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Best free malware removal tools 2020: Clean your hard drive with these services

Worried your device is infected? Here are the best free tools you need to get rid of malicious software

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Learning that your device has been infected with malware is far from ideal, and the process to remove anything contracted can be gruelling, to say the least. Some strains have even been designed to be as difficult to remove as possible.

Malware is fairly common, however. These pieces of malicious software have been created to infect computers, tablets or smartphones and cause damage to victims, and they're everywhere. Whether they come in the shape of viruses, trojans, ransomware or spyware, you'd want to remove them immediately.

As for how your devices can get infected in the first place, there are a host of attack methods used to spread malware, including email attachments and even exploits to older iterations of common software. USB sticks, too, can harbour malicious files.

Often enough, moreover, you won't know that your computer has been infected until it's too late and the infection has settled into your device's system. Depending on the author's intent, however, this can be extremely obvious, or silent.

Ransomware, for example, can be deployed to target high-profile systems, and is often used in attacks against the public sector. Several US state-level governments have been targeted with ransomware in recent months, and the NHS itself has been hit with ransomware; namely the WannaCry outbreak of 2017.

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Ransomware works by slowly encrypting system files until the user is completely locked out. At this point they'll be offered a ransom fee to get the files back - hence the name.

Some malware can go undetected for a long time, even years. The case of Slingshot was eventually discovered by Kaspersky Labs after it infected and nestled inside routers for 6 years without anyone noticing. The highly sophisticated form of malware was able to gather desktop activity and clipboard data, as well as collect screenshots, keyboard data, network data, passwords, and data from USB devices.

Sophisticated or not, malware is not something you want crawling around your PC, so immediate removal is the best course of action. Fortunately, there are many types of malware removal tools around and many of them are free, although some have paid upgrades. So whether you're just running a tool for peace of mind, or to remove something specific, here are our top picks to keep your system free of malware.

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware

Available to download here.

Malwarebytes is one of the better-known malware removal tools out there, and for good reason. It is able to destroy many types of malware that other software tends to miss, and its real-time scanning means it can trawl through your computer and detect any malicious threats automatically. It's a great tool if you want something you can install and then forget about.

Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware suite is free to use, however, its real-time protection and chameleon technology, which includes deeper root scans and tools for blocking malicious websites (arguably its best features), will only work for the first 14 days. Those premium features will cost you 19.95 per year if you want to upgrade.

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AVG AntiVirus Free

Available to download here.

AVG's antivirus includes real-time security updates, scans for both malware and performance issues, and even catches malicious downloads before they reach your PC. It's also got an all-new simple design that shows you exactly how you're protected while promising not to slow your computer down.

If you want the all-singing, all-dancing version of the software, which has more features for finding and destroying all kinds of malware, there's also a paid-for Pro version that includes more robust download protection, offers data encryption and includes a firewall. However, this will set you back 50 a year.

BitDefender Antivirus Free Edition

Available to download here.

The best thing about Bitdefender's free malware removal tool is that it's ad-free, it doesn't nag you with lots of irritating pop-up notifications and it's easy to install, running quietly in the background.  

The software features BitDefender's B-Have tech, which looks for apps that aren't behaving themselves. It also includes malware and spyware detection that can detect more rare threats, and performs a boot scan every time you start your PC. For all the reasons listed above, BitDefender's Antivirus Free Edition is one of our favourites out of the bunch. 

Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool

Available to download here.

The Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool is an anti-malware utility that checks computers running Windows 10, Windows 8 and most other versions of Windows for infections by specific, prevalent malicious software.

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It's completely free to download and when the detection and malware removal process is complete, the tool displays a report describing the outcome, including which, if any, malware was detected and removed.

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A simple, no-fuss easy-to-use anti-malware tool for the PC.

Panda Free Antivirus

Available to download here.

If you're looking for a light anti-malware software, Panda Free Antivirus is the one. It's cloud-based, meaning all the heavy lifting is done on Panda's servers, leaving more of your PC's system memory to do other, more demanding jobs.

Easy to install and use, Panda's malware removal software includes Wi-Fi scanning, password management, encryption, parental controls and many more, but best of all, it offers excellent real-time protection with no nagging messages about upgrades.

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