Gone are the days when a serious virus infection all but required a clean install, but here to stay are the days where digital life has never been more important and when even a mild case of malware can have a serious impact on life offline.
Windows provides users off with Windows Defender, but it takes more armor to repel malicious attacks that can log keyboard input and compromise banking details.
Picking out a reliable antivirus suite all comes down to software support in the form of updates and the ability to execute on that new information.
Malicious software is constantly modified, entirely new code pops up and new vulnerabilities are frequently discovered in applications that have long track records of being impregnable. The definitions of what code is considered malicious evolves in response to the aforementioned factors, which means an antivirus program's reliability will depend on its developer's responsiveness.
The antivirus programs listed below are some of the best free tools the market has to offer home PC users, according to lab reports from the nonprofit testing organization AV Comparatives. They were selected because their lab-proven performance, usability and high degree of protection helped them stand out from the pack during the last quarter of 2014.
Always somewhere around the top of the list of the best antivirus tools, BitDefender serves as a solid starting tool for entry-level users. Producing zero false positives during testing in October 2014, BitDefender's all-around performance won't leave users in an unnecessary panic.
Resource hog McAfee and F-Secure provided some of the high occurrences of false positives during October, ringing 81 and 113 false alarms, respectively. False positives occur when a system reports a vulnerability as present when, in fact, none exists, and the danger is that too many can drown out a legitimate warning that could cause widespread damage.
Panda Free Antivirus
In October, Panda's free antivirus software scored just as high in protection as powerhouses Kaspersky Internet Security 2015 and Comodo Internet Security Premium. Panda's free software fell short in performance and usability, earning scores of 4.5 out of 6 and 5 out of 6, respectively.
While those performance and usability scores may be of concern to entry-level users, its 6 out of 6 for protection still smashes the zero out of 6 record for Windows Defender 4.4.
Avast Free AntiVirus 2014 & 2015
While Avast's free software didn't earn perfect scores in any of the test categories, it ranked higher in usability than did Panda Free Antivirus. It's not quite as user-friendly as Window's native protection and its performance falls behind slightly, but its solid defenses are a good start for anyone looking to secure their new computer for free.