If you've ever had to deal with a particularly stubborn virus, you'll know how important antivirus software is. These programs prevent malware from downloading to your device and wreaking havoc—and some have extra goodies like firewalls and system scanners that can put a stop to threats before you ever know they're there. However, you'll need to pay for most antivirus software, which begs a question: does free antivirus work as well?
The short answer is that it can. Some of today's best antivirus programs have free versions that'll work for most users—and they offer these to give you a taste of the full-fat program in the hopes that you'll upgrade. On the other hand, some free antivirus programs can inundate you with ads and annoying popups, or even themselves be scams designed to gobble up your sensitive data.
Luckily, me and the rest of the TechRadar team have tested dozens of antivirus programs over the years. I've rounded up the best free options on the market today, comparing their security tools, scan duration, and level of malware protection.
Best paid antivirus software
Free is great—but sometimes a paid option is a better bet.
Paid antivirus subscriptions give you a lot more in your security tool bag. Often higher-tiered solutions have features like spam filters, parental controls, system scans, and advanced firewalls. This makes them more suitable for those who want a bit of extra security.
We also recommend paid antivirus software for families with younger, click-happy kiddos who don't recognize potential malicious links and websites. Here are our top three antivirus software picks.
1. Bitdefender Total Security: the absolute best in malware protection
Bitdefender stops threats so quickly you won't have time to realize you were ever in danger. It has its own secure banking tools and a VPN, and its apps are simple enough for beginners to use without frustration.
Bitdefender does have a free antivirus program, but it doesn't have the extra security tools above. Luckily Bitdefender Total Security has a free trial to let you fiddle around with all the extras before buying. Try it free for 30 days.
2. Norton 360 Select: stops malware plus includes identity theft protection
Norton 360 detects and blocks all sorts of threats—ransomware included. In fact, thanks to its use of smart technology, Norton 360 can even spot new threats that haven't even been cataloged.
The LifeLock feature is particularly handy, as it'll keep an eye on your digital identity and help you restore it if it's stolen. You can take Norton 360 for a test drive with an especially generous 60-day money-back guarantee, too.
3. Avast One: a long list of features plus an excellent gamer mode
Avast One is an all-in-one security solution stacked with features. You'll be covered by ransomware protection, unlimited VPN access, and sleek apps for all devices.
You can use the Avast One Free program to get a feel of how the program works, but it's worth getting the full program and taking advantage of its advanced privacy and protection tools. You can try Avast One out risk-free with its 30-day guarantee.
The problems with free antivirus software
With budgets getting tighter, we understand the appeal of free antivirus software. While there have been great changes in free subscriptions, the most notable being they now offer real-time malware protection, they are still minimal compared to a full antivirus security suite.
There are some exceptions, but most free antivirus programs don't offer web protections. This means they won't stop malware from downloading if you accidentally click on a malicious link. They will snatch it before it has a chance to infract your computer, but we feel better than a threatening file doesn't get that far into the process.
Web protections are also important for reducing the risk of phishing schemes, one of the most prevalent and dangerous threats to consumers right now. This is because phishing scams are the gateway to identity theft. Paid antivirus software has web protections to stop you from visiting web pages that have phishing schemes on them, and most have additional phishing nets to keep these scams from getting into your email inbox.
Other missing tools from free antivirus software are firewalls, which protect you when connected to public wifi, password managers, which help protect your online and physical identity, and access to a VPN. A virtual private network (VPN) shields you from being tracked online and gives you added privacy from cyber snoops.
Free antivirus is a good place to start, but we really do recommend eventually upgrading to one of the best antivirus software for your best chance of fighting malware.
The best free antivirus software in 2024
Why you can trust TechRadar
Let's dig in to my top picks, where I discuss everything I liked and didn't like about each provider, as well as my most recent test results.
The best free antivirus in 2024
Our expert review:
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
✔️ You are a gamer: the gaming mode of Avast One is amazing. Once set, it recognizes when you're playing and suspends non-essential tasks to give you all the power and protection without lag.
✔️ You want added privacy: Avast is the only free antivirus software that includes a VPN. It's limited, but it is there.
❌ You want to avoid popup ads: you get a lot of messages and alerts with Avast. To avoid these, stick with Microsoft Defender.
❌ You don't want your computer to drag: Avast causes apps to open and web pages to load slower. Bitdefender is a better solution to avoid this.
