Security software questions and answers: Internet Scambusters #1,026
Is an anti-virus app enough for your security software needs? Or do you need more? What about free or paid for?
These, and more, are the questions you need to answer to ensure your online activities are properly protected.
In this week's issue, we'll give you some simple and straight answers, plus tips on how to decide the level of protection you need and how to compare different products.
Let's get started…
How To Find the Best Anti-Virus and Internet Security Software
Internet security is uppermost in the minds of pretty much all web users these days. It's rare to find someone who doesn't protect their PC with security software. But how do you know if you have enough or the right sort of protection to block cunning hackers and scammers?
In fact, there's no one-size-fits-all security software app or program. And, given the claims and feature-bragging of the software developers, it can be confusing to know if they've got what you need. Or if you need what they've got!
Slick marketing using free and low-cost anti-virus apps is intended to lure users into signing up for automatic, annual renewals that can turn out to be pricey and, sometimes, quite unnecessary.
Then, once a user is locked into a particular app, they may be bombarded with pop-ups and emails about add-ons, which, of course, will cost more. And the more "bells and whistles" you add, the more challenging it is to consider changing - it sometimes feels like just too much messing around to switch from one app to another.
However, as our internet usage continues to climb, it really is a good idea to regularly review your own internet security to ensure it best meets your needs.
Fortunately, there's plenty of information online about how to choose the best internet security program for you. But to start you off, here are some of the most common questions you should ask.
What's the difference between "anti-virus" and "internet security" software?
When the internet really started to take off twenty-some years ago, security was all about viruses - computer code that stole information or caused a PC to malfunction. Today's threats are much greater, although the root of many problems still relies on baddies getting their malicious code, such as ransomware and spyware, onto your PC.
But there are other risks beyond viruses - like tracking user behavior, parental control, phishing, spam, privacy compromises, and plain, old scamming. The term "internet security software" would embrace these risks.
In practice, however, the terms are often used interchangeably, so make sure you know exactly what protection a product really provides.
How do I make comparisons?
Here are some of the commonsense features you need to consider:
- Cost - Opening offers are often priced attractively but when you sign up, you'll usually have to agree to automatic annual renewal at a much higher price. That's the cost that matters. Yes, you can still cancel before renewal is due but that often becomes messy.
- Reputation - There may be some good products from companies you've never heard of, but unless you know what you're doing, stick with names you recognize.
- Features - It's important to know what you need. For example: parental controls, cross-platform use, multiple devices, VPN (see below), spam filters, file shredding, browser integration, file and system backups, data breach monitoring, password management, and malware removal.
- Ease of use - Unless you're tech savvy, stick with apps that don't require lots of tinkering to set up.
- Speed - Some antivirus software can seriously slow down your PC, especially if it's an older device. Check for this in your research.
If you really want to go deeper into your research, visit the site of independent testers AV Comparatives. But that's probably more than the average user needs.
Is free anti-virus good enough?
For "free," read "basic." It's probably good enough for low-activity users for email and basic surfing.
If you run Windows, the operating system comes with a built-in security program, Windows Defender. It doesn't rate as highly as some of the other free products produced by well-known security software names.
If you're just starting out, it's not a bad idea to try the free version of an anti-virus before you decide whether to buy. Some paid products also offer a try-before-you-buy deal.
What is a good source for unbiased reviews?
Every year, web security publications and other experts publish "league" tables highlighting their top picks for best internet security software. Trouble is, they often each have different favorites and even their own tables change from one year to the next.
All the leading anti-virus developers themselves offer guidance on how to select a security app. But, of course, each one suggests theirs is the best! Search for reviews from organizations like Consumer Reports, reputable tech sites like TechRadar, and computer publications like PC Mag. Beware lesser known "top 10" comparisons sites; some of them charge providers for high ratings.
Do I need a VPN?
VPN stands for "virtual private network," which, in simple terms, gives you anonymity so others can't see who you are or what you're doing. It's especially important if you often use public networks (like at your local coffee shop or an airport).
Learn more about VPNs from our earlier issue, Do You Need a VPN (Virtual Private Network) for Your Internet Safety?
Can I run two anti-virus programs at once?
Technically, you might be able to do this, especially if the apps perform different functions, but they do tend to get in each other's way and slow things down. You probably won't be any safer either. We don't recommend it.
What if I want to switch?
Despite everything we've said, don't do this lightly. Today's Number 1 could be out of the charts next year. Removing your current app can be difficult. You might need online uninstallation guidance, and time to make sure the replacement is properly set up.
Finally, here are two important points to remember:
First, your security software is only as good as its latest version. Keep it updated - preferably automatically.
Second, internet threats are constantly evolving and you must be permanently on guard. No security software is perfect. If it was, we'd all be using it!
This Week's Scam Alert
Mine malware: You probably know that a lot of people are making a lot of money by mining Bitcoin cryptocurrency. But maybe you're not sure exactly what mining is and how to do it. Scammers have caught on to this by posting YouTube videos that make the whole process look easy and offer free downloadable mining software. But it's not what they say; it's data-stealing malware called PennyWise. It's clever, faking authenticity by using download password protection and a trust certificate. Your antivirus should spot it, but your best protection is not to download files from people you don't know.
Time to conclude for today - have a great week!