Kaspersky Free Antivirus is a simple, straightforward and entirely free malware eliminator from Russian security giant Kaspersky Lab.
As usual with free products, the feature list covers only the core essentials: antivirus, web filtering to ensure you're not able to access dangerous links, and very little else.
On the plus side, the engine hasn't been hobbled or restricted in any way to force you to upgrade. It has all the same powerful detection capabilities of Kaspersky's commercial products.
Kaspersky made the headlines in 2017 when the US Department of Home Security moved to ban Kaspersky products from use in US government agencies. The reasons are unclear, although suggestions have ranged from basic privacy issues (personal data being sent to Kaspersky servers) to hackers using the software to steal confidential data from a National Security Agency contractor.
That has to be a concern, and you might feel it's enough that you shouldn't use the software. But we can only base reviews on our experience and the evidence, and as we've yet to see any evidence to support these stories, we're not going to take account of them in this review.
While many security companies boast about their free antivirus, Kaspersky keeps its offering a little more hidden. It's not highlighted on the website home page, or the products section, and visitors may not even realise it's available unless they spot the Free Tools page (and it's not obvious, even there.)
We understand that Kaspersky would prefer users to buy its commercial products, but this lack of information is a problem, as the website doesn't clearly explain what Kaspersky Free does and doesn't do, and how it differs from the paid versions.
If you can find the program, it's easy enough to try. A couple of clicks downloads the installer, and after a couple more, Kaspersky Free installed itself in under a minute on our test PC.
You must create a My Kaspersky account before you can use the program, which requires handing over your email address. That's not unusual, Bitdefender Free Antivirus does something similar, but companies such as Avast and Avira allow their software to be used without requiring any personal data.
Once your account is created, Kaspersky Free launches in full and you're able to explore it further.
Kaspersky Free opens with a very simple console which displays your security status and some icons representing the actions you can perform. Only two of these - Scan, Database Update - are available in the free edition, while the others are greyed out and inaccessible (Safe Money, Privacy Protection, Parental Control, Protection for all devices.)
Tapping Scan gives you Full Scan, Quick Scan, Selective Scan and External Drive Scan options. You're able to run any of these scan types in a couple of clicks and scan times were relatively speedy on our test system, with quick checks taking as little as a minute. Full and Quick Scans can also be scheduled to automatically run when you're not around.
Kaspersky doesn't enable creating custom scans, unfortunately. There's nothing to match Avast Free's ability to set up multiple scan types, defining both the areas to be checked and customising the scan settings used to check them.
The program does at least make up for these by providing plenty of global settings. You're able to define what each scan type will inspect and how the program does it, set exclusions to minimise false alarms, adjust performance settings to optimise speed or battery life, password-protect Kaspersky to prevent others changing its settings, and export those settings for use on other computers.
Right-clicking an executable file in Explorer gives you the usual option to scan it for viruses, but you can also ask Kaspersky to display its reputation. This includes details like when the file was first seen and the number of other Kaspersky users who have it, all very useful clues when you're trying to understand if a file is dangerous or not. (You can check this out without installing Kaspersky by going to its whitelisted site list.)
Kaspersky Free Antivirus also includes a capable web filtering layer to block access to malicious websites. The engine checks for malware and runs a real-time check to detect phishing sites, and in our experience both functions work very well.
The only remaining feature we could find was a simple on-screen keyboard which may allow you to enter user names, passwords or other confidential information without it being logged by malware. This can't offer any guarantees - if malware has managed to install itself on your system then you're in all kinds of trouble, whether you use the keyboard or not - but it's still a welcome, if small addition to the package.
Kaspersky products have a strong record for accuracy and consistency with all the major testing labs.
AV-Comparatives' Real-World Protection Test, for instance, is a comprehensive benchmark of how well an antivirus can keep you safe from known and undiscovered threats. The two summary reports for 2016 saw Kaspersky gain fourth and fifth places out of 21 with 99.7% and 99.8% protection rates, while 2017 saw the company score a third (99.8%) and seventh place (99.7%).
This isn't quite market-leading, but it's not far away, and the consistency suggests you'll be able to rely on Kaspersky in the long term.
In another notable plus, AV-Comparatives found Kaspersky raised exceptionally few false alarms, just six over all of 2016 and 2017. To put that in perspective, Trend Micro outperformed Kaspersky in three of the four tests, but its false alarm total was 189.
Test procedures vary between labs, but AV-Test reports tell much the same story. Kaspersky has received top marks and a Top Product award for every Windows 7 and 10 test since October 2016, and the report also highlighted the very low number of false alarms: just two in the last four Windows 10 tests (the industry average was 24.)
These tests were based on Kaspersky Internet Security rather than Free Antivirus, so the results need to be interpreted with a little care. The core antivirus engine and web filter are the same, though, and overall it's clear that Kaspersky offers better, more consistent and reliable detection rates than most.
A very basic and stripped-back product, but you still get all the core antivirus essentials and they do a great job of keeping you safe.
- We’ve chosen the best free antivirus software in this roundup