What To Look For In Antivirus Software


In this tutorial I provide an overview of things you may want to consider when choosing antivirus/anti-malware software. I include a list of free antivirus/anti-malware software at the end of this tutorial. The free versions usually include a more limited feature set than the version offered for purchase. The free versions provide a limited opportunity to "try before you buy".

Research Before You Buy or Try

Computer antivirus/anti-malware products and the companies that create them change over time as do the threats they must address. An antivirus product that developed a great reputation as an effective product one year may NOT be the most effective product the next year.

I've included a list of organizations that specialize in testing antivirus, anti-malware and other similar products. These are independent organizations NOT affiliated with product producers. Use the information they publish to help you choose the product you will use. Review any product you use on a yearly basis to insure it continues to be an effective product.

What To Look For In Antivirus Software

How effective a product is at detecting, mitigating and removing a threat is the most important aspect of any antivirus/anti-malware product. Use the resources I list above to help you determine what products do the best job.

Additional considerations:
  • How fast do scans complete?
  • How easy is it to navigate and configure the application?
  • How does the product alert you when a threat is detected?
  • What action is required by you when a threat is detected? In my opinion the less action required by the user the better. Why force users to make decisions they may not have the experience or knowledge to make?
  • How does the product impact battery life if you use it on a portable device?
  • How does the product impact the performance of your computer when scans run?
  • How good is the companies customer support? I suggest contacting a companies customer support with questions BEFORE you buy to help determine their response time and quality. Some Free products may not include customer support.

Basic features to look for in an antivirus/anti malware product:
  • Automatic Updates: Keeps you up to date with the latest evolving threats.
  • Scheduled Scans: Allows you to set a specific time to run scans.
  • Realtime Scanner: Continually monitors your computer for viruses or malware.
  • On-access Scanner: Scans files when they are opened or accessed
  • On-Demand Scanner: Enables you to scan any file or files you choose manually. It's convenient to have this feature implemented as a right click option in the Windows Explorer file manager.
  • Compressed File Scanner: Scans .Zip and other archive files that may hide viruses and malware.

Your needs will be dictated to some degree by how you use your computer, the services you utilize and applications you have installed. Additional features to look for might include:

  • Heuristic Scanning: Used to help identify new potential threats not included in current definitions/signature files.
  • Social Media Protection: Alerts you to potentially dangerous links and content.
  • Script Blocking: Blocks the dangerous content embedded in some Web sites.
  • POP3 Email Scanning: Scans in/outgoing mail and attachments for threats.
  • Web mail Protection: Blocks potentially dangerous links and attachments.
  • Chat/Instant Messaging: Filters dangerous links and downloads.
  • Spam filtering: Filters spam that can be both annoying and potentially dangerous.
  • USB Virus Scan: Automatically scans USB thumb/flash or other portable drives.
  • WiFi Protection: Often in the form of a VPN (virtual private network) to protect wireless connections.
  • Parental Controls: Tools parents can use to monitor and regulate a child's use of the Internet.
  • Gamer Mode: Reduces the performance impact of the product while gaming.
  • Bootable Rescue Disk: Creates a bootable CD, DVD or flash/thumb drive that can be used to scan a computer for viruses and malware without booting/starting the operating system. This is useful if the computer can not boot on it's own due to a virus/malware infection. Some viruses and malware disable antivirus/malware solutions installed on a computer. A bootable antivirus or anti-malware disk may be the only tool capable of removing the virus/malware.

Free Antivirus/anti-malware Software

  1. Ad-Aware
  2. AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition
  3. Avira AntiVir Personal
    (Avira Had one of the highest detection rates at the time I wrote this tutorial.)
  4. Avast 4 Home Edition
  5. ClamWin Free
  6. Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (Free)
  7. Microsoft's Security Essentials
    Supports Windows 7 and Vista only.