Sophos has been developing business-oriented security software for more than 30 years, but recently it has been expanding into the consumer market with the development of Sophos Home.
The free edition of Sophos Home provides the core security essentials of antivirus and web filtering, and allows you to view and manage the security of multiple devices - Windows or Macs - from a simple web console.
There's an unusual bonus in parental web filtering, which enables restricting the type of content your children can view online.
- Want to try Sophos Home Free? Check out the website here
Sophos' license enables installing Sophos Home Free on up to three devices. Although that sounds reasonable, competing packages which don't require registration, like Avast Free Antivirus, can be installed on as many systems as you like.
The commercial Sophos Home Premium edition builds on this with more advanced real-time, ransomware and web protection, banking protection, advanced malware removal, a privacy module to prevent unauthorized access to your webcam, identity protection, live email and chat support, and more.
Sophos Home Premium looks expensive at $45 for year one, $60 on renewal, but look closely and you'll see this covers up to ten devices. An equivalent license for Bitdefender Antivirus Plus costs $80.
Installing Sophos Home Free gets you a 30-day trial of the Premium edition, too, giving you a chance to check the product out for yourself.
Sophos doesn't allow you to download Sophos Home Free until you've created an account with your name and email address. Bitdefender and Kaspersky also require you to create an account before you can use their free antivirus, but Avast and Avira leave this optional.
We handed over our details, downloaded and launched the installer, and the program set itself up in a couple of minutes, with no further intervention required from us.
Checking our PC post-installation revealed that Sophos Home Free wasn't exactly lightweight, with the program adding 1.1GB of files and at least 17 background processes to our PC. Visible changes were kept to a minimum, though, with little more than a couple of shortcuts and a new system tray icon to show that anything had changed.
Double-click the Sophos Home system tray icon and the program's very simple interface appears. There's some status information (last update, last scan time), a Scan Computer button, My Activity and Settings buttons, and that's essentially it.
Tap the Scan button and Sophos Home Free runs a full system scan on your PC. There's no Quick Scan, no Custom Scan or any other scan type.
You can scan a particular file, folder or drive by right-clicking it in Explorer and selecting Scan With Sophos Home, but, disappointingly, the program doesn't support simultaneous scans. If it's busy running a lengthy system scan, for instance, and you try a right-click scan from Explorer, you're warned that 'a scan is already running, try again later.'
Sophos Home Free has some other options, but they're not available locally. The program can only be configured by logging into your account on the Sophos website. That could be useful if you're installing Sophos Home for your kids, or anyone else who you don't want to be able to play with the settings, but it's otherwise a little inconvenient.
We logged in to our account and an opening screen displayed the status of our Antivirus and Web Protection modules.
A Protection tab allowed us to schedule scans and exclude particular drives, files and folders from checks. You can also enable or disable various modules: real-time protection, potentially unwanted program detection, web protection, and a download reputation service (a safety score for downloads based on their content and website).
There are plenty of options not available in the Free edition - exploit protection, master boot record protection, extras layers of anti-ransomware, banking protection and more - and they're a constant reminder that Sophos Home Free really is quite basic.
Elsewhere, a Web Filtering tab allows you to block access to websites by content type (sex, drugs, gambling, violence and more). There are no presets or templates to speed things up (this person is an 8-year-old, that one is a teenager), and the setting is per device, not user account. Block a category of websites and it’s blocked for everyone.
Elsewhere, a History tab acts as a log for all the significant events on the device, including threats detected and websites blocked.
A Scan button remotely launches a scan on your target device, and an Add Device option gives you a link which you can pass to others to install Sophos Home on their own PCs.
Put it all together and Sophos Home Free doesn't do very much, and if you're only using it on a single system, having to go online to change any settings might become annoying. But the basic interface does ensure the program is very easy to use, and if you need security for the entire family across multiple systems, it could be appealing.
We normally assess the accuracy of an antivirus package by checking its recent performance with the big testing labs, but in this case that's not so easy. Sophos hasn't appeared in AV-Comparatives Real World Protection Test since 2016, for instance, and those results were poor (96.2% protection rate and a ranking of 18 out of 19.)
AV-Test doesn't test Sophos' consumer software, either. It has checked Sophos Endpoint Security and Control product, and recently they've been achieving a consistent 100% protection rate, but that doesn't tell us what the relatively underpowered Sophos Home Free can do.
Our own small-scale tests did at least return positive results, with Sophos Home Free detecting our test malware samples and blocking malicious websites without requiring any browser extensions.
We were hoping to test Sophos Home's behavior monitoring with our own custom ransomware simulator, but the engine went one better by detecting the threat before it could be launched, a great result for a brand-new threat that Sophos won't have seen before.
The lack of options and settings will annoy experienced users, but Sophos Home Free might be worth a look if you're interested in simple antivirus to protect several desktops.
- We've also highlighted the best antivirus