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How to: Choose a free antivirus that’s right for you
There's no way you can be safe online without an antivirus
Ok, maybe there's more to computer security than simply using an antivirus, but it still is a critical layer of protection. For a home computer user, a free antivirus can be a good solution, especially when used in conjunction with other security tools (e.g. firewall).
Since there is a good amount of popular free antivirus programs, you have to be very careful when choosing one. There are several important aspects to consider, when deciding which antivirus product you should use.
For both experienced and beginner users, the graphical interface of an antivirus is extremely important. A beginner needs an easy-to-use interface, with straightforward options. A power user will require a quick way to access advanced features.
An antivirus UI should also be easy to read & navigate, offer straightforward options and have a well organized layout. After that, it's just a matter of personal taste.
The functionality of an antivirus can include many things. Besides the essential ones, there are other features that can be very useful, but only for some people. Either way, let's see what a good antivirus should definitely include:
With real-time protection, your computer will be protected against viruses at all times. Malicious behaviors are detected through heuristic analysis and files are compared to the virus signatures database to see if they contain any potentially malicious code.
Multiple scan modes
They might be called differently from one antivirus to another but the main idea is the same. The program should be offering a quick scan (analyzing only the most vulnerable areas of the system) and a full scan. Additionally, some antiviruses also offer the possibility to create a custom scan and manually set the priority for system resource usage, making the scan faster but more demanding or slower but lighter on the system.
Another very important function is the scan scheduler. This is not something you can find in all free antivirus programs, but some do offer it. With the scan scheduler the user can create a scan schedule that fully automates the scan process at regular intervals.
Most free antivirus programs have this function, although it might not be of such good quality. Since there are some very good removal-only security apps like Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, it's safe to say that malware detection and blocking is more important in a free antivirus than it's removal tool.
Either way, an antivirus that can efficiently clean an infected system is definitely something to appreciate and will save you the trouble of installing an additional tool.
5 Popular Free Antivirus Programs
AVG Anti-Virus FREE
The free antivirus from AVG is one of the most popular choices for quite some time. The latest edition of AVG Anti-Virus FREE comes with a clean, tile-based interface inspired by Windows 8 that's very easy to use and doesn't compromise when it comes to protection.
The program has very good malware detection and removal scores and it includes other security functionsl such as identity theft protection, an email scanner and the LinkScanner Surf-Shield that will keep you safe while browsing the Web.
Although it usually does a good job at removing malware, Occasionally problems can appear and it's not a very easy to install program on an already infected system.
avast! Free Antivirus
avast! Free Antivirus is a great choice if your rig doesn't have such a great performance or its old. Easy to install and light on the system resources, the free edition of avast! Antivirus does very good at detecting and blocking malicious downloads and URLs. Besides the regular scan, avast! has a boot-time scan that will analyze your system and remove malware before system boot.
It includes a very useful tool for removal of unwanted browser toolbars and the Software Updater lets you know when you have program updates you might have missed. avast! Free Antivirus also offers the possibility of automatically sandboxing suspicious applications.
Avira Free Antivirus
Avira Free Antivirus has protection divided into PC and Internet and despite its well-organized UI, the layout might seem a bit confusing at first for inexperienced users. The program has a robust antivirus engine that received very good scores in malware blocking tests.
Avira's free antivirus product also includes some useful extras for the web, such as an ad blocker, an antiphishing tool and protection for social networks. The latest version of the program has moved up from searching updates on a daily basis to searching them every 6 hours which is definitely a plus.
Sadly, when it comes to installing it on already infected systems, the task can be very complicated and time-consuming. Also, the program does have a significant impact on system performance when compared to similar software.
Panda Cloud Antivirus Free
Panda's free antivirus is using the cloud to keep your system protected. It means that as along as you are connected to the Internet, the antivirus will use its virus database stored in the cloud and perform most operations there. This translates into a very small and lightweight antivirus, that keeps only a small database of virus signature (the most common ones) stored in your computer and uses little system resources.
Panda Cloud Antivirus Free has a very easy to use interface, making it a good choice for beginners or non-technical users. It does a very good job at keeping malware away from your system. The program is not a very capable malware removal tool, but for that Panda offers another free tool with a more aggressive approach, specifically designed for this purpose (Panda Cloud Cleaner).
For a computer that mostly stays connected to the Internet, Panda Cloud Antivirus is one of the lightest antiviruses in terms of both size and resource usage. Nevertheless, Panda's cloud based antivirus doesn't manage to offer the same level of protection in an offline environment and it also includes some disabled features only available in the commercial version of the program.
Comodo Internet Security
With a modern, freshly redesigned UI, Comodo Internet Security offers more features than your regular free antivirus and mixes traditional and cloud-based protection.
The fact that Comodo Internet Security offers a free antivirus and firewall in the same package is to be appreciated since it's not something you can easily find in other products. The Behavior Blocker included in the program has a very high malware detection rate, but it also generates a high number of false positives (although lower than for previous versions) at least in the beginning, until you whitelist most of them. When detecting a potentially suspicious application, the Behavior Blocker offers the possibility of sandboxing (isolating) it.
The weakest spot of Comodo Internet Security is its firewall. Some malware can get past it, even though the Behavior Blocker detects suspicious activity. Also, the program can cause system slowdowns occasionally, so it's definitely not the lightest alternative.
Any free antivirus program has some strengths and weaknesses. That's why when choosing the best free antivirus, you have to decide what features matter most to you and which are the ones you are willing to compromise on.
For a home user, the above mentioned programs offer a decent level of protection and all of them are designed to be easily accessible even for beginners.