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Best Free Anti Virus & Anti Spyware Software

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Padlock SecurityAs more and more of our financial transactions move online, it’s critically important for you to secure your computer against intrusion. All it takes is a keylogger and all of your sensitive banking and credit information can be in the hands of some unscrupulous individuals (one of the reasons I never do anything sensitive on an unsecured computer, like at a hotel business center or the library).

The first line of defense is common sense. Don’t install anything that you don’t trust and don’t trust anything you’ve never heard of. Modern internet browsers are much savvier these days, always checking with you before installing anything, so be sure to think about it before mindlessly clicking “Yes” or “OK.” After your common sense, the next line of defense is an effective anti-virus and anti-spyware software package.

Best Free Anti Virus & Anti Spyware Software

The best things in life are free, right? According to Consumer Reports, “free programs … should adequately protect all but the most at-risk Internet users from malware—viruses, spyware, and other online threats.” They say that the pay software packages are usually more convenient and have extra features.

So which of the free packages are best? First, if you’re on a Windows machine, activate the firewall features included with Windows. Next, consider one of these anti-virus and anti-spyware applications.

If you want to buy a package, the two highest rated packages on Consumer Reports are Symantec Norton Internet Security 2010 and BitDefender Internet Security 2010. Those are the only two products ranked higher than Avira AntiVir Personal 9, paid or free, and I’ve used Norton with great success in the past.

One common strategy people use, and that I use, is to install multiple anti-virus software packages. Some packages have better detection rates and by using more than one, you reduce the risk that a particular virus is always in your anti-virus package’s blind spot. Don’t run multiple programs at the same time (including active protection), there will be conflicts, but run them one after another. Combine that with a firewall and you have what I consider to be a pretty good defense. You won’t be able to protect against everything but if your only concerns are 0-day issues, you’re in as best a shape as you can be.

Which package(s) do you use and what do you think of them? Is there one that I’ve overlooked?

(Photo: carbonnyc)

{ 36 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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36 Responses to “Best Free Anti Virus & Anti Spyware Software”

  1. Glenn Lasher says:

    While curing viruses that arise is a very positive thing, I think that you cannot possibly undervalue the prevention in the first place. Unfortunately, many antivirus solutions (including some that are proactive) put a terrible drag on the performance of your computer.

    As such, I would like to put the idea out there (as I do every opportunity I get) that a good step in the right direction is to use a platform that is secure to begin with, something that Windows is not. Various UNIX variations exist in the world, the most popular of which is Linux.

    Although my job as a UNIX administrator makes me intimately familiar with UNIX, I will tell you something that a lot of people don’t realize is that newer versions of Linux are clean, easy-to-use, and fast.

    I would like to suggest that getting over the fear of the unfamiliar is the way to freedom from this problem.

  2. billsnider says:

    I have McAffee and it is a brute at start up. It seems that it is constantly updating at startup. I do want the protection it offers, so I have learned to start my pc and walk away for 5minutes.

    Bill Snider

    • CK says:

      Switch to Avast, covers you and is much less resource intensive.

      • Shirley says:

        I agree. Although the latest versions of both McAffee and Norton are less resource intense/bloated than the previous ones, they still chomp up more than avast!. My boot time is less than one minute.

  3. I have used AVG for a couple of years, and liked it, but I may give the Avira a try.

  4. BTW, if anyone is wanting the Symantec Norton Internet Security 2010, Staples currently has it for $20. It’s not the free route, but sometimes spending just a couple of bucks can be better.

  5. zapeta says:

    I use AVG and I like it. It is a good free solution and not too system intensive.

  6. Anonymous says:

    multiple antivirus packages is a bad idea. Your computer will not function properly.

  7. Suter says:

    “One common strategy people use, and that I use, is to install multiple anti-virus software packages.”

    This is an insane advice. Most of those applications alone are good enough to protect your system. Most of them can not even work properly with each other on one system. I see PC like this all the time and the only good thing about them is that you have extra 5 minutes to grab a cup of coffee when they boot-up.

    • Mike says:

      Not so. The reality for security tool developers is that it’s a technical impossibility for each developer to receive the same infection data from the field and react to it at the exact same point in time. As a result, it’s not practical to expect any one program to catch 100% of the infections 100% of the time.

      That’s why it’s absolutely essential to run a layered approach to security. The key is to choose programs that are effective, light on resources, and get along well with others. Suites are often appealing as a “catch-all” solution, but they also often won’t get along well with other security solutions due to nothing more than the marketing person’s desire to be the only game in town. Users suffer.

      Choose a good lightweight anti-spyware solution such as SUPERAntiSpyware or Malwarebytes. Both are free. Combine them with an a similarly small and effective anti-virus solution like ESET NOD32. A decent firewall and spam filter and an ounce of common sense, and you’ll be as well protected as can be expected in today’s world.

      Remember, there are over 1,000 new threats issued every single day. Layer your protection and stay safe.

  8. cubiclegeoff says:

    I use Avast and like it, it doesn’t drag down performance much. Although I may look into Avira.

    One thing, trying to run two anti-virus programs at once could cause problems because they sometimes think the other program is a virus.

  9. otipoby says:

    Solution #1 is to simply use common sense. Up until recently, I did not have an anti-virus on my system and I NEVER had a problem. I avoided them due to the performance overhead.

