As a Windows user, you have three possible paths when it comes to system security: use the built in Windows Defender, install third party security software, or ignore security altogether. Image Credit: CodesDepot
As a Windows user, you have three possible paths when it comes to system security: use the built in Windows Defender, install third party security software, or ignore security altogether. Image Credit: CodesDepot

As a Windows user, you have three possible paths when it comes to system security: use the built-in Windows Defender, install third-party security software, or ignore security altogether (the last option isn’t possible on Home versions of Windows 10). The path you take is crucial.

In our piece on important facts about Windows Defender, we noted that Windows Defender is good enough for most users — but do you really want to settle for “good enough” when your security is at stake? Seems like an unnecessary risk to take…

So here are five of the best free security suites for Windows, all of which offer anti-virus, anti-malware, and real-time protection features. Some of these lack firewall functionality, but you can always supplement with a free third-party Windows firewall.

1. 360 Total Security
360 Total Security is a free security suite provided by the leading Chinese security company, Qihoo. I know that some folks are hesitant to use China-based software, but if you’re willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, you’ll find that 360 Total Security exceeds your expectations.

Qihoo’s software is available in two forms: the full package (360 Total Security) and a pared-down, lighter-weight version (360 Total Security Essential).

The Essential version includes anti-virus, anti-malware, sandboxing, secure online shopping, and real-time protection against privacy invasions, downloaded files, infected external drives, registry hijacks, and more. In addition, the full version includes system optimizers and junk cleaners.

What’s particularly nice about 360 Total Security is its sleek interface. Easy to navigate, nice on the eyes, and modern enough that it has a professional feel to it. That’s more than can be said about most security suites, even premium ones.

360 Total Security is also available for Android and is one of the best tools for guarding against and removing mobile malware infections.

Features at a glance:

  • Anti-virus and anti-malware protection with multiple engines.
  • Run programs and files in a protected sandbox environment.
  • Real-time protection against keyloggers, external drives, malicious websites, registry hijacks, and webcam spies.

2. Avira Free Antivirus
Avira Free Antivirus is one of the best free options currently available. In consistently outperforms the big-name kings of security — including Kaspersky, Norton, and McAfee — in controlled comparisons of real-world effectiveness from sites like AV-Comparatives.

You get what you’d expect and more. The anti-virus/anti-malware scanner provides manual and real-time protection against all kinds of hazards, and the real-time scans use a cloud database to stay up-to-date and guard you against new and emerging threats.

What’s nice about Avira is that it also detects and blocks potentially unwanted applications — those bundled programs that hitch rides within installers and end up on your system without your knowledge.

If you install the free Avira browser extension (available on Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and IE) then you can also take advantage of features like harmful website detection and the ad-tracker blocker.

Features at a glance:

  • Anti-virus blocks malware, Trojans, worms, and spyware.
  • Real-time protection based on up-to-date cloud database.
  • Blocks unwanted applications bundled inside installers.
  • Browser extension offers even more protective features.

3. Outpost Security Suite
What impresses me about Outpost Security Suite is how comprehensive it is in terms of features offered. And while there is a Pro version of the software, it isn’t that much better (it has identity theft protection). The Free version isn’t otherwise crippled or limited. It’s the real deal.

The anti-virus feature ranks better than most free alternatives, both in terms of detection rates and performance speed. The real-time protection keeps you safe from files, photos, videos, and emails (which is aided by the mail scanning feature). It even comes with its own configurable firewall.

Outpost Security Suite also has something called Auto-Learn Mode, which isn’t as useful as it sounds. Best to keep it off, but beware that you may be inundated with notifications whenever you want to install or run programs. Learn more in our review of Outpost Security Suite.

Features at a glance:

  • Anti-virus protection with top-rate detection and speed.
  • Built-in firewall that guards against unauthorized access.
  • Proactive protection against viruses and installers.
  • Mail Scanner checks inbox and attachments for viruses.

4. Comodo Internet Security
As a company, Comodo is deeply invested in the security world. Internet security software makes up a good chunk of their offerings, but they also have their hands in PC maintenance, DNS hosting, SSL certificates, data backups, and even secured versions of both Firefox and Chrome.

These guys are security experts who have been around for more than just a few years, so you can rest assured that their products are worthwhile and that they won’t disappear overnight without you knowing.

Comodo Internet Security is pretty darn good for free software. It can eliminate existing malware infections (including spyware, rootkits, and even zombies that make you complicit in botnet attacks), has sandboxing capabilities, and a memory firewall that guards against buffer overflow attacks.

It’s not the fastest or most resource-friendly security suite, but it gets the job done and does it well. The interface could use some improvements, but compared to what it looked like years ago, it has certainly come a long way.

Features at a glance:

5. Panda Free Antivirus
Panda Free Antivirus is an up-and-coming solution (relatively speaking) that’s gaining a lot of attention and traction. Silly name aside, it nails the trifecta of security software: light on resources, easy to learn and use, and effective at keeping your system secure.

Panda Free Antivirus is as simple as they come. It was designed with the phrase “install and forget” in mind, with few settings to fiddle with. It stays out of the way, making it great for those who aren’t tech-savvy. If you want a simple solution that’s better than Windows Defender, this is it.

Compared to their premium products, Panda Free Antivirus might seem a bit limited — no online shopping protection, no data backups, no file encryption, no system optimizations — but what it does do, it does well, and that’s real-time protection against malware and spyware.

Features at a glance:

  • Anti-malware, anti-spyware, and external device protection.
  • Up-to-date malware definitions using a cloud database.
  • Internet protection through URL/Web filtering and analysis.
  • Advertisement popups asking to upgrade every once in a while.

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