Viruses have been characterized as "a game of cat and mouse" between the vendors that produce the anti-virus software and those programmers that play on the dark side by creating annoying (and often destructive) "bugs" that attack your computer.
Viruses are now blended with other threats, making them much more dangerous — with serious implications for your personal privacy as well as for your finances.
You must have a current antivirus software running on your computer — combined with an effective two-way firewall.
You cannot have complete security without protecting yourself from computer infections and botnets as well as shoring up the conduits to these problems.
Infection can make your computer unworkable and it is often difficult to repair the damage they cause. Botnets are big business.
Ensure your protection is always current. You have no excuse for not running anti-virus software because several vendors offer free versions of their programs for personal use.
While you can purchase anti-virus packages in retail stores, these sites offer software at reduced rates, 24-hour access, instant updates, and on-line technical support.
Recommended Anti-Virus Solutions
I strongly recommend ZoneAlarm Extreme Security (complete security protection which includes everything in ZoneAlarm Antivirus). Their Internet Security Suite is also recommended, but is not as effective in fighting todays blended threats.
- Kaspersky Anti-Virus is very highly rated, but I prefer the version licensed with ZoneAlarm for more complete protection.
- AVG Professional Edition provides complete coverage. There are separate versions for networks and servers.
- Panda Cloud Antivirus paid Pro version includes a community firewall, protection on pubic WiFi networks and VIP support.
Free Anti-Virus Solutions
I strongly recommend sticking with a paid subscription because it will offer more frequent updates, better security and your requests for help will always get priority over similar free products.
- ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall provides both an antivirus and two-way firewall in a single package.
- AVG Free Personal Edition provides excellent basic protection for home users with light requirements (no banking or shopping online) ONLY if combined with the ZoneAlarm Free Firewall.
- Panda Cloud Antivirus has a very minimal footprint (free for home users and non-profit organizations).
I've used Panda Cloud Antivirus on the Virtual XP running on Windows 7 Pro (which insists on a separate antivirus program even though one is installed on the main Windows 7 system).
I don't recommend the following products.
Microsoft Security Essentials (a beefed-up Windows Defender) is free for individuals and small businesses with up to 10 PCs.
Zero-day detection was mediocre, but the popular free antivirus program performed well at spotting malware…the product performs worse when compared with other free or paid offerings.
Windows 8 comes with an enhanced version of Windows Defender, but the outgoing firewall is turned off by default. Turning it on can overwhelm the casual user with constant alerts.
- Windows Defender is included with Vista/Windows 7 (and is available for XP) but is an anti-spyware/anti*malware product, not an antivirus program.
Other Anti-Virus Solutions
These may be excellent anti-virus solutions, but I have not tested them recently. Most require a great deal of your system resources (mainly RAM) to run and many disable ZoneAlarm, my recommended firewall. More about evaluating solutions.
- Norton Anti-Virus became known for the huge impact on the system resources and very long scan times — issues corrected in recent versions. Visit the Symantec's Message Board for more information about running Norton with ZoneAlarm.
- Panda Anti-Virus.
- Sophos Anti-Virus.
- AntiVir Personal Edition Premium.
- avast! 4 Professional. Non-profit & government discounts are available.
- CA Anti-Virus from Computer Associates.
- Command AntiVirus (formerly F-Prot).
Mac Anti-Virus Solutions
The Mac has traditionally been safer than Windows for security, but this is no longer true. See Viruses & Malware on my Mac resources page for more.
Linux Anti-Virus Solutions
See Security Software on my Linux resources page for more.
Current Alert Listings
If you think you might have triggered a virus on your computer view the screen shots of several virus infections.
Beware of Fake Spyware-removers
Watch out for “ads” on websites that appear to "find" spyware on your system. They install a fake program, then offer to remove it if you purchase their product. Don't fall for these tactics. They are rip-offs or fakes.
The best defense is to keep your protection current and to know how your security software displays warnings.
- Do NOT click links on websites running a simulated (but realistic-looking) “infection reports” on your computer. These can also appear on your desktop in a Windows dialogue box.
- Internet Explorer much more vulnerable in allowing malware to install unasked. Don't use IE for browsing the Web.
Most Email “Warnings” Are Illegitimate
You've received a message from a friend that suggests you forward it to everyone in your address book. What do you do?
Don't forward it. Delete the message!
It doesn't matter what the content is. Any request to forward information to everyone is highly suspect when it is sent to a group of people. Other's don't like junk mail any more than you do.
99.9% of these are hoaxes or some other form of malware. I suggest you stop and take a closer look at the message before taking any action. I'm appalled at how often people repeatedly forward these things without checking them out.
Hoaxes are Social "Viruses"
Hoaxes are social viruses that take advantage of our compassionate nature. Features like the following should trigger you to investigate further:
- Any request to forward the message to everyone in your address book almost certainly a hoax.
- Hoaxes use emotional rather than factual approaches to lure you in (see an example).
- Hoaxes depend on our concern for our computers (such as "virus" warnings) or greed (chain letters that pay big dividends) or compassion for others (such as saving a sick child).
- Many cite "authority" sources, most of which never issue such warnings. If in doubt, check the authority's website for confirmation.
Avoid Spreading Ignorance
Begin with a simple Internet search for unique specifics in the message. This will give you information to test the legitimacy of any message.
- Do not forward email "warnings." Most are false.
- Check for accurate virus information from antivirus vendors.
Other Hoax Information Sites
You might also wish to check out:
- Snopes.com Rumour Has It has an extensive categorized listing of urban legends and rumours.
- HoaxBusters which maintains a site dedicated to the various on-line scams and hoaxes that don't necessarily relate to virus activities.
