Updated with latest lab-test results. This review was originally published May 4, 2020.
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free replaces the old Kaspersky Free Antivirus and adds more tools as well as Android and (limited) iOS protection.
The program has such a light system impact that it sped up our machine a bit after installation. In addition, it offers a pretty comprehensive array of extra features, even if other options are grayed out or just teases for the paid plan.
When you consider Kaspersky's unbeatable malware-detection engine, opting for Kaspersky Security Cloud Free over other free antivirus packages, even the built-in Windows Defender, is a no-brainer. It's our unqualified choice for the best free antivirus software.
Read on for the rest of our Kaspersky Security Cloud Free review.
Malware protection: Excellent
System impact, background: Nonexistent
System impact, scans: Very light
Windows compatibility: 7 through 10
Email scans: Yes
File shredder: Yes
Game/silent mode: Yes
Hardened/secure browser: No
Password manager: Yes, but limited
Performance scanner: Yes
Ransomware file reversal: Yes
Rescue disk: Free download
Scan scheduler: Yes
Support options: FAQs, forums
URL screener: Yes
Upsell nag factor: Moderate
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free: What's covered and upgrade options
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free uses the same malware-scanning engine as the company's paid products. The free program not only blocks online attacks but includes limited access to the company's Secure Connection VPN.
It works with Windows 7, 8.1 and 10. You'll need to use an older version for Windows XP or Vista.
Kaspersky's cheapest paid antivirus program is Kaspersky Anti-Virus, and it is for PCs only. It starts at $60 per year for three computers and adds a system optimizer and specialized defenses against ransomware, phishing and spyware.
Kaspersky Internet Security, which starts at $80 for three devices, includes software for Macs, iPhones, iPads and Android tablets and phones. Its Windows security repertoire includes keeping out unwanted apps, thwarting network threats and preventing webcam hijacking. There's also a secure browser for banking and shopping online.
At the top is Kaspersky Total Security, starting at $100 for five devices. It adds file encryption, Safe Kids premium parental controls and an unlimited password manager.
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free takes a different tack by protecting computers from above. Its free protection covers PCs, Androids and iOS devices by combining virus shields with a password manager and limited VPN access. The free service includes up to 15 password entries and 300MB a day of VPN communications.
If you pay $90 for three systems for Cloud Personal, or $150 for 20 devices for Cloud Family, Kaspersky opens the coverage to include Mac systems, provides 500MB a day of VPN security and lets you set up an unlimited number of password-manager log-in credentials. The family plan adds Kaspersky's Safe Kids parental controls.
Kaspersky software is banned for use by U.S. government agencies and defense contractors, and there have been allegations that the Moscow-based company spies on behalf of the Russian authorities. We have not seen any convincing evidence that Kaspersky does so, and we think the software is fine for civilian use.
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free: Antivirus protection
Whether you get Kaspersky Security Cloud Free or pay for Kaspersky software, you get the same excellent protection against malware.
The latest version of Kaspersky Security Cloud Free includes a tool called System Watcher that watches for ransomware attacks and can reverse changes to files. On the downside, Kaspersky Security Cloud Free has no specific defense against UEFI penetration of the system's start-up program.
If the scanning gets in the way of gaming or watching video, Kaspersky Security Cloud Free's gaming mode can reduce interruptions.
Scans are quick and easy to start. A Full Scan is two clicks from Kaspersky's main page, and a Quick Scan is one more click. Right-clicking a specific object in Windows Explorer lets you scan it, and when you plug in a USB flash drive, Kaspersky Security Cloud Free scans it behind the scenes.
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free: Antivirus performance
Kaspersky has one of the best malware-detection engines of any consumer antivirus maker, and the engine is shared by all Kaspersky Windows antivirus products.
The program detected 100% of all malware in every monthly test run by German lab AV-Test in 2018 and 2019, a feat matched only by Norton, which doesn't offer free antivirus software. The same winning streak continued in AV-Test's January-February 2020 round.
But Kaspersky had a better balance than Norton between efficiency and zealousness, racking up only three false positives over that two-year period, compared with Norton's 22 false positives.
Kaspersky's results with Austrian lab AV-Comparatives were not quite as perfect. While it stopped an average of 100% of malware in the lab's February-May 2019 and February-March 2020 tests, Kaspersky averaged only 99.1% in the July-October 2019 round.
Overall, Norton did better, and Bitdefender and Microsoft Windows Defender were close behind Kaspersky, but Norton and Microsoft had many false positives while Kaspersky had zero.
However, London-based SE Labs saw Kaspersky scoring 100% in both protection accuracy and total accuracy for its July-September 2019, October-December 2019 and January-March 2020 rounds. No other brand did as well.
Free-antivirus stalwarts Avast and AVG each got only 94% for protection in the first round and 95% in the second one, although Avast got 95% in the third round while AVG got 100%. Microsoft did better than either overall, while Bitdefender was not tested.
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free: Security and privacy features
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free installs its own browser extensions for Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer. The add-ons can keep you away from dangerous websites.
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free comes with a Kaspersky Secure Connection client to tap into Hotspot Shield's VPN infrastructure. There are connection points in 18 countries, but it includes only 300MB per day of free data. If you want more, the unlimited Premium subscription for five users costs $30 a year, making it the least expensive paid VPN service we've seen.
