Internet forums are full of questions about choosing the best anti-virus software for the computer. Quite often they become a spark that ignites hot discussion about superiority of one solution over another. As a result, the questioner is even more confused than before posting the unfortunate issue, which in no way brings him to obtain the expected response.
The problem is they ask wrong question. It'd be better to focus on the problem how to choose it, rather than ask what to choose. Thanks to that, final decision would be more aware and less accidental. It is also a chance that you choose the product best suited to your needs. It's like the choice of a car - for some, the most important is to have a four-wheel drive, and for others, that it was red.
Is the right choice so important?
The term "antivirus" is a mental shotcut, far-reaching simplification behind which is a much wider range of functionality. In addition to protecting against viruses, which in fact represent only a small fraction of threats, most often it is also a protection against spyware, data steal or fraud attempts, as well as other kinds of threats. In most cases, the security solution should be the most important software installed on the hard disk, right after the operating system. From its effectiveness may depend not only the security of data stored on your computer, but also any information referring to the identity, privacy, relationships with other people on social networks and even money in the bank account. The right choice of security solution is as important, as important are the data that you want to protect with it.
How to choose the scope of protection?
Most manufacturers of security software offer three basic types of solutions for home users with different range of functionality. We may informally name them:
- the level of Antivirus
- the level of Internet Security
- the level of Total Security
Obviously it is an arbitrary classification and the range of functions, as well as names of particular solutions may vary. What's more, some manufacturers offer two, not three levels of protection, but roughly this classification works in most cases.
The level of Antivirus provides basic protection against threats such as viruses, trojans, worms, etc. Basically, antiviruses do not contain a very significant component of the security system, which is the firewall. For this reason it is recommended only if the firewall functions are carried out by other solution or if the computer with antivirus does not have access to the Internet.
Programs like Internet Security offer complete protection against all types of malicious software. They also have a firewall that protects against intrusion and controls network connections. Usually the solutions of this kind are also equipped with antispam module and parental controls. Internet Security software is chosen most often and in most cases it is completly sufficient solution.
Total Security solutions are designed for the most demanding users. In addition to the protective functions they include additional tools, more or less related to security. This means features like creating and restoring backups, data encryption options, or the optimization of the system.
The specific differences between various types of solutions can be found on the websites of manufacturers, who often present them in clear tables.
Free or Paid?
Some manufacturers provide free versions of their products, often becoming extremely popular among the users. If something is free, why pay for it?
It is difficult not to agree with such approach, but it should be very clear what exactly we get for free. First of all, free versions often have stripped-down functionality. This means that using the free solutions we can expect worse scope of protection which may need to be supplemented by installing additional software. Be expected also with other drawbacks as ads or lack of technical support. In some cases you may issue lack of your native language version or license restrictions (for example, if you use computer for work, and the license excludes commercial use). Moreover, opting for free software narrows the choice for those manufacturers who offer such solutions, which may be important in the context of the effectiveness of protection, which will be discussed below.
In summary, any kind of protection is better than its absence, but the most important argument for using free solutions is that... they are free. Secondly, you should be aware that free solutions are better suited for advanced users who know how to control various aspects of the security of their computers.
I have a Linux / Mac, so I do not need any protection!
It is true that the vast majority of e-threats apply to Windows. It does not mean, however, that Linux and Mac OS are entirely free from them. There are simply a lot less of them. Security software is a measure that we install as a precaution to protect data in the event if an infection occurred. Having no protection you might not even know that such a situation occurred. Only that, on Linux and Mac likelihood of a hazardous event is much smaller.
There still remains the question of other users – while unprotected you can unknowingly spread the infection among your friends using Windows. You will not improve your popularity this way.
Which manufacturer offers the best solution?
This is an issue that arouses most emotions. Each popular antivirus software has both faithful supporters and bitter opponents. You can face many discussions on various forums, which are often nothing but exchange of fire. What is worse, there are not rare opinions that computer protection is not needed at all, and the problem of e-threats is intentionally blown by the manufacturers.
It does not mean that you should skip the forums as a source of information, but always keep cautious and be skeptical of information from untrusted people.
Much more reliable source of advices you will find in official publications and press releases in journals or in popular technical portals. There are many comparisons of the security solutions. The most disadvantage related to them is the lack of unified evaluation criteria, which sometimes results in different scores for the same product and can lead to unnecessary consternation. Publications of this kind have also their opponents, suggesting that they are sponsored by interested parties and their task is to demonstrate preconceived theses. Although it can not be ruled out that such practices are taking place, it is difficult to assume every time the lack of reliability of the results, even if there are objections to the methodology of the study.
Maybe not perfect, but most reliable sources of information are institutions whose business is based precisely on the study and comparison of different security solutions (eg. AV-Comparatives.org, AV-Test.org, Virus Bulletin). In this case, the criteria of evaluation are open and well defined for consecutive cycles of testing. Awards received after such evaluations are considered indicators of the quality of security software, and it is a challenge for every manufacturer to achieve as much as possible of them.
It is worth to note that the scores achieved by the individual programs may vary in subsequent rounds of tests, and in addition, each institution is focused on its own rules, so the results do not necessarily indicate the same winner. However, tracing various sources allows to define most accurately group of candidates and arranges knowledge about them enough to make the final decision. It is important to realize that no solution is able to protect your computer in one hundred percent, but programs with top rankings give you the best chance to detect and eradicate unwanted activity.
I chose the paid solution. Buy now?
There is no need to hurry. At first, check whether there is a trial version of the software. Most often you can evaluate functionally unlimited version of the program for a period of 30 days. During this time you can confirm your excellent choice, or -- on the contrary -- it turns out that the software does not meet your expectations and your decision needs to be revised. Using trial version has one major advantage - the protection period extends for a whole month. Allocate at least few days before expiring for the purchase. You do not need the installation disc, so you can consider buying just the electronic license key (save on the costs of packaging, disks and possible shipment). After the trial period you do not have to remove the program and install it again - just type the purchased activation code and the validity of the license will be automatically extended for a specific date.