Internet Security Suites
I recently got a new computer, and the free trial of McAfee antivirus is about to expire. I've been looking at Internet Security Suites, but there are so many options and features that my head is spinning. What should I look for in an Internet security suite, and which one do you recommend?
Which Security Suite is Best?
Internet Security suites are collections of software that guard against a wide spectrum of threats to your privacy, the integrity of your computer network, and your control of your computer. Typically, a security suite includes a firewall; antivirus protection; anti-spyware; and optionally, anti-spam and anti-phishing software components.
Let's start by taking a look at each of the components typically found in an Internet security suite:
A firewall controls traffic on the "edge" of your computer network, the point at which your computer connect to the Internet. Basically, a firewall protects you from intruders and keeps you from straying into trouble on the Internet. Depending on the features of the firewall and how you configure them, a firewall determines what kind of transactions can be done between computers on and off your network; what sorts of data are allowed in or out of the network; and what individual computers on the network can do with resources "out there" on the Internet. In other words, a firewall can keep hackers out; keep kids off porn sites and employees off Twitter; and even allow you to do whatever you please while others are restricted.
Antivirus software guards against the downloading, installation, and execution of virus and other actively malicious software - things that can erase your hard drive; discover your personal information and send it to identity thieves; interfere with the operation of legitimate programs; allow remote hackers to control your computer; and so on. In real-time mode, antivirus software attempts to monitor every bit of data that comes into your computer and detect malware before it is written to your hard drive. Since malware can enter your computer via multiple channels, real-time protection monitors email, Web browsing, instant messaging, file transfers from removable media such as CDs, etc. In scan mode, antivirus software looks deeply into every file on your hard drive to see if any malware is hidden inside. Detected malware can be automatically removed or "quarantined" for later action.
Antispyware software roots out programs that monitor your computing activities and transmit this information to people who might use it for their own purposes. Spyware can range from relatively harmless things like advertising popups, to programs that record every key you press - including the passwords to your financial accounts - and send this data to identity thieves.
Anti-phishing programs try to keep people from doing stupid things, like falling for fake Web sites that pretend to be popular sites like Twitter or Bank of America; or clicking on links in email from strangers. If you (or others sharing your computer) don't think while you're computing then anti-phishing software is a good addition to your security suite.
Anti-spam software protects your inbox from unsolicited email messages. Spam can be merely annoying, as in the ones that hawk weight-loss or enlarge-your-bodypart products, or it can be dangerous. Spam emails that promote investment scams are common, and for reasons that baffle me, the Nigerian Scam is still going strong, even after decades of warnings against it. Then there are the spams that contain viruses and spyware in attachments, along with social engineering tricks to entice you to open. If you use a desktop email client such as Outlook, Eudora or Thunderbird, then anti-spam protection is a good idea.
Some security suites also offer advisories to warn you before you click into a rogue site, and various forms of identity protection.
Security Suites: Free or Paid?
You should know that there are three types of security suites: paid, free and roll your own. Some highly rated products in the paid category are Norton Internet Security, McAfee Internet Security Suite, and Kaspersky Internet Security. These products generally provide very good protection, and are easy to install and use. But they tend to be pricey (around $60 to $80) and require annual renewals. Norton in particular has a history of being a resource hog, and many have found that it's hard to uninstall. Magazine editors always seem to heap high praise on Norton products, but end users tend to have a negative opinion. That makes me wonder if there isn't some "incentive" involved in those reviews.
Free internet security suites typically bundle just the anti-virus and anti-spyware components, and they hope you'll upgrade to a paid package to get all the other goodies. AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition includes protection against viruses and spyware, and a link scanner to identify harmful sites. Avast! Home Edition ups the ante with rootkit detection, and secures P2P file sharing and instant messaging. Microsoft Security Essentials is more basic, with just anti-virus and anti-spyware.
The level of protection provided by the freebies is pretty much the same as their paid counterparts. The downside is that you'll have to hunt down the missing components -- if you think you really need them -- and install them separately.
Build Your Own Security Suite
But there's a third option, which is to build your own security suite, selecting from a wide array of free firewall, anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-spam and other tools. Before you start, let me say that for most people, good anti-virus and anti-spyware will provide adequate protection from 99.9% of the threats that lurk in cyberspace. You will find helpful information in my articles on Free Anti-Virus Programs, and Free Anti-Spyware Programs.
As for firewalls, you can probably do nothing -- but that's not to say you don't need a firewall. I strongly suggest that you read my articles Do I Need a Firewall? and Free Firewall Protection before making a decision about installing any firewall software.
If you use one of the popular webmail services like GMail, Yahoo Mail or Hotmail, then you can skip anti-spam software, since they all have excellent spam filtering built in. If you use a desktop email program, see my Free Anti-Spam Tools article.
My personal preference is the roll-your-own approach. What's working for you? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 7 Jan 2010
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Internet Security Suites (Posted: 7 Jan 2010)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved