December 20, 2011
A good Choice as Antivirus
This is a thoroughly tested antivirus. Even a Free version can be more than sufficient for home usage.
Free Antivirus Software
The Inside Scoop on Free Antivirus Software
Who doesn't like free stuff? Nothing gets people excited more than the word “FREE.” Sadly, one of the most persistent myths in the world is this whole concept of a free lunch. Following close behind it is the whole notion of “something for nothing.” As we get older (maybe by the time we graduate high school) most of us realize that there is no such thing as a “free lunch” and that the whole concept of “something for nothing” eventually leads to trouble. At least, that is the hope--that most of us realize this fundamental truth. Unfortunately, there are still many people who fall under the trance of the whole concept of something for nothing. This is especially true when it comes to goodies on the Internet.
If you think about it, stuff that is "free" like Gmail, search engines and online applications like Facebook are not really free. For one thing, it costs a lot of money for the providers of these services to make them available to the public. Also on the consumer end, they are supported by tons of ads. It cannot truly be said that they are completely free. The same thing could be said of open source software like Open Office or LibreOffice. While it is true that you can download it and use it for free, you are actually providing something of value to the developers because if it is buggy or there are certain issues with the software, you would complain. If you use it frequently enough or you use it in a corporate setting, many users such as yourself would give suggestions to the company. Believe it or not, these activities just saved the publisher of LibreOffice hundreds of thousands, if not, millions of dollars in development costs. Software costs a lot of money not only to develop, but also to maintain and debug. By distributing it in an open source environment, you are making the product better and also making the developer a huge amount of money when they do customize developments of the product. Once again, there is no such thing as a free lunch.
No Free Lunch in Antivirus Software Either
This is the reason why it is quite puzzling why many people fall for free Antispyware packages. By Antispyware, we are talking about packages that provide more or less anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-trojan, and/or anti-phishing features in one package. Anti-malware is an umbrella term for software that detects and resolves security threats to your computer, be they viruses, worms, spyware, trojans or hybrid threats. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that any Antivirus Software that is worth its salt is a complicated piece of software. In addition to being comprised of thousands upon thousands of lines in code, malware detection and resolution involve much research and development. It also involves a number of customizations. Sure, there are some open source anti-malware packages out there, but to customize them and turn them into viable commercial-grade software takes both time and effort.
The high costs of complex antivirus software evolution
With every passing year, Antivirus Software becomes more and more complicated. Each of the core components of a typical package consisting of detection and resolution becomes more and more involved and entails more complicated subsidiary functions. Malware resolution used to be composed of strictly cleaning or quarantining the problematic application that was installed in your computer. It has become much more complicated than that. There is also logging. There is heuristic scanning. There is also reporting to a centralized online cloud-based database. The more complicated anti-malware programs get, it necessarily follows that their target malware becomes more complicated as well. It is really an evolutionary arms race in that when the good guys make an advance, the bad guys make two advances. It does not really get resolved. It is always a race on who can be faster, quicker and more efficient.
The Stakes are High
Considering the almost Darwinian pace of the evolution of such a complicated piece of software, you would think that this would give many internet users pause before they install a free anti-malware program. It really boils down to whether the free program has enough incentives in of itself to be able to provide the huge amount of time and resources involved in properly evolving a product, given the realities of the security threats floating on the internet. It is like trying to shoot a fast-moving target. To be able to stay ahead of the target, you have to move quickly as well. The question becomes whether the free Antivirus Software has the full commitment and resources of the company that developed it in order for it to step up its game and be fully fit for the takes it has set for itself. On the consumer's end, the stakes are very high.
The Costs to Users when something goes wrong
Not only is the user running the risk of losing time when the user's system crashes, but data recovery also takes much time. Not all data recovery software can handle virus or malware caused data corruption or deletion. In many cases, consumers would have to go to offline brick and mortar data recovery firm or mail their hard drives to such a firm to resolve the problem. In this particular situation, the end user loses a lot of time. What if you use that corrupted or lost data for your business? How about a very important report for school? What about meeting important details for your business or work? The stakes are clearly high especially when there is a deadline involved.
Just How Valuable is Your Data? - Data cost versus Risk
Compounding this headache is the value of the data. If you did not have a backup or the data was compiled due to several days, months or even years of specific activities, no amount of money can compensate for that lost data. Obviously, when there is data corruption or an application crash or lost data due to malware, users lose money. Not only can you lose money directly. If, for example, the data that we described above cannot be replaced and impacts your business, your occupation, your studies or your job, but you also lose money in terms of opportunity cost. The bottom line is you could be doing something else instead of losing both time and effort trying to recover your data. Who is going to compensate you for the amount of money that you could have made or projects that you could have accomplished during the time that you spent hassling with data recovery?
Legal Risks to Security Breaches
Finally, one other area of concern for most users is the very real possibility that their PC might be used in digital crimes. A large chunk of the malware being spread on the internet as we write this is aimed not at destroying data or stealing your identity. A large portion of malware currently being propagated aims to use your PC for criminal purposes. Using trojans, hackers get into your system and install software that will allow them to remotely control your computer. Why would they want to do this? They can remotely direct your computer to send out spam in order for them not to get into legal trouble. Alternatively, they can use your computer to download or upload illegal materials. This illegal digital content can range from pirated music software, pirated games, spreading other copies of the malware or worm, or in some instances, pornography and also child pornography. As you can tell, the legal liability can be quite huge. There is an ongoing crackdown on online piracy and if your computer is part of a botnet that has been infected by malware, you can be unconsciously participating in such a global crime. The same goes for distribution of illegal content. For the foregoing reasons, it cannot be emphasized enough that the stakes are high in terms of keeping your PC secured against online threats. Unfortunately, the spread of free Antivirus Software has given many users the world over a false sense of security.
Free Antivirus Software and a False Sense of Security
It is very easy to see why people would want to install free anti-malware applications. Most people cannot resist a free deal, especially when the paid version of the Antivirus Software ranges anywhere from $20 all the way to $100 and some change. Who would not want to save that money? Who would not want to use that money saved for another purchase? That is a large part of the appeal on the user's side.
What is in it for the developers?
However, before we can discuss the complete range of issues revolving around free Antivirus Software, we have to tackle the key question of why would anybody create or distribute free anti-malware packages. There are three main legal motivations for free anti-malware developers. As will be discussed at full length later below, there are also illegal motives behind shady antimalware packages.
Free applications build installed user bases quickly
The first benefit to a free anti-malware developer is that distributing the products for free helps them build market share quickly for a pro or an upgrade version. In this situation, the free version is really sent out as a free taste test of the fully featured version of the software. The free version of course works fully on the job that is advertised. The only difference is that the pro version is either more proactive or has other features that are available in most commercial packages. By distributing a free software to build market share, the developer gets their foot in the door so to speak in terms of branding, in terms of getting a large installed base of users and getting name recognition. This marketing model is quite effective since a lot of the bigger names in the Antivirus Software niche started out as freely distributed software packages. McAfee for example started out with a free version back in the 1990s.
Free Distribution Builds “Pro”or Commercial Brands Rapidly
Another key advantage developers get when going the free software route is branding. If you are a new developer and nobody has heard of you, it certainly takes a long time for your software to reach a critical mass of installation. This is quite hard if your software is a paid piece of software. People paying for your product are quite a hurdle for its proliferation. By making a free version or making the first few versions of it completely free gives you a branding opportunity so that as you upgrade your software and your installed base grows, they become more and more familiar with your software's dependability, its features and its quality. At a certain point, once you have reached a large enough installed base, even if you announce that the next version will be a completely paid version and there will no longer be a free unlimited version, you can count on a certain percentage of the installed base to convert to the paid version. This might result in quite a hefty revenue stream for your company. Many anti-virus programs went this route. They originally started out as completely free and at a certain stage went to a completely paid solution. The fact that they are still around and growing is a powerful testimony to the marketing strategy of using free Antivirus Software packages for branding.
