How good is free anti-virus?

Have you ever heard that free anti-virus programs skimp on their virus definitions so you aren’t as protected as you would be if you were using the paid version? It seems somewhat plausible as an incentive to get the free users to become paid users, right?

I’ve heard that claim from friends, but I’ve always been a bit skeptical. I haven’t seen any published reviews of free anti-virus programs that mention this sort of issue, nor have I seen any anti-virus company highlight advanced threat detection rates as a feature of their paid products that isn’t available in their free products. And if they want people to pay to upgrade to more advanced detection, they would have to actually tell their customers that there is a difference in that realm, wouldn’t they?

Anyway, I thought of that claim when I read this portion of an interview with AVG’s CEO:

The basic detection rates in our free product and our paid product are exactly the same. We’re not giving you less protection. We’re just giving you less functionality. The paid products have antispam and firewall and a few other bits. But the core features–the Web protection, the cloud protection, the virus protection–is all the same between free and paid.

I have no way of knowing for sure if that’s true for all free anti-virus providers, but I’ve used and been very happy with a number of free anti-virus programs including AVG, Avast, and, recently, Malware Bytes. Each of these, incidentally, is currently in the top five of CNet’s most popular downloads list, which is an excellent source of suggestions for high quality software.

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