UPDATE: Free Antivirus Programs
Readers often ask for my recommendations on antivirus protection. A common question goes something like this: “I got a trial version of Norton (or McAfee) antivirus with my computer, but the subscription expires in a few days. Should I pay, or switch to one of the free anti-virus programs? What do you recommend?” Read on for my updated list of the top FREE antivirus tools, and some tips on choosing free versus paid...
Protect Your Computer With Free Anti-Virus Software
Your computer is running slow... your high-speed internet connection feels like dial up, and popups are popping up everywhere. What's wrong? It could be a computer virus, or perhaps a bunch of viruses, infecting your hard drive. Viruses not only take up valuable memory and slow down your computer, they can also expose your personal information to Evil Hackers.
The good news is, there are plenty of anti-virus programs that can clean up the mess and keep you safe going forward. Many of them are even free!
Here's a rundown of the most popular free anti-virus packages. I'll also share my take on free versus paid anti-virus software. Find out which option is right for you.
Free Anti-Virus Programs
AVG Free - is one of the most often recommended freeware anti-virus packages. It blocks viruses, spyware, rootkits, and other malware; scans Web, Facebook, and Twitter links for links to dangerous sites; and warns you of malicious email attachments. Works on PCs, Macs, and Android mobile devices. AVG's Community Protection Network combines information about emerging threats from millions of AVG users, and provides automatic updates.
AVG Internet Security (free trial, $55/year) adds "Online Shield" to screen your downloads; file encryption; updates every 2 hours; has anti-spam and enhanced firewall; and free support. A 30-day free trial is followed by a 30-day money-back guarantee.
Avast! - another highly recommended anti-virus program with a rich feature set, and ease of use. Avast! claims it’s #1, with 230 million users worldwide. It is updated regularly. The Avast Free Anti-virus protects against viruses, spyware, rootkits, and even zero-day attacks that no one’s heard of yet. Its Home Network Security scans your network for weaknesses that could admit malware or hackers. It includes a Browser Cleanup feature that can eliminate stubborn adware toolbars and other unwanted add-ons. Protection is offered for PCs, Macs, and Android mobile devices.
Avast Internet Security ($40/year) adds a firewall, anti-spam, anti-hijacking, and extra protection for login credentials. Avast Premier ($50) adds automatic patching of security holes in your system and file-shredding to prevent recovery of sensitive data. Both come with 30-day free trial periods.
Avira Anti-Vir - claims over 200 million users worldwide. Avira Free Anti-virus gets good reviews for basic anti-malware protection. Free browser extensions protect against phishing and rogue sites. Avira's Protection Cloud serves as an "early warning system," analyzing unknown files encountered by other Avira users, to protect against zero-day threats in real time. Versions are available for PCs, Macs, Android and iOS mobile devices.
Three personal paid versions add additional features, including system optimization and automatic driver updates. ($45 to $80 per year).
BitDefender - is yet another highly rated freeware anti-virus tool; it even beat AVG, Avast, and Avira in PC Magazine’s 2014 tests. It scans your drives and memory for viruses only during idle periods to avoid slowing you down. Additionally, it has a real-time shield to stop malware before it infects your machine; zero-day protection against unknown threats; intrusion detection; behavioral analysis to detect when apps are doing things they shouldn’t; link scanning to warn of dangerous sites before you fetch them; and anti-rootkit technology. The free edition is licensed for one PC.
The Family Edition secures up to 3 Windows, Android, or Mac machines for $60/year. The Total Security Multi-Device package covers 5 devices for $100/year.
Comodo AntiVirus uses a blacklist of files to block known malware; a whitelist of known safe files to avoid blocking your legitimate apps; and behavioral analysis to “arrest” apps that are acting suspiciously. Any file not on the whitelist will only be allowed to run in a memory “sandbox” where it cannot alter your hard drive or other resources. Add intrusion detection and cloud-based threat intelligence, and you get very formidable defenses for free.
Comodo Internet Security Pro ($40) covers 3 devices with a $500 “virus free guarantee.” Comodo Internet Security Complete ($90) adds a firewall, 10 GB of TrustConnect encrypted proxy service, and 50 GB of online storage.
A Second Layer of Defenses
Free anti-virus programs used to be one-trick ponies; they addressed only unambiguously harmful things like viruses, trojans, and rootkits. Mere “annoyances” like spyware or adware were ignored, so additional software was needed to address those threats. The ever-escalating features war has made free anti-virus programs more comprehensive.
I still recommend secondary tools such as MalwareBytes Anti-Malware (MBAM) and AdwCleaner for an occasional peace-of-mind scan, and as last-resort malware killers when other software can’t detect or eradicate what’s bugging your system. The free version of MBAM protects against malware and spyware, screens web links to help you avoid dangerous sites, and has some of the highest ratings for rooting out stubborn rootkits. AdwCleaner specializes in rooting out rootkits, toolbars, and browser hijackers. It can find and remove traces of malware that sometimes "resurrect" rogue software after restarting your computer.
What You Should Know About Anti-Virus Software
I strongly recommend that you also read these two articles to understand more about malware protection and firewalls. The first will tell you about the free programs I personally use to stay safe online, and the second will demystify the subject of firewalls.
I do have one caution about using anti-virus and anti-virus “plus” packages. Some people assume that because the software is free, then more is better. I've gotten reports from people who are using TEN or TWELVE "anti" programs at the same time. The truth is that anti-virus programs like to be left alone, or they can end up in a "death spiral", each thinking that the other is trying to do something bad. Multiple anti-virus programs can interfere with each other, causing system slowdowns or lockups.
That's why I recommend that you pick ONE of the real-time protection tools listed above, and optionally supplement with an on-demand scanner like MBAM or AdwCleaner.
Paid Versus Free Anti-Virus
Do you really need paid anti-virus software? That depends on you. If you or others in your household are prone to visit the dark corners of the Internet (peer-to-peer music/movie downloads, adult sites or pirated software), or if you have children that will click and download almost ANYTHING, then you will probably want the best protection possible. Generally, the commercial anti-virus packages with monthly subscriptions offer very high levels of protection, fast updates when new viruses are found, and good customer support.
On the other hand, many of the "premium" features offered in the paid products are included in your web browser, or can be found as free addons to the free versions. For example, malicious link detection is standard in most browsers. Anti-spam is built into webmail services. Free encryption tools are available, but this isn't something most home users care about. And free tools are available to detect and update out-of-date software.
You should consider a paid anti-virus package if you run a business, or if you have sensitive information on your computer. It's a small price to pay to ensure that your data is secure, and may protect you from legal liability. Here are some commercial anti-virus packages, all of which are rated "Advanced+" in the latest AV Comparatives report, which is an independent, unbiased testing group.
In summary, don't take your Internet security lightly. You really DO need good anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall protection. It's my opinion that most users will do just fine with one of the freebies I've mentioned at the beginning of this article. But if you (or others using your computer) fall into one of the higher risk categories mentioned above, a paid security software suite may better suit your needs.
What's YOUR internet security strategy? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 1 Sep 2015
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- UPDATE: Free Antivirus Programs (Posted: 1 Sep 2015)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved