Why you need antivirus
Unless you’ve got some sort of security software installed, your Windows PC or laptop is vulnerable to viruses, malware and ransomware. The latter is particularly important right now, given that the second huge ransomware attack of 2017 has just hit the headlines: Petya follows WannaCry, which earlier this year hit huge organisations including the NHS. (Also see: What is ransomware and more details on Petya.)
The best solution is to install antivirus protection, and you’ll be pleased to hear it doesn’t have to cost you loads.
Antivirus software detects, and then prevents, disarms or removes malicious programs or malware, often referred to as ‘viruses’. Antivirus doesn’t offer a perfect solution to the problem of malware, but it is a critical first step to securing your PC or laptop. To help prevent viruses infecting your PC you must install antivirus, and then regularly update your antivirus software. All the antivirus software reviewed here will update automatically.
But internet security software is no longer just about countering viruses. Although they still exist, viruses are arguably a minor part of the malware now prevalent on the web. More important now is security of personal data and protection from ransomware. Security exploits aren’t about show-off hackers massaging their egos, anymore, but about monetising their malware.
The modern day criminal doesn’t have to be a hard-line hacker, either. They can buy all the software they need, and millions of addresses, on the dark web or even on eBay, if you know where to look. You can buy everything from denial of service attack – with botnets for hire – to individual exploits. Custom attacks are available, where the code changes after only a dozen uses or so, making it very hard for Internet Security (IS) providers to block every new variant.
Zero day attacks
Although the primary concern is to block malware so it doesn’t install on your PC in the first place, there isn’t an internet security suite made which is 100 percent effective. Worthwhile IS and antivirus software should also detect so-called ‘zero day’ attacks, where the malware is so new it hasn’t yet been analysed or had ‘signatures’ built into IS protection routines.
The speed with which these analyses are made is an important factor in the level of protection an IS suite can provide. Some companies now claim a turnaround of well under an hour, using information gained from their own customers about similar attacks. The cloud element in security applications is growing more and more important in speeding this process. So-called “next gen” protection using behaviour analysis and even artificial intelligence is also beginning to creep into some products.
Newly-installed software can be monitored, looking for suspicious activity and can then be prevented from potentially damaging actions, such as changing registry entries, or installing as a browser add-in. Ransomware can also be identified by unexpected attempts to encrypt your files.
So how do you test antivirus software?
Malware is evolving faster than ever, but fortunately the latest generation of antivirus – or AV – is better equipped than ever to handle new threats.
In recent years, the technology that powers AV software has changed dramatically. An AV package you purchased a few years ago was able to stop known viruses and other known malware, but brand-new, unknown viruses proved more difficult. Newer products do a better job of stopping them.
For our antivirus tests we team up with Germany’s AV-Test.org and the UK’s SELabs, both highly respected independent security-software testing labs. Each rigorously tests AV products from a number of leading security companies.
The multifaceted testing procedure looks not only at how well an AV product can detect malware using traditional, largely signature-based methods (that is, employing a database of known malware types), but also at how well it can block brand-new, unknown malware caught fresh from the wild. These companies also examine how well security products clean up after an infection if a piece of malware does get through.
Every program in this list is worth your investment. The differences between the top few are relatively minor. The critical thing is to install one of these programs.