interface and better detection. So much so, it's leapfrogged Avira's Antivirus in the rankings.

    Download: http://www.avast.com/free-antivirus-download

    Avira Antivirus - totally free
    The free antivirus software of choice for many techies, Avira's won many tech publications' free antivirus round-ups by providing both the most thorough and fastest software protection. If you have the know-how, it'll do everything you want it to, but it's best for those that know their way around a PC.

    Download: http://www.avira.com/en/avira-free-antivirus

    AVG Free - totally free
    The protection provided by the current version of AVG AntiVirus Free 2014 is reasonably thorough, though it doesn't offer any real tech support.

    AVG is unobtrusive, doesn't use too many resources, and will regularly auto-update. It includes LinkScanner - real-time threat detection, which checks links out when you're surfing the web (on Firefox and Internet Explorer only), and marks unsafe threats with red flags.

    LinkScanner is also available separately as an 4MB-sized plugin for those who already use another antivirus (though check compatibility).

    Download: http://free.avg.com/

    Antivirus Free Mac Downloads

    Sophos Antivirus for Mac
    Simple to use, Sophos antivirus for Mac runs in the background while you work, scanning files for threats whenever your Mac opens them. It's had fab reviews in techie publications, but has been known to slow down some systems.

    Download: http://download.cnet.com/Sophos-Anti-Virus-for-Mac-Home-Edition/3000-2239_4-75328306.html

    ClamXAV 2 Antivirus for Mac
    ClamXAV 2 antivirus adds a user interface for Mac OSX, so it's accessible to non-techheads. Though it's free, it accepts donations towards its upkeep. It's great if you want to scan files for Windows threats before sending them onwards.

    Download: http://www.clamxav.com/
     
  3. Firewalls: Free PC software downloads

    Windows Firewall
    Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8 have a firewall built-in, which should be enough for most people (especially those who already have router firewalls), but make sure it's switched on and your copy of Windows is up-to-date. The firewall can be set on low, medium and high levels of protection.

    If the Windows firewall is set on high, you may need to spend some time tweaking its settings in the Control Panel to stop it becoming a nuisance. By default, it'll stop you downloading files over Skype, and it'll block a whole load of programs that download from the web.

    Outpost Firewall Free Edition
    Agnitum's Outpost Free Edition is a good all-rounder and has a good combination of top protection and user-friendliness. It's totally free and there are no messages nagging you to buy a copy.

    Download: http://download.cnet.com/Agnitum-Outpost-Firewall-Free/3000-10435_4-10913746.html

    Comodo Personal Firewall
    It's totally free but you'll need to register and activate the licence by email within 30 days of installation. While Comodo outperforms many similar offerings, it can be intrusive, especially if you just want a firewall that does its job quietly.

    Download: http://personalfirewall.comodo.com/...sonalfirewall.comodo.com%2Ffree-download.html

    Firewalls: Free Mac downloads

    Built-in: Mac firewall
    Since the early days, all web-ready Macs have come with some sort of firewall as standard. Which yours offers depends on what version of OSX you're using. To check your settings, go to Preferences > Security.

    Luckily, it's good, because as far as we can see there are no other decent free firewalls for Macs.
     
  4. Antivirus and Spyware

    There are other types of malware you can find on your computer. Often legitimate developers will design programs that have useful functions, but they'll also provide the owner with useful information about you or try to sell you things.

    • Adware. Pop-ups that try to sell you thingsAdware is malware that sneaks onto your machine and opens up pop-up windows that sell you things.

      It's easy to assume these are related to the site you were visiting, yet often they aren't. If you've closed your browser, but pop-up windows still appear on your desktop, chances are you've been infected.

    • Spyware. It tracks what you do
      Spyware is a more dangerous, less noticeable type of malware. It covertly grabs information from your PC and sends it back to its leader out in the cyber-ether.

      Malicious spyware programs have become much more advanced in recent years, undoubtedly due to their potential for criminal money-making, so some of yesterday's top spyware removers can no longer cope.
    Basic Anti-adware/spyware measures

    To put your mind at rest, you'll need to download some extra software. In the meantime, there are a couple of basic ways to fight back:

    • Use a pop-up blockerIf you're being troubled by adware, use a pop-up blocker to alleviate the symptoms while you find a solution. Be aware though, that not all pop-ups are bad - some sites open new windows in this way. If you want to see them, hold down CTRL while clicking the link.
    • Check whether you allowed the spywareThere are a couple of legit spyware programs. Google's Desktop can send info on what you've been searching back to Google, and Alexa's toolbar can do the same. In both cases these firms want to monitor your computer to help develop their products with data about searching habits.

      Whether you allow this depends on how you want the information to be used. It's mostly harmless but does mean someone, somewhere has access to your searching habits.

