Although at NZ$55* for a downloaded version it is one of the most expensive standalone antivirus programs on sale in New Zealand, Kaspersky is the most effective. The company is also quickest off the mark when it comes to delivering updates to protect customers against the latest emerging threats. The program is one of the easiest to use with a polished user interface and clearly labelled options – though you’ll have to set up its scheduled scan yourself. I’ve not tested Kaspersky’s Internet Security 2009.
When I visited the online store points New Zealand customers to an Australian site where the download price is A$55.
Symantec Norton Internet Security 2009
The best-known name in PC security combines a first-rate antivirus program that also pounces on spyware with a solid firewall in its security suite.
All the security functions are accessible from a control centre which clearly shows when something’s wrong – clicking this will normally fix things in a jiffy. If you run a home network, you can inspect the security settings of all computers from a single screen.
Norton Internet Security 2009 will slow your machine a tad, but in practice I find it far less disruptive than McAfee’s products and a noticeable improvement on earlier versions of the Norton software. Norton also stays out-of-the-way when you are working. At A$99 or NZ$99 to protect three home computers the price is good too.
Trend Micro HouseCall
If you’ve been slack with your computer security and suddenly feel under threat Trend Micro’s Housecall (http://housecall.trendmicro.com) is a free web-based antivirus and spyware service that can check your system for problems and then fix them. It works with both Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, you download some code and then set it to work in your browser while you get on with other tasks. It works just like any other anti-spyware product and is at least as good at finding nasty software. While using HouseCall isn’t as safe as having security software running on your machine, it is a great quick fix.
Kaspersky offers an alternative online scanner at http://www.kaspersky.com/virusscanner. It works fine, but is tricky if you’re running Windows Vista as you have to open your browser in administrator mode. That’s a non-trivial road block.
McAfee Total Protection 2009
In the past McAfee’s security tools haven’t been the best. I’ve found them to deliver less than first-rate protection while slowing down my computer and getting in the way of everyday work. What’s more, the company seems heavy-handed about extracting money from customers with pop-ups and constant email reminders.
And to cap it all, McAfee’s products are expensive. Total Protection 2009 costs A$130 in Australia and NZ$130 for customers buying direct from the web site. Computer stores may sell it for less but the rival programs are cheaper and have a better track record so why risk it? While I haven’t had the chance to test McAfee Total Protection 2009 personally, the marketing blurb says its simpler to user and uses fewer resources. It’s not the product I’d choose, but there are people who swear by McAfee.
Avast is free for home users. You can’t argue with the price. Avast expects business users to pay, but prices are low in comparison to other antivirus options. It’s a light program and uses hardly any computer resources which means it won’t slow you down. It’s also simple enough for non-technical people to use without being bamboozled. You’ll get regular automatic updates as required too.
As the name suggests, the price tag on AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition 8.0 is a big fat zero. Unlike Avast, AVG makes the free version harder to find on its website and goes to great lengths to persuade you the paid for products make more sense, but in reality, it’s a good anti-virus tool at a keen price.
Don’t be lured into a false sense of security by the firewalls built into Microsoft Windows Vista or Windows XP. That’s Comodo’s sales message. The company says you need better protection. The paid-for internet security suites all include robust firewalls, Comodo is widely regarded as the best free option. You might find it annoying at first when it keeps asking you about programs, but after a while it’ll settle down and keep the worst malware at bay.
Go for the suite spot. If you run a small business, you need antivirus, firewall and anti-spyware software to keep safe from most PC security threats. While some expert users manage to run products from different vendors, the applications may not play nicely together. They may even cause your system to crash.
Applications dovetail smoothly in security suites. They give a single interface to control everything. What’s more, suites are cheaper than the sum of their components. You may need to find separate spam filtering, anti-phishing and adware software.
Check the PC security extras
Many security suites go beyond the basics offering features like parental controls, spam filtering and tools to stop private information like passwords, account details or telephone numbers from being transmitted.
Don’t double up
It’s tempting to think that running two firewalls or antivirus programs will make your system safer – it won’t. Overlapping security tools create havoc, slowing your computer and making it hard to troubleshoot problems. Stick with one of everything, it’ll be safer not to mention cheaper.
Watch the calendar
Commercial security software products often come as one or more applications coupled with links to automatic updates. Typically when you buy the product one year’s worth of updates come as part of the deal. When the year is up you pay a fee to get a further updates.
That’s convenient, but typically the cost of an extra year’s subscription is the same as new applications. As security vendors constantly update technology and add more features – buying a fresh product is the better option. What’s more, avoiding the subscription gives you an opportunity to avoid lock-in and move to a rival company’s offering.
Also, watch out for arrangements where a security software company takes your credit card details and automatically invoices for updates. They try to tell you this is a service to make life easier for you. They do it because they make a lot more money that way.
Virus: A small program designed to automatically copy itself from one computer to another. Viruses attach to other pieces of software or hidden inside images, games and music files. They usually travel from machine to machine by email, instant messaging or file transfers. Although some viruses are harmless, most are disruptive, the worst can stop a PC from working.
Worm: Also a self-replicating program, but unlike viruses, worms can automatically travel from machine to machine without being attached to other pieces of software. This means in addition to any other damage they slow networks because they can consume bandwidth.
Trojan: The name given to a program which looks harmless, but has an unexpected malicious purpose. Some start their mischief immediately, others may lurk for a time, possibly collecting data without the computer owner’s knowledge.
Spyware: A program designed to collect information about a computer and its user that the spyware author can use to make money. Typically spyware may watch your web browsing and target pop-up advertising at you or divert you to other websites.
Rootkit: A program designed to change a computer’s operating system to hide the behaviour of other malware.
Keylogger: Software that collects keyboard input – possibly to collect passwords or important account information. Keyloggers send this information back to criminals allowing them to impersonate users and rob their online banking accounts or do other mischief.
Botnet: Programs used to control, update or trigger activity in previously infected systems.
Backdoor: A way of getting undetected access to a computer system.
Zombie: A computer controlled by another user to do malicious tasks online.
Spam: Unwanted email, instant messages or another form of electronic communication. Spam clogs email in-boxes and the sheer volume of spam (as much as 95% of all email traffic) slows networks.
Phishing: is when someone fraudulently tries to get hold of important information such as passwords and bank account details by pretending to be a trustworthy source. Phishers may send authentic-looking emails asking for the data or with links to a fake website.
Adware: Strictly speaking this isn’t a security threat, but an annoyance. It refers to any software that bombards you with unwanted advertising.
The question isn’t whether the virus-writers, phishers, spam merchants and other online nuisances are targeting your PC, money and privacy. The question is how successful will they be.
Your computer and data could be vulnerable from the moment you hit the on button. Threats multiply when you go online. While there’s no sure way to make your system safe, there’s plenty you can do to minimise risks.
The risks are real. At the less worrying end of the spectrum, neighbours might hop on your wireless router and surf the web on your ISP account or pranksters may load your PC with troublesome viruses.
There are people, including some seemingly respectable companies, who want to spy on your online activities.
More seriously, crooks want to control your computer so they can suck money from your bank accounts.
Others want to hijack your machine so they carry out their crimes or even terrorist acts at arm’s length leaving a trail that investigators may track to your front door.
You should consider antivirus, a firewall and anti-spyware tools.
This may sound complicated and expensive, but all-in-one security suites make life easier and help you sleep at night. There are free security suites, some are as good as paid for versions. However, if you pay, you’ll get support.
Suites are particularly helpful if you’re not a security expert because the separate tools in security suites should interact smoothly with each other and offer overlapping protection from today’s nastiest threats which can use a blend of techniques to probe your defences.