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AVG AntiVirus Free (2017)

Everybody needs antivirus protection. Everybody! And I don't mean the antivirus built into Windows—it just doesn't measure up. Fortunately, you can get that protection without spending a penny. AVG AntiVirus Free (2017) looks a bit different from its previous edition, and it includes some new technologies. In our own tests and tests by the independent labs, it earned very good scores.

Last year, Avast acquired AVG, but fans of either company needn't worry, as both product lines continue their separate existence. Why would a company want to acquire such a similar competitor? Both AVG and Avast have huge followings, but globally each is strong in different areas. The combined company has a worldwide reach.

Of course, AVG only makes money if somebody purchases the for-pay security suite. There's a certain amount of upsell when you go to install the free antivirus, but it's much more laid back than, for example, Comodo. You can choose the free antivirus or start a 30-day free trial of the suite. You don't have to enter a credit card, and if you do nothing, at the end of the trial it reverts to the free antivirus. It does offer to install a plug-in for all of your browsers, and replace your home page, new tab page, and default search. However, as I'll explain below, installing AVG in the browser gets you a ton of useful security features.

Management by Zen

Like all AVG products, the antivirus includes AVG Zen, a management and launching utility that offers an overview of AVG security on all of your devices. It's similar in many ways to the component that helps you manage McAfee AntiVirus Plus and other McAfee products.

Four panels dominate Zen's main window, devoted to antivirus, PC tuneup, VPN, and Web Tuneup. Each panel contains a circle that can be fully or partially colored, depending on whether or not you've installed all possible protection in that area. If all is well, the circle glows green; if your attention is needed, it changes color.

When you install the free antivirus, you see a three-quarter circle in the antivirus panel. That becomes a full circle only if you upgrade to the paid edition. If you followed the installer's instructions regarding Web Tuneup, that panel displays a full circle. As for the VPN panel, that one remains empty unless you separately install the Hide My Ass VPN.

Likewise, you won't see anything in the PC Tuneup panel unless you install AVG PC TuneUp. You do get a one-day trial of the tuneup product along with the free antivirus; I'll discuss that below.

New User Interface

Last year's edition of the antivirus looked extremely similar to AVG Zen, with the same color scheme and the same circle-based status indicators. This year, the color scheme hasn't changed, but almost everything else has.

The main window has two main panes. The Basic protection pane includes icons for computer protection and for Web and email protection, both enabled. The Full protection panes icons represent protection for private data, protection during online payments, and protection against hack attacks, all three disabled. To enable those, you must upgrade to AVG's non-free security suite.

In the middle, below the two panes, is a big button labeled Scan Computer. Clicking it launches a full scan, which does more than just scan for malware. It also scans for junk files, revealing browser traces, system logs, and Registry problems—but if you want to fix those you must start your short-time trial of AVG PC Tuneup.

In testing, the full scan finished in just six minutes, which led me to peruse all the scan options. I found another option called Deep Virus Scan. This scan took over an hour, quite a bit longer than last year's edition of AVG. However, because the scan flags safe files that don't need to be looked at again, a second scan goes much faster. I found that a repeat scan finished in just a few seconds.

Lab Scores High and Plentiful

It may seem counterintuitive, but in most cases antivirus makers pay for the privilege of having products included in testing by the independent labs, but they do benefit. A high score gives the company bragging rights; if the score is poor, the lab lets it know what went wrong. When the antivirus doesn't bring in any income, a company might be tempted to avoid the expense of testing. Not AVG. I follow five independent testing labs that regularly release reports on their results; all five of them include AVG.

Testers at AV-Comparatives run a wide variety of tests on antivirus and other security products; I follow five of those tests closely. As long as a product meets the minimum for certification, it receives a standard rating. Those that go beyond the minimum can receive an Advanced rating, or even Advanced+. AVG participates in four of the five, and received two Advanced and two Advanced+ ratings. Note, though, that Kaspersky and Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition both rated Advanced+ in all five tests.

AV-Test Institute reports on antivirus capabilities in three areas: protection, performance, and usability. With six points possible in each category, the maximum score is 18 points. AVG took six points for usability, meaning it didn't screw up by flagging valid programs or websites as malicious. It came close in the other two categories, with 5.5 apiece.

A total of 17 points isn't enough for AV-Test to designate AVG a Top Product; that requires 17.5 or better. Bitdefender, Quick Heal, and Trend Micro earned the necessary 17.5 points, while Kaspersky and Avira Antivirus managed a perfect 18.

AVG scored 81.05 percent in Virus Bulletin's RAP (Reactive And Proactive) test, just a hair below the current average. SE Labs tests products using real-world drive-by downloads and other Web-based attacks, assigning certification at five levels: AAA, AA, A, B, and C.

While most of the labs report a range of scores, tests by MRG-Effitas are more like pass/fail. Half of the products tested failed at least one test; 30 percent, including AVG, failed both. Since not-quite-perfect and epic failure get the same rating in this test, I give it less weight when coming up with an aggregate score.

Avast Free Antivirus, AVG, ESET, and Kaspersky are the only products in my collection that currently have results from all five labs. AVG's aggregate score is 8.7 of 10 possible points, better than many commercial products. At the top is Kaspersky, with 9.8 points, followed by Avira and Norton with 9.7.

Very Good Malware Blocking

Malicious software from the Internet must get past numerous defenses before it can infect your PC. AVG could block all access to the malware-hosting URL, or wipe out the malware payload before the download finishes—I'll discuss those layers shortly. If a file is already present on your computer, AVG assumes it must have gotten past the earlier protection layers. Even so, it checks one more time before allowing such a file to execute.

To test AVG's malware-blocking chops, I opened a folder containing my current collection of malware samples and tried to execute each one. AVG blocked almost all of them immediately, wiping them out so fast it left Windows displaying an error message that the file could not be found. It wiped out most of those that managed to launch before they could fully install.

