Here is what you need to know about free antivirus software

Here is what you need to know about free antivirus software
(Image credit: Future Publishing)

If you are using Windows 10, you will almost certainly already have antivirus protection already courtesy of Microsoft. So why would you need to pay for one when you already have a security solution present? Well, here are some genuinely good reasons why you should opt for a paid antivirus application instead of keeping or downloading a freebie.

Today's best free security download is Avira Free Antivirus

Today's best free security download is Avira Free Antivirus
Avira takes the title of our favorite freebie right now. In addition to scoring brilliantly for pure virus protection from independent test labs, it also comes with a whole host of features like anti-ransomware, scam protection, password manager and even a free VPN.

No-go for businesses?

In general, antivirus companies do not allow the use of free antivirus in a business, allowing only a strict personal, non-commercial home usage. Why? Some would argue that it’s because there is no reason to kill a lucrative market. However, what most companies need to ensure a solid level of protection goes past the ‘mere antivirus’ tool.

Layered defense technologies built on top of antivirus engines are a minimum of protection for businesses, and anti-malware vendors would rather not promote their basic technologies as a silver bullet for a company’s cybersecurity challenges.

Make sure you read the EULA (End User License Agreement) before completing the installation of any antivirus product, or your company might be in breach of the terms and conditions of use.

You simply get far more by paying

Using free mobile antivirus? Read this then

Before you download free virus protection from Google Play or Apple’s App Store, run through this checklist first:

1. Is the app really free or does it charge in-app purchases for most things?
2. Does it really detect viruses, or generate false alarms to make you believe that it’s working?
3. Is it asking for too many permissions?
4. Does it use a throwaway email address (Gmail, Yandex, Protonmail) that makes it difficult to track?
5. Does it have a website where you can get support?
6. Is it trying to usurp the identity of another product?
7. When was the app last updated?
8. Is there a high percentage of negative reviews?
9. Are most reviews older than one year?

The old adage “you get what you pay for” is true for free software and antivirus in particular. Free antivirus provides just that – free protection against viruses and malware, and nothing more. They often use the same core engine as paid-for solutions, but are stripped of any additional but still important features.

Pay a bit more and you can get a more complete solution: some offer ransomware protection, a VPN, a password manager, a firewall, parental controls and a dozen more features, across up to five devices, for as little as pennies per day per device.

Paying for something means you can demand a minimum quality of service

Should you complain about something you received for free? Sure, you can, but chances are that vendors will prioritize problems that come from paid customers. Those customers are likely to get updates and fixes faster than those using the free version.

Nevertheless, you can always try the software first – Bitdefender, like others, offers a no-commitment 30-day free trial which can be used to test the security solution. After which you can decide whether or not you want to fork out some money, or not.

Remember, the longer your subscription and the more devices you have, the cheaper the cost per device, as a rule of thumb. Safeguarding 10 devices for three years can cost as little as £0.38 a month, with complete anti-malware protection on mobile and fixed devices.

You get better management solutions

A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and this holds true in online security as well. Cybercriminals and hackers can penetrate a network by relentlessly searching for an unprotected device. Securing all your smartphones and other devices can become a management nightmare – especially with free virus protection programs.

That’s why some antivirus companies bundle management features with their paid offering. Look for a good one-stop security center which is multi-platform and works just as well from a mobile or from a laptop.

Go beyond your devices

There’s a new generation of advanced hardware devices that promise to secure your home even better. The Bitdefender Box 2 is one of them, and secures all devices connected to your wired/wireless network with no limits on what you can download or how many devices are connected. It is compatible with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, and includes free installation and setup.

Souped-up hardware and excellent connectivity means the Box 2 could even improve your broadband connection. Such revolutionary features are only available to paid-for users.

What about free mobile antivirus?

There are more than 250 antivirus apps on Google Play, with most of them being free. Yet the chances are that a lot of those apps don’t provide malware protection out of charity. After all, they need some sort of revenue to grow sustainably, and if they do not offer in-app purchases, it can only mean one thing: You’re the product.

Certain categories of free software are genuinely free, like operating systems (Linux) or browsers (Chromium), but others, like antivirus, require maintenance, financial and human investment, and updates to keep up with the competition or the bad guys.

Ask yourself: Where do free antivirus firms that don’t offer a paid option get their revenues from? On average more than half of employees at any antivirus companies are engineers and researchers.

Desire Athow
Managing Editor, TechRadar Pro

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website builders and web hosting when DHTML and frames were in vogue and started narrating about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium.