We compare and review anti-virus software. It's what we do.
Anti-virus software comparison chart for 2017
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Anti-virus software explained
Computer viruses can be picked up from many sources, including emails, websites and files from friends. Good anti-virus software will monitor all these areas and more, to prevent infection at the source.
Most viruses target computers running Microsoft Windows, but you should choose anti-virus software carefully no matter what kind of computer you have. It could save your files and help you avoid having to reload your computer from scratch.
The best anti-virus software will actually keep you protected from all threats which fall into the category of ‘computer viruses’.
Many anti-virus packages integrate closely with other software on your computer. This helps them identify viruses earlier – for instance, by analyzing websites you visit to check they aren’t trying to place a virus on your computer.
Dealing with viruses
Anti-virus software monitors your computer for suspicious files and programs. Most packages compare what’s on your computer to a regularly-updated list of viruses. The best will also watch for unusual activity that could be a virus.
If it discovers a problem, anti-virus software will put affected files into quarantine, where they can’t cause harm. You may then be able to remove the virus without destroying the files it is attached to.
Because new viruses are discovered every day, it’s important you choose anti-virus software that downloads updated information about viruses (also called ‘virus definitions’) regularly over the internet.
The single most important feature of any anti-virus program is that it must detect and stop virus attacks before they occur. If an infection has already occurred it must be able to contain, remove and possibly repair infected files. Plus, all of this should be accomplished without slowing your system to a crawl.
A good scanner should be able to detect zero day viruses as easily as it detects classics such as the 1999 'Melissa virus' and although this may seem obvious, it should effectively remove all traces of a virus from your computer.
Anti-virus software shouldn't be paranoid, flagging legitimate software as malware and otherwise interfering with your day to day use. A well designed program will keep your information safe without having a detrimental effect on system performance or interfering with day-to-day use.
Bear in mind that effectiveness can also be directly related to the frequency of virus definition updates. Software vendors that do multiple updates daily are more likely to catch the newest threats.
The biggest complaint that computer users have about anti-virus software is its potential to degrade overall system performance. However, an efficiently designed scanner shouldn't have any noticeable impact on your computer and should be able to scan files and folders quickly.
Effective anti-virus will use a number of different strategies to prevent and detect malware. Signature based detection is the most common, but heuristic-based detection is also used by the top anti-virus developers. The bottom line is that anti-virus software should protect you against viruses, worms and Trojans and if it can also protect you against spyware and rootkits even better.
In terms of updates, your anti-virus should give you the ability to set a scheduled automatic update as well as allow manual updates to ensure you always have the latest virus definitions installed. Some of the better security software vendors will also push updates to their anti-virus programs as new threats are identified.
The most reliable way to gauge the effectiveness of any anti-virus program is to look for its certifications. These are awarded through independent testing and research organizations. These research companies regularly compare different software titles for speed, system impact and on-demand/on-access scanning performance.
Since certification testing is paid for by the vendor, it is important to remember that a lack of certification doesn't necessarily mean that the software has failed testing. It may mean that the developers never submitted the program for assessment. For example, in the case of a small new company, they may not have the budget to accommodate testing costs. Despite this caveat, certification remains one of the few ways to accurately measure how well anti-virus software works.
There are four established and respected anti-virus testing organizations. They are:
Anti-virus software carrying a seal of approval from these test organizations will undoubtedly do the job efficiently.
Ease of use
Since your anti-virus software will be used on a daily basis, it should be both easy to understand and operate whether you are a complete novice or seasoned expert. Walkthroughs, alerts and warnings should be straight forward and clear in their direction.
Help & support
Help and support are critical components in choosing an anti-virus program or full security system. Most companies will offer standard support such as FAQs or online manuals and some will have active user forums. However, these may not always answer the questions you have. Tougher problems may require telephone and/or email support which could incur additional fees. Apart from the limitations in features, one of the main differences between paid and free anti-virus tools is often the inclusion of technical support.
Q. What is a computer virus?
A. Computer virus is a tiny software program that is capable of replicating itself and spreading from one infected computer to other computers either via a network connection, website download or through email attachments.
