Updated on: November 1, 2022
Short on time? Here’s the best free Windows antivirus for 2022:
- 🥇 Norton: Advanced virus and malware protection with extras like webcam protection, a VPN, a password manager, parental controls, dark web monitoring, and more. It’s not 100% free, but it has a 60-day money-back guarantee, which gives you 2 full months to see if it’s right for you.
I tested every free antivirus I could find against thousands of old and new Windows malware files. I didn’t only look at each antivirus’s malware protection capabilities but also its reputation for safeguarding user privacy, its ability to integrate with recent versions of Windows, and its user interface.
But it’s important to keep in mind that every free antivirus has a few limitations. That’s why I always recommend investing a little bit into premium antivirus software that includes protection against all types of malware — with extra features like a virtual private network (VPN), dark web monitoring, and a password manager (Norton 360 has all of these features, is ranked as the best antivirus software for 2022, and is very affordable).
That said, it’s better to protect yourself with the best free antivirus than no antivirus at all! I found 7 good free antivirus programs that offer improvements over Windows’s built-in protections, as well as features that aren’t offered by Windows Defender.
Quick summary of the best free Windows antiviruses for 2022:
- 1.🥇 Norton — Best Windows antivirus on the market (with a 60-day money-back guarantee).
- 2.🥈 Bitdefender — Advanced antivirus engine & anti-phishing tools with low system impact.
- 3.🥉 Avira — Cloud-based malware scanner with good system optimization.
- 4. Panda — Strong virus protection with good additional features (like a gaming mode).
- 5. TotalAV — Simple free antivirus with an intuitive interface (recommended for beginners).
- 2 More Free Antiviruses for Windows!
- Comparison of the Best Free Antiviruses for Windows in 2022.
- Yes, You Already Have a Free Antivirus on Your PC, But It Isn’t Good Enough.
- How to Choose the Best Free Windows Antivirus for Your Needs.
- Risks & Disadvantages of Using a Free Windows Antivirus
- Free Antivirus vs. Paid Antivirus.
- Why We Haven’t Stopped Recommending Kaspersky.
- Tips to Improve Online Safety in 2022.
- Top Brands That Didn’t Make the Cut.
- Frequently Asked Questions About Free Antiviruses for Windows.
🥇1. Norton — Best Overall Windows Antivirus in 2022
Norton is my favorite Windows antivirus on the market — and while it doesn’t currently have a free plan, it offers a risk-free 60-day money-back guarantee, which gives you 2 months to try it out and see if it’s right for you. It has an advanced malware engine, a wide range of additional features, and affordable plans that cover up to 5 devices across all operating systems.
Norton provides perfect malware detection against all known and emerging cyber threats. In all of our tests, it was able to identify all malware samples, from simple ones like viruses to sophisticated threats like spyware. It also has excellent phishing protection, a smart firewall with tons of customization options, and online banking and shopping protection.
It also comes with a wide range of quality extras, including:
- VPN (unlimited data) — maintains fast speeds, works with streaming sites like Netflix, and has extras like Tor support and split-tunneling.
- Password manager — generates, saves, and auto-fills logins, audits password security, and has an automatic password changer (it’s the only password manager on the market that offers this functionality).
- Parental controls — filters inappropriate content, limits device usage, and monitors YouTube and Hulu usage (Norton ranks #1 on our list of the best antiviruses with parental controls and #3 on our list of the best standalone parental control apps).
- System optimization tools — removes unwanted files from Windows and web browsers, improves boot time, and defragments hard drive.
- Dark web monitoring — scans dark web forums, data breach databases, and credit reports in real time.
- And much more…
Norton provides the best user experience out of all other antiviruses. It’s very easy to use across all devices and platforms, it doesn’t cause any system slowdown, and it even has a gaming mode, so you can uninterruptedly play games while it runs in the background.
There are several plans to choose from, but Norton 360 Deluxe offers the best value — plus, with our special 72% discount, you can get it for only $29.99 / year. US users can also check out Norton’s LifeLock plans that start at $69.99 / year and add identity theft protection with up to $1M in insurance payouts and legal assistance. All of Norton’s plans are covered by a 60-day money-back guarantee.
