At one time an antivirus program was sufficient to protect your computer from the annoying (and often destructive) "bugs" that attacked your computer.
Today, viruses are blended with multi-faceted and simultaneous threats, making them much more dangerous and resulting in serious implications for your personal privacy as well as for your finances if you aren't fully protected.
You Need a Security Suite
Your computer must be protected by a current security suite that includes antivirus, anti-spyware, keylogger / screengrabber protection plus an effective advanced two-way firewall.
- Without a suit of products that work together, you cannot have complete security from infections and attacks on your computer. The 11 most common computer security threats each indicate a danger level and prevalence ranking that helps you to evaluate the risk, but you need to protect yourself from all of them simultaneously.
- Infections can make your computer unworkable and it is often difficult (or impossible) to repair the damage caused. You need to ensure you have a current backup
- Malware can go unnoticed yet risks your privacy and uses resources you've paid for to benefit someone else. Botnets are big business.
Ensure your protection is always current. You have no excuse for not running security software. Many vendors offer free versions of their security software for personal use (although they may not perform as well as you expect).
What About the Mac?
The Mac has a reputation for being safe without an antivirus, but perhaps it is time to change that opinion. Choose an effective program that doesn't significantly slow down the system. Malware protection is particularly weak. More about Mac security…
Windows XP More Vulnerable
I'm not the only one to recommend that Windows XP be retired even though most security software providers continue to support XP. There are significant weaknesses (more than newer Windows versions), exasperated by the continued use of the obsolete Outlook Express and Internet Explorer (Microsoft chose not to update Internet Explorer for XP).
In an October 2014 report, ComputerWorldUK noted:
Fifty-two percent of the [half-million] compromised computers were running Windows XP, 'a figure that is at once unsurprising -- considering that support for Windows XP, including patches, ended in April 2014,' according to the report.
Most of those computers were running Internet Explorer, 'which is to be expected given both the size of the Internet Explorer install base and the number and variety of exploits available for this browser,' the report said.
Antivirus & Security Software
While you can purchase anti-virus & security packages in retail stores, these sites offer software at reduced rates, 24-hour access, instant updates, and on-line technical support.
Recommended Security 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 Antivirus is very highly rated, but I prefer the version licensed with ZoneAlarm for more complete protection.
- AVG Internet Security includes a firewall. There are separate versions for Mac, mobile and business.
- Panda Cloud Antivirus paid Pro version includes a community firewall, protection on pubic WiFi networks and VIP support.
The Mac and Linux have traditionally been safer than Windows for security, but this is no longer true.
- Mac users, see Security Software on my Mac resources page.
- Linux users, see Security Software on my Linux resources page.
Free Antivirus 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. But if you can't afford it, these provide basic (and sometimes excellent) protection for home users:
- ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall provides both an antivirus and two-way firewall in a single package. Recommended free solution.
- ClamWin Free Antivirus comes with an easy installer and open source code. However, there is no real-time scanner (you need to manually scan files for viruses) and no firewall (use the ZoneAlarm Free Firewall).
- 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 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 8.1 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 Windows Vista and later but is an anti-spyware/anti-malware product, and does not include antivirus protection.
Other Antivirus 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 Antivirus became known for the huge impact on the system resources and very long scan times — issues corrected in recent versions.
- Panda Antivirus.
- Sophos Antivirus.
- AntiVir Personal Edition Premium.
- avast! 4 Professional. Non-profit & government discounts are available.
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 is 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.
- Hoax-Slayer debunks email hoaxes and exposes Internet scams.
- 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.
- Cyber-Museum of Scams and Frauds lists various financial schemes promoted by email and other means.
Fixing Issues with Antivirus Software
Fixing Issues with AVG
I used to deploy AVG in combination with the ZoneAlarm Free Basic Firewall on dozens of Windows systems used by home users with a limited budget. However, upon the release of ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall I stopped installing AVG because the protection is nowhere near as effective:
- ZoneAlarm Extreme Security
- ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite
- ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus + Firewall (for personal use only)
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
If you choose to run AVG, be sure you are running the most current version available:
- AVG Free (basic protection) is available to Non-commercial home users. You'll need to have a separate firewall (ZoneAlarm Free recommended).
- 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 Knowledge Base & 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 Options menu and select Advanced Settings.
- From the Advanced Settings window that appears, click the “plus” on Email Protection from the menu on the left to expand the menu then repeat to view the expanded menu under Email Scanner.
- Click on Certification and ensure both certification boxes are unchecked (if you're using the free version you may be unable to uncheck the incoming email certification).
- 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.
Often one product will excel in one area but be weak elsewhere and these change as products evolve. Check AV Comparatives Summary Reports for independent tests of various antivirus software.
False positives (safe files tagged as viruses) is another problem. Most antivirus programs look for certain traits that are common to virus activity to detect unknown threats. Unfortunately, this can tag legitimate program files — obviously creating issues for the person depending upon the A/V program.
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.
Updated: December 3, 2014