Initially I determined that AVG detected 94 percent of the samples and scored 9.0 of 10 possible points. However, upon checking with my company contact, I learned that for full protection I should enable detection of potentially unwanted applications, sometimes called PUAs or PUPs. With that setting enabled, AVG's scores rose to 97 percent detection and 9.5 points, better than many commercial programs. I wish, however, that AVG either enabled detection of PUAs by default or, like ESET NOD32 Antivirus 10, made the user actively choose to enable or disable this protection.

Webroot and Comodo Antivirus 10 scored a perfect 10 in this test. However, when I checked Comodo against hand-modified versions of my samples, it missed quite a few.

When AVG detects a file that's completely new to the system, never before seen, it prevents that file from launching and sends it to AVG headquarters for analysis. I managed to invoke this feature using one of those hand-modified samples. AVG killed the process, triggering a Windows error message. To show it wasn't really an error, AVG attached a CyberCapture tab to the error message.

A few other files merited special scrutiny. AVG displayed a message stating, "Hang on, this file may contain something bad," and promising an evaluation within 15 seconds. All of my hand-coded testing utilities triggered this warning; all three got a clean bill of health.

Detecting my months-old samples is one thing; protecting against the very latest threats is quite another. My malicious URL test uses a feed of URLs detected within the last day or two by MRG-Effitas. An antivirus product gets equal credit if it prevents all access to the malware-hosting URL or if it eliminates the downloaded malware immediately.

I test URL after URL until I've recorded data for 100 verified malware-hosting URLs, then tally the results. AVG blocked access to more than half of the URLs and eliminated almost another quarter at the download stage, for a total of 73 percent protection. That's quite a bit better than Comodo, which lacks URL-based blocking and scores just 37 percent. However, others have done quite a bit better than AVG. Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic holds the lead, with 98 percent protection; Avira managed 95 percent.

Antiphishing Disappointment

Trojans and other malicious programs must successfully infiltrate your compute in order to steal data. Phishing websites, by contrast, only have to trick you, the user. If you log in to a fraudulent site that's pretending to be your bank, or your email provider, you've handed over your account to a crook. Such sites get discovered and blacklisted quickly, but the crooks simply set up new ones.

The most dangerous phishing sites are those that haven't been analyzed yet, so I scour the Web for sites that have been reported as fraudulent but not yet verified. I discard any that don't pretend to be some other site, and any that don't include fields for username and password. I launch each URL in a browser protected by the program under test, and in another protected by long-time phish-killer Norton. I also launch the URL in Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer, relying on the browser's built-in protection. If the URL returns an error message in any of the five browsers (and they often do), I discard it.

Because the URLs themselves are different every time, I report each product's results as the difference between its detection rate and that of the others. In last year's test, AVG lagged Norton's detection rate by 28 percentage points, which is still actually better than the majority of competing products. This time around, it lagged Norton by 70 percentage points, putting it near the bottom. My contact at the company checked with the developers and confirmed that they know about the problem and are working on speedier updates.

Even though Norton is my touchstone for this test, it doesn't beat every single competitor. Check Point ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus+ 2017 tied with Norton in its most recent test. Bitdefender, Kaspersky, and Webroot actually beat Norton by a few points.

Bonus Features

The AVG Web TuneUp plug-in installs in all your browsers and offers several useful and important security benefits. First off, the Site Safety component warns when you visit a website that's risky or actively dangerous. You can click for more details, and click again for a full website report online. However, the full report isn't as detailed as what you get from Norton and a few others. And where Norton marks search results with red, yellow, and green icons, AVG only offers a rating once you try to visit a site.

Advertisers love to track your Web surfing, so they can show you ads they think you'll like, and avoid showing the same ad too often. But tracking by advertisers and others is a bit creepy, enough so that there's a header in the HTTP standard specifically designed to tell websites you don't want to be tracked. Alas, the header has no teeth. Your browser can send a Do Not Track header, but sites and advertisers can ignore it.

AVG's Web TuneUp includes an active Do Not Track component, one that checks each page you visit for trackers and optionally cuts off their tracking. It's disabled by default; I suggest you turn it on. A similar feature in Abine Blur uses its toolbar button to display the number of trackers on the current page and let you fine-tune its tracker blocking. AVG just blocks all trackers when this feature is turned on.

The last tune-up feature, Browser Cleaner, doesn't add a lot to your security. It tracks things like browsing history, saved Web form data, and cookies, and lets you click to delete them. But in Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer, you can simply press Ctrl+Shift+Del to do the same, with finer control over what gets deleted.

As noted, you can at any time install a one-day free trial of AVG PC TuneUp. Don't do this until you have a little free time, so you can make full use of your short-term trial.

The final bonus feature is a little hard to spot. Buried in the right-click menu for files and folders, you should find a new item titled Shred using AVG. If you choose this item, AVG overwrites the file's data before deleting it, thereby foiling any attempt to recover the deleted file's data.

An Excellent Choice

With the Avast acquisition, both the outward appearance and the technology inside are changing for AVG AntiVirus Free, and that's not a bad thing. The antivirus gets very good marks from all of the independent labs that I follow, and also did quite well in my malware-blocking test. It wasn't quite as good at blocking malicious downloads, but still beat many competitors. Yes, its antiphishing performance wasn't great, but phishing protection isn't a central antivirus component. Overall, it's an excellent choice.

But don't just take my word for it. Go ahead and give the program a try; it's free, after all. While you're at it, have a look at Avast Free Antivirus and Panda Free Antivirus, our other Editors' Choice products in the free antivirus realm.

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Comodo Antivirus 10

Some antivirus vendors release a new version every year, with or without the coming year as part of the product name. Others, like Comodo, follow a simple version-number scheme, releasing a new version when it's ready. With Comodo Antivirus 10 the com...

