Desktop and laptop computers are increasingly becoming vulnerable to viruses and other malicious programs these days. According to experts, thousands of different variants of existing Trojan horses, malware, and spyware appear every day.
That's why an antivirus program is a must for your computer. Not only will it save precious files, you'll also be able to rest easy knowing your operating system is protected while you're browsing the Internet.
Free vs. paid antivirus software
The first question, though, is not what antivirus to buy, but whether you need to buy one in the first place.
Free antivirus products are easy to find, easy to download, and carry the most basic features you need and already offer good defense against harmful computer viruses. They require less hard disk space, thus allowing your priority applications to run smoothly.
One caveat, however, is that with a free antivirus software, you're constantly bombarded with advertisements for the full version of the product. Also, license restrictions limit the program to home use.
Paid antivirus software, on the other hand, have features that protect computers in more advanced ways. These features include
Heuristic analysis. This looks for specific behaviors that may detect an unrecognized virus. This defense comes very handy when exploring websites with a lot of potentially harmful pop-ups.
Password protection. This prevents hackers from stealing your password or making damaging changes to your important files. It's important especially when you do business and exchange money online.
Parental control. This prevents children from accessing adult websites and links with disturbing content. It also keeps your computer secure from outside threats, since malware and spyware often come from these unmonitored websites.
24/7 customer support. This allows you to call the antivirus software's customer support hotline anytime you need assistance. Customer support comes extremely handy when a potentially dangerous virus gets into your computer. This is also the main selling point of paid antivirus software. Users of free software can get information only from forums and online reviews accessible on the Web.
Although these features provide your computer with more security than a free antivirus product can, the memory they require may slow down your system-so enable only those features that you really need.
Once you've decided to shell out some dough for an antivirus, study the different features available in different brands. A lot of features don't necessarily make an antivirus more effective.
To help you distinguish between the essential and the excessive, here is a list of the features that antivirus applications often possess.
On-demand scanner. This is the most basic feature of any antivirus product. It scans hard drives or specified folders to check their contents for virus. All antivirus products should have this capability.
On-access scanner. This allows the antivirus software to automatically scan the hard drives. Appearing as an icon in the system tray, it runs whenever a file or a Web link is opened. Since this is a continuously running program, it slows down the computer significantly. But you need this when you frequently download files online or when you access external data that you plan to store in your hard drive.
E-mail scanner or filter. This checks e-mail messages for virus. One of the ways for a virus to spread from one computer to another is by attaching itself to files being transferred across the Web. Since most Web browsers block these malicious programs before they get downloaded, this feature is not as crucial as it used to be.
Web (HTTP) scanner or filter. Similar to the e-mail scanner, this feature checks Web pages for malicious programs. If your Web browser block these threats before they're accessed by the computer, this feature is no longer essential.
Live update. This feature automatically accesses the product's antivirus online database to update your computer's virus definitions. All antivirus products should have this capability.
Other tips and considerations
Browse the Internet for information about the most popular antivirus software in the market. Check the reviews about the antivirus software you're planning to buy.
Choose only one antivirus software to install in your computer. Installing two different applications in your computer can lead to system conflict.
Most antivirus software share the same set of virus definitions. The difference lies with how fast they update your computers.
Be on the lookout for rogue security software, also known as scareware. Scareware use marketing tactics, such as pop-ups, which inform Web users that their computer is infected and a special antivirus program is needed to clean up the system. Don't fall for it. If you get a pop-up that your computer is infected, use a known antivirus software to check, not the software that the pop-up is selling.
Remember that most antivirus software are not one-time purchases. Often, you have to renew your license annually, so be prepared for this hidden cost.
Desktops and laptops are becoming increasingly vulnerable to computer viruses and other malicious programs.
Some features of antivirus software are redundant, and improved Web browsing protection has rendered most e-mail and Web scanners useless.
Free antivirus programs offer comparable protection as paid ones. However, users of free antivirus software enjoy only limited features and must bear the never-ending reminder to avail the full version of the product.
Paid antivirus products offer such features as heuristic testing, parental control, and password protection. They also provide a wide range of customer support capabilities, which free antivirus software don't have.
Remember that you normally have to pay annually to renew your license to use a paid antivirus program.
Information about different antivirus software are available online. Compare each product's features, strengths, and weaknesses.