There’s hundreds and hundreds of choices for antivirus software, which should you choose?
Most people have heard of antivirus and have the basic understanding that it keeps you safe – but how? Not only that, but we’ve all been told we need antivirus software – but why? Let’s look at a few scenarios and factors and help you (and your data) stay safe.
What does antivirus software really do?
Most antivirus programs work by getting daily updates of programs that are known to be bad or malicious – these are known as ‘definitions’. The definitions use what is essentially the program’s fingerprint to identify it. When antivirus software does a scan on your computer (usually scheduled once a day overnight) it compares every program and file on your computer against this definition list. If there’s a match it will notify you and remove the threat. On top of those scans, some antivirus programs perform what’s called ‘real time scanning’. Real time scanning scans every program you run and every file you open on-the-fly against the same definition list.
By combining these two scan methods most antivirus programs can keep you pretty safe, but it’s not perfect. We’ll be covering more Computer Security topics in the coming weeks.
What do you mean ‘pretty safe’?
Well, just that. There’s other things we’ll be covering soon but specifically to antivirus: these two scanning methods aren’t always enough.
New threats come out daily, even hourly, and the definition files simply can’t be updated all the time. Remember that the definition files use a programs fingerprint, so if a new threat appears then someone has to be the guinea pig and get infected. Unfortunately it can take thousands of infections before the threat is even realized. From there the antivirus company then has to identify the threat, add it to the definitions, and push out an update. This all takes time, all the while the infected users are completely unaware, and the threat is doing it’s work stealing data and corrupting your important information. Sometimes, depending on the threat, by the time an antivirus provides sends out an update the damage is already done.
You may have heard the term ‘zero-day threat’ – if not, then you now know what it is. It’s a threat that has had no fore-warning, no prediction – but the designer has found a weakness and is exploiting it as quickly as possible to do as much damage as possible before the weakness is corrected. Real time scanning cannot protect against this, as it’s all dependent on definitions which only get updated after the threat has been identified.
The big names in antivirus
The first thing that comes to mind is probably Norton and McAfee. Sorry to say, but they’re not all that great. One or the other probably came pre-installed on your computer, or you can get it for free from your Internet provider or work. But that doesn’t make it good! For the most part they do their job, yes, but at what cost?
First, they can be very intense on your computer. The program files are usually VERY big which means they use a lot of memory while they’re running – which means your other programs will most likely run slower. This slows down whatever you’re doing for the name of security – but this sacrifice isn’t necessary.
Second, they can be quite annoying. As part of their tactic to show you how much you need them they tend to alert you to every little hiccup. While this may give you a warm fuzzy feeling inside knowing that the antivirus software is doing it’s job, it can get annoying and be intrusive.
Finally, as we humans are a visual species, we tend to like shiny, pretty things. A lot of antivirus programs have flashy colors, big popups, fancy symbols and logos – all these bells and whistles to make it look appealing. Sorry, but a fancy interface doesn’t affect the protection it’s providing. Not only that but, as mentioned above, all these extras just slow your computer down and get in the way.
You get what you pay for
As with most things, you get what you pay for. There’s a few great free antivirus solutions out there that I’d recommend if your budget calls for it, but good antivirus is actually pretty inexpensive. I won’t even mention them here because I’d really really advise against them at all costs.
Recommended antivirus software
I always recommend Webroot. I don’t recommend them because I’m partnered with them – I’m partnered with them because I recommend them. Webroot still uses definition-based scanning BUT it adds a whole new aspect… If Webroot sees a program on your computer that it doesn’t recognize it will allow it to run, but it watches it like a hawk and tracks everything it does. If it sees something fishy going on it will lock down the program, alert you, and undo any changes. This process makes you the most protected against zero-day real time threats.
Not only that, but the definitions it uses never need to update because they’re all managed in the cloud. When Webroot releases new definitions you have them immediately, so you’re always protected. Best yet, Webroot installs and scans, typically, in under a minute or two. It’s so small and so lightweight you won’t even know its there. Speaking of not knowing it’s there, most remediation is done silently, behind the scenes. No pop ups, no questions, no prompts (unless you choose to turn them on, or Webroot isn’t 100% sure).
To me the best antivirus is the one you don’t even know is there – no popups, no bells and whistles, no computer slow-down.
Please contact us for more information if you’re not already protected!
What would you like to read about next?
Let us know on our Contact page or in the Facebook comments!