Microsoft includes free antivirus protection with recent versions of Windows, and it does work—to a point. But for full protection against malware, you need a third-party antivirus, and you don't necessarily have to pay for it. Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition (2017) includes all the core malware-fighting components of Bitdefender's paid edition, but without the vast collection of additional security features. This product has gone several years without an update; the latest edition is now compatible with Windows 10.

Installing Bitdefender Free is quick and easy. During the process, it downloads the latest version and scans for active malware. You need to sign up for a Bitdefender account to activate it (or sign in if you already have one). The premium edition's main window isn't especially busy, but the free edition is simplicity itself. There's a button to run the full system scan, a drag/drop spot to scan specific files or folders, and a timeline of recent activity. That's it. There isn't even a separate scan window. When you launch a scan, the scan's progress appears in the events timeline.

Excellent Lab Results

While Bitdefender Free doesn't include every feature of the commercial edition, its core antivirus engine is exactly the same as what the independent labs test. And indeed, all the labs that I follow include Bitdefender in their testing. It scored 84.36 percent in Virus Bulletin's RAP (Reactive And Proactive) test, very close to the current average. PC Pitstop PC Matic blew away the competition in the most recent RAP test, with a score of 99.87 percent.

In the three-part test regularly reported by AV-Test Institute, Bitdefender earned 6 of 6 possible points each for protection and usability, and 5.5 out of 6 for performance. Its total score of 17.5 points makes it a top product. Avira and Kaspersky edged out that score, each taking a perfect 18 points.

The researchers at AV-Comparatives perform a wide variety of tests; I follow five of them. Products that pass a test earn Standard certification, while those that do significantly better receive Advanced or even Advanced+ certification. Bitdefender took Advanced+ in all five tests; only Kaspersky Anti-Virus has matched that feat recently.

Simon Edwards Labs attempts to simulate the real world of malware as closely as possible for testing purposes, using a capture/replay system to present each product with a real-world Web-based attack. Certification from this lab comes at five levels, AAA, AA, A, B, and C. Bitdefender and Avast got AA certification, beaten only by the AAA certification received by ESET, Kaspersky, and Norton.

The tests performed by MRG-Effitas are a bit different from the rest. To pass this lab's banking Trojans test, a product needs a perfect score; anything less is failure. Another test using a wide variety of malware offers two passing levels. If a product absolutely blocks every installation attempt, it passes at Level 1. If some malware gets through, but is eliminated within 24 hours, that earns Level 2. Anything else is a fail. Like two-thirds of all products tested, Bitdefender failed the banking Trojans test. Along with Avast Free Antivirus 2016, Avira, and a few others, Bitdefender passed the broad-spectrum test at Level 2.

Only Avast, AVG AntiVirus Free, Bitdefender, and ESET show up in the test results of all five of the labs that I follow. Bitdefender's excellent performance yields an aggregate lab score of 9.3 points. Avira Antivirus and Norton scored a bit better, and Kaspersky is at the top, with a perfect 10 points, but all the other products I track trail Bitdefender in aggregate lab score.

Very Good Malware Blocking

I always run my own hands-on testing, just to get a feel for the way a product handles malware. If I don't get enough data from the labs, my hands-on test is the only way I can rate antivirus accuracy. In this case, the labs have already made it very clear that Bitdefender is a winner.

Naturally the results of my hands-on malware blocking test were basically the same as what I got when testing Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017 a few months ago. In a few cases the cleanup was more thorough, but not enough to change the score. A detection rate of 90 percent isn't tip-top, nor is an overall score of 8.8 points. Tested with this same collection of samples, Webroot managed 100 percent detection and a perfect 10 points. Avast detected 100 percent of my previous collection and earned 9.7 points. But when my results don't jibe with the findings of the labs, I yield to the labs.

Bitdefender's premium antivirus, along with the suite products, runs by default in AutoPilot mode, meaning that as much as possible it takes care of security without bothering the user. You can turn off AutoPilot in the premium products, but not in the free edition. I observed that in several cases, it silently killed off a malware process and cleaned up its traces, occasionally triggering an error message from Windows about its inability to access the file.

My malicious URL blocking test takes an hour or more to run. In this test, I challenge the antivirus's Web-based protection to keep the browser safe from 100 very fresh malware-hosting URLs. I also give credit if the real-time antivirus eliminates the malicious payload during the download process. I didn't rerun the entire test, since the underlying engine is the same, but I ran a stripped-down version just to verify that the free edition handles malicious URLs. A 90 percent protection rate is quite good, better than all but a few competing products. However, with 98 percent protection, Norton has the top score.

Tops at Antiphishing

The most accurate malware-detection system in the world can't help you if you fall for a scam and give away your precious passwords. Phishing websites masquerade as banks, online merchants, even gaming websites, and do their best to steal your login credentials. They get caught and blacklisted quickly enough, but the fraudsters just grab their winnings and move on.

To test a product's ability to keep users safe from this kind of fraud, I scrape phishing URLs from a variety of reporting sites. I try to get URLs so new that they haven't been analyzed and verified. I run the test simultaneously on the product under testing and on Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic, a consistent antiphishing winner. I also check the protection built into Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.

Hardly any products come even close to Norton's detection rate. Avast and Qihoo 360 Total Security 8.6 did well, coming in just 1 percentage point behind Norton. Webroot beat Norton by 1 percentage point, and Kaspersky beat it by 2 points. But Bitdefender owns this test, coming in 5 percentage points better than Norton.

Note that Bitdefender also aims to detect frauds and scams other than straight phishing websites. The full antivirus product uses specialized icons for such things as escrow scams, online dating scams, and piracy sites. With the free edition, you just get a report that it blocked a phishing attempt or a fraud attempt.