Free Software Turns Each User into a Quality Assurance asset
Finally, one other important legitimate reason for creating and distributing free Antivirus Software is for customer support purposes. Customer support and bug testing can get quite expensive especially if you are a small software development company. Also it can get in the way of the weight of adoption of your software if you charge money for your software and as a result, you have a small user base. Since you have a small user base, the software has not been fully debugged and tested in a wide variety of environments, and you end up spending a large amount of money having to fix issues that your customers discover as they use the software. This can be quite an expensive proposition especially for small operation. This is the reason why many otherwise for profit or profit-driven companies release their initial versions of their software package for free over the internet. They are looking to fully debug and test their software through several versions. More importantly, they seek to foster a community of users who, in turn, can interact with the company and give suggestions regarding possible changes to the software. The end result is free market research and free debugging. Considering the immense cost these abnormally entail, many software companies take the plunge in releasing free software because the cost of developing and maintaining the free software is outweighed by the R&D and debugging savings they enjoy going the free route.
Dangers of Using Free Antivirus Software
When it comes to using Antivirus Software, the consumer really has to have a cost-benefit analysis frame of mind. They must always balance the benefit that they are getting from the software versus the cost of the risk that they are assuming if something goes wrong. In most instances, the amount of benefit that you are getting ranges from $19.95 or whatever the cheapest paid anti-virus or anti-malware software package costs to several hundred dollars for more customized and high-end security solutions compared to the several thousands of dollars in terms of irreplaceable data, wasted time, and ultimately lost peace of mind. You suffer when your computer has a security breach due to malware that was not detected by the free anti-malware package. In this analysis, the conclusion would be that free software actually cost you a lot of money.
The threat of fake anti-malware programs – backdoor features
The first cost to consider is the cost of fake anti-virus programs. You have to keep in mind that as the most popular commercial anti-malware packages evolve and become almost bulletproof in effectiveness, the more desperate hacking groups and malware authors get. Some have become so desperate that they actually create fake anti-virus programs. These fake anti-virus programs look like the real article. They detect most common virus threats, they clean them, they warn you about spyware, they spot trojans--you name it. They look exactly like most legitimate anti-malware packages that are commercially available with one key difference. These fake anti-virus programs have "backdoors" programmed into them. These backdoors allow the hacking group to get into your computer and turn it into a zombie computer to send out the garbage described above. This is a risk that you cannot take. Many users would be skeptical regarding the possibility of fake anti-virus programs, but they are more common than you think. What is worse is many of them are promoted by shady affiliate programs that absolutely go out of their way to scare users into installing their fake anti-virus applications. One particular fake anti-malware brand was promoted by marketers that would load .gif animations of virus infestations on the computers of their targets. The owners of these computers would freak out when they run a picture of a supposed virus meter going crazy because of virus threats that were detected. However, anybody with even the lowest level of computer savvy and experience would notice that this is not a real message from Windows or any other application, but is actually .gif picture animation. Crude? Yes. Effective? Unfortunately yes.
The threat of trojan “anti-malware” programs
Another key threat that users of anti-malware are freely subjecting themselves to is that a number of anti-malware programs out there are actually disguised trojans. They may look like perfectly functioning anti-malware applications, but they actually install other programs that compromise the security of your computer. The security compromises can run the range from capturing your keyboard strokes to installing a backdoor at a future time. The bottom line is that instead of protecting you, your supposedly free program is actually setting you up for future identity theft, future compromise of your online financial transactions and also setting you up for using your computer for future criminal activities.
