Installing computer virus protection is key these days, as the threat of computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses and other malware rises. All antivirus programs recognize attacks by comparing the suspected intruders with known troublemakers. Good databases will have all the problem candidates listed and will be upgraded regularly.
To go online is to live dangerously. Aside from the risk of viruses, there are also worms and Trojan horses — all trying to find an unsecured computer upon which to work their mischief.
Given those risks, it makes sense to install some kind of virus scanner. Freeware programs provide basic protection. If you want more security, you’ll have to pay a little money for an all-around, worry-free package.
Your needs will depend on your individual circumstances, says Andreas Marx of the AV Test Institute in Germany. “After all, you pick your car based on whether you drive a lot or a little.” In other words, if you’re only online a little bit, basic protection might be more than enough.
What’s key is that you install some kind of virus protection, says Norbert Pohlmann, who heads the Institute for Internet Security at the Gelsenkirchen University of Applied Sciences in Germany. “Before you do anything, bear in mind that a free version is better than nothing.”
Of course, commercial versions offer more security, says Marx. He compares free safety programs to a car’s safety belt. “It can save my life in an accident.” But modern car safety requires an airbag and crumple zones too. If you want the equivalent in computer safety, you’re going to have to pay a little money.
Of course, freeware isn’t necessarily inferior to commercial ware. German consumer goods tester Stiftung Warentest proved that with a test in 2011, in which the best free program, Avira Free Antivirus, got the same grade as the best commercial program, Bitdefender Internet Security 2011.
Furthermore, while all the freeware programs got at least a “satisfactory” grade, several of the commercial versions were only graded “adequate.” One even got a mark of “poor.”
“You can buy something like that, but it’s not absolutely necessary,” says Matthias Gaertner, spokesman for the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), referring to commercial computer protection. Officially, the agency recommends three freeware programs for computer security: Avira Free Antivirus, Microsoft Security Essentials and Avast Free Antivirus.
A recent test by the AV Test Institute showed the free AVG Free Anti Virus program ranked only slightly behind the fee-based AVG Internet Security.
A lot of the extra functions that people expect from commercial software can usually be found in no-cost extensions to the freeware. Tools to protect against phishing and malware have already been integrated into Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. A child protection filter is offered for free from OpenDNS FamilyShield.