What's Not Here

I've described the entirety of what Bitdefender Free does. The feature list of the full, premium Bitdefender Antivirus goes way, way beyond this. Please read my review (linked above) for full details on what you get by paying for the full edition. I'll list the bonus features here.

The Bitdefender Wallet component is a complete, if basic, password manager. It captures and replays passwords, imports passwords from your browsers, generates strong passwords, and fills Web forms. It doesn't try for advanced features like two-factor authentication or automatic password update.

Bitdefender SafePay is a hardened separate desktop designed to keep your sensitive online transactions safe. Processes running under SafePay are isolated from processes on the regular desktop. The Wi-Fi Advisor both checks your home network's security and warns when you connect to an insecure network. If the antivirus can't eliminate a particularly nasty malware specimen, you can reboot in Rescue Mode to handle the threat outside of Windows.

Using the File Shredder you can delete sensitive files permanently, beyond the possibility of forensic recovery. A Search Advisor add-in marks up dangerous websites in search results. And the Vulnerability Scan checks for missing security updates and for weak Windows passwords. A new ransomware-specific protection layer aims to protect your important files. And none of these jolly bonus features are present in the free edition.

Basic Protection

As you can see, Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition doesn't have the wealth of features that makes its for-pay sibling such a powerhouse. But it totally does contain the same basic protection against malware, malicious websites, and fraudulent sites. If that's exactly what you want, then you needn't spend a penny to get your system protected by Bitdefender.

The feature set of AVG AntiVirus Free includes website rating, file shredding, active blocking of trackers, and a simple browser privacy cleaner. Avast Free Antivirus 2016 offers password management, vulnerability scanning, system cleanup, and an unusual scan for network and router vulnerabilities. Panda Free Antivirus helps clear out unwanted toolbars from your browsers, scans every USB drive you mount, and vaccinates USB drives against malware infestation. These three are our Editors' Choice free antivirus utilities. Of course, since they're all free, you can give each of them (and Bitdefender, too) a try before settling on your favorite free protection.

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Avira Antivirus (2017)

Is it just me, or do too many antivirus product names start with the letters A and V? If any company can stake a claim to those two letters, it's Avira, founded in way back in 1986. With hundreds of millions of users worldwide, the free Avira Antivirus is immensely popular.
It gets excellent lab scores, and it brings along a team of related Avira products.

Given that it's free, I can overlook the fact that both its on-demand scan and real-time protection proved sluggish in testing. The app's main window is largely white, with a white-on-slate menu at left and couple of panels that offer status information and access to features.

From PC Protection, you can launch a scan or an update, toggle real-time protection, or drill down for detailed configuration settings. The Internet Protection panel is a bit weak, by comparison. Web Protection, Mail Protection, and Game Mode are grayed out and disabled, because they're not available in the free edition.

And the firewall item just helps you configure Windows firewall. An Antivirus With a PosseMany security products flip through a series of informational slides during installation, extolling the virtues of the product itself or advertising companion products.

Avira takes the concept a step further.

Each of its informational images both describes a companion product and offers to install that product.
I'll report on the posse of companion products after covering the core antivirus features. Many Scan ChoicesClicking the Scan System button in the PC Protection panel launches a full system scan.

The scan window itself retains the oddball window caption "Luke Filewalker" that I remarked on in previous editions.
I guess George Lucas doesn't mind. A full scan of my standard clean test system took two and a quarter hours, the longest time for any current product, about three times the current average scan time.

That's slow.
Some products speed subsequent scans by skipping files that have already been validated.

For example, a repeat scan with AVG AntiVirus Free finished in just one minute. Not Avira; a second scan took just as long.

Don't be fooled by the progress bar, as it runs to 100 percent multiple times during a scan. Most antivirus products offer a full system scan and a quick scan that focuses on active malware and commonly infected locations. Many add a custom scan that lets you choose where and how the scanner should operate.

Clicking System Scanner in Avira's left-hand menu brings up a dizzying array of scanning choices. Quick scan and full scan are present in the list, naturally. Other choices include scanning all local drives, examining just local hard disks, checking for active malware, and scanning the Documents folder.

Clearly these are meant for the unusually tech-savvy consumer. Most folks will do fine with the basic quick or full scan. Very Good Lab ResultsIn most cases, antivirus companies must pay to be included in testing by the independent labs.

A few of the labs actively help them achieve certification—if the product fails, the vendor gets a punch list of things that need fixing.
ICSA Labs and West Coast Labs offer this type of certification, but Avira doesn't participate with either. More interesting to me are the tests that put a group of products through the exact same evaluation and report how well they did. With those labs, Avira did quite well.
Its score of 85.07 percent in Virus Bulletin's RAP (Reactive and Proactive) test is about halfway between the current average and the current maximum. When the experts at AV-Comparatives determine that a product does everything it should, they certify it at the Standard level.

A product that goes beyond the minimum can earn Advanced certification, or even Advanced+.

Avira participates in four of the five tests that I follow from this lab, and it took Advanced+ in all four.

By contrast, Quick Heal AntiVirus Pro 17 took two Advanced+ certifications and one Advanced and one Standard in those same four tests. To cover all facets of antivirus functionality, AV-Test Institute rates products on how well they protect against malware, how little they interfere with performance, and how carefully they avoid flagging valid programs or websites as malware, with 6 possible points in each area.

Avira got 5.5 points in the first two categories and 6 points in the third, for a total of 17 points. Note, though, that Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017, Kaspersky Anti-Virus, and Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security all earned a perfect 18 points in the same test. Earlier this year I added a pair of tests from London-based MRG-Effitas to the mix. One focuses on financial malware, while the other attempts to cover the whole range of malware types.

Avira failed the financial test, but then, 70 percent of the products tested failed that one. Nearly as many failed the whole-range test, but Avira managed to pass at Level 2, like Avast, Norton, and Trend Micro. Only Kaspersky Anti-Virus earned Level 1 certification.