Norton offers unparalleled malware protection, a wide range of high-end security features, and affordable plans for up to 5 devices. It also has a ton of extras, including a fast VPN, a secure password manager, and the best parental controls around. While it doesn’t have a free Windows plan, it provides the best value on the market, and it comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it out risk-free for 2 whole months.
🥈2. Bitdefender Antivirus Free for Windows — Lightweight With Advanced Malware & Web Protections
Bitdefender Antivirus Free for Windows’s malware scanner scored a 100% detection rate during my tests, making it one of the best completely free antiviruses you can get. Moreover, Bitdefender uses a cloud-based scanner, which means most of the detection and analysis doesn’t take place on your PC, reducing its system impact. I didn’t notice any slowdowns on my computer even during full system scans.
Bitdefender also provides excellent anti-phishing protection. During testing, it blocked many fake websites that had evaded detection from the built-in protections on the Chrome and Firefox browsers, as well as the anti-phishing tools of other antiviruses. Out of all the brands on this list, only Bitdefender and Norton had near-perfect anti-phishing results.
One of the downsides of the free version of Bitdefender is its lack of extra features. It offers some of the most effective malware, web, and real-time protections on the market, but that’s about it. Bitdefender’s premium plans are where you’ll find all of the extra features, including multi-layer ransomware protection, online banking protection, a VPN, device optimization tools, a password manager, parental controls, and much more.
By upgrading, you’ll also get access to the super handy Profiles feature, which lets you quickly and easily optimize your PC’s performance for different tasks and situations. And you can set it up so that Bitdefender automatically changes your profile depending on what apps you’re using. The profiles you can choose from include:
- Work Profile — Provides better email protections and reduces system slowdown.
- Movie Profile — Prevents pop-up notifications and cuts down on background processes.
- Game Profile — Optimizes system performance for gaming.
- Public Wi-Fi Profile — Activates specific protections to keep you safe while using public Wi-Fi hotspots.
- Battery Mode Profile — Makes adjustments to the software that helps you save battery.
Bitdefender’s paid plans are very affordable, starting as low as $17.99 / year, and all of them are backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee.There’s Total Security, which includes most of Bitdefender’s features (except for the unlimited-data VPN and password manager) for 5 devices, for only $28.50 / year. Premium Security provides access to all features on up to 10 devices for $59.99 / year — it’s the best option if you want to make sure all of your devices are 100% protected against all online threats. Users on a budget can take a look at Internet Security, which covers up to 3 Windows devices for only $25.50 / year.
Bitdefender’s free Windows antivirus is a top-tier, no-frills solution to protecting your device from malware and web-based threats. It has perfect detection rates and will barely impact your device’s performance. To get access to a bunch of extra features, however, you’ll have to upgrade to one of Bitdefender’s premium plans. All of its plans are backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it out risk-free.
🥉3. Avira Free Security for Windows — Advanced Cloud-Based Malware Scanner With System Cleanup
Avira Free Security for Windows has an excellent anti-malware engine and operates fully in the cloud. This makes Avira extremely fast, lightweight, and low on system resources. During my testing, Avira’s anti-malware engine detected most of the malware files I previously downloaded to my computer, and I was able to run CPU-intensive programs during scans with almost zero slowdown.
Unlike Bitdefender’s free antivirus, which is highly effective but rather bare-boned, Avira comes with many excellent extra features, such as:
- Safe Shopping browser extension.
- Privacy & performance optimizer.
- VPN (500 MB monthly limit).
- Password manager.
- Game booster.
- File shredder.
- And more…
The Safe Shopping browser extension for Firefox and Chrome is really good — it blocks suspicious phishing sites, web trackers, and unwanted advertisements. The extension also automatically recommends links to better deals when shopping online. I was actually able to find a lot of good deals, but it didn’t work 100% of the time (still pretty good though!).
I’m also a big fan of Avira’s privacy and performance optimization tools — they cleaned out my cookies and junk files, and also fixed hidden privacy settings that were leaking personal information on the web. But unfortunately, Avira’s best optimization tools are locked behind a paywall.
Unfortunately, the VPN that comes with Avira’s free antivirus is limited to just 500 MB per month, which is barely enough to watch a couple of really short videos, and it only lets you connect to 1 server location, meaning most users won’t be able to connect to a nearby server to get fast speeds.
