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December 26, 2012

How To Compare Antivirus Products

Shopping for an antivirus program? While every single title aim to do the same thing (secure your PC from malicious programs), they do vary in how they go about achieving that. As such, comparing antivirus products isn’t a cut and dry affair — there are, in fact, more than a handful of items to evaluate and consider.

Defining the Parameters

When we say antivirus software, we don’t just mean titles that take aim at specific subsets of malicious programs. Instead, we’ll want to get one that covers the gamut of threats, including viruses, trojans, spyware, adware, keyloggers, rootkits and more. There’s no point investing in just a spyware cleaner when you will still need something to protect your computer from viruses and the rest of those mopes.

Make Your List

First, make a list of the software titles you want to consider buying. Amazon is a great first stop for this, so will large sites that cover commercial titles across many categories, like PC Magazine, Cnet and such. Create a list of the titles that get a lot of mention or that place high in most rankings. Chances are, those will be what you’ll gravitate to anyway.

Having a list will quickly narrow down your research. This is important because the breadth of options available can really eat up a considerable amount of time. With a list on hand, you immediately set parameters from which to make your evaluations.

Individual Needs

Contrary to what you’ve been told, it’s not a necessity for everyone to have an antivirus product. In fact, I know many folks, all of them power users, who use antivirus products sparingly — they only download and install free titles when a need comes up then delete it once the problem is taken care of. Then, they go unprotected the rest of the time, preferring not to have the extra software running in the background (as would be the case with many antivirus titles).

If you’re not quite the power user who knows how to protect your system without an antivirus package, then make a list of what you need an antivirus package for. Is it because your PC is used by more than one person in the house, not all of them quite up to your computer-savvy? Do you download executables and other potentially unsafe files from the internet? Do you connect to a public network where there are many users, not all of whose machines may be guaranteed clean? Make a clear list of why exactly you need an antivirus program — knowing your reasons should help clear up many things about your eventual pick.

Effectiveness

The computer underground is continually evolving, with new forms of malware popping out all the time. As such, it’s critical to choose a software that’s also continually updated with information on malicious programs so it can detect, clean up and protect your computer from new threats that show up.

When shopping for an antivirus package then, check on how frequently the threats database is updated. Many offer daily updates provided you’re connected to the internet. Anything less, you’d probably want to think twice about picking up that title. Some commercial titles can also detect suspicious programs that are not yet logged in their database using behavioral patterns found in other suspect programs, so that could prove a valuable feature (on other hand, it can also lead to plenty of false positives).

Standalone Software and Security Suites

Most modern antivirus software blur the line between a standalone antivirus system and a full security suite. In fact, most of the popular products out right now integrate fully-functional security features including firewalls and traffic monitoring on top of its main virus-slaying function.

BitDefender, for instance, includes remote management and anti-phishing; Kaspersky can scan your system for security vulnerabilities; Outpost includes a feature to block user-marked private data; and so on. Basically, even titles often marketed as just an “antivirus” will integrate one or more features that extend its function.

Active or Passive Operation

Do you prefer knowing every little security event that the antivirus encounters in your machine? Or do you prefer it to just happen in the background and spare you from the alerts? Different antivirus software offer different degrees of customizations for these things. Personally, I like to work as if the antivirus isn’t running at all (it’s very distracting to have pop-ups and dialogs alerting you every couple of minutes), although I do want it to keep a log I can review at the end of the day, so that’s a critical feature I’d look for if I was shopping for one.

Freeware

There are probably as many free antivirus products out there as commercial titles, so there’s no reason to go unprotected if you don’t want to. For those looking at getting a free antivirus product, I’m a big fan of Panda Cloud and Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, both of which have seriously high detection rates. The big downside to free offerings is they rarely offer the full package. Malwarebytes, for instance, is strictly about searching and cleaning up your computer — no real-time protection for threats that get into your system. Panda Cloud, on the other hand, requires a live internet connection during the procedure, so it’s not an ideal tool if you spend a lot of time working offline. PCTools Threatfire, meanwhile, guards against unknown threats in real-time using behavior-based signatures, but lacks the ability to detect dormant threats hiding within the system.

Commercial Titles

Because of the wealth of options in good free antivirus software, the prices of commercial antivirus titles isn’t as exorbitant as they could have been (people will be willing to pay premium for securing their data, after all). This is a good thing, too, since that makes a proper antivirus with full customer support easily available to users. So long as you perform due diligence when shopping for a quality title that satisfies your needs, there should be programs available to whatever budget you’re working with.


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