Given that there's no reported difference between an epic fail and missed-it-by-that-much, I give less weight to this test in calculating my aggregate score. Avira's aggregate score, 9.3 of 10 points, puts it in a tie with Bitdefender. Only Norton (9.7 points) and Kaspersky (10 points) have done better.

All five of the labs I follow include Avast Free Antivirus 2016 and AVG in their testing, but their aggregate scores aren't as good as Avira's.

AVG came in with 8.7 points and Avast with 8.3. Improved Malware BlockingAnalyzing a new set of samples for my hands-on malware blocking test is a grueling ordeal that takes me several weeks.

That being the case, I refresh the sample set just once a year, in late winter when there typically aren't many new antivirus releases.

That works fine when product releases come roughly a year apart. However, Avira's previous edition was the very first product tested using my current set of samples. Naturally the current version, which I tested in the middle of the cycle, did a little better. When I opened the folder containing my malware samples, Avira started picking them off, but slowly.

Every so often it popped up a notification saying that it quarantined six files, or eight, or one.
It also popped up several small floating windows captioned Luke Filewalker, with nothing in them except a progress bar, followed by a similar window with the caption "System is being scanned." Overall, it seemed like a lot of fuss, considering these samples were just static files, never launched. When all the progress bars reached 100 percent and the floating windows vanished, more than 10 minutes had passed, and 68 percent of the samples were gone.

At that point, Avira wanted to reboot the system and run a full scan. However, the point of this test is malware blocking, not scanning. Most antivirus programs I've tested wipe out the samples they recognize in less than a minute, and they certainly don't require a reboot. Next I started launching those samples that survived.

Avira detected almost all of them at this point.

For each detection, it launched one of those miniature Luke Filewalker windows, with the apparent aim of eliminating malware traces related to what it discovered.

At one point during this test I found the system to be extremely sluggish.

Checking with Task Manager, I discovered that the avscan.exe process was using 99 percent of CPU resources. In a few cases, the antivirus popped up a window informing me that for full remediation I should run a scan using the Avira Rescue Disk.
I dutifully downloaded the ISO file and booted the system from it, thereby launching Avira's Ubuntu-based scanner.

But wow! A full scan with the Rescue Disk took more than 90 minutes! To check how successfully the antivirus blocked malware installation, I run a tool that checks for the file and Registry traces associated with each sample, as well as for active malware processes.

Each time the app asked for a Rescue Disk scan, I checked for traces both before and after the scan, but found next to no difference.

Avira failed to prevent installation of one or more executable files for most of the samples that it detected after launch. Like Norton, Trend Micro, Emsisoft Anti-Malware 11.0, and K7 Antivirus Plus 15, Avira detected 97 percent of the samples, either on sight or after launch. Norton and Trend Micro completely blocked every detected sample, earning 9.7 of 10 possible points overall.

Avira could have had 9.7 points too, but its incomplete malware blocking dragged its score down to 8.9 points.

Avast detected 100 percent of my previous malware set and earned 9.3 points. I also test each app with a sampling of the latest malware.

For this test, I use a feed of the very latest malware-hosting URLs supplied by MRG-Effitas.

The purpose-built program I use for this test normally launches the URLs in Internet Explorer, but I had to modify it for Avira, as the Browser Safety feature in this program still only supports Chrome and Firefox.

For each valid URL, I record whether the antivirus kept the browser from connecting, wiped out the payload during or just after download, or just heedlessly allowed the download. The exact URLs differ every time, naturally, but I keep going until I have a decent sample of at least 100 data points. Last time I tested Avira, it blocked 99 percent of the samples, all of them by preventing all access by the browser.

This time around, it blocked a total of 95 percent, 93 percent at the browser level and 2 percent by killing off the download.

That's still an extremely good protection rate, but Norton's 98 percent protection is now the top score among current products. Improved Phishing Detection, But…That same Browser Safety extension that fends off malicious URLs also serves to keep users from being fooled by phishing sites, fraud sites that try to steal login credentials by posing as, say, PayPal, or a bank website.

These URLs don't last long, because they quickly get blacklisted.

As soon as the fraudsters have conned a few saps, they close up shop and re-open with a different URL. For testing purposes, I scrape phish-watching sites to get URLs that have been reported as fraudulent but haven't been around long enough to get blacklisted.
I launch each simultaneously in five browsers, one protected by the product under test, one by Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic (a long-time antiphishing winner) and one apiece by the protection built into Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.

Because the URLs themselves are different every time, I report the results as the difference in detection rate between the product and the other four. Last time I tested Avira's antiphishing ability it lagged 50 percentage points behind Norton's, which is bad.

This time it was only 28 points behind, which is better, but still not great.
In addition, its detection rate edged out both Chrome and Internet Explorer, and totally slammed Firefox.

Even so, I wouldn't advise turning off your browser's built-in protection. Very few products outscore Norton in this test, and no free products do. However, Avast came in just one percentage point behind Norton. Qihoo 360 Total Security 8.6 and Sophos Home also came close. Avira Antivirus Pro technically should do better than the free edition, because in addition to the Browser Safety plugin, it has a Web Protection component. Just to see the difference, I tested the Pro edition using the same sample set as with the free edition.

The result? Web Protection caught exactly one fraud that Browser Safety didn't.

The most important thing about Web Protection is that it works in all browsers, not just Chrome and Firefox. The Rest of the GangAs I mentioned, when you install Avira Antivirus you can choose to also install a large collection of ancillary tools.
I'd strongly suggest installing all those that are truly free, starting with Avira Connect.
It manages all your other Avira products and serves as a launch pad to start any of them. Avira Connect also lets you review all the devices that you've associated with your Avira account online.

Clicking the Manage Device button opens the Avira dashboard online. Here you can see each device, with icons showing all the installed Avira tools. You can also dig in to view system details, or details for each installed product.