Q. What harm can a virus do?
A. Once installed, a virus can do many things such as erase your entire hard drive, infect your email program and send itself to everyone in your address book or disable your computer security thereby opening your computer to even more opportunistic threats online.
Q. Who creates viruses?
A. Virus writers are often referred to as 'cyber-vandals'. These programmers are split into groups, each of which has different motivations for writing viruses. The most active group today use viruses to capture and steal personal data as well as financial information and passwords for identity theft and fraud purposes. However, there are still a number of cyber-vandals whose intent remains fixed on disruption and/or destruction of hard drive contents and internet service. One example of this would be a 'denial of service' attack that can cripple corporate websites.
Q. How did my computer become infected?
A. Though many infections occur from visiting compromised or hacked websites, the most common method of infection is through email attachments, often sent from people you know who are unaware that their computer is infected. Something as benign as a funny image, audio/video file and even a greeting card could actually be carrying a computer virus waiting to infect your system.
Q. How can I prevent a virus attack?
A. Despite their potential to do harm, there are several steps you can take to help protect yourself from infection such as:
The old adage that 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' certainly applies to dealing with viruses.
Q. Are the established anti-virus companies the best ones to use?
A. Programs such as BitDefender and Kaspersky have been around for a long time and with good reason. Their developers are experts in security threats and their knowledge translates into solid anti-virus scanners.
Q. What are updates?
In order to maintain the highest level of virus protection, regular signature updates must be installed.
Q. What are certifications?
You can also easily check which programs are effective by looking for certifications. Most of the major players will be certified by Checkmark, ICSALabs and VB100% after having met the expectations of AV-Test.org through rigorous testing.
Q. Do we need to have use both an anti-virus and anti-spyware scanner?
A. The answer to this really depends on your internet surfing habits as well as what programs you use. Some spyware is bundled with legitimate software titles, iTunes and Bonjour spring to mind. Plus some websites are more prone to malware infection, such as gaming and music sites. So, your risk of infection is highly individual. However, if you've had a problem with slow performance, pop-ups and other nuisance computer issues, it may be worth checking your system for spyware and protecting it from future infection. Running both an anti-virus solution and antispyware certainly couldn't hurt.
Q. Do I have to uninstall the existing anti-virus program before installing a new one?
A. The short answer is yes - uninstall the old anti-virus program and reboot your computer before you begin installing the new program.
Q. Why don't you review all anti-virus software on the market?
A. Though there are many anti-virus titles available on the market, we've focused on the top performers that we feel offer not only the best available scanning systems but also good value for money.
On demand scan
Also known as a manual scan. This when a scan is initiated by the user and not the software. It is the opposite of a scheduled or automatic scan.
On access scan
On access scanning checks files and programs as they are 'accessed' or opened to identify potential security threats.
Heuristic scanning performs piece-by-piece examinations of suspected malware files and identifies sequences that differentiate viruses from normal programs.
Sometime legitimate software is erroneously identified as a malware threat generating a 'false positive' result from your anti-virus. Since anti-virus programs rely heavily on signatures to identify malware, the method isn't completely foolproof. Some identified virus signatures can also exist in legitimate software titles.
When a malware scanner fails to detect a virus, it is referred to as a 'false negative'. This can occur if the virus is either too new, has a faulty signature or a defective configuration setting.
Anti-virus quarantine works in much the same way as hospitals quarantine patients with infectious diseases, the program will isolate a potential threat and place it into a secure folder that is not easily accessible to other parts of the system.
Within the quarantine dialog of most anti-virus software, users can examine a log that identifies what file was initially infected and are given the option to either permanently delete the suspicious file or to reinstate it in the event of a false positive.
A virus signature is an algorithm, made up of digits, that uniquely identifies a specific malware threat or group of viruses known as a 'family'. Signatures can be either a calculated snippet of code or an identified behaviour, such as trying to access certain programs or parts of the operating system without user initiation or awareness.
Zero day virus
A newly created virus that doesn't have a previously identified signature.
BitDefender AntiVirus Plus 2017
Webroot Secure Anywhere AntiVirus
Norton Security Standard
G Data AntiVirus
McAfee AntiVirus Plus
ESET NOD32 Antivirus
Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security