The best free antivirus software for 2017

Your buying guide for antivirus software

There is no excuse for not having antivirus software on your PC because there are lots of free packages. And the good thing about having a free product from one of the leading companies is that they use the same ‘engine’ as their paid-for products.

You do get more if you buy an internet security suite, but what you get in the free version is stripped down package with a smaller feature set. Don’t expect to get extras such as spam filtering, improved firewalls, parental controls, password managers and support for mobile devices, although some of this can be had for free.

The free offerings from Avast, AVG, Avira, Bitdefender and Panda all offer basic antivirus and anti-malware protection, giving you a good chance to keep your PC free of threats which could lose you data and take a lot of time to put right.

Since testing antivirus software with real malware requires a lot of time and effort, not to mention extremely specialist knowledge, we don’t do this ourselves. Instead, we use the latest results from several well-respected independent test houses, including SE Labs, AV-test.organd AV Comparatives.

Is free antivirus really free?

Yes it is. But you may trade off some privacy. For example, AVG’s privacy policy, showing what rights it takes over your personal and non-personal information when you download and use its free product, caused quite a furore when it was published. You grant it the right to share some of your (non-personal) information to third parties, which may include advertisers.

Some have said ‘Well, this is just AVG being more upfront about its policy; they all do it’, so we checked at what each company says in its privacy policy. They’re not all the same: some require you to opt out to prevent sharing and some ask you to opt in, but will respect your decision if you don’t, and some don’t share your information at all with third parties.

Best free antivirusBest is Bitdefender, which claims not to share information with anybody outside its own company or subsidiaries. We think this is as it should be with a security product, but second-best is the assumption not to share, with an opt-in, should you want to receive ‘relevant’ offers. This is what Avast and Avira do. Panda does the same as AVG, requiring you to specifically unsubscribe to avoid security-related emails.

Does free antivirus software work?

Antivirus software is designed to prevent damaging programs from infecting your PC and laptop. All the free products here do that, but not all are as effective as others. As a secondary task, though, the full paid-for products should reduce the amount of unwanted advertising and offers that get through to you, and they usually offer quite a few other features as we mentioned above.

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