The Best Protection
I torture-tested all of these products, challenging them to clean up 13 malware-infested systems and to block malware from attacking a clean system. Interestingly, the most effective antivirus products in my tests were not those that bulked up with added features. Webroot and Ad-Aware Pro offered the best protection overall, especially against rootkits and scareware. Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus 2011 also scored very well in my tests. Ad-Aware Pro joined Webroot to become our shared Editors’ Choice for standalone antivirus. For full details on how I test antivirus products see How We Test Anti-malware.
Related Story 2011 antivirus malware removal chart
Related Story 2011 antivirus malware blocking chart
Recent Free Antivirus Releases
Commercial security vendors seem to have standardized on a “fall model year” plan, like car manufacturers. The free antivirus products tend to come out with an update whenever it’s convenient. I’ve reviewed a half-dozen free products since summer, some very good, some not so good.
Panda Cloud Anti-Virus 1.1 has actually matched the top commercial products in some of my tests. For example, Panda Cloud Antivirus and Ad-Aware Pro share the highest detection rate in my malware blocking test. With its extremely minimal user interface and cloud-based detection system it’s a good choice for those whose budget doesn’t stretch to a paid solution.
Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware 1.46 is a perpetual favorite among security experts. It’s not uncommon to find another company’s tech support agents calling on Malwarebytes to clean up a stubborn infestation. It’s a tiny download, it installs quickly, and it gets right to business. What it won’t do is protect your system from attack. The product’s paid edition offers malware blocking, but it’s not very effective.
In the past AVG reserved their most powerful antivirus protection for the commercial product, but with the release of AVG Anti-Virus Free 2011 they’ve granted full power to the free edition. In fact, the free AVG is so feature-rich that it almost overshadows the company’s security suite. Its scores in my malware cleanup tests are the best among free products.
While Ad-Aware FREE Internet Security 9.0 lacks some of Ad-Aware Pro’s features it’s fully protected by Lavasoft’s new Dedicated Detection and MagmaShield technologies. It scored almost as well as the Pro edition and definitely beat out all the other free products.
Comodo Antivirus 5.0 is great at malware blocking, not so great at cleaning up already-infested systems. That’s completely in tune with the company’s viewpoint, which is that the best solution for an existing malware problem is to backup and reformat.
I evaluated two free products for the first time this season, digital defender free 2.0 and Immunet Protect Free 2.0. Digital defender didn’t detect much malware and left many threats running after allegedly removing them. Its for-pay Pro edition spent a much longer time scanning without appreciably improving the results.
Immunet focuses on protecting you by protecting the community of friends and contacts around you. You can easily hook friends up with a free copy of the program and view the security status of your entire community. Eventually this community- and cloud-based system may offer effective antivirus protection, but my testing showed that it doesn’t at present.
AVG does great malware cleanup but isn’t so hot when it comes to protecting a clean system. Comodo swings the other way, with great protection but poor cleanup. Panda does both well, but Ad-Aware Free is even better. In fact, it beats most of the commercial products. Ad-Aware Free is PCMag’s Editors’ Choice for free antivirus.
This still isn’t the final word on antivirus protection for 2011. Most of the heavy hitters have released their 2011 editions, but we’re still waiting for ZoneAlarm, Avast!, and PrevX, among others. For now, though, Webroot and Ad-Aware share Editors’ Choice for standalone antivirus.