Updated on: November 22, 2023
Short on time? Here’s the best free Windows antivirus for 2023:
- 🥇 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 heaps of free antiviruses against thousands of Windows malware files, both old and new. 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 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 2023, and is very affordable).
That said, it’s better to use the best free antivirus than no antivirus at all! I found several good free antivirus programs that offer improvements over Windows’s built-in protections, as well as features that aren’t included in Windows Defender at all.
Quick summary of the best free Windows antiviruses for 2023:
- 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.🥉 Panda — Strong virus protection with good additional features (like a gaming mode).
- 4. TotalAV — Simple free antivirus with an intuitive interface (recommended for beginners).
- 5. Malwarebytes — Simple install-and-forget antivirus.
- Plus 5 more!
- Comparison of the Best Free Antiviruses for Windows in 2023.
🥇1. Norton — Best Overall Windows Antivirus in 2023
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 every malware sample, 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.
Norton 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, and audits password security.
- 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 #2 on our list of the best standalone parental control apps).
- Secure browser — shields users from online threats while ensuring a private, safe browsing experience.
- 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.
Norton’s dark web monitoring feature diligently scans the dark web, credit reports, and breach databases to alert you when your personal information is at risk. I really like how, unlike most competitors that rely solely on database-driven breach monitors, Norton employs live human agents. These agents actively delve into dark web forums, which allows Norton to uncover and alert you to data leaks that might otherwise have been missed.
Overall, Norton provides a better user experience than any other antivirus. 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 available, but Norton 360 Deluxe is the best value — plus, with our special 75% 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 antivirus-bundled 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 is one of the best free antiviruses out there — its malware scanner scored a 100% detection rate during my tests. 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 perfect anti-phishing results.
One downside 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 which 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 help you save battery.
Bitdefender’s paid plans are very affordable, starting as low as $17.49 / 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 full-featured password manager) for 5 devices, for only $49.99 / year. Premium Security provides access to all features on up to 10 devices for $79.99 / 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 $42.49 / year.
Bitdefender’s free Windows antivirus is a top-tier, no-frills solution to protect 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. 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.
One reason Panda is a good choice for Windows users is its Rescue Kit, 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!
The Free plan also includes dark web scanning, and while it only scans your email address, I was happy to see that it sends you an alert when there is a new breach (and you don’t have to check manually for breaches like you do with some competitors).
Additionally, I 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 for gaming, as it doesn’t cause any slowdown, allowing for smooth and uninterrupted gaming.
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).
The Panda Dome Premium plan offers unlimited VPN data (and access to worldwide servers), and it also has extra features like a firewall, anti-ransomware protection, anti-phishing protection, advanced system tune-up tools, a password manager, and basic 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 basic 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.
4. 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.
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, TotalAV’s free Windows plan lacks vital features. The biggest drawback of TotalAV Free Antivirus is that it doesn’t have real-time protection, meaning you won’t get notified if a malicious file attempts to make changes to your PC in real time.
Upgrading to a TotalAV premium plan gets you real-time malware protection, as well as useful extras like device optimization tools, a VPN with unlimited data, a password manager, and more. The VPN is pretty good — in fact, it’s our top-rated antivirus-bundled VPN. It works with all major streaming services and supports P2P file sharing on all its servers outside the US. While it didn’t slow down my connection too much, I don’t think it’s quite as good as standalone VPNs like ExpressVPN.
The password manager, Total Password, is decent. It has strong encryption, biometric logins, and 2FA, but I was pretty disappointed to see that it doesn’t support password sharing. For a more complete password manager solution, I still prefer 1Password.
TotalAV’s paid plans start at $19.00 / year to cover 3 devices. But my favorite plan is TotalAV Total Security, which covers 6 devices for $49.00 / year and includes all of TotalAV’s features. All plans are also backed by a risk-free money-back guarantee of 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 the Internet Security or Total Security plans.
5. Malwarebytes Free — Minimalistic Virus Scanner
Malwarebytes Free is a good choice for users looking for a simple antivirus that they can install and forget about. Its virus scanner uses a virus database as well as heuristics to catch all types of malware. 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 and Bitdefender 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).
Malwarebytes’s browser extension blocked most risky sites I tried 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 them.
Malwarebytes performs the basic function of detecting and removing malware efficiently — however, its free version lacks real-time protection, a crucial component for preventing malware intrusion in the first place. What’s more, features like Wi-Fi protection, a firewall, system tune-up tools, and a password manager aren’t available even in the premium plans. If you just need the basics, Malwarebytes is fine, but it’s pretty barebones compared to top competitors like Norton and Bitdefender.
