Q: I use Microsoft Security Essentials as my “seatbelt” for protection, plus I am as careful as possible. Is this enough or should I get Trend Micro. Not both, right? — Jonathan
A: The debate about Free vs. Pay antivirus rages on across the Internet and there really is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer to that question, but your second question is easy. Never both as they will detect each other as threats and create lots of performance issues.
All antivirus programs (free or pay) provide good security against known threats; it’s the growing unknown threats that are the bigger concern. Some security experts estimate that 30 million new attacks emerge every year!
In our 25 years, we have routinely switched brands for a number of reasons, so whatever may be our pick this year, could easily change in the next 5 years.
We have three main criteria we use to evaluate all of the security software that we install and recommend to our customers.
These criteria are protection, impact on performance and how much ‘nagging’ the program does to convince you to buy more protection.
Protection is obviously the biggest key and your behavior and your need to protect less discerning users (like kids, veracious teenagers or less tech savvy users that might fall for common social engineering tricks) will determine if a free program is enough protection.
If you are the only user, you are fairly aware of the common tricks used to infect users and you rarely wander onto unknown websites, a free anti-virus program should suffice.
Our primary recommendation for a free program is Microsoft Security Essentials, because it does the best overall within our three criteria.
There are plenty of other high performing free programs, but most of them have a habit of nagging you to step up to their pay version. Microsoft doesn’t have a pay version, so the whole nagging to upgrade issue will never occur.
If, however, you have children or less conscientious users, I’d recommend a more robust security suite that can do a better job of protecting them from themselves.
We currently install Trend Micro’s security suite on our customers computers because it has a very different approach to fending off the fast growing unknown threats via its cloud-based security.
Instead of having to download the latest updates in order to get all of the current protection, Trend Micro incorporates an additional cloud-based protection layer they call the Smart Protection Network that blocks access to malicious websites as a preventative measure.
The speed in which malicious websites are created on compromised legitimate websites is illustrated by a single attack last year that used nearly 2,000 different web addresses on 291 sites to exploit users all in one day.
Rather than a single point of protection from a simple antivirus program that must process and identify everything when it gets to your computer, Trend takes a multi-layer approach to block it before it ever gets to your computer.
Having said that, one of the biggest mistakes anyone can make is assume that they have superior protection therefore they can click on anything they want because they will be warned.
Nothing on the market can provide 100 percent protection against all of the newly formed exploits that appear on a daily basis. Essentially, they count on getting the user to open a file or click a link that is booby-trapped, so you have to do your part to stay safe by being paranoid of everything.
Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to email@example.com.