ThinkBoxly is the personal developer blog of Lucas Chasteen, author, programmer, artist, and always learning. Read more

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Top 3 Antivirus Applications for Windows

Somehow I was under the impression that virus scanners for Windows aren’t really the issue they used to be. It’s been years since I personally was infected, and generally the same is true for those I’m acquainted with. But recently I was reminded that a significant portion of PC users still don’t know how to surf the web safely, and for such people it’s just as easy to fall prey to scams and viruses today as it was five or ten years ago. Normally I address a relatively computer savvy demographic here on ThinkBoxly, but today I write for the less tech literate, or those who know a few people that would fall into that category. This is a pretty basic issue, absolutely, but that’s exactly why it needs to be laid out in no uncertain terms. So let’s go.

Beware of Virus Scanners

Before we go into what security and protection application you should use, first we need to go over a few things you shouldn’t. And the item at the top of that list is so important I figured it deserved its own category.

Yes, you read the header correctly: I said beware of virus scanners. Computer hackers’ and attackers’ favorite way to get worms and viruses onto your PC is to disguise them as virus scanners themselves. Sometimes this ploy is blatantly obvious, but other times it looks impressively similar to the real thing. Always do your homework and research a security application before downloading and installing it. You should be especially wary if a pop up appears on a website claiming your PC is infected and offering to scan it for you. Such messages are designed to scare the user and bait them into clicking something that will infect, not clean, the PC. If in doubt, always use a trusted application to run a virus scan instead―not necessarily the one that alerts you to the ‘problem’ (which may be fictional, depending on the source of the alert).

What NOT to Use

Fakes and phonies aren’t the only things to worry about when choosing security software. There are plenty of perfectly legitimate virus scanners out there to choose from, but that doesn’t mean you should use just any one of them. And unfortunately, somehow the most popular security applications also happen to be the worst. Here’s a few that you’ll probably hear about but should not use, and why.

  • McAfee – Why not? Because it has long had a terrible habit of slowing down PCs, both at boot-up and under normal operation, not to mention it is often intrusive and can make certain tasks difficult, as they are falsely considered a security risk. Also, as it is arguably the most common security application in the world, numerous viruses have been developed that know how to work their way around it. Poor performance, hindering to productivity, and average security mostly amount to just an expensive annoyance. You aren’t guaranteed to get a virus every time you log on to the internet, but with McAfee, you are guaranteed to suffer for them, or at least their mere existence.
  • Norton – Why not? Because it gets everything wrong that McAfee does, only worse.  Norton can be frustratingly obtrusive and often fails to catch viruses until it is too late. Users have even reported Norton causing other programs to crash. Like McAfee, Norton runs on the expensive side, and your money is definitely best spent elsewhere.
  • Multiple Antivirus Applications – Why not? Because you aren’t really covering your bases any better by installing multiple security applications. The slowdown caused by having more than one virus scanner at a time can absolutely cripple a PC and plain and simple is not a good solution.

What You SHOULD Use

Now we finally get to the good stuff: the part where we go over security suites that do their job and do it well, without slowing down your PC, getting in the way, or restricting you from using it for normal tasks. As an added bonus, all of these applications are available for free (though enhanced paid options are available in some cases).

  • Microsoft Security Essentials – Why? Because it integrates seamlessly with Windows and offers terrific protection at no cost. Security Essentials is one of the most user-friendly options out there, requiring practically no configuration or maintenance, and it will never get in your way without good reason. As an added bonus, it now comes packaged with Windows 8 as part of Windows Defender. That’s right: if you are running Windows 8, you already have all the protection you need! All in all, Security Essentials is one big win. (Note: this product is no longer available for Windows XP)
  • Panda Security – Why? Not because of its unique way of utilizing the cloud for the best possible protection, though that is a plus. Instead, you should use Panda Security for much the same reasons as you’d use Microsoft Security Essentials. Panda does its job quietly and efficiently without slowing anything down―yourself included. However, it isn’t quite as user-friendly as Security Essentials, and the free version of the application does pop up an advertisement for itself every once in a while, but despite these minor complains Panda remains an excellent product, especially for PCs still running Windows XP.
  • AVG Free Antivirus – Why? It’s among the most popular free antivirus applications for a reason. As the name implies it is free to download and use, but beyond that it does an admirable job at balancing protection and efficiency. It is a little on the touchy side, however, frequently throwing false positives on perfectly safe applications. But as the adage goes, “better safe than sorry”. AVG has also been known to miss viruses on occasion, but these occurrences are few enough and far enough between for it to remain on the ‘recommended’ list.