If you want a fast and reliable VPN with unlimited data, you should consider upgrading to Avira Prime, which costs $59.99 / year — it’s a bit pricier than some competitors, but it’s one of the best antivirus suites of 2022, and it also includes multi-device support and advanced system optimization tools. Avira backs all yearly subscriptions with a 60-day money-back guarantee
Avira’s cloud-based, free virus scanning engine is one of the best on the market — it’s lightweight, fast, has perfect detection rates, and is 100% free. I’m also a big fan of Avira’s Safe Shopping browser extension and privacy optimizer, both of which offer significant improvement over Microsoft’s built-in protections. To get more advanced internet security protection, you’ll need to upgrade to one of Avira’s paid plans, which start at $45.99 / year.
4. Panda Free Antivirus for Windows — Good Virus Protection With Decent Extras
Panda Free Antivirus for Windows is lightweight, secure, and easy to use — during my tests, Panda’s antivirus scanner detected significantly more adware, spyware, and ransomware files than Windows Defender. Panda’s real-time protection also performed really well, blocking most of the malware files I tried downloading to my PC.
I also like that Panda has a gaming mode in its free antivirus — whenever you’re playing a game or watching a video in full screen, Panda automatically suspends notifications. That said, I prefer Norton or Bitdefender (using its Profiles feature) for gaming as they don’t cause any slowdown, allowing for smooth and uninterrupted gaming.
Another thing that makes Panda a good choice for Windows users is the Rescue Kit feature, which allows you to download a bootable version of Panda to a USB drive and then use the USB drive to clean an infected PC and get it up and running again. Very few antiviruses offer this feature, and I’m very happy that Panda includes it in its free version!
Panda’s free antivirus also comes with a secure (but limited) VPN. It provides fast connection speeds, but it only lets you connect to 1 server and has a data limit of 150 MB per day — this is a big improvement over Avira’s 500 MB per month, but it’s still not nearly enough data for streaming or file sharing. If you’re interested in unlimited streaming or torrenting, you’ll need a better VPN (check out our list of the best antiviruses with VPNs here).
You can only get unlimited VPN data (and access to worldwide servers) on the Panda Dome Premium plan, which also offers extra features like a firewall, anti-ransomware protection, anti-phishing protection, advanced system tune-up tools, a password manager, and parental controls, for $53.60 / year. All of Panda’s premium plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Panda’s free antivirus is a good, easy-to-use antivirus, offering 100% free real-time malware protection. With lightweight malware scanning, an automatic gaming mode, a Rescue Kit, and a VPN, Panda is an excellent free internet security product. However, the VPN is limited to 150 MB per day on a single server. If you want unlimited VPN access — and other extras like a firewall, anti-phishing, password manager, and parental controls — you’ll need to upgrade. Panda offers 4 different pricing tiers for paid users, which start at $19.20 / year, so it’s easy to find the right plan for you — or you can just give Panda Free a try and upgrade later.
5. TotalAV Free Antivirus — Most Intuitive Free Antivirus
TotalAV Free Antivirus provides excellent virus and phishing protection — during my tests, TotalAV’s cloud-based malware scanner detected and removed more malware samples than most antivirus programs, successfully identifying even very tricky ransomware and cryptojacking files. This isn’t too surprising, considering that TotalAV uses Avira’s excellent malware scanner.
TotalAV’s phishing protection is also very good. It uses a huge blacklist to identify known phishing sites as well as an AI-powered phishing detection system to detect new threats. In my testing, the anti-phishing tool scored a near-perfect detection rate, stopping me from entering more malicious sites than Chrome’s native phishing tool. Out of all the antiviruses on this list, only Norton and Bitdefender blocked more risky sites than TotalAV.
TotalAV is also the most intuitive free Windows antivirus on this list, with easy-to-use and easy-to-understand features and functions inside a minimalistic, well-designed dashboard. I had no problems navigating TotalAV’s dashboard, and I found it very simple to access and use all of the provided tools. If you’ve never used an antivirus before, TotalAV may just be your best option.