For real-time protection, you can upgrade to Malwarebytes Premium, which provides coverage for up to 5 devices and starts at $39.99 / year. Malwarebytes Premium + Privacy also adds a decent VPN for $28.00 / year. Both of Malwarebytes’s premium plans are covered by a generous 60-day money-back guarantee. Additionally, Malwarebytes Free includes a 14-day free trial of Malwarebytes Premium, allowing you to test the paid features without any risk.
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 (though the ad blocking is hit-and-miss). Upgrading to Malwarebytes Premium brings you real-time protection and coverage for up to 5 devices, whereas Malwarebytes Premium + Privacy also adds a VPN.
6. Avast One Essential — Effective Antivirus With Nice Privacy Tools
Avast One Essential is fairly comprehensive for a free Windows antivirus. It’s actually one of two free antiviruses offered by Avast — the other, Avast Free Antivirus, is basically identical to AVG’s free antivirus. Avast One Essential comes from the company’s newest product line and offers more free features, including a VPN and PC speedup tools. I found it easy to use and was pleased to see that it detected 100% of the malware samples I tested it on.
I like that it encourages users to review their overall online security via the Privacy Advisor. After I ran my first scan, the app automatically suggested I review my privacy settings on various websites and provided links and clear instructions on how to do so.
Avast One Essential comes with a built-in VPN, but it isn’t ideal. You can’t change servers on the free version, and the provider doesn’t have a no-logs policy. Still, it’s nice that it operates within the same app as the antivirus and lets you use up to 5 GB of data each week (which is more than the other free VPNs on this list).
There’s also a powerful firewall that monitors inbound and outbound traffic and blocks malicious connections. Other security features include effective web protections (it blocked almost every malicious site I visited) and Network Inspector, a tool that scans for vulnerabilities in your Wi-Fi connection. I did find the interface a bit cluttered though, and somewhat less intuitive than competitors like TotalAV.
Note that the Avast One product line is only available in a handful of countries. If you don’t live in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Austria, Switzerland, France, Ireland, or Germany, you can’t use Avast One. The company’s other free antivirus is available worldwide.
Avast’s premium plans start at $2.46 / month and include additional protections, such as webcam protection, extra online privacy features, and the ability to use Avast on 5, 10, or 30 devices. Avast also provides credit, social media, and identity theft monitoring to Avast One Platinum customers for $119.88 / year. All paid plans come with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Avast One Essential is a good free antivirus package with a powerful scanner. While it may not be the best free antivirus software out there, it has a solid firewall, good network protections, and nice privacy features. The VPN has a fairly generous data allowance, and the app is quite easy to use. If you want unlimited data or added web protections, you’ll have to subscribe to one of Avast’s premium plans, starting at $2.46 / month.
7. Avira Free Security for Windows — Advanced Cloud-Based Malware Scanner With System Cleanup
Avira Free Security for Windows has a solid anti-malware engine and operates fully in the cloud. This makes Avira fast, lightweight, and easy on system resources. During my testing, Avira’s anti-malware engine detected all of the malware files I previously downloaded to my computer, and I liked that I was able to run CPU-intensive programs during scans with almost zero slowdown.
Avira is also user-friendly — its display is very easy to navigate with all features clearly listed. It comes with many excellent extra features too. These include:
- Safe Shopping browser extension.
- Privacy & performance optimizer.
- VPN (500 MB monthly limit).
- Password manager.
- Game booster.
- File shredder.
The Safe Shopping browser extension is really good — it blocks suspicious phishing sites, web trackers, and unwanted advertisements, and you can download it for Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and Edge. 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 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.
It’s a shame that Avira’s free VPN is limited to just 500 MB per month, which is barely enough to watch a couple of really short videos (and substantially less than Panda offers on its free plan). Plus, Avira only lets you connect to your nearest server location on the free plan.
Avira Prime offers the VPN with unlimited data, and costs $36.99 / year — it’s a bit pricier than some competitors, but it’s one of the best antivirus suites of 2023, 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 a good way to keep your PC safe. It’s lightweight, fast, has great 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 a 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 $15.99 / year.
8. 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.
I really like Kaspersky’s display, which makes it easy to access various security scans and settings. Everything is clearly labeled, well-organized, and complemented by helpful tips.
It also comes with a few extras — including:
- VPN (300 MB daily limit).
- Password manager (5 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, it’s still not enough for streaming or other data-heavy tasks. And Kaspersky’s free password manager only saves a total of 5 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 version doesn’t come with any system optimization tools to speed up your PC. The tools that come with the premium plans aren’t unique, but they get the job done.
To access all of Kaspersky’s features, you can upgrade to one of its paid plans, which start at $34.99 / 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 5 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.
