Is Your Free Antivirus Really Protecting You?

FREE AV REALLY PROTECTING_gray on black_header

Most consumers are aware that they need an antivirus on their PC. While there is a huge selection of solutions that consumers can choose from, typically they select free solutions from popular vendors that their friends recommend. After all, the more popular an antivirus is, the better protection it must offer, right?

Popular does not always mean better
Unfortunately, grasping onto the notion that “the more popular an antivirus, the better the protection” could be dangerous to the well-being of your PC, as this is not always true. In fact, the security product you’re using might contain holes that could allow destructive malware to sneak onto your PC – even though it’s telling you “everything is okay”.

Don’t just take our word for it
AV-TEST is a leading independent organization that has been researching, testing, and evaluating antivirus software developed by well-recognized vendors for over 15 years. Many consumers look to the expertise of AV-TEST for validation that their security product is actually providing them optimal protection. AV-TEST evaluates security products based on three categories: protection, performance, and usability, with each category having a maximum score of 6 and a collective score of 18.

Recently, AV-TEST evaluated 24 home security products, which include free antivirus solutions by Avast and AVG. Avast has a claimed user base of 220 million people, while AVG claims to have 182 million. That’s a lot of people. With millions of users who depend on these security vendors to protect their PCs from malware, you would think that their protection is top-notch. The results speak for themselves.

Avast Free Antivirus scored a 3.5 for protection, 4.5 for performance, and 6 for usability – giving a collective score of 14 out of 18.

AVG Antivirus Free scored a 3.5 for protection, 3.5 for performance, and 5.5 for usability – giving a collective score of 12.5 out of 18.

ZoneAlarm Extreme Security scored a 5.5 for protection, 6 for performance, and 6 for usability – giving a collective score of 17.5 out of 18.

AV-TEST ZoneAlarm Extreme Avast AVG Free Antivirus

Is the antivirus you’re using really protecting you?
The comparison between ZoneAlarm, Avast, and AVG isn’t apples to apples; ZoneAlarm Extreme Security is a premium product while Avast and AVG are free products. However, the result of this test is proof that even the most popular free antivirus solutions aren’t enough. In this case, you need premium security that includes multiple layers of protection that can ward off even the most sophisticated malware.

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61 comments on “Is Your Free Antivirus Really Protecting You?

  • This article compares two free products against your Zone Alarm premium product.
    It would be interesting to see the side by side comparison of your Free product to their Free products.
    Also, as a follow up, a comparison test of all three premium products would be interesting to see.
    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Unfortunately, we have no control over what our competitors submit for testing to AV-TEST. Avast only submitted their Free Antivirus, while AVG submitted both their Antivirus Free and Internet Security. In the results, ZoneAlarm Extreme Security outperformed Avast Free Antivirus, as well as both AVG Antivirus Free and Internet Security.
      The comparison here is to demonstrate that many users who rely on these popular antivirus solutions from Avast and AVG aren’t necessarily as protected as they once thought they were.

      Reply
    • It would be extreme tedious to mention all vendors who were tested by AV-TEST. We chose to point out Avast and AVG because they are the most recognized among consumers.

      Reply
      • “It would be extreme tedious to mention all vendors who were tested by AV-TEST.”

        How tedious can this be???
        Surely, the results were documented and it would take no more than 5 minutes to pull out the relevant findings. Sorry, I smell a rat ….

        Reply
        • Blog articles are meant to be straight-forward and to the point. Since AV-TEST evaluated 24 products, it would be extremely tedious (not to mention, long) to give the score of each individual testing. That’s the reason why we linked AV-TEST, so that you can check out the full details, should you desire to do so.

          Reply
  • How does your free zonealarm anti-virus & firewall rate out on this av test compared to the other free ant-virus? It probably doesn’t rate any higher & that’s why you compared premium version to the other free versions.