That said, unlike Avira, TotalAV’s free plan for Windows doesn’t come with a lot of features. The biggest drawback of TotalAV Free Antivirus is that it doesn’t have real-time protection, meaning you won’t get notified in case a malicious file attempts to make changes to your PC in real time.
Upgrading to one of TotalAV’s premium plans brings you real-time malware protection as well as useful extras like device optimization tools, a VPN with unlimited data, a password manager, and more. TotalAV’s paid plans start at $19.00 / year, and they’re all backed by a risk-free money-back guarantee for 30 days.
TotalAV’s free Windows antivirus is excellent at removing malware and blocking phishing sites. It’s also one of the most intuitive antivirus programs on the market, which makes it an ideal choice for beginners. However, TotalAV Free doesn’t come with real-time protection and it doesn’t include any extra features. To get real-time scanning, PC optimization tools, and a VPN with no limitations, you’ll need to upgrade to one of TotalAV’s low-cost premium plans, which start at $19.00 / year.
6. Kaspersky Free — Good Range of Free Features
Kaspersky Free is good at detecting and removing malware — like Norton and Bitdefender, it caught 100% of the malware samples on my PC when I tested it. And unlike TotalAV, Kaspersky’s free plan comes with real-time protection, which also performed well in my tests.
It also comes with a few extras — including:
- VPN (300 MB daily limit).
- Password manager (15 entries limit).
- Data breach monitoring (only 1 account).
- Basic system cleanup tools.
- Virtual keyboard.
Kaspersky’s free VPN automatically connects to the closest server and offers 300 MB of data per day. While this is more daily data than Panda or Avira, it’s still not enough for streaming or other data-heavy tasks. And Kaspersky’s free password manager only saves a total of 15 entries — this includes both logins and sensitive documents (like credit cards or passport details). Norton’s password manager is also free, but it allows you to store an unlimited number of passwords on an unlimited number of devices.
I can’t say I’m too impressed with Kaspersky’s data breach monitoring either — free users can only check the email associated with their Kaspersky account (and they have to do it manually, unlike paid customers who get automatic data breach checks). In addition, the free system optimization tools are too basic and won’t do much to clean or speed up your PC (unlike the paid tools — which aren’t unique, but they get the job done).
If you want access to all of Kaspersky’s features, then you’ll have to upgrade to one of its paid plans, which start at $16.99 / year. All Kaspersky purchases include a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Kaspersky’s free antivirus comes with a good malware scanner and a few additional features, but most of them are very limited in functionality. Kaspersky’s VPN has a daily cap of 300 MB, the password manager lets you store up to 15 logins and credit cards, and the data breach monitoring only checks 1 email address. Upgrading to one of Kaspersky’s paid plans gets you all of these features without any limitations, plus extras like parental controls, advanced web protections, and more.
7. Malwarebytes Free — Minimalistic Virus Scanner
Malwarebytes Free is a good choice for users looking for a simple antivirus scanner that they can install and forget about. Its virus scanner uses a virus database as well as heuristics to catch all types of malware — and it performed pretty well in my tests, detecting around 90% of the malware files I hid on my PC. However, it did miss a few well-hidden files that competitors like Norton, Bitdefender, and TotalAV detected.
Apart from the scanner, you also get a browser extension that protects against a wide range of threats, including malware, ads and trackers, scams, and PUPs. One of the things I like the most about this extension is that all of the protections are turned on by default, so there’s nothing for you to do (but you can easily turn off one or all of the protections).
In my tests, Malwarebytes’s browser extension blocked the majority of risky sites I attempted to visit, scoring a 90% phishing detection rate. However, the extension wasn’t as accurate at blocking ads — I visited dozens of sites filled with ads, and Malwarebytes blocked only around a third of the ads.
To get real-time malware protection, you’ll need to upgrade to Malwarebytes Premium, which provides coverage for up to 5 devices and starts at $22.49 / year. Malwarebytes Premium + Privacy also adds a good VPN for $49.99 / year. Both of Malwarebytes’s premium plans are covered by a generous 60-day money-back guarantee.
Malwarebytes Free is a minimalistic antivirus scanner with good virus detection and removal rates. It also comes with a browser extension that blocks malware, phishing sites, ads, and trackers. Upgrading to Malwarebytes Premium brings you real-time protection and coverage for up to 5 devices, whereas Malwarebytes Premium + Privacy also adds a VPN.