9. AVG AntiVirus Free — Solid Malware Scanner With File Protections
AVG offers a decent free antivirus that’s easy to use and has some nice features. It’s basically identical to Avast Free Antivirus — they’re owned by the same company and feature more or less the same underlying technology. It’s pretty distinct from Avast One Essential, though.
The virus scanner works well — it detected 100% of the malware samples on my PC. What’s more, you can run 5 types of scan. The Deep Scan worked quite well, but the quick-running Smart Scan missed a few items in my test. You can also scan specific folders and external devices or run a boot scan. There’s an option to run a performance scan to tune up your PC, but you can’t do anything with it on the free version.
AVG comes with several features that, though standard, will help protect your files. The File Shield successfully issued a warning when I tried to open up a malware-infected file. I then used the quarantine tool to prevent the files from doing any damage to the rest of my machine.
You get added protection from Behavior Shield, a tool that scans for malware that isn’t listed in databases. It actively scans apps for suspicious activity. If any is found, the program is automatically blocked.
Unfortunately, the ransomware and web protections aren’t perfect. It’s great that all these features come with the free version, but it’d be even better if they worked 100% of the time. The Web Shield only blocked some of the phishing sites I tested, and Ransomware Protection did nothing when I ran a ransomware simulator.
For extra protection from phishing, spyware, and webcam hacking, there’s AVG Internet Security. This premium service costs $39.99 / year. It’s also available as a 30-day free trial, and it comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee. You can bundle Internet Security with AVG’s tune-up tool, anti-tracking tool, and an unlimited-data VPN by getting the Ultimate plan for $51.99 / year.
Overall, AVG’s free antivirus is a solid choice for users who want basic protection for their computer. While it does have some limitations, its ease of use and straightforward features make it an excellent option for users who just need the essentials. To access the more advanced features like webcam protection and an advanced firewall, you have to upgrade to AVG Internet Security (plans start at $39.99 / year).
10. ZoneAlarm — Effective Malware Scanner With a Free Firewall
ZoneAlarm offers a free and effective antivirus solution complete with a firewall. It’s easy enough to use and has good customer support options, even if you don’t have a premium subscription. It also comes with real-time protection and automatic updates, which is pretty cool. However, it’s Windows-only on all but the most expensive plan, and it lacks extra features like a VPN, optimization tools, and a password manager.
During my tests, ZoneAlarm detected all of the malicious files I downloaded onto my PC. The scan took about an hour and provided a report about the threats it neutralized — however it wasn’t nearly as detailed as I’d like it to be. The scan also slowed down my PC quite substantially. If you have an older device, you’re probably better off with a cloud-based tool like Bitdefender.
That said, the inclusion of a firewall on the free app is ZoneAlarm’s best feature. It offers inbound and outbound protection, ensuring your network remains safe from hackers and other threats. It worked well when I simulated a network attack. The free firewall is included with the antivirus and is also available as a standalone product.
Unfortunately, the free version doesn’t come with any web protection, meaning users will still be vulnerable to phishing attempts and other web-based threats. I tested the premium product, and to be honest, it failed to block multiple dubious websites I visited. In short, if you’re using ZoneAlarm, you still need to exercise caution when browsing the web.
If you want web protection, you need the premium product, ZoneAlarm Pro Antivirus + Firewall. It costs $14.95 / year and can cover up to 50 devices for an additional fee. For mobile security and ransomware protection, you need ZoneAlarm Extreme Security NextGen, which goes for $20.95 / year. I think these are pretty decent deals, but if you’re in the market for a premium product, there are better options on this list.
ZoneAlarm is pretty good for a free antivirus. The malware scanner is complemented by an effective firewall and decent real-time protection. It’s lacking in web protection and only works on Windows, but it’s still a good security tool. For more features, you’ll need to get Pro Antivirus + Firewall or the Extreme Security NextGen plan, which adds mobile support and a few other features.