    Reply
    • Vendors have freedom to submit whichever product they want. Avast chose to submit their free, while AVG decided to submit both free and paid. For us, we decided to submit ZoneAlarm Extreme Security because we wanted to see how well our top of line product performs. In the results, ZoneAlarm Extreme Security outperformed Avast Free Antivirus, as well as both AVG Antivirus Free and Internet Security.
      The comparison here is to demonstrate that many users who rely on these popular antivirus solutions from Avast and AVG aren’t necessarily as protected as they once thought they were.

      Reply
  • Who chose ONLY Avast and AVG as the other “contestants” besides Zone Alarm? Were they evaluated ahead of time so that the result of the “comparison” would come out as desired?

    Reply
    • AV-TEST has a strict deadline for vendors to submit their security software for testing. No vendors can get a sneak preview of how other competitors perform before submitting. That would be unfair in the testing process.

      Reply
  • Your marketing puff is a “little” disingenuous. Avast “appears” to rank poorly in AV-Test comparisons. But the ONLY Avast product on test is their free product, which ranks poorly. This may not come as a surprise as some of the comparisons are paid for products (who also offer free alternatives). ZoneAlarm is one such. Avast also offers a premium product at a cost, which is not included in the comparison website.

    Reply
    • Unfortunately, we have no control over what our competitors submit for testing to AV-TEST. Avast only submitted their Free Antivirus, even though there was nothing stopping them from submitting their premium product.

      In the results, ZoneAlarm Extreme Security outperformed Avast Free Antivirus, as well as both AVG Antivirus Free and Internet Security.
      The comparison here is to demonstrate that many users who rely on these popular antivirus solutions from Avast and AVG aren’t necessarily as protected as they once thought they were.

      Reply
    • AV-TEST uses MSE as a “baseline” to compare other antivirus solutions. You can get more details on MSE’s performance by visiting the AV-TEST website.

      Reply
  • gordon thompson says:

    Why don’t you compare free with free!! Your “comparison” is specious. When I compare security products, I always use at least two independent sites, and only a fool would rely on a manufacturer’s own puffery.

    Reply
    • Unfortunately, we have no control over what our competitors submit for testing to AV-TEST. Avast only submitted their Free Antivirus, while AVG submitted both their Antivirus Free and Internet Security. We submitted ZoneAlarm Extreme Security because we felt it was best to test our top of the line product.

      In the results, ZoneAlarm Extreme Security outperformed Avast Free Antivirus, as well as both AVG Antivirus Free and Internet Security.
      The comparison here is to demonstrate that many users who rely on these popular antivirus solutions from Avast and AVG aren’t necessarily as protected as they once thought they were.

      Reply
    • It would be extreme tedious to mention all vendors who were tested by AV-TEST. We chose to point out Avast and AVG because they are the most recognized among consumers. The comparison here is to demonstrate that many users who rely on these popular antivirus solutions from Avast and AVG aren’t necessarily as protected as they once thought they were.

      Reply
  • Hi,

    By all means correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t this report focused on XP operating system. Where as I’m sure many people still use XP it is no longer supported by Microsoft and reluctant though we may be to move on we should be seriously considering upgrading our equipment’s O/S.

    It is unlikely there is a great deal of commonality with current O/Ss they having been revamp even to the extent that legacy software has been omitted (much to my chagrin). I have a query therefor, how relevant is this report?

    Regards,
    L.

    Reply
      • Thanks for that clarification.

        I looked independently at the site, not via your link, and only saw an XP test for August 2014.

        I’ll look again.

        L.

        Reply
  • Howard Hart says:

    So, does your evaluation mean that Zone Alarm’s FREE version is a watered – down, less effective version? Or, does it mean that the FREE version is JUST as effective, but with fewer operating parameters, such as “hourly antivirus updates,” as opposed to the SAME updates that are purported to come down every 24 hours?

    Reply
    • Vendors have freedom to submit whichever product they want. Avast chose to submit their free, while AVG decided to submit both free and paid. For us, we decided to submit ZoneAlarm Extreme Security because we wanted to see how well our top of line product performs. In the results, ZoneAlarm Extreme Security outperformed Avast Free Antivirus, as well as both AVG Antivirus Free and Internet Security.
      The comparison here is to demonstrate that many users who rely on these popular antivirus solutions from Avast and AVG aren’t necessarily as protected as they once thought they were.