    • Be careful when downloadingThe usual way for ad/spyware programs to get on your computer is by attaching themselves to other things you download. So make sure you check the veracity of download sources before getting files.
    • Delete programs you don't useUse the add/delete function on your Control Panel to get rid of any programs you don't need any more - they may be corrupted.
    Like most antivirus tools, spyware removers work by comparing what's on your machine to a list of known offenders. As ever, the top anti-ad/spyware programs are commercial, but that doesn't necessarily mean you need to buy them. Try these first:

    Ad/Spyware Removal: Free PC software downloads

    Ad-Aware Free Antivirus +
    Ad-Aware's great at detecting and removing malware, and this new version works even faster than previous ones. On the downside, most features are locked in the free version. If you make it your primary tool, you won't be fully protected.

    Download: http://www.download.com/Ad-Aware-2008/3000-8022_4-10045910.html?tag=lst-1&cdlPid=10844457

    Malwarebytes Anti-Malware
    While the free version doesn't provide real-time protection or scheduled updates, Anti-Malware is still powerful enough to make a big difference. As a lightweight program, it's pretty quick too.

    Download: http://download.cnet.com/Malwarebytes-Anti-Malware/3000-8022_4-10804572.html

    Spybot - Search & Destroy
    Spybot's been going for a while, and while it has a pretty long list of features, it's always received mixed feedback. It's fairly processor-hungry, so if your computer's already slow it'll be an unwelcome addition.

    Download: http://www.download.com/Spybot-Search-Destroy/3000-8022_4-10122137.html

    Ad/Spyware Removal: Free Mac downloads

    MacScan 2.9.4
    SecureMac's MacScan software is built to detect, isolate and remove spyware apps as well as blacklisted cookies saved on your system. It's a 30-day free trial; you'll pay $40 to upgrade if you like it. Reviews are mixed, so if it doesn't work for you, just delete it once the trial's finished.

    Download: http://download.cnet.com/MacScan/3000-8022_4-88351.html

    AVG LinkScanner Mac Edition

    Not really an anti-spyware tool, but AVG's LinkScanner is worth a look for Mac users. It uses real-time threat detection which checks links out when you're browsing the web (Firefox and Internet Explorer only), and marks unsafe ones with red flags so you know to avoid them.

    Download: http://free.avg.com/gb-en/linkscanner-mac
     
  5. Here's a list of the best free antivirus software for 2015.

    360 Total Security

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    If you're looking for a standalone antivirus package then 360 Total Security might seem a little overweight. It provides antiphishing support, online shopping protection, network threat blocking, hard drive clean-up tools, a Windows update checker, and more.

    This feature overload does make for a relatively complex interface. It's not always easy to operate, and if you run into problems there's no significant documentation to help.

    Still, what makes the suite interesting is that it uses no less than five antivirus engines. Install it and you can be protected by Bitdefender technology (an excellent commercial engine), Avira (probably the best of the free offerings), and three further engines of Qihoo's own.

    The default settings aren't necessarily the best, and you'll probably have to spend a while making sure it's configured to suit your needs.

    The multi-engine approach can affect performance, too, with 360 Total Security taking anything up to twice as long to scan our system as some of the competition, as well as returning more false positives.

    Surprisingly, however, all this bulk didn't won't weigh down your PC in normal use, with 360 Total Security having a minimal effect on system speed.

    360 Total Security is far from perfect, and if you're looking for a simple antivirus engine to run alongside other security tools then it'll probably be too much. But if detection rates are your top priority then the package is a real contender.

    Avast Free Antivirus

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    While free antivirus software won't cost you anything to download, you might sometimes find you'll pay in other ways. Install Avast Free Antivirus and it'll also equip your PC with Google toolbar, unless you're paying attention and clear the relevant checkbox.

    Scan your system for malware and by default Avast Free Antivirus also checks for junk files, unnecessary apps and other performance issues, although it won't fix any of these unless you buy the company's PC Optimizer.

    Fortunately you don't have to live with this. Avast Free Antivirus has an excellent interface – it's clean, clear and configurable – and in just a few clicks you can set it up to avoid the time-wasting performance scan.

    The testing labs currently give Avast good, but not exceptional results; typically the company outperforms AVG, but can't match the power of Avira.

    Still, the package does rate highly when dealing with zero-day threats, and in our experience gives very few false positives.

    Crucially, it's also better than most at blocking malicious URLs, which means you're less likely to encounter malware in the first place.

    Useful extras include checks for network security holes (like a router still using the default password), while the Software Update highlights missing software patches and installs them with a click.

    Avast Free Antivirus may not quite offer the best protection, then, but its interface is one of the best around, and experienced users will appreciate the program's extreme configurability.

    Avira Free Antivirus

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    Some security companies spend a great deal of time and effort on interface design, but Avira isn't quite so concerned. Sure, Avira Free Antivirus adds a graphical launcher to your system tray, but the core program looks plain, ordinary, and a little dated.

    Fortunately Avira scores where it matters. The company seems much more interested in substance than style, and the end result is one of the best security freebies around.

    The program is loved by the testing labs. Whether you check out AV-Test, AV-Comparatives or VB100 reports, Avira technology almost always scores very highly. And that's not only in relation to free software. AV-Comparative's July 2015 Real-World Protection Test ranked the program fourth out of 20 mostly commercial contenders, with its 99.7% protection rate comparable with the highly-rated Bitdefender (99.8%) and Kaspersky (99.7%). That's a typical score, not a fluke – sometimes Avira tops the list.