And you can even trigger an email with instructions on how to install missing products. Phantom VPN is a full-featured virtual private network with servers in 20 countries around the world.

The list of countries is seriously weighted toward North America and Europe, though it does include China and Singapore. Using it is a snap; just select the country you want and click the big green Secure my connection button.

This is a free installation of Phantom VPN, which means you can use it on just one device, with a data limit of 1GB per month. Upgrading to Pro gives you unlimited devices and unlimited bandwidth, and enables a feature that automatically activates the VPN any time you're connected to an unsecured wireless network. Avira Scout is a Chrome-based secure browser with some interesting additions. Privacy Badger blocks advertisers from tracking your Web surfing, and HTTPS Everywhere ensures the browser uses a secure HTTPS connection whenever possible—these two are projects of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Avira's own Browser Safety is installed, naturally, and it also aims to block trackers.
If you go shopping online, Avira can look for better deals on whatever item you've selected.

That's a feature I haven't seen in other security products. Note that Browser Safety adds some of these features to Chrome and Firefox (but not Internet Explorer).
It includes Avira Price Comparison, it automatically sends the Do Not Track header, and it actively blocks trackers.

A tiny tab at the top of the page pulls down to show the current site's rating and the number of trackers; you can click to see a full list of trackers. You can also enable Avira SafeSearch Plus, which becomes the default new tab page in the two supported browsers. Exploit attacks take advantage of unpatched security vulnerabilities.

Avira Software Updater scans your system and lists any software with missing security patches.

Clicking Download All gets all the updates; you can also download updates one by one, or remove products from being monitored. On my test system, the only thing it found was an update for Firefox.
I did notice that it downloaded a full installer for the latest version, which took a good bit longer than just updating within Firefox itself.

At present this tool doesn't do a lot. On my test system, it reported Java and Firefox as monitored, but Chrome and a ton of other apps were listed as unmonitored. All the items I've mentioned so far are free, though the free Phantom VPN is limited.

They can be downloaded for use independent of Avira Antivirus.

Avira System Speedup is a bit different. You get a free trial that's good for exactly one use.
Its basic scan seeks junk files, Registry problems, and system traces of your private activity.

Additional features include boot time optimization, power management, file encryption, secure deletion, backup, and more.

After your one-time optimization, you can explore these features and even use some of them, but Avira hopes you'll shell out $31.99 for a full license. Accurate but SluggishAvira Antivirus gets better ratings from the independent labs than most free products.
It also did well in my hands-on malware blocking and malicious URL blocking tests, though both the on-demand scan and real-time protection proved sluggish.

The fact that its Browser Safety component works only in Chrome and Firefox is no problem if one of those is your default browser.

The fact that it can keep you safe, for free, means it's worth a try.

But also take a look at our Editors' Choice products in the free antivirus realm, Avast Free Antivirus, AVG AntiVirus Free, and Panda Free Antivirus. Back to top PCMag may earn affiliate commissions from the shopping links included on this page.

These commissions do not affect how we test, rate or review products.

To find out more, read our complete terms of use.
Early adopters, daredevils, and purchasers of new computers are all running Windows 10 by now.

Those who prefer caution, or whose IT department them to, are still running Windows 8. Whether you run Windows 8 or Windows 10, your computer is theoretically under the protection of the built-in Microsoft Windows Defender. However, our hands-on tests and independent lab tests show that you're better off with a third-party solution.

Fortunately, you've got plenty of free choices, and the best of them are better than many competing commercial products. Which one is best for you? We've rounded them up to help you choose. Quite a few of these products are free only for noncommercial use; if you want to protect your business, you have to pony up for the paid edition.

At that point, you should probably consider upgrading to a full security suite.

After all, it's your business's security on the line.

And if you've grown beyond SMB status, investing in a SaaS endpoint protection system will let you monitor and manage security across your entire organization. See Our Top Paid Antivirus Solutions Your antivirus should definitely have the ability to root out existing malware, but its ongoing task is to prevent ransomware, botnets, Trojans, and other types of nasty programs from getting a foothold.

All of the antivirus programs in this collection offer real-time protection against malware attack.
Some take the fight upstream, working hard to ensure you never even browse to a malware-hosting site, or get fooled into turning over your credentials to a phishing site. Independent Antivirus Lab Test Results Around the world, researchers at independent antivirus testing labs spend their days putting antivirus tools to the test.
Some of these labs regularly release public reports on their findings.
I follow five such labs closely: AV-Comparatives, AV-Test Institute, Simon Edwards Labs (the successor to Dennis Technology Labs), Virus Bulletin, and MRG-Effitas.
I also take note of whether vendors have contracted for certification by ICSA Labs and West Coast Labs. Security companies typically pay for the privilege of being included in testing.
In return, the labs supply them with detailed reports that can help improve their products.

The number of labs that include a particular vendor serves as a measure of significance.
In each case, the lab considered the product important enough to test, and the vendor felt the price was worthwhile.

The labs don't necessarily test a vendor's free product, but most vendors pack full protection into the free product, enhancing premium versions with additional features. PCMag Antivirus Test Results In addition to carefully perusing results from the independent labs, I also run my own hands-on malware blocking test.
I expose each antivirus to a collection of malware samples, including a variety of different malware types, and note its reaction.

Typically the antivirus will wipe out most of the samples on sight, and detect some of the remaining ones when I try to launch them.
I derive a malware blocking score from 0 to 10 points based on how thoroughly the antivirus protects the test system from these samples. Since I use the same samples month after month, the malware-blocking test definitely doesn't measure a product's ability to detect brand-new threats.
In a separate test, I attempt to download malware from 100 very new malicious URLs supplied by MRG-Effitas, typically less than a day old.
I note whether the antivirus blocked all access to the URL, wiped out the malicious payload during download, or did nothing.