      Reply
  • Don Thompson says:

    As a user of Zonealarm Free antivirus & antispyware, it would be more useful to me to know how THAT software scored, rather than a premium product I can’t afford.

    Reply
  • Gordon Marsh. says:

    I used Zone Alarm when I bought my first laptop in 2005 as my I.S.P. did not provide any antivirus protection at that time. They then provided it free. During the time I used Zone Alarm I found it superb but had to remove it as it conflicted with the one provided. I really liked ZA and I thought that if ZA contacted my I.S.P. and offered their services when the contract expired with the current provider that would solve all my problems, so why don’t you give it a try ?. I think ZA is the best !!!!!!.

    Reply
    • We definitely have not forgotten about Panda. Congrats to them for scoring well! The main here is because most consumers recognize “Avast” or “AVG”, we wanted to inform them (through the results of AV-TEST) that the popular product they’ve been using isn’t necessarily protecting them as they thought they were.

      Reply
  • You tested two AV products vs Zone alarm Extreme security. I thought that this was just a test of the AVs? Zonealarm extreme security contains both a firewall and an AV, so I don’t think that is really a fair test.

    Reply
    • ZoneAlarm Extreme Security is indeed an antivirus solution, though it does contain additional layers of protection. This should be proof enough that just an antivirus isn’t enough to guard your PC against malware.

      Reply
  • Charles Dobie says:

    You’re right — you’re not comparing apples to apples. What is the comparison between ZoneAlarm’s paid product and AVG’s paid product?

    Reply
    • In the results, ZoneAlarm Extreme Security outperformed both AVG Antivirus Free and Internet Security (paid).
      The comparison here is to demonstrate that many users who rely on these popular antivirus solutions from Avast and AVG aren’t necessarily as protected as they once thought they were.

      Reply
  • What about Panda cloud free, then? Why don’t you mention it?
    Maybe because it outperforms your paid solution in protection…

    Reply
    • Panda did score half a point better than us in the protection category – that’s a fact. We did, however, score 17.5 out of 18 collectively, while Panda scored 17 out of 18 collectively. The point here is because most consumers recognize and use “Avast” or “AVG” as their antivirus solution, we wanted to inform them (through the results of AV-TEST) that the popular product they’ve been using isn’t necessarily protecting them as they thought they were.

      Reply
  • Mark Hetherington says:

    I can’t believe how naive and narrow minded some of the questions are. ZA have clearly stated in the review that the point is to compare two of the most popular free anti-virus solutions, because they are two of the best known, to emphasise the point that a free solution may not be enough to protect you. I’ll repeat the point as many seem to be missing it, that two of the best known were chosen BECAUSE they are the best known and used by hundreds of millions of people.

    I’m not affiliated with ZA and in fact don’t use ZA myself, but some of the comments are ridiculous. Whether you choose ZA or not this is an important issue and that should be the focus, not trying to drag down ZA’s point.

    As for the one who said he couldn’t afford a paid-for solution, that’s a little bit like buying a car and saying you can’t afford the petrol. The same people will be the first to complain when their free AV solution fails them.

    Reply
  • David Emmert says:

    So what about the results for the Zone Alarm free antivirus and firewall?

    Your article is not a valid comparison since you are comparing your paid software with their free.

    However, having tried all three of the free versions , I prefer yours.

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Vendors have the freedom to submit whichever product they want. Avast chose to submit their free, while AVG decided to submit both free and paid. For us, we decided to submit ZoneAlarm Extreme Security because we wanted to see how well our top of line product performs. In the results, ZoneAlarm Extreme Security outperformed Avast Free Antivirus, as well as both AVG Antivirus Free and Internet Security (paid).
      The comparison here is to demonstrate that many users who rely on these popular antivirus solutions from Avast and AVG aren’t necessarily as protected as they once thought they were.