Comparison of the Best Free Antiviruses for Windows in 2022
|Antivirus||Paid Version (Starting Price)||Real-Time Protection||Malware Detection Rating
||Web protection||Support for Other Operating Systems
||Extra Features||Money-back guarantee
|1.🥇 Norton||$19.99 / year||✅ (paid version)||100%||✅ (paid version)||Mac, iOS, Android, Chromebook||VPN, password manager, parental controls, dark web monitoring (paid version)||60 days|
||$17.99 / year||✅||100%||✅||macOS, iOS, Android||/||30 days|
|3.🥉 Avira||$45.99 / year||✅||100%||✅||Mac, iOS, Android||Basic system tune-up, VPN, and password manager||60 days|
|4. Panda||$19.20 / year||✅||95%||❌||Mac, iOS, Android||Rescue kit and basic VPN||30 days|
|5. TotalAV||$19.00 / year||❌||99%||✅||Mac, iOS, Android, Chromebook||/||30 days|
|6. Kaspersky||$16.99 / year||✅||100%||❌||Mac, iOS, Android||Basic system cleanup, VPN, password manager, and data breach monitoring||30 days|
|7. Malwarebytes||$22.49 / year||❌||95%||✅||Mac, iOS, Android, Chromebook||/||60 days|
Yes, You Already Have a Free Antivirus on Your PC, But It Isn’t Good Enough
Your Windows computer already comes with Windows Defender (some newer Windows 10 computers call it “Windows Security” or “Microsoft Defender”) — which, as we saw in our full review, is a decent free antivirus. But the problem with Windows Defender is that it’s rarely updated, it doesn’t include additional internet security protections, and it frequently has vulnerabilities that don’t get fixed (sometimes for several years!). Plus, Windows Defender consistently ranks below the top antivirus scanners in our independent lab testing. That’s why I always recommend keeping your PC as safe as possible with third-party antivirus software.
All of the free antiviruses listed here are significantly better than Microsoft’s Windows Defender antivirus. The free downloads on this list are from top-notch cybersecurity companies that are offering their premium antivirus protection for free. These are some of the top antivirus and anti-malware engines in the world — and our independent lab tests have confirmed that these antivirus engines are much stronger, faster, and better than Microsoft’s Windows Defender.
And some of the free programs on my list also include additional cybersecurity protections. Avira Free Security for Windows is particularly generous with its free offerings, but even Avira’s free plan has some annoying limitations that don’t exist on its paid plans.
In general, cybersecurity companies try to entice you with their free products, but they’re ultimately looking to convert you into a paying customer. If you’re looking for the best protection for all of your devices, you’ll need to pay for premium antivirus software. Unfortunately, there’s no way around this. However, if you’re just looking for a simple free malware scanner with a couple of decent web protections that can improve on Microsoft’s Defender, then all of the products on this list will be good enough for you.
How to Choose the Best Free Windows Antivirus for Your Needs
- Malware detection. The main purpose of an antivirus is to protect you against malware, so you want to make sure the program you’re running on your device has a good malware scanner that is able to identify both known and new malware, including trojans, spyware, ransomware, rootkits, and keyloggers. All of my top choices have perfect or near-perfect malware detection rates.
- Minimal slowdown. An antivirus may slow down your system, making it hard to stream content, play games, or even browse the web, especially during a full system scan. But programs like Bitdefender, Avira, and TotalAV are pretty lightweight, so you won’t even notice they’re there.
- Features. While most free antiviruses are pretty limited in terms of features, some free programs include a couple of extras. For example, Avira has a basic free password manager, Panda has a free VPN (150 MB/day), and Kaspersky has data breach monitoring. Paid brands like Norton have all of these features without any limitations, plus webcam protection, parental controls, cloud storage, and more.
- Ease of use. Windows Defender is already pretty easy to use (it’s always running), so a free antivirus has to be very easy to use and offer the same excellent user experience that Microsoft has built into its native PC antivirus. All of the products on this list have user-friendly dashboards, intuitive features, and decent customer support.
