A Guide to Free Antivirus Software

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While AVG, Microsoft, Comodo and avast aren't the only providers of free anti-virus software they are some of the most popular so if you are sick of paying every year for antivirus protection, we'll help you decide which free program works for you. Let’s check them out:

avast Antivirus 6

First, let’s take a look at the free offering from AVAST Software for home users: avast Antivirus 6. It includes virus, spyware, and rootkit protection. In addition to the basic functionality, here are some of the advanced features you’ll find:

Real-time shields: The file system shield monitors and scans files you open, save, and store on the computer. It serves as the main component of protection and is similar to other real-time scanners. However, avast also provides additional shields that monitor specific connections to potentially detect infections before they actually get to the file system. These shields monitor mail, Web, P2P, IM, and network traffic. The script and behavior shields also provide detection of scripts and suspicious behavior.

Auto sandboxing: Automatically runs suspicious files in a virtual isolated environment so no damage can be made to the actual system. Manually running files in the sandbox is only provided in the premium editions. However, when avast detects a suspicious file the user is prompted with info about it and asked whether to run it in the sandbox, normally, or not at all. If ran in the sandbox, the program will have a red border. You can play in the sandbox with a test program.

Boot-time scanner: Can be enabled to run a scan before Windows loads the next time you reboot. Since it has direct drive access, it may be able to better remove rootkits and other stubborn infections. Site blocking: Optionally list URLs to block users from visiting. Though only a basic filter, it’s a great bonus feature.

Virus alerts: Can notify others of any viruses that are detected, sent via email, printer, or network message.

Password protection: Protect the avast components and settings with a password, so your children and others can’t play with or disable it.

No matter which antivirus solution you use, it’s best to run weekly full scans to make sure no infections have made it through. Some antivirus programs auto schedule this for you, but avast doesn’t. But don’t fret, simply click Scan Computer, click More Details for Full System Scan, click Settings, and select the Scheduling tab.

To answer any questions you may have about the terms in this article please visit Webopedia, our free online dictionary of tech terms.

Comodo Internet Security 5.3

The Comodo Internet Security suite offers free protection for both homes and businesses. In addition to virus, spyware, rootkit, and bot protection, it comes with a firewall. It also has even more advanced features, including:

Auto and manual sandboxing: Untrusted executable files and programs are automatically ran in the virtual environment so modifications can’t be made to the real system. This is similar to avast, but Comodo lets you manually run programs in the sandbox at your choosing. You can also view and manage the trusted and unrecognized files.

Web filtering: This DNS-based service helps to block known dangerous websites at the browser before you have any chance of becoming infected. But if you want to block specific sites or categories, you’ll have to use a different solution such as OpenDNS.

Advanced customizable polices: Comodo is highly customizable with advanced settings. You can create a computer security policy as a part of the Defense+ component and a network security policy for the firewall.

Configuration management: Maintain, save and export multiple configurations of your settings. Great for backup purposes or for deploying multiple computers.

Password protection: Protect components and settings with a password to prevent children, employees, or others from changing settings or disabling protection. Optionally suppress alerts to prevent users from doing damage, such as ignoring a virus.

Currently, Comodo is offering a 60-day free trial of GeekBuddy, a live remote PC support service. When you install Comodo Internet Security you can choose to also install their remote software that you can use to request assistance.

I should point out that rootkit scanning isn’t enabled by default in Comodo Internet Security. The vendor said this is because it may create false positives that can’t be distinguished by average users. However, if you think you’re able to, you should enable it.

AVG Antivirus Free Edition 2011

The AVG Antivirus Free Edition 2011 provides protection for home users against viruses, spyware, and rootkits. Its security functionality is fairly basic compared to the previous two solutions. Though there are a few notable features:

Link scanner: Displays safety ratings of links in search results to help you identify dangerous sites before you visit them. This is similar to what other antivirus solutions (such as avast) provide.

Desktop gadget: Optional small gadget that remains on the desktop of Windows. You can check the status of AVG, start a scan, and check for updates. There are also shortcuts for Facebook, Twitter, and a search box to use the AVG search engine. But keep in mind, the search box can’t use other providers, like Google.

Browser toolbar: Shows the safety rating for the current website you’re on. You’ll also find an AVG search box and shortcuts to news and weather. It also has an email and Facebook notification feature that could be useful.

PC analyzer: Scans for Windows registry issues, junk files, drive fragmentation, and broken shortcuts, all of which can cause performance issues. But the annoying part is that have to download another utility to fix any found issues. Plus you can only run one free fix then you must purchase it.

Remember, AVG Antivirus Free Edition does not provide sandboxing. If something bad does slip by, it has a much better chance of causing damage. Additionally, it doesn’t provide password protection in case you have children or other curious users.

Like avast, AVG doesn’t automatically set a weekly scheduled scan. So make sure you do it yourself.

Microsoft Security Essentials

Microsoft now provides an antivirus solution: Microsoft Security Essentials. It’s free for home use and for businesses on up to 10 PCs. It includes protection for viruses, spyware, rootkits, and other malware. Its security functionalities are also pretty basic compared to the avast and Comodo solutions we discussed earlier. Though there are two noteworthy features:

Network inspection system: Detects malware infections coming from network and Internet connections before they hit your computer. Behavior monitoring: Identifies and stops suspicious activity or patterns that could be dangerous.

Remember, Microsoft Security Essentials is a very basic solution. Even the two features above lack any logs or settings. Like AVG Antivirus Free Edition, it also doesn’t have sandboxing or password protection.

Final Thoughts

In my review, I found avast Antivirus 6 and Comodo Internet Security 5.3 provide more security features than AVG Antivirus Free Edition 2011 and Microsoft Security Essentials.

Bear in mind, the actual detection and repair performance of each varies, which we didn’t get into. For benchmark testing, check out AV-Comparatives, Proactive Security Challenge, Virus Bulletin, or AV-Test. Consider their testing methodology and all features of the product to determine which you think is the most secure and best fit for your home or business.

If your computer is for business use, you’re limited to using either Comodo Internet Security with advanced features or Microsoft Security Essentials with basic features. If you have any untrusted users, use a solution with password protection like avast or Comodo.

For the free antivirus programs that don’t include a firewall, using just the Windows Firewall in XP and later typically provides enough security. Otherwise, consider a free third-party firewall, such as from Comodo or ZoneAlarm.

Most free solutions also lack SPAM filtering, but many email providers and client applications provide some type of filtering. If not, consider free solutions such as Comodo AntiSpam, Spam Pal, or SpamBytes.

Eric Geier is the founder of NoWiresSecurity, which helps businesses easily protect their Wi-Fi networks with the Enterprise mode of WPA/WPA2 security. He is also a freelance tech writer. Become a Twitter follower or use the RSS feed to keep up with his writings.

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