Free tools to check if your Mac or Windows computer is infected with a virus

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The last thing you need to do is to shell out cash for a new computer or expensive repairs to fix yours. If your Mac or PC is on the fritz, use one of these free online security scanners to check for malware.

Scanning for malware with free and cloud-based software

There’s a big difference between free and cloud-based virus scanners and full-scale cybersecurity suites. Cloud-based scanners give you a quick overview of your system’s health.

Larger suites, on the other hand, are best for deeper cleaning and inspection. You shouldn’t expect a free online scanner to completely replace a robust anti-malware program, but these scans are a good way to get a quick checkup without waiting hours for a full-system scan.

Plus, free is the name of the game right now.

These services are all lightweight, speedy options for Windows and macOS systems. Before performing any scan, make sure to back up all your files in case of an emergency. Fixing your malware problem won’t do you any good if you lose all your data, right? Tap or click here to see the best way to back up your computer.

1. ESET Online Scanner

This free security program from ESET installs from your browser window and scans your system for nasty malware and other malicious programs. It works with Windows PCs and Macs. Just like a full-fledged anti-malware suite, ESET lets you quarantine questionable files.

This is extremely useful since some anti-malware programs will throw up false positives for suspicious-looking files and trash things you know are safe. Quarantining allows you to keep these files safe for inspection and protect the rest of your system.

To get started, head to the ESET website and click on One-time Scan. You can try ESET’s full security suite free for 30 days. Full subscriptions start at $40 for a one-year license.

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2. F-Secure Online Scanner

F-Secure takes the cake as one of the fastest online scanners around, quickly locating and destroying malware.

F-Secure installs a small file that communicates with the cloud to run. That means every time you use it, F-Secure is up to date with the latest malware definitions and security research.

That’s vital with how quickly cybercriminals change and adapt.

On the flip-side, this lightweight program doesn’t give you as much flexibility as other anti-malware suites. You can’t specify which files you want it to scan. Once you click “scan,” the program does its thing and hunts down the bugs in your system.

If a one-size-fits-all scan works for you, head to the F-Secure site linked above and click on Run Now. Allow your system to accept the installer file, and you’re good to go.

3. Google Chrome (yes, really!)

Google Chrome’s built-in virus scanner doesn’t require any additional installation and simply runs in your browser window. All you need to do is type chrome://settings/cleanup in your address bar (or click the link) to access the program.

To use it, click Find and wait for the scan to complete. But before you do, make sure to read the data disclaimer. If you leave it enabled, you’re giving Google permission to analyze the information it gathers from your computer.

That’s not required to complete the scan, so we recommend leaving the box unchecked. There’s no reason to hand out more of your data than necessary. Tap or click here to see how you can find out what else Google knows about you.

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4. Windows Defender

Windows Defender is enabled by default and works behind the scenes. It comes standard on Windows 10, so there’s nothing to buy, install or configure.

In addition to performing background scans, this software automatically scans downloads, open programs and provide new Windows Update definitions. Tap or click here for a few more essential Windows security downloads.

Windows Defender includes a user-friendly interface, doesn’t load your PC with bloatware and it requires fewer system resources than most antivirus programs. It’s a solid scanner and antivirus option, and even better paired with anti-malware protection.

5. Panda Cloud Cleaner

Panda Cloud Cleaner is another lightweight scanning program that can hunt down malware hiding out on your PC. Here’s how it sets itself apart from competitors: It includes rescue software if you’re unable to start your computer.

You’ll need a thumb drive to install the software, along with another computer to download it to.

To get started with Panda Cloud Cleaner, visit the homepage from the link above and click Scan Now to download the installer file. Follow the directions it shows to complete your free system scan.

For the rescue software, click Download Now and follow the directions on-screen to create your recovery drive. The instructions will also show you how to boot from the drive to start repairing your computer.

6. BitDefender

BitDefender, a big name in antivirus software, offers an excellent free option for Mac users that includes full system scans and the latest virus and malware definitions. It’s Apple’s option of choice and is available for download in the App Store.

The free scanner locates malicious files for you, rather than deleting them automatically. You’ll have to do that part yourself, but on Mac, that’s as easy as dropping the file in the Trash and emptying it.

BitDefender also has a free home network scanner that searches for vulnerable devices and passwords and offers detailed security recommendations. Tap or click here to try it.

If you’re using a PC, you’re better off sticking with one of the scanners above.

7. ClamXAV for Mac

ClamXAV is a lightweight, open-source anti-malware solution for Mac users. This one sets itself apart by just how few resources it uses. Unlike many other system scanners, you can run

ClamXAV in the background while you do other things. Handy!

It doesn’t run from your browser, so you do need to download and install the program. By default, Apple won’t let you install third-party software from outside its own App Store. You can enable this by opening System Preferences, clicking on Security and Privacy, then clicking on General.

Check the button that says “Anywhere” on the bottom of the page. You may be required to enter your system username and password before continuing. Once this step is complete, you can download and install ClamXAV. Follow the on-screen prompts.

8. Malwarebytes

Malwarebytes is one of the most popular anti-malware tools on the market. It’s loved by Windows users, but the Mac edition is just as easy to use and reliable.

Malwarebytes is extremely fast and can scan your entire computer in as little as 30 seconds. It also identifies and removes malicious files for you once the scan is complete — no extra work required on your end.

To get started, click the link above and select Free Download on Malwarebytes’ website. The installer file will appear in your Downloads folder in the bottom right corner of your dock where all your program icons live. Click the file to open it, and follow the directions that appear when the program starts running.

Malwarebytes will run you through the process of your first scan once you boot it up for the first time.

Malware and cybercriminals are only making quarantine more miserable for computer owners. Fortunately, these security programs can take the pressure off your system and help you stay on top of the latest cyberthreats. Scan often, stay safe, and stick to familiar corners of the web to avoid getting “pwned.”

After all, you don’t need a sick computer when your own health should be your No. 1 priority.

BONUS TIP FOR EXTRA KNOW-HOW: 4 new Zoom security settings to protect your meetings

Video conferencing software Zoom became a household name almost overnight. The term “Zoombombing” became well-known just as quickly.

Internet trolls took advantage of Zoom’s lax settings by hijacking meetings to screen-share graphic videos depicting porn and violence. Not even virtual classrooms were safe.

Between Zoombombing and other facepalm-inducing security problems, the company has been working to quickly roll out updates to regain users’ trust. Now Zoom has released its’ biggest update yet and if you use the software, you need to change these security settings.

Tap or click here to protect your Zoom calls.

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Learn about all the latest technology on The Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.