No one really likes antivirus software until they really need it. The pestering pop-ups for bi-weekly scans, the inevitable slowing down of your computer’s overall performance, and the high cost of most antivirus programs deter many people. You know what else causes relentless pop-ups, inevitable slowing down of your computer’s overall performance, and the high cost of taking your computer to a professional? That’s right—a virus. Your antivirus software doesn’t have to cause a fortune or slow down your computer.
What happens if your computer is infected?
Depending on the virus, you might see your computer slow considerably, or do strange things like refuse to close a window, even when you ask politely. The real danger, though, is when you don’t see the virus at its dastardly work of capturing your passwords or stealing your data.
How susceptible are you?
The comprehensiveness of the antivirus software suite your computer requires is based on how vulnerable you are to malware. Here are a few questions to mull over in order to evaluate your risk level:
- How often do you download from non-secure sites?
- How much malware do you have already existing on your device?
- Are you aware of how to spot a security risk?
- Do you have sensitive information stored on your device?
- Have you been at the mercy of viruses in the past?
Should you always use protection?
Yes, definitely – kids are pretty expensive these days. Oh wait, we’re talking about computers? There are a multitude of good reasons as to why you should at least give antivirus software a try before writing it off as simply bloatware. There are of course a variety of new and powerful viruses from a league of crafty hackers that your average antivirus suite will not be able to pick up on. But having a functioning antivirus system is the minimum baseline to building a security strategy that keeps your device safe.
Moreover, the new generation of antivirus programs tend to be fast and light – and since so many of them are free, there’s little reason not to use a free antivirus program.
Try the free stuff first
Before putting down a load of cash for one of the big antivirus software giant’s products, check out the plethora of free and low cost products on the market to see if any of them suit your needs.
For the Windows user
- Windows Defender is Microsoft’s famous free anti-virus software. It has fast scanning capabilities, software explorers that let you track malicious programs running on your PC, and integration with SpyNet to keep you up to date with popular spyware on the net.
- Microsoft Security Essentials fills in the gaps that Windows Defender leaves. While Windows Defender will protect you against spyware, it won’t protect against heavy hitting viruses. That’s where MSE comes in, protecting your PC from spyware and viruses alike.
- ZoneAlarm protects against viruses and hackers looking to get into your computer’s open ports. If you connect to open wireless networks (such as those at Starbucks), ZoneAlarm makes sure you okay all inbound and outbound network traffic. Once you whitelist an application, ZA will automatically allow any traffic from there.
For Mac users
- Sophos: It keeps running in the background without overly burdening your system. It also keeps tabs on Windows viruses, so that you don’t accidentally download a Windows virus or Trojan and become a carrier for another poor Windows user. Note that there is a Sophos for Windows version, but it isn’t free.
For Mac and Windows users
- Avast!: The only downside is that it scans for Mac-specific malware, so Windows users might be at a disadvantage
- Avira: Again, no Windows-specific protection, but a good interface for the non-techies among us
Try the other “free” stuff second
After you’ve given a few of the free antivirus software suites a joyride, try a free trial of a more upscale antivirus suite to see how the free ones compare. At worst if you end up not liking it, you’ve spent a total of nothing at the end of the day.
If you are currently working or a student: Check with you work or school’s IT department and see what advice they give you on the topic of antivirus software. Quite often large institutions buy licensing agreements in mass volume to protect both institutional and personal computers from viruses and spyware. If you are an enrolled student you can install a fancy antivirus suite that could run up to hundreds of dollars for free as long as you stay enrolled in school.
If you just bought a new computer: Your shiny new laptop probably came bundled with a variety of software, including anti-virus protection. Avoid submitting your credit card information for the free trial as you risk automatic renewal without your approval. Try out the pre-installed software for a bit and then remove it and try out one of the free suites listed above.
- Malware: A blanket term for all programs designed to harm your computer or steal your information.
- Trojan: Malware in sleuth form, a trojan appears to offer some sort of benefit to your computer while insidiously allowing secret access to your device. They can often act as sleepers, lying dormant and undetected until called into service for a denial of service attack or sending out spammy emails. Unlike a virus or worm, a trojan must be installed by another user – it can’t reproduce on its own. [Insert trojan and reproduction joke here].
- Protection: Keep your antivirus software current, don’t open suspicious attachments and avoid downloading files from sketchy websites.
- Virus:Viruses, like their biological counterparts, distinguish themselves by their ability to replicate and spread. When downloaded, it spreads from one file to another and infects other computers when corrupted files are shared.
- Protection: Keep your antivirus software current, and be wary of files that end in .exe. For example, if you’re downloading an Excel spreadsheet, you’d expect the filename to end in .xlsx. But if it ends in .xslx.exe, it’s probably a virus.
- Spyware: Spyware steals your information for profit or mischief. It can record your passwords, see which sites you go to, or even capture your credit card information.
- Protection: Make sure your antivirus program also protects against spyware. As LifeHacker notes, not all software does.
- Worm: Worms are like viruses in that they replicate, but unlike them in the way that they do not need to establish themselves in a host computer. They attack a security vulnerability and spread rapidly across a network.
- Protection: Use a personal firewall, which controls the network traffic going in and out of your computer.