- Genuinely free. Many cybersecurity brands try to trick you into purchasing a premium product by offering a free trial and then making you pay to keep using the product. I’ve personally checked to make sure that all of the brands listed here offer free protection. I also included Norton on the list as it comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee, which gives you 2 months to try it out.
Risks & Disadvantages of Using a Free Windows Antivirus
Free antivirus software can be an effective way to protect against malware and online security threats, but only if you’re using a trusted free antivirus like the ones on this list. Most free antivirus programs are unsafe as they are either missing important security features (like real-time protection), they’re badly designed, or they’re malware disguised as legitimate software — this kind of disguised malware predominantly affects Windows users.
One of the biggest risks of using a free antivirus, even if it’s legitimate, is that free antiviruses are usually missing important security features which are needed to fully protect your device and data, including real-time virus protection, anti-phishing tools, dark web monitoring, ID theft alerts, and more. Plus, even if a free antivirus offers additional features, they are usually very limited.
Yes, Windows comes with its own free antivirus (Windows Defender), which does a good job of protecting your PC from malware. However, Windows Defender’s malware protections aren’t always as fast or effective as the ones offered by premium antiviruses like Norton or Bitdefender, and it’s also missing many of the extra features listed above.
The best premium antiviruses include all of the features you need to secure your PC, including anti-malware engines that use AI and machine learning to detect both known and unknown viruses, as well as malicious website protection and identity theft monitoring tools.
Premium antiviruses can also come bundled with extras like a VPN (virtual private network) to secure your browsing activity (TotalAV offers a great VPN), a password manager (Norton’s password manager is decent), and PC optimization tools to ensure your computer is running efficiently (Avira’s PC optimization tools are great!).
Free Antivirus vs. Paid Antivirus
Free antiviruses like Bitdefender, Avira, and TotalAV are pretty good, and they can offer some decent protection. But free antivirus software doesn’t come with all of the extra features needed for complete online protection — features that are only offered by premium antiviruses.
Premium antiviruses are way better, as they come with all of the internet security protections you need to stay as safe as possible online. And I’m not just talking about anti-malware protection here — extras like a VPN (to ensure you’re anonymous online), a password manager (to protect your sensitive data, including financial information), and parental controls (to make sure your child is protected on the internet) all contribute to complete cybersecurity protection.
Together with a malware scanner, these tools are crucial to building a good online defense against hackers, scammers, and predators — it’s incredibly difficult to achieve the same level of security only using free antivirus software.
Top antiviruses like Norton even offer up to $1 million in insurance coverage for cases of identity theft (US customers only), making it worth the relatively low yearly cost of a paid subscription.
What’s more, paid antiviruses also include better customer support, so you know you can get help removing malware, accessing a feature, or solving any other issue with your antivirus at all times. Free antiviruses, on the other hand, don’t include live chat and phone support, so the only way to get assistance is to read a knowledge base, post a question on a forum, or send a ticket.
Yes, free antiviruses can offer some good protection, but users looking for complete online protection should consider a paid antivirus (most of which are low cost, especially with our promotional coupons and discounts).
You can read more about paid antiviruses for different operating systems here.
Why We Haven’t Stopped Recommending Kaspersky
Kaspersky has been added to the US Federal Communications Commission’s blacklist of companies deemed a national security risk following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022. To err on the side of caution, those working in national security might want to avoid using Kaspersky’s software (but all the other antiviruses on this list would be great alternatives).
But at this point in time, there’s no evidence to suggest that Kaspersky is unsafe. In 2017, Kaspersky launched its Global Transparency Initiative — and as part of it moved its data centers to Switzerland, passed the Service Organization Control for Service Organizations (SOC 2) Type 1 audit, and opened Transparency Centers throughout the world where third parties can review its source code.
Kaspersky’s researchers are also well-respected in the field, the company is active in exposing cases of cyber-espionage, and it’s trusted by more than 400 million people around the globe.
Tips to Improve Online Safety in 2022
Because free antiviruses always have some limitations, they can’t fully protect you against all cybersecurity threats. Even some of the best free products lack core online protections — for example, TotalAV and Malwarebytes don’t have real-time protection, whereas Panda and Kaspersky don’t offer web protections. Free products also either don’t offer any extra features or provide only basic versions of their premium features — Bitdefender’s free plan has great anti-malware and web protections but little else, and Avira’s free antivirus has a good VPN, but it’s capped at only 500 MB/month, which isn’t even enough for casual browsing.
