(Credit: Avast Software)

With security breaches at Facebook, web browser add-ons spying on users, and even password managers under threat, it's a good time to evaluate the virus/malware security on your laptop or desktop PC. And luckily for us, today marks the annual release of new versions of Avast, one of the more popular choices out there.

SEE: How to beef up your Chrome and Firefox security in 2018

Whether you go for Avast Free Antivirus, Avast Internet Security, or Avast Premier, the company is working to make people more secure against a growing range of threats. This year, Avast Free gets anti-phishing protection, which used to be exclusive to the paid versions.

With phishing, someone masquerading as an official representative of a company attempts to trick you into giving them passwords and other sensitive info. This is usually done with an email message that may look legit. But If you use a desktop software like Outlook to manage your email, Avast can scan your incoming messages and block those that appear to be attempting this kind of underhandedness.

The company says that this year's edition of Anti-Phishing has also been upgraded for better detection. With higher accuracy, you get fewer emails incorrectly categorized as malicious, which means you don't need to take as much time to double-check Avast's scan results.

The free version of Avast also gets Wi-Fi inspector, which analyzes the quality of your network passwords; a software updater tool to help you keep your apps up-to-date (outdated apps are a common entry point for malware); a password manager to help you create and organize passwords that are difficult to crack; and a Rescue Disk feature that can boot your PC in the event that a virus corrupts your copy of Windows.

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The Ransomware Shield in the paid versions is also a nice feature. This is designed to protect you from ransomware -- a type of malware that can lock important documents, spreadsheets, and other files, requiring you to pay off a hacker to release the lock. With this Data Shield, Avast can monitor these files and their folders for unauthorized access or modification, which helps to prevent them from being held hostage.

Avast Premier is the company's flagship home user offering, and it adds a Webcam Shield that could come in handy for laptops with built-in cameras; a Data Shredder, which wipes the space on the drive where a file used to be, rather than just deleting it (deletion just tags that space to be overwritten by other data, instead of truly erasing the file from your storage device); and it automates the software updater to work in the background, rather than requiring user interaction.

If you use Windows XP or Vista, however, be aware that Avast will end support for these operating systems on November 20, 2018.

The takeaways

  • Avast has released the 2019 versions of its antivirus security suites, and Avast Free now has the anti-phishing feature that used to be exclusive to the paid versions. The company says that anti-phishing is more accurate than before.
  • In addition to scanning for malware, Avast can evaluate the security of your home Wi-Fi network, manage passwords, and help keep your other software up-to-date.

See also

Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.