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free has one big thing other free antivirus programs lack: an on-screen keyboard to foil keylogging malware. But to get Kaspersky's Safe Money secure browser, you need to upgrade to the paid version of Kaspersky Security Cloud.
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free: Performance and system impact
To gauge Kaspersky Security Cloud Free's impact on overall performance, we used our custom benchmark test, which measures how long it takes to match 20,000 names with 20,000 addresses in an OpenOffice spreadsheet.
We used an Asus X555LA notebook with a 2GHz Core i3-5005U processor, 6GB of RAM, 34.1GB of files on a 500GB hard drive and the latest Windows 10 updates.
Before installing Kaspersky Security Cloud Free, the system completed the spreadsheet benchmark in an average of 7 minutes and 15 seconds, which we used as the baseline.
Benchmark completion time dropped to an average of 7 minutes and 11 seconds after Kaspersky Security Cloud Free was installed, a background system-performance improvement of 0.9%.
That seems to indicate that Kaspersky Security Cloud Free runs a little more smoothly than the built-in Windows Defender antivirus, which switches off when a third-party antivirus program is installed.
While performing a full scan, the test system took 7 minutes and 40 seconds to complete the benchmark tasks, a slowdown of 5.7% from the baseline and 6.7% from the background. A Quick Scan led to a 1.1% performance drop from the baseline and a 2.1% drop from the background.
That impact is much lighter than any other free software we tested. Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition and Avast Free Antivirus each caused 29% slowdowns from the pre-installation baseline during full scans, and even Windows Defender created a 20% slowdown from its own background load.
Avast's quick scan slowed the system by a whopping 53% from the baseline, AVG AntiVirus Free's slowed it by 26%, while Windows Defender slowed the system by 13% from the background. (Bitdefender's free edition has no quick scan.)
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free: Interface
The interface for Kaspersky Security Cloud Free has a bright and open main screen. When everything is protected, there's a check mark in front of a cloud that turns to a yellow exclamation mark or a red “X” when it requires attention.
The main page has eight rectangles for its tasks, but the free version allows the use only of Scan, Database Update and Password Manager, which is a separate download and limits you to 15 items unless you upgrade to the paid Kaspersky Security Cloud.
The Mobile Protection category simply links to the mobile-app downloads, and Secure Connection opens the separate VPN client. The Safe Money, Privacy Protection and PC Cleaner are grayed out unless you pay to upgrade.
In the lower left, clicking an icon of a support-technician wearing a headset logo is a tease because the free version doesn't include human tech support. Instead, you get links to online FAQs, community forums and configuration tips.
The gear-shaped Settings link has a good assortment of customization options that put to shame programs like Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition. There are sections for General (turn automatic protection on and off) and Performance (gaming mode, run scans when idle and keeping an eye out for rootkits).
The Scan category's Low, Recommended and High security levels are good, but we preferred the more granular scan-sensitivity slider on Avast and AVG free products. On the upside, Kaspersky has activated the customization elements of the Protection section for free users, so you can turn off web, file or email scanning should you want to.
The Additional group is deceptively powerful with control of Kaspersky's Advanced Disinfection technology (inside the Threats and Exclusions section). You can whitelist apps, monitor LAN ports for odd activity, block memory-based attacks with Kaspersky Self-Defense and control the virus quarantine.
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free lets you schedule scans, unlike some other free antivirus programs, and scheduling a scan takes just a minute. The frequency can be every night, week or month. It's flexible enough to allow full, quick or focused scans of memory, boot sector or external drives.
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free's System Tray icon lets you run an update or open the on-screen keyboard if you right-click on it. You can also pause Kaspersky's protection, open the settings and see what version of the program you have.
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free: Installation and support
Using Kaspersky Security Cloud Free starts with the 2.5MB installer program that then proceeds to download and install the main 180MB program. You can read the license and choose to opt out of sharing suspect code with Kaspersky.
Near the end, the software lets you have the program eliminate adware and suspicious programs from your machine — an especially useful way to get rid of the remnants of an old malware program.
Finally, you need to set up a MyKaspersky online account that allows you to manage the security of systems and get access to online support. All told, it took us less than 7 minutes to protect a fresh PC.
Should your system get bogged down with malware, Kaspersky's Rescue Disk can help. It's not integrated into the program, but you can download the software from the Kaspersky website, burn or install it on an optical disk or a USB drive, and boot the machine in a clean Linux environment for scanning and cleaning.
Caveat: The Kaspersky rescue disk dates from 2018 and may not have the most up-to-date tools. You can try the newer Norton Bootable Recovery Tool instead.
As is the case with most free-AV software packages, you get only the most basic support with Kaspersky Security Cloud Free. Forget about emailing or calling support technicians; you're limited to online resources and the company's forums to figure out how to fix things or use the program.
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free review: Bottom line
Kaspersky Security Cloud Free is well worth the download. It combines superior malware protection with a fast scanner that barely slows down the system and allows plenty of customization. It's well stocked with options, although several items are reserved for paying customers.
You'll get a few more extra features with Avast Free Antivirus, but in our opinion, they're not worth the drop-off in protection. The bare-bones Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition is a good choice for people who don't want to bother with antivirus software, but for everyone else, Kaspersky Security Cloud Free is the free antivirus program to get.