    If you're looking for an easy life then you can leave the program alone, and it'll do its work almost entirely automatically. But expert users get plenty of fine control – there are options to protect the Hosts file, block autorun, scan archives, monitor network drives, set the file types to be scanned, even password protect your Avira installation so others can't mess with your settings.

    Avira Free Antivirus has a distinct shortage of bonus extras, which might be an issue for some. The "Firewall" options add little (they configure the standard Windows firewall, rather than adding anything new), and even basic web protection requires a separate browser extension.

    Still, Avira's stripped-back design is a plus, as it makes it easier to add other security tools without conflicts. Factor in its many configuration options and Avira is a smart choice for more experienced users.

    Panda Free Antivirus

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    The subdued blue-green interface of Panda Free Antivirus isn't very visually impressive, but otherwise works very well, making it easy to find and access the program's features.

    There's no doubt about its accuracy, either. AV-Comparatives' monthly Real-World Protection Test has seen Panda in the top two for months now, trampling all over the commercial competition. And independent testing shows it manages this while raising very few false alarms.

    URL filtering is another significant plus, with Panda doing an above-average job of blocking access to malicious sites.

    Bonus extras include USB Protection to keep your USB keys safe from some malware, while Process Monitor is a Task Manager-like tool, displaying running processes, their open HTTP connections, and highlighting likely dangers.

    If you're feeling picky, and spend long enough exploring the program, you might find one or two minor issues. Scanning speeds were marginally below average in our tests, for instance, and the program isn't as configurable as some of the competition.

    It's hard to complain about a package which gives you market-leading protection at zero cost, though. If you're looking for something simple and reliable, which you can install and just leave to do its job, then Panda Free Antivirus is a great choice.
     
  6. Avira Antivirus Security 4.2

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    Selecting the best free Android antivirus app is difficult at the moment. It's a very competitive market, and the independent testing labs consistently show there's very little between the leading products.

    Avira Antivirus Security earns a vote for its consistency. It's a reliable engine, typically amongst the top-rated apps at AV-Test and AV Comparatives (and it's 4.4 star rated at Google Play), and Avira's excellent record with PC security software makes for a trustworthy product over the long term.

    There are plenty of bonus features, too. Anti-theft tools can locate a lost phone, trigger a siren, or remotely lock or wipe a device, and privacy ratings give you an indication of how apps are handling your data, plus you also get identity protection, app locking, call filtering and more.

    Browsing protection, hourly updates and tech support are reserved for the commercial Pro version only, but Avira Antivirus Security provides the core essentials you need and does a great job of keeping you safe.

    360 Security - Antivirus Free

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    360 Security - Antivirus FREE is one of the most popular antivirus apps around, and the name alone gives you one reason why: it really is free. Okay, you get ads, but there are no "upgrade" buttons or limitations to the protection you get.

    There's a lengthy list of extras, too. The optimisation features alone - junk file cleaning, memory booster, power saver - are more capable and effective than many standalone apps.

    Being particularly interested in the antivirus, and 360 Security - Antivirus FREE delivers there too. It's an extremely accurate engine which doesn't generate too much traffic, significantly drain the battery, or otherwise get in the way of your regular activities.

    The system also monitors apps as they're installed, blocking malware before it can do any harm, and there's a good set of bonus features: anti-theft, call and SMS filtering, an app locker and more.

    VirusTotal

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    Installing a good antivirus engine will keep you safe from most threats, but no product offers a 100% detection guarantee. Even if a download hasn't raised an alert, you might sometimes wonder if it's safe.

    Upload a suspect file to VirusTotal and within seconds you'll see the scanning results from 56 leading antivirus packages, along with an in-depth analysis of the file, and even what it does when run on your computer (the modules it needs, the files it reads and writes, and more).

    One problem with this multi-product approach is you'll regularly see false positives, where most of the engines say a file is safe, but a few flag it as dangerous. If only a small number of packages raise alerts (maybe five or less), and the most trusted engines say it's safe, we might run the file anyway - but that does increase your risk of infection. Wait a day or two and try scanning the file again, if you're concerned.

    MetaScan Online

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    VirusTotal is the king of the online virus scanners, but there are some competitors around, andMetascan Online is one of the best.

    The core idea is much the same. Point Metascan Online at a file, and it'll be uploaded and scanned by a host of antivirus packages, with their verdicts listed in a detailed report.

    MetaScan Online uses less engines than VirusTotal - 43 as opposed to 56 - but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Dropping the weaker products should mean fewer false positives, reports were also generated far more quickly.

    MetaScan Online can also scan marginally larger files than VirusTotal (140MB compared to 128MB), and has a neat Scan History page to show how a file's detection rate has changed over time. But balancing that, it doesn't provide any behavioural information, and malware doesn't normally arrive in such large files anyway.

    Overall, VirusTotal is still the online favourite, but MetaScan Online has plus points too. Give it a try and see how the site works for you.
     
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