Once malware takes hold of your system, it’s hard to get rid of it. That’s why you must take the proactive approach and install antivirus software before viruses have a chance to infect your computer. If you’re looking for 2020’s best free antivirus software, we’ve got you covered. For this article, we tested out this year’s best anti-malware software to help safeguard your devices against cybersecurity threats—find our top 5 picks for 2020 below.
The best free antivirus software at a glance:
The revels in a minimalist design that makes it low-maintenance. Though the application features no configurations of any kind, it automatically scans your machine in the background using cloud-based detection, subsequently performing a deeper scan if it comes across any malicious software or red flags.
The bundled, real-time virus shield additionally blocks malicious URLs and uses behavior-based detection to protect against potential threats. Newer features include anti-fraud and phishing options that use more advanced filters to warn you away from any sites that have been known to try to steal identities.
In addition to commendable malware blocking and removal, the lightweight program doubles as an excellent anti-rootkit and anti-phishing utility. It performs the latter task by detecting and blocking fraudulent sites through HTTP-based scanning.
AVG has two major selling points. First, it has an impressively broad reach: The software will not only search for viruses and malware, but also helps block suspicious links, prevent suspect downloads, and keep suspicious email attachments from being used. That makes the app a better choice for a family or elderly users on a budget.
The second benefit is AVG’s affinity with Google platforms: It has one of the better Android downloads and can work well on Chrome, too. The free version does offer scans for performance problems to see if you can speed up your PC, but the feature set is still best suited for users who don’t want to do very much except let their antivirus app run.
ZoneAlarm provides firewalls and antivirus scanning, but then goes a step further to address two growing security concerns: ID theft and data loss. Identify theft is prevented by daily credit-monitoring tools and a “credit education specialist” to help you work through any alerts or problems.
ZoneAlarm also provides its cloud backup service for backing up your data and encrypting it for online protection. If you don’t already have a service that helps protect your identity and data, this could be the option for you.
During installation, be aware that ZoneAlarm does try to set Yahoo as your default search engine. If you don’t want that, make sure that you untick the corresponding box.
Malwarebytes provides some of the best and most comprehensive virus-removal software available, frequently making it one of the first go-to sources for tech agencies and support groups alike. Options are divided into four modules. Anti-malware protects against and removes malware with automatic scans, while anti-ransomware helps shield files from ransomware attacks. Anti-exploit helps protect against any known vulnerabilities discovered in your system or apps, while malicious website protection keeps you away from fake or malicious sites.
On top of its robust anti-malware scanning functions, Malwarebytes uses Chameleon technology to get the application running on already infected systems that might otherwise block its deployment.
The only caveat with the free version of Malwarebytes is that it’s more of a remediation tool than a live, protective shield. The scanning tool will find anything once you’re already infected — effectively, too — but doesn’t do much to stop it in the first place. For that, you need the premium version or one of the other tools on this list. Still, as a secondary layer of defense, the free version of Malwarebytes is a must.
Malwarebytes also has a free extension for the Chrome browser which offers much of the same web-protections as the premium client.
In terms of basic protection, Avast is one of the best antivirus programs available. It received one of the highest scores in the most recent AV Test’s protection test. The latest free antivirus suite from Avast is an impressive package. Aside from the usual virus and malware protection — including anti-rootkit and anti-spyware capabilities — the software comes with a slew of customizable options you can toggle on at installation, including protection for your Android devices through Avast mobile Security & Antivirus. The 2020 version of Avast goes the extra mile when it comes to making sure you feel safe using the program; at installation, you will get a very clear breakdown showing how Avast uses your private information.
The company gets out in front of potential malware attacks by initiating scans before an unknown file opens and preventing it from doing so should it throw up any red flags. The software is good at protecting your PC while online, blocking malicious URLs and stopping auto-downloads from occurring while keeping an eye on your app activity to watch for any suspicious issues. The software also includes a “Do Not Disturb” mode that completely silences alerts and popups while you’re watching a movie or playing an important game.
That said, it is worth noting that it was recently reported that Avast also collects its customers’ web browsing data (including Google searches and visits to LinkedIn pages, and porn sites) and sells that data through its parent company, Jumpshot. Now Avast doesn’t deny that it collects and sells user data. Still, Avast did say, according to Cnet, that it doesn’t compile “personal identification information, including name, email address or contact details” and that it does allow users to opt-out of sharing that data.
As a, you’ll be missing out on some features exclusive to the premium package, including auto-scans and auto-updates. Those wanting such upgrades will need to opt for a subscription plan, which is about $70 per year for one Windows PC and $60 per year for one Mac. Still, sticking with the free version will keep you well-protected.