Wasting time and resources on false positives
Another threat post by free Antivirus Software is the threat of wasted productivity and wasted time caused by false positives. Let us assume that the Antivirus Software is not malicious where there is no trojan functionality, there are no backdoors, and it is not used to actively cause you harm. It can still be causing you harm if it is badly coded or uses a bad database and it flags certain operations or certain applications as security threats when in reality they are not. Welcome to the world of false positives. False positives are not harmless mistakes. They can cost you time, effort and resources in correcting them. More importantly, it shakes your sense of security and compromises your peace of mind. Ridiculously enough, you might end up buying the paid software that you are trying to avoid paying for in the first place because of false positives. You as a matter of fact ended up where you began.
Can you afford badly coded software?
Another key cost that you are undertaking by using free Antivirus Software is regardless of any malicious or even incompetent coding issues within that package, you run a great risk if you choose less effective package. The truth of the matter is the chances are high that regardless of how many people have installed a free anti-malware package that you have, it might turn out to be less effective than paid packages. Why? This is because there are fewer incentives for that package to be just as effective. There is less incentive for free anti-malware packages to have a fully up-to-date database. A completely updated and dynamically updated database is crucial to such an application. If its virus, malware or spyware library is out of date and cannot be updated, you are in for a world of hurt because as mentioned earlier, malware evolves very rapidly. If your database is not up to date with the latest protection or detection schemes against the latest waves of malware, you are absolutely setting yourself up for headaches down the road. Since the Antivirus Software is free, there might be less incentive for the developer to fully invest in a fully up-to-date database. Why? This is because of fewer resources, and databases cost money to acquire and update systems cost time and money.
You lose out when your free package under performs
Another key risk you are undertaking and which may be costing you money down the road is the lower effectiveness of free software package due to less resources for proactive techniques to detect security risks. Many paid security software packages proactively scour the internet for the latest threats. They even set up traps for the latest waves of malware to attack. In particular, some security companies set up supposedly vulnerable servers intended to draw the attention of hacker groups. The software publishing company then studies the logs of the compromised servers and computers and updates their threat databases accordingly. As you can imagine, smaller developers of free anti-malware packages might not have the resources to create such a wide neck of proactive threat detection and diagnosis systems. Accordingly, this crucial information is left off their malware database and you might not be as protected as you thought.
Hard Realities to Consider
You might just end up on Square One after all
There are several hard realities that you have to keep in mind when using free Antivirus Software. It is certainly just a race against time. It only takes one time for you to be burned by these software packages regardless of whether they are malicious or not. For you to end up in the same spot you were trying to avoid in the first place, which is buying Antivirus Software, why not just bite the bullet and spend the $19.95, $39.95 or $49.95 to get the protection that you need now if there is a chance you will end up spending that money in the first place? Worse, not only do you end up buying paid anti-malware packages eventually, but you also had to undergo the costs of compromised security in the meantime.
Free anti-malware packages' large pool of users might be tempting targets
Another hard reality you have to keep in mind is that free Antivirus Software packages tend to have a large installed base and since few publishers might have less incentives to make a fully bulletproof product, this large installed base becomes a tempting target for hackers to try and exploit. Think about it. If you are a hacker and you are playing the numbers game in terms of computer infections, you want to hit a large group of people at the same time. When this large group of people installed the same software, you get a golden opportunity to hit a large amount of people at the same time. That is why it is not unreasonable to suspect that certain popular free Antivirus Software packages might be getting more attention from hackers than completely paid packages.
The Bottom Line
The old saying of "you get what you paid for" has never been more true than when applied to computer security software. Given the high stakes involved and the amount of risks involved, one can never really get a complete security solution with free Antivirus Software packages. You will always run the risks outlined above due to less incentives in the process to fully create a bulletproof security package. At best, you end up with application package that you reserve for web surfing and less crucial computing activities. At worse, you ended up relying on a software that gives you a false sense of security. Study the risks and incentives involved carefully and weigh them against the potential costs you run. This is the truly responsible way of going about the cost-benefit analysis of choosing which security software package to go with.