Comparison of the Best Free Antiviruses for Windows in 2023
|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||$54.99 / year*||✅
|Mac, iOS, Android, Chromebook||VPN, password manager, parental controls, dark web monitoring (paid version)||60 days|
|2.🥈 Bitdefender||$17.49 / year||✅||100%||✅||Mac, iOS, Android||/||30 days|
|3.🥉 Panda||$19.20 / year||✅||95%||✅
|Mac, iOS, Android||Rescue kit and basic VPN||30 days|
|4. TotalAV||$19.00 / year||✅
|99%||✅||Mac, iOS, Android, Chromebook||/||30 days|
|5. Malwarebytes||$28.00 / year||✅
|90%||✅||Mac, iOS, Android, Chromebook||/||60 days|
|6. Avast||$2.46||✅||100%||✅||Mac, Android, iOS||Basic VPN||30 days|
|7. Avira||$15.99 / year||✅||100%||✅||Mac, iOS, Android||Basic system tune-up, VPN, and password manager||60 days|
|8. Kaspersky||$34.99 / year||✅||100%||✅
|Mac, iOS, Android||Basic system cleanup, VPN, password manager, and data breach monitoring||30 days|
|9. AVG||$39.99 / year||✅||100%||✅||Mac, Android, iOS||Hack alerts||30 days|
||$14.95 / year||✅||100%||✅
|Windows, Android, iOS||Firewall||30 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 and 11 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 the free antiviruses listed here are better than Windows Defender. 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.
Some of the free programs on my list feature extra 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 any of the products on this list will be good enough for you.
How to Choose the Best Free Windows Antivirus for Your Needs
- Look for great 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.
- Find a product that doesn’t cause too much slowdown. Most antiviruses will 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 are pretty lightweight, so you won’t even notice they’re there.
- Check for extra 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, and Panda has a free VPN (150 MB/day). Paid brands like Norton have all of these features without any limitations, plus webcam protection, parental controls, cloud storage, and more.
- Opt for 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.
- Make sure it’s 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.
- Check for good upgrade prices. It might be that after using a free product for a while, you opt to upgrade to the paid version. There are some products out there that charge extortionate amounts at this point, but all the brands on my list offer very reasonably priced premium plans.
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.
Free antiviruses are usually missing important security features, even if they’re legitimate programs. These are features that you need 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’re 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 those offered by premium antiviruses like Norton, and it’s also missing many of the extra features listed above.
The best premium antiviruses include everything 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 and Panda are pretty good, and they offer decent protection. But free antivirus software doesn’t come with all of the extra features needed for complete online protection — you’ll need a premium antivirus to stay 100% safe.
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.
Overall, if you want complete online protection, 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.
|Features and User Experience||Free Antiviruses||Premium Antiviruses|
|Real-time protection||Often not included.||Frequently updated and fully integrated.|
|Web protection||Available in the form of additional apps and extensions, if available at all.||Advanced and often included in all-in-one apps.|
|VPNs||If provided at all, usually comes with very small data limits and a single available server.||Unlimited data, full set of extra features, lots of server options, and often included in a unified app.|
|Compatible devices||Often Windows only.||Provides coverage for all device types.|
|Password managers||Seldom included and severely limited in terms of features.||Feature-rich with fewer limitations than free versions.|
|Cloud backup||Almost never provided.||Up to 500 GB of safe storage.|
|Customer support||Often limited to FAQs and knowledge bases.||Extensive options including phone and email support, live chat, and more.|
Why We Haven’t Stopped Recommending Kaspersky
The US Federal Communications Commission has labeled Kaspersky as a potential threat to national security in the aftermath of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine in early 2022. Therefore, it may be prudent for individuals involved in national security to refrain from using Kaspersky’s software. Fortunately, this list provides several other highly effective antivirus options as viable alternatives.
But right now, there’s no evidence to suggest 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 is a reputable company with respected researchers in the cybersecurity field, trusted by over 400 million users worldwide and actively involved in uncovering cyber-espionage cases.
Tips to Improve Online Safety in 2023
Free antiviruses can’t fully protect you against all cybersecurity threats — they always have some limitations. 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 protection.
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 protection 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.
If you really don’t want to invest in a premium antivirus, a free one can be ok, 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 include excellent web protections that check the security of each site you’re visiting and block you from accessing malicious and suspicious sites.
- Avoid using unsecured networks. If you have to use one, use a VPN to encrypt your data and shield you from potential hackers who might attempt to steal your information. The top antivirus-bundled VPNs are 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 check out our recommendations for the best free password managers here.
What Free Windows Antiviruses Should You Avoid?
- Wolfram Antivirus. This one is nothing more than a scam. It’s a recent variant of a well-known piece of software that masquerades as a free antivirus. It will not only infect you with malware but also try to get you to pay for the privilege.
- Total Antivirus 2020. Total Antivirus 2020 isn’t effective and might even do harm to your PC. It simply isn’t safe and uses scare tactics and other means to try to convince users to hand over money for the “premium” version.
- Spybot Search & Destroy. I used to really like Spybot Search & Destroy, but these days, it isn’t any good. It really feels like a relic from the past. The interface is tricky, and it’s hard to install as various features are spread out across different apps. What’s more, its malware detection rates are abysmal in 2023.