🔒 Avast One has high protection scores from top antivirus test labs and in our own in-house evaluations. It comes with so many extra tools that others reserve for paid subscriptions, which is why it's our top pick for free antivirus.
Check out our Avast One review to learn details of what we found during testing and the benefits of the paid Avast One offerings.
Avast is one of the most known and used antivirus solutions worldwide. Along with Avira and AVG, Avast falls under the same company umbrella as Norton, so it has a lot of resources at its disposal. It recently released its newest antivirus offering, Avast One, including a free version.
Recent protection tests by AV-Test and AV-Comparatives rank Avast high on their list and among the few with the best malware detection rates. Our in-house tests consistently mirror these findings, flagging, blocking, and placing test malware fils into quarantines. This shows us Avast handles threats correctly. We even used a ransomware simulator to make sure Avast stops this type of dangerous malware, and it did.
Avast One works with Windows and Mac computers and on Android phones and tablets. You can't use a single program to protect all three, but you can download the specific version on each device. Since this is a free service, there isn't a way to manage them all under one account.
Even though it is a free program, Avast One gives you some great advanced security tools that most antivirus software reserves for paid subscriptions. For example, Avast includes an automatic gaming mode to mute popups and reduces system load when you're firing up a processor-hungry game. This keeps you safe while freeing up all available resources for gameplay and pausing functions that could create lag or buffering.
There's a password manager, too, which is an undeniably good addition to your security portfolio, plus Avast gives you access to its VPN. This virtual private network (VPN) shields your online identity and movements so they can't be watched, intercepted, or traced back to you. There is a monthly usage cap with the free version, but it's enough for casual searching, social media browsing, or sending email.
Less impressive is the slight negative effect Avast has on software launch times, and its slightly popup-heavy attitude. Most free antivirus overwhelms you with messages encouraging you to upgrade to its paid subscription, but Avast has more than we'd like to see. Another sneaky motion to be aware of, Avast will download its browser and automatically set it as your default browser unless you disable this feature. This is done on the installer, but the permissions are in small text that's easy to miss.
|High-rated malware protection
|Creates some slowdown, plus lots of popup messages
|Ease of use
|Easy to run scans, but other features are trickier to use
|More tools than any other free programs
|Live support is always available for every user
The fastest free antivirus software
Our expert review:
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
✔️ You want fast protection: Bitdefender is so efficient it blocks and scrubs threats before you realize what's happened.
✔️ You need an antivirus that doesn't use too many resources: this software is light on your system and doesn't create noticeable lag.
❌ You want quicker scans: this antivirus takes a long time to finish both virus and system scans, though it doesn't cause lag while doing so.
❌ You need extra protections: Bitdefender free doesn't come with anything more than real-time malware protection. For other tools like a VPN, check out Avast.
🔒 Bitdefender is our top, paid antivirus software pick because of how well and fast it blocks threats. Its free version is basic but still impresses with its level of overall security.
Bitdefender Total Security is our top pick as the best antivirus software, so it makes sense to put Bitdefender Antivirus Free in this guide. You get the same level of malware protection with the free antivirus as you do with the paid subscription, including real-time detection and web protection.
With the Bitdefender browser extension enabled, this antivirus stops malicious files before they have a chance to start the download process. The threat is not only blocked but scooped up and scrubbed clean so there isn't a way for it to accidentally attack your system in the future.
Web protection also blocks you from accessing webpages that are known to hide threats on them. These could be malicious downloads or phishing schemes designed to trick you into providing personal and financial information.
If a threat does sneak in, Bitdefender can usually scoop it up quickly and neutralize it. However, if you already have a malware attack on your computer, Bitdefender isn't the best for dealing with it. For current malware on your computer, we recommend using Malwarebytes.
Malware removal tools are specifically designed to fight against threats and remove them from your system. This allows an antivirus program, like Bitdefender, to then protect your computer from future attacks.
Bitdefender Antivirus Free doesn't come with any other security tools. It doesn't have a firewall, no system scanners, or a VPN. These are available with paid subscriptions, though, and we recommend using one of Bitdefender's higher-tiered options for the best system security. Regardless, you won't experience the same slowdown that other antivirus software creates because Bitdefender doesn't use much of your device's resources.
|Quickly recognizes and stops malware in its tracks
|Doesn't take up unnecessary resources
|Ease of use
|A few extra steps during install, but a breeze after that
|No other tools or features are included
|Doesn't have live support, but the online support library is impressive with video tutorials and a community message board