- The Identity Theft Resource Center has many useful resources.
- TruthOrFiction.com lists rumours, inspirational stories, virus warnings, humorous tales, pleas for help, urban legends, prayer requests and calls to action with details about their truth or fiction.
- How to Spot Virus Hoaxes a Mile Off. Bogus warnings can hurt more than real viruses. PC World Magazine tells you how to detect them.
- Cyber-Museum of Scams and Frauds lists various financial schemes promoted by email and other means.
Fixing Issues with Anti-Virus Software
Fixing Issues with AVG
I've deployed AVG on dozens of systems and have found it to be an effective protection, particularly for the home user with a limited budget — but nowhere near as effective as the ZoneAlarm Security Suites (in order of the quality of protection):
For those wishing to continue to use AVG or another antivirus, the ZoneAlarm Free Basic Firewall is still available for those that qualify.
Be Sure to Run the Current Version
Be sure you are running AVG version 2012 (released September 1, 2011):
- AVG Free (basic protection) is available to Non-commercial home users. You'll need to have a separate firewall (ZoneAlarm Free recommended).
- AVG Professional Edition provides additional security.
- A free upgrade to AVG Professional Edition is available to existing users (you'll need your current license number).
If you're having difficulties with your AVG and are running the most current version, have a look at the potential solutions below.
Be Sure You're Getting the Right Product
Hint: read all the screens carefully so that you get to the correct download page. Upgrades with a price indicated are not free (nor is TrialPay — you're required to purchase other products to get your "free" product). See my Recommended Windows Software for more information and direct download options.
Experiencing Problems with AVG?
If you're having problems with your AVG Free, have a look at the AVG FAQ. There are tabs with the following options:
The AVG Technical FAQ lists some more technical issues and their solutions. There are both general categories as well as items specific to certain versions. Although help is provided for earlier versions, you should always be running the most current version.
You can also look for help on the AVG Free Forum.
PocoMail & Barca with AVG
If you're using PocoMail or Barca with AVG, there is a potential problem with allowing AVG to certify incoming and outgoing email. This is easy to fix:
- Open the AVG User Interface by double-clicking on the icon.
- Click on the Tools menu and select Advanced Settings.
- From the Advanced AVG Settings window that appears, click on Email Scanner from the menu on the left.
- Uncheck Certify email under Check incoming email (and outgoing, if it is selected).
- Click OK to save your settings.
I tend to do this with all AVG installations because the certification means nothing to the recipient. You can't trust the sender for security — you have to take care of it for yourself.
Save Backups of Installation Software & Licenses
If you do purchase your software on-line, be sure to save a copy of the installation file(s) (preferably on removable media) so you can reinstall it if you need to repair it or suffer a catastrophic loss of your operating system.
Many ISPs (particularly those offering broadband services) now include anti-virus protection either included as a part of their regular services or for a fee. Some ISPs activate it automatically, but most require some action on your part. This can be an excellent first line of defense, backed up by an installed anti-virus program (since not all viruses are spread by email).
However, many of the packages provided by ISPs to install on your computer (such as Shaw Secure) are very intensive users of system resources and are not necessarily the best products available. Try my recommended solutions instead, particularly if you're a home user where some excellent free options are available to you.
Evaluating Antivirus Solutions
Assessing Antivirus Solutions
You can do a search for the various sites that evaluate antivirus and other security products. Be sure to include your specific needs into the evaluation process.
Consider Other Related Risks
Antivirus protection can no longer be considered a stand-alone issue. There are other security issues tied in with virus protection including privacy (malware and spyware), identity protection, parental control, security issues with instant messenger (IM) software and firewall protection.
Compatibility of Products
If you buy individual products, ensure that they are compatible with each other. If you buy multiple packages or suites, ensure that they are not going to overwhelm the available resources on your computer—in particular, RAM (memory) and available disk space. Many current packages are very large and not all play nicely with other security software.
For example, newer versions of Norton Antivirus is now a suite, with a built-in firewall that insists on uninstalling other firewalls (including my recommendation, ZoneAlarm). While this protects you from running multiple firewall products (they can conflict and deny you the protection you think you're getting) it doesn't provide for an option for turning off the Norton firewall without receiving continuous warnings from the Norton software.
If you don't run Instant Messenger (IM) software, you don't need to run protection against the dangers posed by IM software (provided you've uninstalled or disabled the built-in MSN Messenger software). Be sure any product containing that protection has the option to disable any such unnecessary feature, saving you some resources where not required.
This assumes that you are aware of the risks of disabling components. Microsoft enables the Windows firewall by default and checks for the presence of a current antivirus solution — unfortunately necessary as many people simply don't add protection and fail to ensure it is updated frequently. Think of it as driving without car insurance when that unfortunate moment occurs when its needed.
More About Related Issues
Protecting Your Online Identity
The following related pages offer more information about protecting your online identity:
- Encryption — Protecting Your Data
- Passwords — Protecting Your Electronic Signature
- Avoiding Spam — Unsolicited Emails and Mailing Lists
- Phishing — Obtaining Information by Deceit
- Proper Email Address Etiquette — Using To:, CC: & BCC: Correctly
Securing Your Computer
The following related pages offer more information about securing your computer:
- Security Basics — Preventing Unauthorized Access
- Security Strategies — Avoiding Infections
- Firewalls — Your First Line of Defense
- ZoneAlarm Security — Recommended Firewall Products
- Your Privacy At Risk — Spyware Detection & Removal
- Encryption — Protecting Your Data
- Passwords — Protecting Your Electronic Signature
- Web Security — Vulnerabilities in Internet Software
- Windows Security — Vulnerabilities in Windows
Updated: June 17, 2013