Cyber Security

Paid vs Free Antivirus Software (For Dummies)

March 6, 2014

Phoenix TS Intern
Source: Virustotal.com
Source: Virustotal.com

How much is your antivirus software really protecting your computer? Wait, what is antivirus software?

Most people know the bare minimum. It’s a program you run on your computer that prevents, detects and eliminates several types of malware, viruses, worms and whatever else hackers throw your way. We don’t really know how it works. We just know that it does. And we don’t necessarily want to spend money on it either.

What you may not know is that there are many components that make up an effective antivirus program. Does paying for antivirus software actually makes a difference?

See if your current software meets the standard.

Antivirus Software 101

Certain components make antivirus software worthwhile. Personally, I am not much of a techie. So I think simplicity is important. The program should be user friendly with a toolbar that allows for quick and simple maneuvering.

No one has the time or energy to flip through a 300-page manual to learn how to use an antivirus program. When it comes to antivirus software, it is essential to make the operation of the program understandable for almost user.

What are the other key factors of effective antivirus software?

  • Easy installation process
  • Fast updates
  • Guard against new threats not detected yet
  • High detection rate of viruses and malware
  • Multiple scanning options and strong scanning system

Many websites post customer reviews and product ratings which compare the product to other companies to narrow down your decision. Though how can you manage to read through the reviews, ratings, and other propaganda to discern which software effectively protects your personal info and computer?

The “It Girl” of antivirus software companies

We all probably know the name of (or subscribe to) “popular” antivirus software such as McAfee or Norton Antivirus. But the real question is; how well does it work compared to other software? Does popularity necessarily equal quality?

Norton Antivirus is a common choice because it is user friendly and effective. The program provides free customer support by phone, email or instant messenger 24/7. Norton runs at about $50 per year. Overall, Top Ten Reviews rated Norton a 9.6 out of 10 in performance, features, help and support.

McAfee runs at about $50 per year as well. It’s pros include great malware blocking and removal programs. Reviews of the product claim a major drawback is the slow installation process, which often requires the help of McAfee support.

Overall, it’s recommended and rated as excellent by an editor at PC Magazine. Despite the stellar rating, look out for unexpected renewal costs. McAfee makes users unsubscribe 60 days before their 12 month subscription is over and Norton renews a user’s subscription automatically for the following year. Before purchasing any software, read the fine print regarding the costs.

Alternative Options – G Data and Microsoft Security Essentials

There’s good news – some of these online resources won’t cost you a dime. Many people aren’t interested in downloading or buying antivirus protection and there are ways to protect yourself without subscribing to costly programs. A free website allows users to  instantly scan URLs and files for viruses before visiting a questionable website. Visit the site here: http://www.virustotal.com

G Data is a great program for virus protection and while it does cost money, it offers a 30 day free trial. G Data provides a variety of packages with different pricing. The internet security package costs $39.99, but if you want simple protection check out $30 package. Note that these prices are per year, not a one-time fee.

What is unique about G Data is that the software uses two separate scanning engines making it almost impossible to miss a threat. It is praised for its ability to detect and fix virtually all problems in a computer and has been named as one of the most effective antivirus software programs by Top Ten Reviews.

Despite the overwhelming praise, G Data has some downfalls. It misses extra features such as battery saving mode and a link scanner. A writer for PC World acknowledges the “tedious” installation process and the fact that it’s not user-friendly. G Data is more suitable for users that have prior knowledge in the world of antivirus protection. Overall, the program has a low impact on computer performance and is a relatively cheap and effective way to attain complete protection.

Microsoft Security Essentials is free program that protects your computer from viruses, malicious software and spyware. What is great about this program is that it is user-friendly, straightforward, and offers protection for no cost. The drawbacks are that it takes a long time to scan for viruses, has limited capabilities and it is not as effective as other programs when detecting viruses and malware (like G Data).

The bottom line – if you are looking for a free program, this is probably as good as it’s gonna get. But what about Avira?

Cylance, CyActive, and Avira antivirus

Most recently, Avira an internet security company, started providing free security for Mac, PC, android and iOS users. Their program is available for download on their website. Avira made their free protection even better by incorporating Avira Protection Cloud, something that was once offered to subscribed users only.

There are many other programs to consider and when choosing antivirus software. It’s important to do your homework to see which program best suits your needs. Cyber security is an evolving market and these two new start-ups have taken an avant-garde approach to antivirus software:

  •   Cylance – A California start-up founded by former Chief Technology Officer of Global McAfee, Stuart McClure. If you don’t want to get rid of your existing security software, Cylance runs alongside it. The company recommends doing so.
  •  CyActive – an Israeli start-up company that believes they can stop viruses and malware altogether by finding the code reused by hackers for future attacks.

The debate of “popularity equals quality” can be argued with almost anything. One that is a constant dispute in the cyber security industry is Mac vs. PC. It is said that Mac products require no additional protection due to its built in security. The chances of that seem slim, especially with the latest Mac security lapses. Being an Apple user myself, I have to call my security into question.

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