The best free anti-spyware and anti-malware software 2016

Defeat online irritants and net nasties with these fantastic freebies

The best anti-spyware and anti-malware

Using an internet-connected PC without anti-spyware and anti-malware protection is rather like walking through the bad bit of town covered in bling, waving big wads of notes around and shouting "I am very bad at fighting!" Luckily you don't need to have big wads of notes to ensure that you don't get ripped off through your router or mugged via modem: as we'll discover in our feature, there are plenty of seriously good PC protection apps that you can get for absolutely nothing.

Have we missed an anti-spyware program that's saved your system? Let us know in the comments below.

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BitDefender Anti Virus Free Edition is the best free anti spyware and anti malware software

BitDefender provides a simple, hassle-free way to keep your PC safe from malware

1. BitDefender Antivirus Free Edition

Download BitDefender Anti Virus Free Edition free

Discreet protection from online security threats, BitDefender is the best anti-malware around

BitDefender Antivirus Free Edition is the strong, silent type. This anti-spyware and anti-malware tool doesn't even ask questions when you install it. What it does instead is use a range of tactics to identify bad things. It has B-Have, which looks for apps behaving badly; link scanning to identify cons; proactive malware and spyware scanning that can detect threats nobody has encountered before; and boot scanning every time you start your PC.

Ad-free, nag-free and hassle-free, it's a great product that runs quickly and silently while you get on with something more interesting.

Its comprehensive suite of tools to protect your PC makes BitDefender our top pick. Read on to discover nine more of the best free anti-spyware and anti-malware programs.

Download here: BitDefender Antivirus Free Edition

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Panda Free Anti Virus 2016

Panda Free Antivirus uses cloud servers to lighten the load on your PC's resources

2. Panda Free Antivirus

Download Panda Free Antivirus 2016 free

Cloud-based protection from malware and spyware that takes the pressure off your PC's processor

We're big fans of Panda's security products, and Panda Free Antivirus is smarter than ever before. It's cloud-based, with all the heavy lifting happening on Panda's servers - so the load on your PC is lessened considerably.

As ever there are paid anti-spyware and anti-malware products that offer more features - Wi-Fi scanning, password management, encryption, parental controls and so on - but Panda offers excellent real-time protection and is ridiculously simple to use.

If your PC is a little underpowered, Panda could be the anti-spyware and anti-malware tool for you.

Download here: Panda Free Antivirus

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AVG Anti Virus Free 2016

AVG AntiVirus Free presents frequent pop-ups, but is a reliable security solution

3. AVG AntiVirus Free

Download AVG Anti Virus Free 2016

A simple interface and effective scanning with remote activation

If you prefer software that keeps quiet, be warned - AVG Antivirus Free is quite vocal with its notifications, and irks us from time to time with pop-ups telling us we've done something fantastic with regard to our online safety.

As an anti-spyware and anti-malware app, though, it's very good. The dashboard is user-friendly, there's protection not just from downloadable threats, but from dodgy links too, and you can use your mobile to scan your PC remotely, which is pretty clever.

The paid-for Pro model has more security options - it has more robust download protection, offers data encryption includes a firewall - but the free version offers decent protection for most PC users.

Download here: AVG Antivirus Free

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Ad Aware Free Anti Virus

Ad-Aware Free Anti-Virus+ covers all the fundamentals of PC security

4. Ad-Aware Free Anti-Virus+

Download Ad Aware Free Anti Virus free

All the anti-malware and anti-spyware essentials you need, but lacking phishing protection

Like many security software firms, Lavasoft offers its Ad-Aware Free Anti-Virus+ software in a free version in the hope you'll upgrade to its paid-for products - so it doesn't have some of the more advanced features you'd pay money for, such as phishing protection, parental controls and a digital file shredder.

What it does have, however, more than covers the essentials: it scans downloads, checks for spyware, offers safe browsing via a list of known malicious websites and has a game mode so security notifications don't interrupt your frag-fests. Not bad for no money.

Download here: Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+

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MalwareBytes Anti malware

The free version of MalwareBytes Anti-malware is excellent, but the paid-for version is even better

5. MalwareBytes Anti-Malware

Download MalwareBytes Anti Malware free

An excellent anti-malware and anti-spyware, but the free edition lacks real-time protection

You can use MalwareBytes Anti-Malware free for as long as you like, but there's an important caveat: real-time protection, the fast 'hyper scan' mode and malicious website blocking features all expire after 14 days - and that means you're missing out on some of the program's best features.

MalwareBytes has a deserved reputation for destroying malware and spyware that other programs miss, and its chameleon technology - which once again expires after a fortnight in the free version - means it's less susceptible to attacks that deliberately target security software.

Think of the free version as a short-term savior or a test drive; the Premium version costs £19.95 (about US$30, AU$40) per year.

Download here: MalwareBytes Anti-Malware

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Spybot Search and Destroy

The free edition of SpyBot Search and Destroy does an excellent job of cleaning up adware, malware and spyware

6. SpyBot Search and Destroy

Download Spybot Search and Destroy free

An anti-malware and anti-spyware stalwart that's ideal for diagnosing existing infections

SpyBot Search and Destroy is a veteran of the malware wars, dating back to the first adware in 2000, and while it doesn't scan for viruses - that's in the Home version, which is $13.99 (about £10, AU$20) - the free version does a decent job of finding and fixing adware, malware and spyware.

It's more of a system repair tool than a system protection tool, however, and you need to be careful where you get it from: there are fake versions in circulation designed to cause damage, not fix it. The version linked here is the real deal.

Download here: Spybot Search and Destroy

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Avast Free Anti Virus 2016

Avast Free Antivirus is fast, lean and effective

7. Avast Free Antivirus

Download Avast Free Anti Virus 2016 free

A comprehensive package with built-in password management, you can always rely on Avast

Avast is another old-timer, and has been protecting Windows from malware and spyware since PCs were made of wood. Avast Free Antivirus is the lightest, fastest version the company has ever shipped (the bad old days of security software slowing your PC to a crawl are thankfully long gone) and it supplements the anti-malware protection with a nifty password manager and home network monitoring, which can identify weak points in your Wi-Fi.

As with most free products, not all the goodies are available for nothing, so for example if you want anti-phishing protection or spam filtering you'll need the paid-for version, but the free edition is still a very comprehensive security package.

Download here: Avast Free Antivirus

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Emsisoft Emergency Kit

You can carry Emsisoft Emergency Kit on a USB stick for use whenever and wherever you need it

8. Emsisoft Emergency Kit

Download Emsisoft Emergency Kit free

A lifesaver if your PC has already been infected with malware, but not a preventative tool

Most security software tries to stop malware and spyware getting onto your system. Emsisoft Emergency Kit doesn't: it's the 911 call of security software, the app you use when your PC's been poked by something unpleasant.

It's designed to be portable, an app you carry around with you on a USB stick, and its system requirements are tiny: just 200MB of RAM, so it'll run happily on any PC with 1GB memory or more. With two million malware signatures, Emisoft Emergency Kit can restore almost any infected PC to rude health.

Download here: Emsisoft Emergency Kit

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Hijack This

Get detailed information to diagnose your PC with Hijack This

9. HijackThis

Download Hijack This free

For experts only - get detailed reports on a misbehaving PC so you can diagnose the problem

Originally developed by Trend Micro and now available via SourceForge, HijackThis isn't an app for the faint of heart or tech-phobic: it generates an exceptionally detailed report on your system, enabling you to spot potential problems and malicious software.

It's very fast and very thorough, but it's about malware and spyware methods rather than specific products. It tells you what's going on and it's your job to interpret it and take action. In the wrong hands, that power could be disastrous. This is one for experienced users only.

Download here: HijackThis

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SUPERAntiSpyware Free Edition

SUPERAntiSpyware Free Edition doesn't have the friendliest interface, but its feature-set is excellent

10. SUPERAntiSpyware Free Edition

Download SUPERAntiSpyware Free Edition free

An outdated interface belies a solid manual malware scanner with plenty of options for protecting your PC

Not just anti-spyware - SUPER anti-spyware. Does it live up to the name? Yes and no. SUPERAntiSpyware Free Edition lacks real-time protection and scheduled scanning, so it's a tool you need to remember to run manually, and the interface appears to have been designed in the dark by maniacs.

The core product is a solid one though, with lots of scanning options for picking up malware and spyware, registry repair, behavioral scanning and daily threat updates. Perhaps not super, but pretty good.

Download here: SUPERAntiSpyware Free Edition

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Contributor

Former lion tamer, Girls Aloud backing dancer and habitual liar Gary Marshall (Twitter, Google+) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to .net, MacFormat, Tap! and Official Windows Magazine as well as co-writing stacks of how-to tech books. "My job is to cut through the crap," he says. "And there's a lot of crap."