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Free vs. Paid Antivirus: Should You Pay? Free antivirus apps get better every day, but are they just as good as premium security tools? Let's find out.


While there's no doubt that you do need to protect your computer with a reliable antivirus tool, the question comes down to whether that tool should be free. Many antivirus solutions cost absolutely nothing — and that's a pretty strong selling point.

But what separates these free options from the many premium solutions out there? What do you get for your money, and are those added benefits worth it? In today's ever-evolving digital world, a premium app can give you the edge you need to stay ahead of emerging threats.

Free antivirus for strong security basics

From the built-in Microsoft Defender included with every Windows computer to the many third-party security apps out there, free antivirus tools are constantly competing with each other to offer the strongest protections and most attractive range of features.

Here's what you can expect a standard free cybersecurity solution to do:

  • Detect and remove malware: Any free antivirus app worth using will detect and remove viruses and other malware from your computer, keeping you safe against the tools hackers love to use against you. Mobile security apps will do the same, removing malware from your iPhone or Android device.

  • Prevent malware infections: Most free tools will monitor your computer in real time to block malware, such as ransomware or adware, from infecting it. Malware prevention and removal are the two core features of a reliable antivirus tool.

  • Help you shop and bank safely: Phishing and its large-scale cousin pharming use fake emails and websites to fool you into disclosing sensitive personal information. A strong free security app will feature built-in web shield tools to detect these attacks and prevent cybercriminals from stealing your credit card info or other important data.

  • Monitor your home network: Some free security apps can detect unrecognized devices on your Wi-Fi network and alert you to a possible intruder. This can prevent hackers from stealing important personal data, such as your passwords.

  • Protect important files: Ransomware is arguably today's leading malware threat. A robust antivirus app will prevent ransomware from encrypting your important files and photos so you never get stuck with a ransom demand.

A strong free antivirus tool on your computer or mobile phone will keep you safe against most types of malware — whether they're on your device already, or lurking online. Depending on which free product you choose, you'll find these basic anti-malware protections along with a handful of additional protections as well.

But are they enough to keep you safe against everything out there on the internet? That's where paid antivirus apps come in.

Unlock greater protections with paid antivirus software

Premium antivirus tools build on the foundations of free software with a wide range of additional features that defend against even more online threats. With more comprehensive protection, you're a much more difficult target for a hacker to crack.

Premium protections go beyond basic malware protection to ward against threats like phishing, webcam hacking, and remote access hacking — when a hacker takes control over your computer via the internet.

A good premium antivirus tool should:

  • Block webcam hacks: Almost all laptops come equipped with webcams, and if a hacker gets control of yours, they'll have a window into your personal life. You can detect and block webcam hacking attempts with strong paid antivirus software.

  • Prevent hackers from controlling your computer: Alongside ransomware, remote access attacks are one of today's most pressing cybersecurity threats. Hackers can create a "backdoor" that lets them control your computer over the web — but a premium antivirus app will keep them locked out.

  • Safely use suspicious apps: Trying out a new app? Many premium tools let you securely run apps in a "sandbox" where they can't affect the rest of your device — just in case you've installed malware by accident.

  • Permanently delete sensitive files: When you toss a file in the Recycle Bin, it's not really deleted forever. But some paid antivirus tools will permanently "shred" files so that they can't ever be found, even by specialized data recovery software. If you ever sell or throw out your computer, this can ensure your personal data stays safe.

  • Automatically update apps: Outdated apps may contain security vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit to access your device. When a premium security tool automatically updates your other software, you're guaranteed to always have the most current versions.

These are just a few of the many ways a paid cybersecurity tool protects you against a much wider array of threats and dangers online. You'll often get customizable options to best secure your Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices. And many cybersecurity providers will cover multiple devices under one subscription.

Should you pay for an antivirus app?

Though many free antivirus apps are great at what they do, they're often limited to anti-malware protection and a few other extras. Premium security tools are much better suited to the multifaceted nature of today's internet threat landscape — particularly if you're not the most experienced internet user.

That's why premium antivirus apps are especially great for families. Children and seniors are often targeted by identity theft scams and other threats, since they may not be as skilled at recognizing and avoiding danger online. With the ability to defend up to 10 devices at once, a premium tool can protect all your loved ones.

While your best defense online is a strong knowledge of internet safety fundamentals, you'll be much safer with a robust and comprehensive antivirus tool on your side.

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