    Now, I use MS security essentials and really like it. It is lean. Along with MS Defender anti-maleware (built into Win7), I sleep easy at night. I use the MS solution because unlike most of the others on the list, MS will not try to up-sell you to their premium product – they do not have a paid version.

    • cubiclegeoff says:

      Unfortunately, even “trustworthy” sites have their flaws and being very careful and using common sense doesn’t protect you 100%.

  10. Shirley says:

    I am currently using the free version of avast! on 5 machines (W98 through W7) and I always install it on computers that I am cleaning up for others or for giving away.

    It is very thorough (you can enable any or all of seven different scanners), maintenance free as it updates itself automatically usually twice a day, it is very light on resources (this is important!) and has boot-time scanning.

    I have never had any malware on my computers since I started using avast! and I have never had any problems with it. Now that is truly a vote for this antivirus because I have two teenaged grandsons using one of these machines. 🙂

  11. I have been using AVG for a while, but will have to look into Avira.
    With computer security, its always better to be proactive and spend time before you run into problems, b/c after you get infected it can be quite difficult to get your machine clean. Thanks for the list & reminder, Jim.

  12. Shirley says:

    AntiSpyware is completely different from antivirus and you can/should have more than one antispyware program running along with one antivirus program.

    I use SpywareBlaster (Javacool Software) for realtime scanning to hopefully keep the major spyware out to begin with, and Spybot Search and Destroy (Safer to clean up traces of sites, cookies (ability to configure those you want to keep, and anything else that happened by.

    Both are free without automatic updating. You will be surprised at the traces Spybot S&D finds.

    • cubiclegeoff says:

      True, I use a separate anti-spyware program (the name escapes me at the moment), but I run it occasionally and it runs behind the scenes as well.

  13. Chris says:

    It’s a TERRIBLE idea to run more than one active anti-virus at a time. Not only do you have multiple programs now doing real-time scans on every file access, open, save, etc. but many of the AV suites will detect the opposing AV AS a virus due to the definition files.

    In my case, I really only recommend Microsoft Security Essentials. Norton 360 is decent as well but why argue with a FREE AV that DOESN’T use unsupported kernel hooks that potentially make the system less secure.

    • Jim says:

      I should have originally clarified that I meant you should run them serially, not in parallel.

      • eric says:

        Good catch because I was going to say the same thing. Running more than one AV package simultaneously just spells trouble.

  14. mannymacho says:

    Another important thing to note is that not only hotel business centers, but also most hotel rooms are unsecured locations. Anyone who knows anything about computers can see the sensitive data you send.

  15. stephen says:

    I’m using Kaspersky Anti-virus 2010. The guy at the Best Buy told me it’s the best but I guess he gave me a wrong advice.

  16. Vic says:

    I use avast! & malwarebytes for my av/malware scanners. If a system is already infected, I like the bitdefender live boot CD. As you are connected to the net via ethernet (sorry no wifi) it will autoupdate the signatures. Its been very successful in ridding those hard to get rid of viruses

  17. Cap says:

    Malwarebytes’s Anti-Malware is key to every windows user’s sanity.

    While not an anti-virus program, it is hands down one of the best anti-malware/spyware program out there.

    I personally don’t even bother with an anti-virus program but that’s just me.

    • I agree. Malwarebytes’s is the best malware and spyware application I have used.

    • Shirley says:

      I do keep free Malwarebytes on hand (and updated) because it is a great application for getting rid of malware, including many hard-to-kill ones.

      But it is not a program that runs in real-time, nor does it prevent anything. It is for cleaning up the mess.

  18. javi says:

    “One common strategy people use, and that I use, is to install multiple anti-virus software packages.”

    This will really slow your computer down. If you want a second opinion, use a free online antivirus scanner, like TrendMicro’s HouseCall or Panda Security ActiveScan. I use these with Microsoft Security Essentials and have not deal with a virus.

  19. lostAnnfound says:

    I use Norton now. I used to use CA, then switched to Avast a couple years ago. Last year I had so many problems with viruses and malware that I ended up losing quite a bit of info on my computer (I take some responsibility for that for not backing up things that should have been…lesson learned). It took three trips to my computer guy to get things operational again and at that time I switched to Norton. No problems since.

  20. nickel says:

    Since nobody has been a smartass yet, I’ll do it…

    I don’t use any of the above. I use a Mac. 😉

    And yeah, I know… PCs are just as (more?) secure, it’s just that people target them instead of Macs, etc., etc. I get it, but the fact still remains that I don’t run AV software and have never gotten a virus.

  21. I’ve been using AVG. I’ve used both McAfee and Norton in the past but they’re resource hogs and can be more trouble than they’re worth.

  22. eric says:

    I have a Mac so I don’t worry too much about this. But when I’m running Boot Camp and using my Windows 7 side on the mac, I like Avira or Avast. I used to prefer AVG but it got to bloated for me recently. For anti spyware or malware, I’m currently liking Malwarebytes.

  23. Christine says:

    Also, many people don’t know that many internet service providers offer free security suites. Comcast offers Norton and ATT offers McAfee.

  24. Lika says:

    Thanks for the post! And I prefer for my MAc PRotemac NetMine ( It’s very useful and functional program.

  25. Nell says:

    ProteMac NetMine is really good!

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