Avira Free Antivirus holds the current top score in this test, followed by McAfee and Symantec, both paid products. If you're interested in learning more about my testing techniques, you're welcome to read more about how we test security software. Useful Features Just about every antivirus product scans files on access to make sure malware can't launch, and also scans the entire system on demand, or on a schedule you set. Once that cleaning and scheduling is done, blocking all access to malware-hosting URLs is another good way to avoid trouble. Many products extend that protection to also steer users away from fraudulent websites, phishing sites that try to steal login credentials for financial sites and other sensitive sites.

A few rate links in search results, flagging any dangerous or iffy ones. Behavior-based detection, a feature of some antivirus products, is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it can detect malware that's never been seen before. On the other hand, if it's not done right, it can baffle the user with messages about perfectly legitimate programs. One easy way to keep your PC protected is to install all security updates, both for Windows and for browsers and other popular applications. Windows 10 makes it easier than ever to stay up to date, but there are plenty of security holes in older Windows versions, in popular apps, and in add-ons.
Scanning for vulnerabilities in the form of missing updates is a feature most often found in commercial antivirus products, but it does turn up in some free ones.
In the chart above you can see which products include these useful features. What's Not Here This article reports only on free antivirus products that received at least a good rating in our reviews—three stars or better.

Among those that didn't make the cut is Microsoft Windows Defender, with 2.5 stars.

All of the independent labs I follow do include Microsoft in testing, but most use it as a baseline.
If a product can't do better than the baseline, it's got real problems. FortiClient fans may notice that this product doesn't appear in chart.
It did get three stars, but it's quite different from the rest.

FortiClient is actually designed to work as a client for Fortinet's network security appliance, but is incidentally available as a free standalone. Furthermore, I'm aware that my review of Bitdefender's Free Antivirus is getting long in the tooth, but the company simply doesn't update its free utilities as often as its premium ones. Rest assured, I'm in close contact with Bitdefender and I'll review its new offering when it becomes available. Now that the commercial Bitdefender 2017 line is out, perhaps the developers will have more time to work on the free edition. There are also numerous free antivirus utilities that work solely to clean up existing malware infestations. You bring out these cleanup-only tools when you have a nasty malware infestation. When the problem's gone, they have no further use, since they offer no ongoing protection. Our Editors' Choice in this category is Malwarebytes Anti-Malware 2.0, and it's definitely one you should try if you've got a malware problem.

But since they're free, you can keep trying others if the first one doesn't do the job. When the scare is over, you'll need a full-blown antivirus for ongoing protection. What's Best Our current Editors' Choice products for free antivirus utility are Avast Free Antivirus, AVG AntiVirus Free, and Panda Free Antivirus.

All three get very good scores from the independent labs, and in our own tests as well.

All three include some useful bonus features.

Avast in particular packs a password manager and a network security scanner in its toolkit.
If you do have a little cash in your budget for security, the best paid antivirus products do tend to offer more and better protection.
If not, try a few of these free tools and see which one you like best. FEATURED IN THIS ROUNDUP
If you have antivirus protection along with a firewall, your PC is pretty well protected.

A full security suite would add quite a few other components, but for some users, the basic antivirus plus firewall is sufficient.

Check Point's ZoneAlarm Free A...
If you had a personal computer in the late 90s, you probably thought that firewall protection was something that businesses needed, not consumers.
It took the ZoneAlarm crew years to get out the message that consumers need firewall protection too.

F...
The Captain Hook risk is set to be exposed at Black Hat, but most vendors have already patched the vulnerability. Most antivirus security technologies at one level or another require some manner of system hook to work on a Microsoft Windows operating s...
Antivirus vendor Avast Software has agreed to buy rival AVG Technologies for $1.3 billion in cash. The deal will give Avast access to over 400 million "endpoints," or devices running its and AVG's software, 160 million of them phones or tablets, the co...
In this age of data-stealing Trojans and file-encrypting ransomware, it's just not sensible to go without antivirus protection. Many free antivirus utilities are quite effective, so cost isn't really an issue. One such free service is Qihoo 360 Total ...
The newest big thing in security is the cross-platform multi-device security suite.
Instead of seeking out different products for your Windows, Mac, and mobile devices, you use the same multi-device subscription on all of them, and you can manage them from a central console.
Some offer a specific number of licenses, others aren't limited.

AVG Protection Free (2016) has the distinction of offering multi-device protection at no cost. However, that great price point can't outweigh the fact that the security protection it offers doesn't measure up to that of the top products in this field.

AVG Protection Free helps you manage installations of AVG's free antivirus products for Windows, Mac OS, and Android (sorry, no iOS support). You can choose a 30-day trial of the non-free AVG Protection (2016).
If you do so and then decide you want to keep the Pro features, you'll pay $59.99 per year for unlimited devices. McAfee LiveSafe (2016) lists for $89.99 per year, for unlimited devices, but it adds support for iOS and Blackberry, and its Mac support is a full suite, not just antivirus like AVG.

For that same $89.99 you could also choose a 10-license subscription for Symantec Norton Security Deluxe, with 25GB of hosted online backup as a bonus. None of the competing services offer a free edition, though. Very ZenAs with the paid edition, installation of AVG Protection Free starts with AVG Zen, the management tool. You also need to create an online management account.

This account is what links all your devices through Zen. Like most of AVG's products, Zen uses color-coded circles to report your security status in various areas.

Four panels represent Protection, Performance, Safe Surf, and Web Tuneup.

A complete circle means you've got all available protection in the specified area; a partial circle means there's more you could add. When the circle is green, all's well with the world.
If it's yellow or red, the specified component needs attention. I installed AVG Protection on a Windows 8.1 test system, opting to go straight to the free edition rather than start a 30-day trial of the paid version.