But if you really don’t want to invest in a premium antivirus, a free one can be good enough, as long as you also make sure to follow the best online safety practices, such as:
- Updating software regularly. Software updates are important because they patch any software vulnerabilities and increase its security. You should update your operating systems, programs, and applications as soon as new updates are available — if you don’t, hackers may exploit software vulnerabilities to install malware on your devices, steal your sensitive information — or both. Premium antiviruses like Avira have vulnerability scanners that flag out-of-date software and even offer to update it for you, but you can also manually update any program on your device.
- Downloading files responsibly. Only download programs or files from websites you trust, and only open email attachments if you’re sure they’re safe. If you’re not 100% sure a download link is safe, don’t click on it. If you’ve received an email attachment from a sender you trust but you weren’t expecting an attachment, contact the sender to confirm they intentionally sent you the attachment. All premium antiviruses have real-time protection that prevents you from downloading suspicious files, but if you have a free program without real-time protection, you need to be careful about what you download — and from where.
- Only use HTTPS sites. Sites that use HTTPS encrypt all of the data that is sent and received between the user and the site. Sites that use an HTTP connection don’t encrypt any data, meaning that anyone who intercepts the data you’re sending and receiving from the site can see all of the data. Brands like Norton, Bitdefender, and TotalAV include excellent web protections that check the security of each site you’re visiting and block you from accessing malicious and suspicious sites.
- Avoid connecting to unsecure networks. Hackers may use unsecure Wi-Fi networks to intercept your data and steal your sensitive information. If you absolutely must connect to an unsecure Wi-Fi in a public location, you should use a VPN that encrypts your data and makes it unreadable to any third parties. Avira and Kaspersky offer limited versions of their VPNs in their free plans, but if you want the best antivirus-bunded VPN, I recommend TotalAV or Norton.
- Generate secure passwords for your online accounts. Instead of using the same login for all or most sites, you should create unique, complex passwords for each online account. You can use our free password generator tool to generate strong passwords, or you can check out our recommendations for the best free password managers here.
Top Brands That Didn’t Make the Cut:
I’ve spent a long time compiling and revising this list to guarantee that I’m offering you a high-quality resource. You may be surprised to see that some of the top antivirus brands didn’t make the top 5. Here are a few of them:
- McAfee. McAfee is one of my favorite antiviruses of 2022. It comes with an advanced anti-malware engine, excellent web protection, and a VPN with unlimited data. But unfortunately, McAfee doesn’t have a free plan. However, if you need a high-quality antivirus, McAfee’s low-cost internet security packages are some of the best on the market.
- ESET. ESET is a lightweight antivirus with excellent detection rates and advanced diagnostic tools. However, it doesn’t have a free plan, and some of its features are poorly explained and/or unintuitive to use.
- Sophos. Sophos used to have a good free plan, but it’s been discontinued, so I had to remove it from my list. That said, Sophos’s paid version provides great cybersecurity protection at a decent price.
Free Antiviruses for Windows — Frequently Asked Questions
- What’s the catch with free antiviruses?
- Why should I use a free antivirus instead of Windows Defender?
- Can Windows Defender & another antivirus run together?
- Is it safe to use a free antivirus?
- What’s the best free antivirus?
- Is there a 100% free antivirus?
- Is a free antivirus good enough?
- What are the most common types of viruses that affect Windows computers?
- Will Windows allow me to install a free antivirus?
What’s the catch with free antiviruses?
There is no such thing as a truly free antivirus. You‘re always going to “pay” with something. Most antivirus companies limit the free version of their software to only offer basic protection. This leaves a lot of holes in your computer’s cybersecurity defense. The antivirus 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.
If you’re only using your device for simple online browsing or word processing, you’re probably fine with a free antivirus (and the ones on this list are the best free antiviruses out there). But, in general, if you store any kind of sensitive information on your Windows device, it’s always better to invest in a full-featured internet security suite than it is to trust a free antivirus.
Why should I use another free antivirus instead of Windows Defender?
