I know I have mentioned security many times in articles I have done here over the years. I spent eleven years doing volunteer work online, helping thousands upon thousands of people just like you to clean up their computers and keep them safe. I earned an MVP award from Microsoft eight years in a row for this work: something I am still proud of to this day.
I tell you this so that you know when I talk about security, it is not something I take lightly. I will do whatever needs to be done to keep my own machines safe and will help you to do the same with yours at all times. I will never make security recommendations based on the “hottest” products at the time, nor will I ever be “bought” by a company looking to promote its products.
Let’s take a look at the two protection programs in question: Windows Defender and Avast Free.
Windows Defender for Antivirus Protection
For most average users, the built-in Windows Defender is more than enough security. If you have Windows 8.1 or 10, you will already have Defender. There are no upgrades to buy: everything is already included. You have a built-in one-way firewall, some decent parental controls, gaming modes and of course the antivirus protection.
The downside is the program still tends to flag innocuous software as being malicious, and there are no added features. What you see is what you get with Windows Defender. A few years ago, there was a lot of false positives associated with Defender. This has vastly improved, thankfully, but still is not fool-proof.
The best part about Defender is that you do not need to do anything. It is just… there. Running silently in the background. Watching for viruses. Keeping an eye on your software for strange behaviors. Uploading malicious items for analysis. You do not need to install updates. You do not need to buy anything additional. You just have peace of mind for the most part.
Avast Free for Antivirus Protection
This is the program that I most often recommended to the people I helped back in the day. I retired from the security work back in 2009, so that tells you how long this program has been a good one. In my opinion, it is still the best free software available to protect your computer.
Last year, Avast won – for the umpteenth time – an award from AV-TEST for “Best Virus and Malware Detection.” That tells me everything I need to know. It also obviously removes the unwanted items to get your computer back to where it should be as quickly as possible.
Avast does not just keep viruses in check, though. It also has an awesome built-in password manager and will warn you if your Wi-Fi network is not secure.
Believe it or not, Avast uses less system resources than Windows Defender does. This is extremely important for those of you using older computers or ones that are not high-end models. Avast also wins in my book (and that of many other security experts) when it comes to how simple it is to use. The UI is just… intuitive.
There are other features Avast boasts that Defender just doesn’t have. The Software Updater will automatically keep all the software on your computer fully updated, while the Gaming Mode allows you to keep playing interrupted. Avast also has Email protection… something that I truly wish Defender had thought of or incorporated by now. Lastly, the free version of Avast also allows you to create a Rescue Disk in case you ever have a massive computer emergency. These features are usually included in paid versions of nearly all antivirus software, yet come bundled with the free version of Avast.
Add MalwareBytes for More Security
I would be remiss if I did not discuss what MalwareBytes can do for you. I was lucky enough back in the beginning of this amazing software to be one of the very first people to know about it, test it and use it. Its creator, Marcin, was a 14-year-old genius at the time who knew that there had to be something better to defeat the types of malware we saw on a daily basis. Fast forward all these years (since about 2003!) and look at the giant he has built this company into.
I do not recommend this software based on my connections to it… yet, I do. I KNOW the creator. I watched as he talked through code. I helped to test along the way, growing more excited with each iteration. I knew this kid was on to something big and I knew that it was going to be something that would help millions of people.
MalwareBytes has both a free and paid version. When you first download and install it, you’ll receive a free 14-day trial to the full Monte. This includes real-time threat protection. That is the main difference between the two versions. The free one simply allows you to scan on-demand.
The best part is that MalwareBytes is designed to run alongside whatever antivirus protection you’re using already. Yes… you can and SHOULD run this with either Windows Defender or Avast. It is an added layer of protection. The number of ways it protects your computer are endless… from software changes, to ransomware, to adware to rootkits and back again.
Which Antivirus Protection Should You Use on Windows?
My recommendation is simple: install the free versions of both Avast and MalwareBytes. You will be happy you did, I promise. Nothing will get through, your information and data will always be safe and you will not even notice a difference in the speed of your computer due to being bogged down by programs that are resource-heavy.
What other security questions do you have for me? How can I best help you stay safe?