      Reply
  • Your product scored excellent in the August 2014 (Windows 7) test and that has been mentioned above in the comments. But the Windows 8 test was not quite as stellar. Any comments on the drop in protection/performance on Windows 8? Has that already been addressed in patches? I’m running Windows 8 and this is concerning.

    Reply
    • The Windows 8/ 8.1 results were from April 2014, while the Windows 7 one is for August 2014 (that’s the way AV-TEST operates). Instead of reading that we did, as you say, “not quite as stellar”, you should read this in that we’ve actually improved from a total of 15.5 to 17.5, with protection that still scored higher than that of Avast Free Antivirus, AVG Antivirus Free and AVG Internet Security.

      Reply
    • In addition, the version that was tested in April on Windows 8/ 8.1 was ZoneAlarm Extreme 13.0, while the August test on Windows 7 is for version 13.3.

      Reply
  • michael zinn says:

    I don’t think I can agree that the comparison is invalid.

    It really depends on what you are trying to decide. If you are committed to a free product this comparison may not give you all the information you need to decide among competing free products.

    However, even you use a free product, you ought to know what you are giving up in terms of protection. The test clearly indicate that the best known free products do not measure up to the best paid products. That information might motivate users to spend a little more for protection, or adopt other strategies for additional layers of protection.

    In any case, this is an interesting report and Zone Alarm is a top of the line product.

    Reply
  • What about Kaspersky anti virus, that seems pretty good. My wife just bought that and it seems to keep finding stuff nothing else has ever found including Super Anti-Spyware.

    Reply
    • Kaspersky did not submit their Anti-virus 2015 to AV-TEST for evaluation but rather only their Internet Security 2015, and it did very well. We’re definitely going to have a bias here, as Kaspersky is a competitor of ours. However, our take is this: regardless of which vendor you decide to go with, the important thing is to make sure your PC has at least an antivirus and two-way firewall. Also, having security on your PC does not mean you’re 100% invincible to all threats online and offline.

      Reply
  • I think ZA ES is a great product which I have used for some years but some of the comments are pertinent to the subject under discussion.
    I was also intrigued to hear that Panda scored higher in Protection than ZAES. What are ZA going to do to address this weakness in their product and when will it be implemented?
    Thank you.

    Reply
    • While we were only half-point difference from Panda, we wouldn’t necessarily call this a “weakness”. Although many vendors tested “perfectly”, the fact is that no security vendors can protect you 100% from all threats. It’s indeed a never-ending battle of cat-and-mouse between security vendors and cybercriminals who want to wreak havoc on your PC. But we’re constantly improving our products to providing our users with the best protection possible.

      Reply
  • Although I agree with the other comments that it doesn’t make much sense to compare an $89.00 product with two free versions, I can attest to be a long user and lover of Zone Alarm Free Firewall 11.0.000.038. I would never think of using a PC or laptop without first installing this great product. At $19.99, I would consider trying Zone Alarm’s Extreme Security but, even at the current sale price of $39.99, I can’t see customers rushing out to get this just based on this comparison. Congrats on your great results though and thanks for your amazing firewall.

    Reply
    • Hi Pete,

      The purpose of this article was to give awareness to those who use the popular free antivirus from AVG and AVAST that the product they’re using isn’t necessarily giving them the protection they think they’re getting.

      To give a more fair comparison, if we were to compare ZoneAlarm Extreme Security with that of AVG Internet Security (Avast did not submit their paid version), the result is that ZoneAlarm Extreme Security outperformed AVG Internet Security Suite (Actually AVG Antivirus Free did BETTER than AVG Internet Security).