Windows Defender is not a bad antivirus — it even ranks a little bit better than some third-party free antiviruses. But it just can’t compete when top cybersecurity companies like Bitdefender, Avira, and Panda are handing out excellent free antivirus software, almost all of which offer free protection against threats Windows Defender doesn’t protect against (like phishing sites, malicious web trackers, data breaches, etc.).
Indeed, most of the products on this list have substantially better free antivirus protection than Microsoft’s built-in Windows Defender antivirus.
You can read this blog post if you’d like to learn more about why Windows Defender isn’t good enough to keep users safe in 2022.
Can Windows Defender & another antivirus run together?
Technically, you can run Windows Defender and another antivirus program simultaneously. But having two anti-malware engines running at the same time can cause interference, meaning malware and other threats could potentially go undetected.
Is it safe to use a free antivirus?
If you choose an antivirus program from a trustworthy company, then yes. All of the brands on this list here are perfectly safe to use — the only difference between their free and paid versions is that the paid software includes additional features, like a VPN, a password manager, and parental controls, as well as better customer support options.
What’s the best free antivirus?
All free antiviruses have some limitations and lock most of their best features behind a paywall. While a free antivirus can be a decent temporary solution, I strongly recommend that you get a premium antivirus like Norton. It has perfect malware detection rates, more extras than almost all competitors, and easy-to-use apps for all operating systems. Starting at just $9.99 / year, Norton is also very affordable, and all of its paid plans are backed by a risk-free 60-day money-back guarantee — this gives you 2 months to try it out and see if it’s the right product for your needs.
But if you absolutely do not want to pay for antivirus protection, I recommend you take a look at Bitdefender, which has a cloud-based malware scanner plus web and real-time protection.
Is there a 100% free antivirus?
Yes. There are antivirus programs that are 100% free. However, while decent free antiviruses can offer full virus protection, they are usually missing important features which are offered by premium antiviruses to fully protect your PC and personal information, like identity theft protections, VPNs, password managers, and more.
Sure, top free antiviruses like Avira’s free version come with solid malware scanning and real-time protection, which may be good enough for some users who only need basic protections. But if you want to ensure your PC and data are protected in the best possible way, you should consider investing in a premium antivirus suite.
Most top premium antiviruses have extended money-back guarantees, meaning you can try them before committing to a premium plan. For example, Norton offers a 60-day money-back guarantee, meaning you can try it for 2 months before deciding whether it’s the best option for your PC and request a refund if you’d prefer to try an alternative like Bitdefender.
Is a free antivirus good enough?
It depends on your needs. In most cases, a trusted free antivirus will do a decent job of protecting your PC against malware and other internet security threats.
However, aside from the essentials like malware protection, free antiviruses don’t usually offer much else.
For instance, some top free antiviruses come with great malware scanning capabilities as well as real-time malware detection, but they lack extra features like ID theft protections, advanced web protections, and more.
That said, if you only need basic malware protection, a good free antivirus will do the job pretty well.
What are the most common types of viruses that affect Windows computers?
While there are literally billions of malware attacks reported annually, trojans and adware are consistently the most common types of malware found on Windows computers.
Trojans look like other files with extensions like .exe and .doc — but once downloaded, trojans can initiate a backdoor attack to steal user data, to incorporate a Windows device into a botnet, to give a hacker direct access to a computer, or to simply crash and erase the entire OS.
Because hackers are constantly developing new malware for Windows, it’s crucial that your antivirus uses a malware database that’s consistently updated. Norton’s malware database is always up-to-date, with no need for users to worry about downloading or installing database updates.
Will Windows allow me to install a free antivirus?
Absolutely! Windows will automatically turn off Microsoft’s built-in virus protection when a new third-party antivirus software is installed. If you decide to uninstall your third-party antivirus, your PC will automatically ask you to reactivate the Windows Defender antivirus.
That said, if you’re going to replace Defender, you should consider investing a little bit into premium cybersecurity protection. Free antivirus software just isn’t as good as paid antivirus softwares — you really do get what you pay for, and when it comes to keeping all of your devices and digital data safe, a paid antivirus like Norton 360 is definitely worth the investment.
If you’re looking for advanced protection and a lot of other great cybersecurity features, check out this list of the best premium antivirus products on the market.