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Panda Free Antivirus review: A free security tool with a personality all of its own

There's plenty to like here, including excellent malware protection, but this security package has some notable shortcomings

The Panda anti-virus UI
  • Unbeatable malware protection scores
  • Clever Process Monitor tool
  • Handy disinfection tools
  • Susceptible to false positives
  • No dedicated web or ransomware protection
  • Harsh VPN data cap

Panda Free Antivirus is the artiest antivirus package we've tested: the interface opens up with a variety of pretty backdrops including mountains, sunsets and wildlife. Oddly, it also shows its name as "Panda Dome", which isn't the title on the website.

Another interesting thing about Panda is its malware performance. In the latest tests by independent security lab AV-Comparatives.org, Panda achieved a flawless 100% protection score. No other free security suite managed that -- even among commercial suites, Norton 360 Deluxe was Panda's only peer. However, Panda also wrongly blocked a shocking 96 innocent items, while most other free packages were in single figures. That's not encouraging: when it comes to malware, you don't want to be second-guessing your security software.

Panda supports both on-demand and on-access scanning, and also has quite a sophisticated scheduler for automated system scans. There's no specific protection for web downloads or emails, however, nor any folder-protection measures for intercepting ransomware attacks.

Instead, you get a rather quirky selection of secondary tools, including a VPN service provided by Hotspot Shield. That's a respectable name in the VPN business, but as usual this free offering doesn't let you choose your own server, and comes with a bandwidth limit. In this case it's a tight 150MB per day; that's fine for sending a few emails or checking a forum, but it's not a patch on the 5GB a week you'll get from Avast.

Scroll down and you'll find a few more features. The Dark Web Scanner checks an online database of leaked credentials to warn you if your username and password have been exposed online, while the Rescue Kit lets you create a bootable flash drive that can be used to clean a heavily infected PC. You can also click to download and launch the portable Cloud Cleaner, which evades malware by running from a self-contained folder.

One slightly surprising inclusion is the USB Protection module, which "vaccinates" flash drives to ensure they can't be infected with autorun viruses. Since the USB autorun feature has been disabled in the OS since Windows 7 it's questionable how necessary this is, though it doesn't hurt to have that option.

More interesting is the Process Monitor. At first glance this looks like a simple copy of the Windows Task Manager, but it's actually more similar to a firewall, exposing which processes are accessing the internet, assigning each one a trust rating and letting you block any unwanted items with a click. A nice touch is that each process shows the date when it was first detected, so you can instantly spot anything that's freshly arrived on your PC.

Panda Free Antivirus - or Panda Dome, or whatever they want to call it -- is certainly a security solution with a character all of its own. Its 100% protection rating is eye-catching to say the least, and the Process Monitor is a real strength. Unfortunately, we can't recommend it: protection is only single-layered, the VPN is of very limited use, and when it comes to false positives the whole suite is just too trigger-happy to fully win our trust.

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