Short on time? Here’s the best free Windows antivirus for 2020:
TotalAV: The most powerful free antivirus with Real-Time protection for Windows, Mac, android and iOS. Download it for free here.
I spent the an entire day googling, reading, downloading, installing, uninstalling and testing a bunch of the leading antivirus solutions to bring you these free antivirus programs that are better than the rest. I discovered that while there is no such thing as a “free antivirus” with zero limitations, these brands each offer a free plan that will help protect your computer.
I also discovered that, unfortunately, quite a few free antivirus programs are actually malware designed to steal your private information. This is especially true for Windows because with so many users around the world, it’s the most popular target for viruses and other dangerous malware. That’s why it’s important that you don’t fall victim to one of these common scams and only download legitimate programs with a history of high-quality performance.
How I Rated the Best Free Windows Antivirus Software:
While many brands offer something for free, there’s a huge difference in terms of quality and security.
Our reviews were based on data gathered in the last few weeks in March 2020. We pulled together data from anti-malware and security testing labs to assess the performance of each antivirus program.
These labs test the software’s ability to correctly identify malicious files and websites, protect against drive-by downloads and avoid false positive detections, where benign software is incorrectly blocked as malicious.
We also assessed the impact of antivirus software on system performance. In addition to data from established testing facilities, we test each antivirus suite ourselves to see what it’s like to live with and what features it provides.
1. TotalAV Free — Best Overall Antivirus Software
TotalAV Free Antivirus not only lets us experience legendary German-engineered antivirus technology, it also includes protection against malicious websites and phishing scams. Oh, and it will work on any device – Windows PC / Laptops, Macs, android phones, iPhone or tablets.
TotalAV ’s antivirus engine operates in the cloud, meaning that most of its malware detection and analysis doesn’t actually take place on your PC. This cloud-based technology has two main advantages.
First, it means TotalAV can keep its methods secret by only fighting malware on its own servers. This puts TotalAV one step ahead of the hackers at all times because hackers won’t know what TotalAV knows.
Second, it means TotalAV can maintain an extremely low “footprint” — it demands very few system resources. In fact, TotalAV has one of the smallest and lightest antivirus engines of all the major antivirus brands.
And because TotalAV runs so efficiently, even many older Windows PCs can run TotalAV Free Antivirus without much impact on performance. If your PC sometimes feels slow and sluggish when you’re using applications, TotalAV could be your antivirus solution.
If you’re looking for solid protection against malware and you don’t care about getting extra features, TotalAV Free Antivirus is the best solution. TotalAV is particularly lightweight, so your PC’s performance won’t suffer.
2. Panda Free Antivirus — Decent Protection + A VPN
Panda is one of the lesser-known brands on this list, but its award-winning antivirus technology scores exceptionally well in our tests.
Panda’s Free Antivirus is easy to use, and it’s popular because of its unique interface and branding. But the main reason that Panda Free Antivirus makes my top 3 is that it comes with an included virtual private network (VPN).
I spend a lot of time using unsecured public Wi-Fi networks, so all of my private data is at serious risk if a hacker hacks into the network (which happens more often than you would think).
A VPN works by rerouting your internet connection to a secure server. It encrypts all data coming to and from your device which stops hackers from accessing your internet traffic. This level of security is strongly recommended when using public Wi-Fi — for example at a coffee shop or restaurant where there is a shared, unsecured network.
But while Panda’s VPN is free, it’s also limited to just 150 MB per day — this is only really enough for browsing the web and sending emails. For more data, you need to upgrade — luckily, there’s a great 50% off coupon for Panda Dome Advanced. Even still, in terms of malware and internet protection, Panda has one of the best free antivirus I’ve seen.
Panda Free Antivirus combines network security with strong antivirus capabilities. It’s a great option if you often use your laptop in public places. If you want unlimited VPN access — together with Panda’s password manager, parental controls, and advanced threat detection — you can try your first month of Panda Dome Premium for free.
3. Sophos Home Free — Great parental controls
There’s plenty of bad stuff online that basic antivirus software won’t pick up. As well as protecting your devices and personal information from viruses, Sophos Home Free is a good free antivirus that helps protect your kids from the parts of the web that you might not want them to see.
Sophos Home Free includes great parental controls — something that usually comes only in premium internet security packages, such as Norton 360 Deluxe. Parental controls let us monitor how our kids use their devices and restrict which websites they can access.
Sophos Home Free also includes real-time protection against malware and a browser extension that keeps you away from visiting malicious websites.
You can install the free version of Sophos on up to 3 devices. This is very generous for a free product, but if you have more devices, you’ll need to upgrade — luckily, there’s a 20% off discount on Sophos Home Premium right here.
Sophos Home Free is a user-friendly, effective antivirus application — and the best free antivirus with parental controls. Larger families should consider Sophos Home Premium, which allows up to 10 users.
Antiviruses for Windows — Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the catch with free antivirus programs?
There is no such thing as a truly free antivirus. You always “pay” with something. Most antivirus companies offer premium versions of their apps and limit the free version to only offer basic protection. This leaves a lot of holes in your computer’s cybersecurity defense. The company hopes you’ll recognize you’re not well-protected, and they’ll try to get you to upgrade to the paid plan by sending you a ton of notifications and advertisements.
Some other antivirus companies even sell free users’ data. While Avast and AVG are still on this list, you should only use them as a last resort, unless you don’t mind your data being sold.
Why should I use another free antivirus instead of Windows Defender?
Because it isn’t good enough. The problem with Windows Defender is that it doesn’t do enough for cybersecurity and online protection, and Microsoft rarely updates it. To keep you safe from various threats when you’re browsing the Internet, you need the kind of protection that you can only get from dedicated antivirus software.
Windows Defender is a decent product for basic needs. It detects and protects against some viruses, and the included Windows Firewall is pretty good. But it doesn’t offer protection against other cyber threats like ransomware or phishing scams.
Many free antiviruses, like TotalAV, not only protect against these threats, but they are on the front lines of cybersecurity and know how to keep you safe better than Windows Defender.
What are the most common types of viruses that affect Windows computers?
Trojans are usually the go-to viruses for hackers looking to infect or steal your personal data. These are viruses that look like other files with extensions like .exe and .doc. But once downloaded, if you don’t have an antivirus installed on your PC, you will be running a serious virus that could debilitate your machine and potentially send all of your information to a hacker. A good antivirus will stop you from running that virus on your PC. An even better antivirus will stop you from downloading that virus in the first place.
That said, there are potentially millions of new and dangerous threats for Windows, so it’s crucial that your virus protection is updated with the latest known malware database.
The bottom line…
The problem with cyber security is that we seek to protect ourselves when it is already too late. You plan to install antivirus software but always put it off. Until you (or one of your loved ones) click on the wrong link by mistake or download an attachment that you shouldn’t have. Fixing a virus when it has already infected your computer is much more difficult than avoiding it in the first place. You have enough stress in your life without some hacker locking all your private folders and asking for a ransom. So I recommend you download security software, set it up (it will take about 5 minutes of your time) and then you can forget about it while it protects you.
If you’re looking for advanced protection and a lot of other great cybersecurity features, check out the list of the best premium antivirus products on the market.
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