As soon as Zen was installed, it started a background installation of the free antivirus. Once that installation completed, I got a three-quarter green circle in the Protection panel.

Completing that circle would require upgrading to the paid edition, so I left it alone. Clicking the Web TuneUp panel smoothly installed that feature on my browsers, giving me a complete green circle in that panel. Web TuneUp warns when you're about to visit an iffy or dangerous site, actively prevents tracking of your Web surfing habits, and lets you clear your browser history with one click. Safe Surf, AVG's VPN, is an extra cost, so that panel stayed blank.

As for the Performance panel, clicking that one installed AVG PC TuneUp. Note, though, that this is a one-day free trial, so don't start it until you have some free time to exercise this tool's powerful performance enhancement features. Extending protection to additional devices is a snap. You click a button to start the process, choose Windows, Mac OS, or Android, and send an email to an account used on the device in question.

The email contains a link to download the appropriate app.
Install Zen, install the antivirus, and link the installation to your account by logging in.

That's it.

The new device shows up in Zen's lineup across the top. You can check the status of any device by clicking it, and you can even remotely launch a scan or an update. Protection for WindowsOn your Windows devices, AVG Protection installs AVG AntiVirus Free (2016).

Do please read that review for full details on the antivirus.
I will summarize my findings here. All five of the antivirus testing labs I follow include AVG in their evaluations. My aggregate lab test score calculation for AVG gives it 8.4 of 10 possible points. Kaspersky holds the best aggregate score, 9.7 points. In my own hands-on testing, AVG earned 8.8 of 10 possible points, which is good, but not at the top.

Top score among products tested with the same samples goes to Bitdefender Total Security 2016, with 9.3 points.

Tested against a newer sample set, Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Complete (2016) managed a perfect 10. In my malicious URL blocking test, AVG blocked 73 percent of the samples.
Symantec Norton Security Premium blocked 91 percent of the malware downloads, and Avira Antivirus Pro 2016 fended off 99 percent.
In my antiphishing test, AVG lagged 28 percentage points behind Norton. This product's antivirus protection isn't quite as good as the very best commercial antivirus tools, but it's impressive for a free antivirus.

AVG AntiVirus Free is an Editors' Choice for free antivirus, sharing that honor with Avast Free Antivirus 2016 and Panda Free Antivirus (2016). Protection for AndroidTo get a feel for AVG's Android protection, I sent a link to a Nexus 9 that I use for testing.

The user interface has changed since we reviewed AVG AntiVirus Security (for Android); no more color-coded circles! But the feature set remains effectively the same; refer to that review for additional details. Zen on the tablet retains those familiar circles, and works just as it does on Windows. For a complete installation, you need enable Anti-Theft and make AVG a Device Administrator. You'll probably also want to click the link that installs the free AVG Cleaner for Android.

As with AVG Protection itself, you can opt to get a 30-day trial of the paid edition.
I chose not to do so, and therefore found myself viewing banner ads across the bottom of the app's display. AVG scans your apps for malware and can optionally scan external storage.
It also finds and flags problems with security settings, offering instructions for correcting configuration errors.

The Safe Web Surfing feature steers your browser away from malicious and fraudulent URLs. Performance features include a task killer, to save battery life by ending unnecessary tasks, as well as a battery power tracker with an option to automatically turn off power-hungry features when battery power gets low.

AVG can also track your storage usage and monitor use of your data plan by apps. There's probably a better chance your Android device will be lost or stolen than that it will suffer a malware attack.

AVG offers a full-scale anti-theft component. You can use coded text messages or the online console to remotely locate, lock, or wipe the device, or trigger a noise to help you find a mislaid tablet.

That's it for the free edition.

The for-pay edition adds Camera Trap, which snap a thief's photo, and can also lock the device if a thief removes the SIM card.
It can protect private data and user-specified apps with a PIN code.

And it can back up your apps to an SD card. The free app installed by AVG Protection Free includes antivirus and anti-theft, the pillars of an Android security product, but lacks a number of useful features from the paid app. Our Editors' Choice products for Android antivirus are Norton Security and Antivirus (for Android) and Bitdefender Mobile Security and Antivirus (for Android). Like AVG, both of these offer a free edition with only the most necessary features. Mac ProtectionAVG AntiVirus (for Mac) is a free product. You could download and install it without any connection to AVG Protection, but then you'd miss out on the remote-control power of AVG Zen. This free, simple product offers protection against viruses and other types of malware.
It scans on demand and in real time.

To make sure your other devices don't get infected by way of the Mac, it looks for PC and Android malware as well.

And of course you'll find the user interface familiar. Keep those circles green! Norton gives Mac users rather more in the way of features.
It includes a firewall, a vulnerability scanner, and password protection for files, among other things. McAfee LiveSafe is somewhere between, with antivirus, firewall, Web reputation reporting, and password management. Free Isn't EnoughI rated the paid AVG Protection three stars, meaning it's good, but not outstanding.

For Windows devices, the paid edition installs AVG Internet Security, which doesn't rate as highly as the free antivirus because other components don't measure up.

Android protection in the paid edition is good, but Macs just get a simple always-free antivirus. With AVG Protection Free, the Android app loses Pro-only features and PCs just get a free antivirus—a good one—rather than a full security suite.
It's great that this product is free, and you still get the helpful remote management of AVG Zen, but competing (paid) cross-platform suites offer so much more.
In this instance, you really do get what you pay for. Symantec Norton Security Deluxe excels in just about every area and comes with 25GB of hosted online storage.
It protects PCs and Macs with a full security suite, and its Android version is an Editors' Choice. Where Symantec lets you protect 10 devices, McAfee LiveSafe puts no limit on the number of Windows, Mac OS, Android, iOS, and Blackberry devices you can connect.

These two are our Editors' Choice cross-platform multi-device security suites.