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Free Antivirus Software: Pros and Cons

posted Aug 31, 2011, 11:19 PM by Simon Nguyen   [ updated Jan 7, 2013, 6:45 PM ]
With so many free antivirus programs to choose from, the focus is often on practicality rather than quality. But is free antivirus any good? Are they safe to use? The answers to these questions have a lot to do with the user’s habits and the limited options offered by most free security products. This article discusses the pros and cons of free antivirus software.

The number-one problem with free antivirus software is that there is not much known about these programs. The software could very well be a malware, seeking to install in the user’s computer malicious applications such as Trojans and spyware. Even software from highly regarded developers more often than not includes suspicious and unwanted applications.

Another problem with free antivirus products has to do with where they could be downloaded. While a majority of the download sites are legitimate, many are not. It is easy for users to unknowingly download and install malware (masked as legitimate antivirus software) from unsecured sites. This Trojan-horse scheme is widespread and is growing in popularity.

One key predicament with using free antivirus programs as your computer’s main protection is the limited features and options. Purely free security software is nearly non-existent. Good freeware like Malwarebytes were highly popular a few years back, but have since suffered from reduced effectiveness due to more sophisticated malware. Most of the leading free antivirus software, currently on the market, are developed and released by top Internet security companies. As these versions are not created for charity but are meant to promote the paid versions, they offer basic protection that is very limited in features and scope.

For light and moderate users of the Internet, the basic protection provided by free security software is probably sufficient. For heavy Internet users, advanced protection is desperately needed. The World Wide Web is filled with computer viruses and other malware. Chances are that one will visit a rogue website, or inadvertently download a malicious application at least once a month. There just isn’t enough meat in the free antivirus versions to guard against these malware or effectively remove them. Case in point, some free versions do not have an automatic update feature or are slow to update their virus library. This makes your computer immediately vulnerable against new viruses and spyware.

If you insist on using free antivirus software, there are some decent choices available. One of the better programs is Microsoft Security Essentials. This is one of the best security software currently available on the market. It works just as well as any of the paid antivirus programs out there, and the best thing is that it’s absolutely free. For Windows 8 users, Microsoft includes a free antivirus program called Windows Defender. When using it in tandem with Windows Firewall, it offers very good protection for the average users.

Simon Nguyen, M.A. Economics