Five free anti-virus software downloads to keep your PC secure

There are bad guys on the Internet.

Hackers create a constant stream of malicious software and viruses designed to wreak havoc on any computer they touch, propagate themselves as aggressively as possible, and even steal your personal information for financial gain. The volume of this unwanted software seems to grow with each passing day, and without proper protection you’re bound to be a victim.

Having your identity stolen or computer damaged is only one threat. Our recent story of a Connecticut substitute teacher showed how even pop-up advertising software can ruin a life.

But this doesn’t have to happen to you. To counter the huge volume of malware and viruses being produced, there are several anti-virus software products that will help you protect your computer.

And the best part is you don’t even have to buy the software. Much of it is free, with companies sometimes using a personal version to promote a corporate license, or a premium version for sale.

We took a look at five downloadable software tools that are both easy to use and install. Testing results were provided from a September report by the independent German company AV-Test.org, which each performs product tests of anti-virus, anti-spyware, personal firewalls and related products on behalf of the makers of the software, integrators (OEMs), corporate users, as well as for publications.

In testing the applications considered in this article, AV-Test.org’s programs sifted through 1,164,662 samples of malware and 94,291 samples of adware or spyware.

Avira Anti-Vir

Despite its oddly-shortened name, this Tettnang, Germany-based company can defend your PC against spam, rootkits, phishing attacks, and malware or viruses.

With about 50 million users worldwide, this product has a straightforward user interface and won’t be a burden on your system, working without a big impact on CPU usage.

Some customization features allow the user to schedule scans and download upgrades. You can also limit on-access scanning to certain file types, which can help speed up your computer if you do find the scanning program causes some lag effects.

One drawback of this free download is you will be pestered to upgrade to the paid version of the software. The pop-up is easy to eliminate, but will annoy you when an update is needed, or while scanning your files.

In the tests, the Avira Premium Security Suite 2008 proved to be the most thorough program listed here. It detected an impressive 99.8 per cent of the malware and 99 per cent of the spyware/adware. There were just one or two false positives and the scan was completed quickly. The Avira team also has excellent response times in getting out updates when new threats are detected.

Download Avira Anti-Vir

AOL’s Active Virus Shield

Until recently, AOL had offered up this free offering powered by Kaspersky Lab. But the offering is no longer advertised on AOL’s Web site, which instead now promotes a McAfee Virus Scan Plus Special Edition that is offered to AOL subscribers only.

That said, users of the Active Virus Shield can still find support online. The installer is still available for download on its original server too. The best part is you can still get free virus definition updates supplied by Kaspersky. But no more product patches will be coming out.

The latest version was released May 30, 2007 and supports Windows Vista.

Kaspersky Lab — which is headquartered in Moscow, Russia, but has offices across the world — feeds definition updates about every two hours.

The software offers a light software footprint for an anti-virus program, not requiring much hard drive space, or resources to run in the background.

In testing, Kaspersky Internet Security 2009 detected 98.4 per cent of malware and 98.3 per cent of spyware and adware. There were about three or four false positives detected and the scan speed was decent.

Download Active Virus Shield

AVG

AVG Technologies is based in Orlando, and also has corporate offices in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe. It boasts about 80 million users around the world, which makes it the fourth largest vendor of anti-virus software by install base.

Despite the popularity of AVG’s free offering, it is limited as a result of promoting a paid-for product. It is for private, non-commercial use only and offers no support and limited features compared to the full version. The product will block viruses and spyware, but not rootkits or spam. Nor will it protect your IM-based communications.

In testing, AVG Internet Security detected 95.8 per cent of malware and 87 per cent of adware or spyware. It had just one or two false positives and the scan speed was good. AVG has decent response times in reacting to new malware.

Download AVG Free Anti-Virus

BKAV

If you’ve never heard of this, you’re probably not a resident of Vietnam. It is the most popular anti-virus program there, as a result of being homegrown software.

BK stands for Bach Koa, the Vietnamese name for the Hanoi University of Technology.

The program was easy to install (it took one second) with the click of a mouse and is easy to operate as well. Its easy approach to installation is matched by a Spartan approach to the effective user interface (available in English). The installation takes up a mere 13 MB of hard drive space.

It may not look like much, but this anti-virus program is updated daily by its team of coders. It also uses a novel approach to disinfecting computers by counteracting exactly what the virus was coded to do. That means your PC won’t be damaged when a corrupted file is removed.

You can also get free support for this program, but you must be willing to pay the phone tolls to Vietnam.

Download BKAV

ClamAV

Clam Anti-Virus is an open source toolkit developed for UNIX servers but is also available for Windows in 32-bit mode.

The Windows version was built using Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 and includes all the things Windows users are used to – a graphical installer and the essential files needed to run the software. But this product is for servers, not the desktop.

Its main purpose is to scour e-mail messages for potentially harmful files. But you can also set other programs, such as MSN Messenger, to use it to scan incoming files. It supports many popular file types, including Office and MacOffice files, HTML, RTF and PDF formats.

Version 0.94.1 was released Nov. 3 and a new feature allows users to send anonymous data back to ClamAV. This will help determine what types of viruses are the most detected in the field, and what geographic area they’re attacking.

ClamAV hosts regular Webinars for users that discuss best practices. You can also watch the archive of Web casts on the company’s site.

In testing, Clam AV 0.93.1 detected 88.5 per cent of malware and 92.8 per cent of adware or spyware. There are excellent response times to new threats. Drawbacks include a high number of false positives and slow scan speeds.

Download ClamAV

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