      Reply
  • I use your Free product and at one time used your premium product so I’m not anti-ZA but I do have to mention how Thoroughly Embarassing you made if for yourself to compare a “Child” to an “Adult” to prove the “Adult” is superior. Yes you keep mentioning ad-nauseum that you are comparing AVG and AVAST **FREE** versions (NOT their presumably Augmented Premium Paid versions) to your very Premium Full Protection product. This is not a fair comparison. Of course it’s expected your Premium (some might say overpriced) product would be expected to score superior to another’s FREE version. No company intending to make Profit (after all you are all businesses not charities) would make a FREE version to have all the features and full protection afforded in one’s Premium paid version…so is it any surprise that your Premium products scores so well compared to their FREE versions? If it did not, you’d have more problems on your hands if your Premium version was beat by competitive FREE versions. It just shows poor marketing…or perhaps devious/misleading marketing on your end to make your comparisons. Yes others decided to submit their FREE versions for testing…so why didn’t you? Bad Marketing Ploy. I hope others see through your poor attempt at winning advertising. Let it be know I like ZA but yet your comparison and logic/replies I find very Pathetic.

    Reply
    • Actually, if you read through the response we gave for other users who claim this was not a fair comparison, the fact is this: While Avast only submitted their Free Antivirus, AVG submitted BOTH Antivirus Free AND Internet Security (paid). The result? ZoneAlarm Extreme Security not only outperformed both free antivirus by Avast and AVG but also AVG Internet Security Suite (Actually AVG Antivirus Free did BETTER than AVG Internet Security).

      The purpose of this article was to give awareness to those who use the popular free antivirus from AVG and AVAST that the product they’re using isn’t necessarily giving them the protection they think they’re getting.

      Reply
  • Roman Smetak says:

    i repair pc’s, and most that come in with AV problems are ones that purchased zone alarm, and tried to install on their machines but couldent? the main problem ive found is zone alarm doesnt like to play nicely with a lot of users pc’s because their surfing habits frequently place their machines in undesirable situations!!! however, avast has a tidy feature that doesnt lock you out of the internet, it simply wont load a malacious web page, and tells you why!! so avast wins, of course thats my opinion, also avast is by far simpler to use, and ive never had a machine returned because of over protection like ZA does! i like zone alarm, but if youre not near expert level operator, zone alarm isnt for you, avast is for the novice user who desires the max protection with ease of operation

    Reply
    • Having an antivirus on your PC does not mean you can surf the Web without any vigilance; that’s a recipe for disaster. Security involves having proper software protection, as well as the efforts on the user himself/ herself. These efforts include keeping Web browser, operating system, and other applications up-to-date, as well as practicing safe Web browsing.

      Reply
  • James Hantze says:

    I have been using ZoneAlarm almost since its inception. First the free version which got a good reporr by GRC (Shields-up) website, as the only program of its rype to prevent data from leaving your computer. That was back in the late 1990s. I have been a happy and protected user ever since. I preferred the premium versions as they became available and together with common sense in surfing and ZoneAlarm, I have never…I mean NEVER had my computers compromised. On several occasions, ZA identified, quarantined and destroyed some nasties, as well as stopping me from downloading some.

    Reply
  • Okay, I understand your purpose was to demonstrate that popular free solutions are weaker than ZA Extreme Security. Now the question is: how would have scored your free version in such a test? What are the differences in pure protection between your paid and free solution?

    Reply
    • The demonstration wasn’t to prove that free solutions are weaker than ZoneAlarm Extreme Security. The purpose was to inform the millions of people who use AVG and Avast that they’re not necessarily as protected. Many people chose to use AVG and Avast as their antivirus, based on recommendation by their friends who were recommended by their friends..and so forth.

      In terms of how ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall would have scored, it should be close to that of ZoneAlarm Extreme Security. Do note that testing does not come cheap, and therefore it would be very costly to test each and every single product we have. We will take your consideration for testing ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall for the next evaluation.

      Reply
  • Had my pc infected by a win32 sality virus while running Avast (fully updated and registered and on aggressive mode). I was loyal to Avast for many years but it couldn’t cope with such a virus. Got ZoneAlarm free and it not only sorted this virus but it cleaned out my PC. thats when I decided to upgrade to ZAES. I boast about even at University because the whole system there is heavily infested even though they are running AVG Internet Security all round. Simply let them know that nothing can beat Israeli technology. I’m particularly impressed by the Zero Day technology

    Reply

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