Avira is a familiar name in security, being best known for its free antivirus offering that has been around for years and years.
Recently the company was bought by NortonLifeLock and we don’t yet know whether it will keep Avira in its current state or move users over to a free version of Norton 360.
Whatever happens, for those looking for antivirus today, Avira is a good choice. It’s easy to download and install and prompts you to run a Smart Scan to kick things off. On our test system this took just a few minutes and reported it was free from viruses but had other issues that needed to be dealt with such as out-of-date apps, privacy settings to ‘fix’, warnings about browser cookies and registry entries and disk space that could be freed up.
There’s a nice Fix issues button, but clicking it doesn’t actually solve the problems. Instead it will clean up the Registry entries and free up a bit of space (it doesn’t tell you what it deleted – or if it removed thousands of potentially useful cookies) and then prompts you to click a ‘Fix the rest’ button.
That’s just an invitation to pay for a more fully featured version of Avira, which is annoying. Decline the offer and you’ll be given the chance to try Avira Prime free for 30 days.
Dismiss these offers and you’ll get back to the main screen which has tabs on the left for Status, Security, Privacy and Performance.
Under Security are options for running a full virus scan and scheduling scans. In the Protection options sub-menu you’ll find that Web protection, Email protection and Ransomware protection are turned off. Attempting to use the toggle switches to enable them will simply tell you they aren’t included in the free version: you have to upgrade to Prime for £85.99 per year, which covers five devices.
It’s a recurring theme as you click through other menus and option. You can scan for outdated apps, but Avira Free won’t remove them. It will show you a list, though, so at least you can update those apps yourself manually.
Clicking on Firewall will tell you it’s turned on, but clicking Advanced options takes you to the Windows Firewall settings – a bit cheeky but it does offer reassurance that there is protection enabled.
What protection does Avira provide then? Well, thankfully it’s very good. In the latest report from SE Labs, Avira scored 96% for Total Accuracy, the same as NortonLifeLock. Drill down into the results and you’ll find it doesn’t quite perform as well: it failed to block but neutralised two threats, and was fully compromised by four. By comparison Norton 360 neutralised one and wasn’t compromised by any of the 100 malware samples.
Of course, performance of every security product varies over time and this is just a snapshot. Avira’s historical performance is very good, and regularly scores top marks (or close to them) from multiple virus test labs.
Just remember that you’re not protected from ransomware with Avira Free.
Where this package outdoes some free rivals is in privacy protection. It includes a basic free VPN which is integrated into the app and offers a simple ‘Connect’ button. Once connected you can use public Wi-Fi with confidence.
You can’t pick a location, so it’s no use for unblocking websites in other countries and with only 500MB of data per month, you can’t even use it for long. But it does work.
There’s also the option of using Avira’s Safe Shopping browser extension which warns you of phishing sites and claims to stop website trackers. You can use Avira’s password manager too, but that requires you to sign up for an account – until this point, you don’t have to enter any personal information or create an account to use Avira Free.
Since it’s effectively a separate service, you might decide it isn’t worth creating an account and using LastPass, Bitwarden or one of our other recommended password managers. But, it’s good that the free version of Avira Password manager offers all the core features including generating passwords, auto-fill on webpages, storing credit cards, notes and syncing across devices.
Add in a file shredder and it’s a good array of tools to keep you and your files safe (but again, no ransomware protection).
The final section is Performance. As you might guess, although there’s plenty in here it’s mostly reserved for ‘Pro’ subscribers and clicking on most of the icons will launch a separate window called Avira System Speedup. This is confusing as until you realise that extra window has opened, you’re not sure how to go back to the main menu.
Avira offers good basic malware protection for Windows – roughly on a par with Windows Defender – and a few extra tools including the VPN, password manager and browser extensions to help guard against phishing websites.
But while it appears to offer a lot more besides, it’s all designed to nag you into upgrading to Prime. We much prefer Bitdefender’s approach of a stripped-back app that doesn’t pretend to be a security suite.
It’s hard to complain when it’s free, but if you don’t want to spend any money, you may as well Kaspersky’s free version which offers better malware protection and also includes a VPN and password manager.
You can find Kaspersky Security Cloud Free in our roundup of the best free antivirus software.
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