Free antivirus software is a good option if you are on a budget but want to protect your device from the most recent ransomware and malware threats. Free antivirus software employs the same malware-scanning engines that their paid counterparts. They do not have additional tools that offer online security, such as VPN, password manager and parental controls.

The best antivirus software for free should offer effective real-time malware protection, meaning that the program actively detects and blocks threats as they try to download or get onto your computer. In the past, this type of protection was only available to premium subscriptions, however it’s now common among free outliers.

Similarly, the best free antivirus software should have a basic password management system and a VPN at a minimum on an initial trial basis. For instance, McAfee’s free software gives you a 30 day trial of its most expensive package, which includes all premium features, such as web protection and identity theft protection.

The most effective free antivirus software should be user-friendly. Most of the brands in our top choices have user-friendly dashboards, intuitive features, and decent customer service. Some also have mobile apps that allow you to protect and scan your Android or iOS devices. Additionally, the top free apps are licensed for use on just one device while paid versions offer family-friendly plans and business tools.