How Do I Replace Expired Anti-Virus Software?

By Aaron Parson

Anti-virus software updates automatically to protect you from new threats.
i Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Most anti-virus programs, including free programs, require a license subscription to stay up to date. Many of these programs continue to work after your license expires, but without a license, they won't protect you from newly created viruses, which emerge at an alarming rate. To stay safe, you have two options: renew your subscription or move to a new program.

Watch Out for Fake Anti-Virus Messages

Before you do anything else, make sure that the anti-virus program that's alerting you to its expiration is, in fact, a real anti-virus program. A common scam uses malicious software (malware) that masquerades as an anti-virus program. The phony program alerts you to supposed threats on your computer, but requires you to pay or install a new program to fix the problem. These warnings are complete fabrications and are best solved by a malware scanner such as Microsoft Safety Scanner, Malwarebytes or SUPERAntiSpyware. These scanners are not alternatives to anti-virus software, but do work well alongside it.

If you're not sure whether you're looking at a real anti-virus program, search for its name online -- if the program's a fake, you'll find information about the scam, rather than a professional storefront for the software.

Renew a License

If you like the anti-virus program you have, you don't need to replace it when your subscription expires. Most anti-virus programs include a link to renew directly on the notice that warns you about the expiration. If you've already closed the notice, check in the program -- double-click its icon in the Windows taskbar. Free programs, such as Avast Free Antivirus, require you to provide only your name and email to register for another year of updates, while paid software requires a paid subscription.

Uninstall Your Old Anti-Virus

If you do want to replace your anti-virus program, you first need to remove the old program, as having two anti-virus programs can cause malfunctions. The ordinary method of uninstalling a program through the Programs and Features Control Panel usually works, but anti-virus software occasionally leaves behind components that interfere with your new program. Many anti-virus manufacturers provide removal tools to help fully uninstall their programs. If you run into trouble with the ordinary method, use the removal tool for your old program, such as Avast, AVG, Norton or McAfee. For others, search the manufacturer's website or check the list in the Resources.

Pick a New Anti-Virus

A few anti-virus programs are sold in retail stores, but for more options, look online. Free options, including Avast, Avira and AVG, provide adequate protection for most people. If you prefer the additional features of a paid product -- many offer malware and spam protection -- reliable choices include the paid versions of these three programs as well as Norton and Kaspersky. For more options, check the rankings by AV-TEST, an independent testing organization.

Windows Defender

If you have Windows 8 or above, you have an additional option for free virus protection: Windows Defender. Defender comes with Windows, but won't run if you have another anti-virus program installed. To reach its settings and turn it on, search for Windows Defender on the Start screen after removing your old program. Unfortunately, Defender has a poor reputation. As of February 2015, AV-TEST gave Defender a protection score of 0 out of 6 due to sub-par protection against viruses. Turning on Defender is better than going without protection, but you're better off with another choice.

The Windows 7 and Vista program called Windows Defender is not a full anti-virus program. Microsoft's anti-virus software for these systems is called Windows Security Essentials.