NORMAN — Picking the right security software to protect your computer from the dangers of the Internet can be a challenging task. It’s a bit like shopping for a lawyer or doctor: you never really know if they’re any good until you win or lose your case in court, or learn that Dr. Really-Nice-Guy, when he stitched you back together, accidentally left his forceps behind.
When it comes to choosing computer software, you have to be careful whom you listen to. I’ve learned to combine my experience with the opinions of people who can give me accurate, unbiased research and opinions. There are hundreds of Internet websites that allegedly “review” software, but it seems they’ve never met a computer program they didn’t like; everything gets five stars, or whatever the top rating might be. I really have to wonder how much money is being paid behind the scenes in exchange for favorable “reviews.”
The basic security tools that you need for your Internet-connected device are a firewall and some sort of “antimalware” program. It used to be the best approach was using separate programs for different tasks. Antivirus software took care of viruses, antispyware programs took care of spyware, anti-adware took care of adware, and so forth.
These days, the lines have become so blurred between various Internet threats that it’s hard to tell the difference between spyware and a virus; they both mess up your computer. Suffice it to call all the various threats “malware” (malicious software) and use a good “antimalware” program that covers all the bases.
Many people insist on having antispam software, as well, to help with spam email. To me, antispam software is too unreliable; I prefer using the delete key, instead.
I’ve used many different Internet security products over the years, and have a list of preferred products. However, it is impossible for a guy like me to test every antimalware product that exists. I don’t have a $1 million testing laboratory or a team of technicians to do my bidding. There are millions of known malware threats on the Internet, with thousands more released every day. To test security software against so many enemies requires deep pockets and large resources, so I turn to trusted review sources. Online review sources that I’ve come to respect include Network World, eWeek and Consumer Reports.
Modern computers have built-in firewall programs that work fine, so all we need to concern ourselves with is antimalware software. For PCs, I and the reviewers agree that one free product stands out: Avira Free Antivirus, available at avira.com.
While no antimalware program is perfect, I’ve been using Avira on all my personal computers and installing it on everyone else’s for about six years. I first became aware of Avira when one of my customers tipped me off that Consumer Reports rated it Number One in the free antivirus category. It can be a little fiddly to install, but it works great; as such, I don’t waste my (or, my customer’s) time messing around with Number 2 AVG, or any of the other free alternatives out there. When you take my free security class, “Fight the Internet Bad Guys and Win,” at the library, I give you step-by-step instructions on how to configure Avira.
Some folks think they need more in a security product and don’t mind paying for a more secure feeling. Those who want a paid security “suite” should look at top-rated products from Avira, G Data and Kaspersky. Last year’s number two and three, ESET and BitDefender, are now number 4 and 5. McAfee, which I have always thought was awful, is rated at the bottom of the barrel, and is, in my opinion, not even worth installing. Norton is number 8.
Much as they may be loath to admit it, Apple Mac users need antimalware software, too. Contrary to ancient mythology, Macs are not immune to viruses or spyware and need protection, just like PCs. The top antimalware products for Macs are from Avira (free), ESET (paid) and Sophos (free). While there may be fewer viruses that attack Macs compared to PCs, they do exist, and Mac users need to take precautions. To ignore the threat is, to put it bluntly, irresponsible.
So, there you have it: my antimalware recommendations for 2013. The antimalware field changes all the time, with new products rising to the top and old products falling by the wayside. But, for today, Avira, G Data and Kaspersky are the cream of the crop.
Based in Norman, Dave Moore has been an independent computer service technician since 1984. He also teaches computer security workshops to public and private organizations. He can be reached at 405-919-9901 or www.davemoorecomputers.com.