Think about free antivirus software, and what comes to mind first is probably the full-strength packages from companies like Avast and Avira. But the freebies don’t stop there.
Vendors typically offer a range of other free packages that anyone can use. Standalone on-demand antivirus scanners, rescue discs, firewalls, password managers, parental controls, system cleaners, diagnostic tools and a whole lot more.
Most of these apps can be used alongside other antivirus tools without conflict, and in many cases you don’t even need to hand over any personal information. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most interesting apps, and if you see anything that appeals, you can of course just download it and check it out for yourself.
- Also check out our list of the best VPN providers
Avast is well-known for its feature-packed Avast Free Antivirus, but the company also offers a range of free security and other apps.
Avast Passwords is a simple password manager which can collect your logins and automatically complete login forms, as well as entering credit card numbers when you’re shopping online.
Passwords is only available on Windows as a part of Avast Free Antivirus, but Android, iOS and Mac users can download and use a standalone app for free, and sync passwords between their devices. This can’t compete with the top password managers for features, but it does a decent job, and its app ratings (4.5 on Google Play and the App Store) suggest Avast is doing something right.
Avast Cleanup & Boost, Phone Cleaner, Optimizer is a one-stop system optimizer for Android. The free version clears junk files, controls resource-hungry apps, boosts battery life and can automatically identify and delete duplicate, similar, old and poor-quality photos. Well worth a look.
Avira Password Manager covers the password-handling basics, and throws in a few small extras: you can store notes as well as passwords, and the ability to add tags helps keep your logins organized.
Password Manager’s big plus is that it’s web-based. You can view and manage your passwords from a web dashboard (and even import passwords from other managers), and a combination of Android and iOS apps, and browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera, means you can use the service on almost any desktop or mobile device.
Avira Free Software Updater scans your PC for outdated software and drivers, and alerts you to any missing updates. The free version has a major catch in that it can’t automatically install the relevant updates – you must click a link to the official product page, then download each one manually – but it’s still useful to know when updates are available.
Bitdefender Home Scanner is a handy Windows tool which detects all computers and smart devices connected to your network (including any intruders), scans them for vulnerabilities and suggests fixes.
The app is intended to be used alongside Bitdefender Box, the company’s smart hardware firewall, but it’s worth having all on its own.
Bitdefender TrafficLight is a Chrome, Firefox and Safari extension which uses a combination of techniques to block web dangers.
TrafficLight uses blacklists and real-time analysis to prevent access to phishing or malicious URLs, for instance. It identifies intrusive trackers, and highlights dangerous links in your search results to help you spot dubious sites before you click.
Bitdefender’s real highlight is its excellent antivirus engine, and Bitdefender’s Rescue CD enables using this to disinfect and recover almost any PC, sometimes even if it won’t start properly itself. This Bitdefender support page tells you more.
Got a problem with your PC? ESET’s SysInspector is a very powerful, expert-oriented diagnostic tool which can tell you more about all the key aspects of your computer.
A simple tree view allows you to browse running processes, for instance. Or Windows Services, drivers, scheduled tasks, DNS servers, open network connections, important system files and a long list of critical Registry keys.
This versatility means you won’t have to launch multiple tools to check out your system. You’re able to view the HOSTS file, browse event logs, look at TCP and UDP connections and scroll through key Registry entries, all from a single interface.
But there’s a lot more to SysInspector than that. Just one example: SysInspector doesn’t just display long lists of information, it evaluates and rates processes, files, Registry entries and other items it thinks are interesting, allowing you to quickly zoom in on what’s important.
If you’re an experienced user, download and check it out. It’s free, there’s no installation required, so give it five minutes and see what you think.
F-Secure’s free password manager, Key, caught our eye with some unusual premium features. Not only does it store a wide range of items – passwords, emails, PIN codes, credit card and online banking credentials – but its ‘breach alerts’ on Android and iOS warn you when popular services have been hacked, and your details may have been compromised.
Unfortunately, there’s a problem. Although Key is available on Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, you can only sync passwords between devices if you upgrade to the commercial edition. If that’s an issue, take a look at Avast or Avira’s password managers, instead.
F-Secure AV-Test is a tiny Android app which aims to confirm that your current antivirus is working properly. AV-Test isn’t dangerous in any way, but it does contain the (entirely harmless) industry-standard EICAR test file, and your antivirus should warn you about this as soon as it’s downloaded.
If you download and get an alert, that shows your antivirus is scanning new files as they arrive. Good news.
If you don’t get an alert, you might want to explore the situation a little further. Start at the official EICAR site where you can download various other test files.
Kaspersky isn’t well-known for its free products, and that’s a shame, because the company has so many that it’s got a dedicated download page which lists them all.
Kaspersky Password Manager has lots of features – secure password generation, alerts for duplicate passwords, plus it auto-clears your clipboard after using it, and stores documents as well as passwords – and, unusually, these are all available in the free edition.
As you’d guess, there’s a catch. The free plan stores a maximum of 15 passwords. If that’s not a deal-breaker, give it a try.
Kaspersky Safe Kids is a likeable parental controls system which enables blocking websites by content type. You’re able to manage app usage by time or category, and set limits on the amount of time your children can spend using their devices. Safe Kids is available in full on Windows, Mac and Android, and there’s a limited version for iOS (the Safe Kids site tells you more).
Kaspersky’s Virus Removal Tool is the company’s antivirus engine condensed into a single free executable which doesn’t require installation. Just download and run the package, hit the Start Scan button and watch as it scans and cleans up your PC.
Norton Power Eraser is a portable malware hunter which can eliminate anything from simple adware and other ‘potentially unwanted programs’ to the most deeply embedded and dangerous threats.
Symantec warns that Power Eraser uses aggressive scanning technology which may falsely flag legitimate programs, so it needs to be used with care. But it’s simple and straightforward, with no installation or registration required, and could be worth a look if you’ve had no luck with other antivirus tools.
Norton Snap is a smart QR code reader which doesn’t just scan a QR code and convert it into a link, but also checks that the URL is safe.
There are similar apps around – Kaspersky has one – but Norton’s web reputation database is better than most, and we would recommend trying Norton Snap first.
Sophos XG Firewall Home Edition is a software appliance which you can use to create a very capable hardware firewall for your home network.
Features include traffic shaping, allowing you to prioritize certain application traffic. XG Firewall can use multiple internet connections to improve performance and reliability. Built-in antivirus blocks malware in downloads and email attachments before it can reach your devices, and URL filtering prevents access to malicious websites. Furthermore, you can use the product to restrict access to particular sites, and get full reports on how your connection is being used.
It’s a powerful system, but keep in mind that you’ll need a spare PC to install it. Sophos XG Firewall comes with its own operating system, and will overwrite the data on your target computer when it’s installed.