Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Anti-virus, anti-malware and other stuff

If you are a fairly new home pc user, you've probably heard references to anti-virus software.
There are commercial products like Norton Internet Security, and McAfee Security Suite, which may come pre-installed with a trial period on a new computer.  Norton has pulled back in front as one of the most recommended anti-virus solutions after several years of being criticized as getting too big and slowing computers down.  

For the last few years, I had to remove Norton from some computers because of problems the user was having, especially slowing down the computer - but I used Norton products exclusively for my own machine for many years.  If you have a computer that you want to protect with a commercial product, I still recommend Norton - just look closely at the minimum requirements for your computer before downloading or installing.  If you're computer is fairly new (1-2 years old) you should not have any problems running it.  The Internet Security version also looks for and removes other types of malware that causes pop-up advertising and otherwise slows down your internet connection.  

There are also several free types of anti-virus programs available that can give you very good basic protection if you can't afford a paid product, or only use your computer on the internet for small periods of time.  Are they as good as commercial products?  Some people say yes - but it's really an independent decision.  I have installed AVG Anti-Virus on dozens of machines, and it seems to do an excellent job.  I have also used (and still use) Avast! on my own machine.  Both of these products are from Europe, and have commercial paid-for versions, but offer basic free versions for home users.

Does one product do it all?  Well the truth to that answer is yes and no.  Each product has it's shining part, but may be weak in others - and truth be told, there is no one product that provides bullet-proof protection for everything.  Even if you run a commercial product, I still recommend using at least one of several anti-spyware/malware solutions available.  There are several products available that are free to home users and combined with a good anti-virus increase the odds that you will remain trouble free from serious threats.

For the past several months I have been using a product called Malware Byte's Anti-Malware  which is available from many of the major download sites as well as their own site.  Their full version offers real-time scanning, scheduling scans and so on, but the free version can be used to continue manual scanning and removal after the full version expires.  I have had great success removing some rather difficult spyware with this product and highly recommend it.  Like commercial products, they all look at things differently, so using a second program to look for malware can catch things that the other doesn't.  Other programs I have used successfully include Ad-Aware and Spybot Search and Destroy.  Both of these have free versions that are capable of removing nasty stuff from your computer.

Doubling up on anti-virus programs is not recommended however - they tend to cause problems if two of these are actively searching the computer for viruses and can actually cause a melt-down if you aren't careful.  Most anti-virus programs will search for other programs during the install and tell you to uninstall the other product.

In a future post, I'll talk about how these nasties get into our computers and what you can do to avoid them.  There are also other "house-keeping" activities that should be done on a regular basis to keep your computer running smoothly.

What do you use on your computer and are you happy with it?

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