If you use the Internet (and if you’re reading this article, you do), you’re at risk of contracting malware, a virus or other nasty computer program. Like viruses that infect humans, the computer variety can arrive unexpectedly from unknown sources and have devastating effects.
Fortunately, there’s a simple “vaccine” to protect against Internet-borne malware: antivirus software. While you may already know about antivirus software, what you may not know is that you don’t have to pay a dime to get it.
When you bought your computer, it probably came with an antivirus program installed, along with a “free trial” for the program’s regular updates. Once that free trial expired so did your protection. And since virus protection software has to be kept updated to be effective, you did what millions of other Americans do: You started sending some company $30 to $60 a year to keep your virus-protection current.
However, that annual subscription might not be necessary. Last year, Microsoft introduced an antivirus program called Microsoft Security Essentials. It’s easy to install, backed by Microsoft and completely free.
There are those in the business who say that Microsoft’s free virus protection isn’t as good as its costlier cousins from companies like Symantec and McAfee. For example, here’s a study funded by Norton that concludes Microsoft Security Essentials isn’t as effective, but plenty of others disagree. Check out Do Not Pay for Security Software from CNET or Despite Taunts from Rivals, Microsoft Security Essentials is Solid from PC World.
For the best protection on your computer, you need to observe common-sense rules like never clicking on unknown email attachments, shady ads or other suspicious links, and keeping your web browser and its plugins (like Adobe’s Flash) up to date.
If you want free but don’t want Microsoft, there are other options. CNET recently put together a comparison of five free security suites. Their editors gave three, Avast Free Antivirus, AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition and ThreatFire AntiVirus Free Edition, five out of five stars. However, each of those programs will try to sell you a “premium” version. Microsoft’s doesn’t.
What should you do with your current antivirus? If you’ve already payed for a subscription, keep it installed until the subscription expires. Then, if you decide a free substitute will do the job, uninstall your current costly software and replace it. If your subscription has already expired or you don’t have an antivirus program installed, download a free one and set it up right now.
Antivirus isn’t the only free software worth considering. Check out our story called Five Best Free Software Programs for some additional freebies for your computer.
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