- ClamAV. Though it’s a good choice for Linux users, I can’t recommend ClamAV for anyone with a Windows PC. It’s light on features and not very intuitive. This can become a significant problem as support options for Windows users are quite limited.
Keep in mind there are lots of other bad free antiviruses out there. Some are ineffective, others are simply annoying because they bombard you with ads and bogus messages, while the worst take the “anti” out of “antivirus”, leaving you with plain old malware. Just because a product isn’t on this list of free antiviruses to avoid doesn’t mean it’s good. Always research a product by reading reviews on trusted websites. If there’s little to no information about an antivirus online, it’s probably no good and best avoided.
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 10. Here are a few of them:
- McAfee. McAfee is one of my favorite antiviruses of 2023. 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
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 are handing out excellent free antivirus software, which offers 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.
Can Windows Defender & another antivirus run together?
Technically, you can run Windows Defender and another antivirus simultaneously. But having two anti-malware engines running at the same time can cause interference, meaning malware and other threats could potentially go undetected.
That’s why I strongly recommend Windows users disable Windows Defender’s antivirus engine once installing a third-party antivirus, like Norton 360.
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 $14.99 / 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 Bitdefender’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.
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.
If you need complete protection for your PC and personal data, it’s best to try a premium antivirus suite, like Norton. That said, if you only need basic malware protection, a good free antivirus will do the job pretty well.
Can antivirus software stop hackers?
Yes, good antiviruses provide strong defenses against hackers. Features such as web protection, firewalls, and real-time protection can prevent cybercriminals from infecting your devices and stealing your information. Antiviruses also come with scanners that can root out any malware currently plaguing your system. In fact, Norton’s scanner detected 100% of malware samples during my tests.
That said, using an antivirus, even if it’s the best one on the market, doesn’t mean hackers can’t get into your computer. Bad actors can still use social engineering and other strategies to get into your system and cause real harm. That’s why it’s important to always practice safe browsing habits, like avoiding sketchy websites and never giving out personal information.
What are the most common types of viruses that affect Windows computers?
Trojans and adware are consistently the most common types of malware found on Windows computers — though there are literally billions of malware attacks of all kinds reported annually.
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.
Do Windows 11 devices really need an antivirus?
Yes, they do! While Windows 11 comes equipped with Windows Defender, this shouldn’t be your sole line of defense. Relying only on Windows Defender can leave you vulnerable to more sophisticated cyber threats such as zero-day attacks, ransomware, and targeted phishing scams.
My advice is to choose quality third-party antivirus software for your Windows 11 PC that offers multi-layered security, including real-time threat detection and anti-phishing protection. Ideally, pick a premium brand like Norton to protect you fully, but the free products on my list also do a better job than Windows Defender of keeping you safe.
What’s the best Windows antivirus overall?
My favorite Windows antivirus, and in fact my favorite overall antivirus, is Norton. While it doesn’t offer a free plan, its excellent malware protection and huge range of additional features for Windows users make it worth every penny.
With Norton’s 360 Deluxe plan, you get an unlimited-data VPN, great parental controls, the best dark web monitoring on the market, secure cloud storage, and so much more. Plus, you can use it across all your devices, as it covers Android, iOS, and Mac, too. Best of all, the generous 60-day money-back guarantee means you can try it out risk-free for 2 months.
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 software — 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.
What’s the difference between a PC cleanup tool and an antivirus?
A PC cleanup tool and an antivirus serve different yet complementary purposes. An antivirus focuses on detecting, quarantining, and removing malware, viruses, and other cybersecurity threats to protect your system from potential harm. On the other hand, a PC cleanup tool is designed to optimize your computer’s performance by cleaning out unnecessary files, fixing registry errors, and managing startup programs. While an antivirus safeguards your PC from external threats, a cleanup tool ensures the smooth operation and longevity of your system by maintaining its internal health.
Can I use free antivirus software for my business?
While it’s technically possible to use free antivirus software for your business, it’s not advisable. Free antivirus solutions often come with serious limitations, such as lack of real-time protection, fewer features, and no customer support, which is a deal-breaker for a business environment. Premium business-oriented antiviruses like Bitdefender offer more comprehensive protection, centralized control, and dedicated support to ensure the security and smooth operation of your business networks and systems.
Can I get a virus from opening an email?
Yes, it’s possible to get a virus from opening an email, especially if it contains malicious attachments or links. Cybercriminals often use phishing emails to distribute malware. However, merely opening the email usually doesn’t trigger the malware — it’s often triggered by downloading an infected attachment or clicking on a malicious link within the email. Using a reputable antivirus solution like Norton 360 and practicing caution when handling emails from unknown or suspicious sources can significantly mitigate the risk of infection.