In this tough economy, getting something for free is always a good thing, right? Short answer: It depends on your tolerance for risk.
First and foremost, free antivirus software doesn’t provide the comprehensive protection you need against today’s biggest online threats. So, when you trust your computer, applications, files and identity to free antivirus software, it can end up costing you more in time, aggravation, and money than you ever imagined.
The fact that we still refer to this type of software as "antivirus" is out of date. No longer do we have to be worried only about nasty viruses infecting our computers and wiping out our personal data. Malware is perhaps more common today, with a different tactic to achieve a nefarious goal.
We highly recommend running Malwarebytes, $40 a year and worth every cent. They even offer a trial for 14 days of the premium version. I can tell you everytime I run an initial scan, I find not one but hundreds and somethings thousands of potentially unwanted software and malware.
Free programs often also include advertising. This can be insignificant to some, but ceaseless pop-up boxes pestering you to sign up for the paid version of whatever you're using can be quite distracting. Some free programs now try to change your web browser's home page and default search engine, which can be very annoying.
In the you-get-what-you-pay-for category, the paid programs are usually easier to install and run, and have fewer conflicts with other applications. You'll also find that should you lock down your system too tightly, it's easier with paid programs to select specific features and shut them off, or to set rules and behavioral exceptions.
The primary differences between free and paid anti-virus software, however, involve the additional features you get when you pay for a one-year license. There are the aforementioned parental controls, but you'll also find more elaborate firewalls to prevent intrusions, and performance and conflict scans. The paid programs also look for suspicious behavior, such as a program attempting to access files it shouldn't.
Every month 200 or more new viruses are introduced into the cyber world and that means that databases can become outdated very quickly. You’ve probably seen free antivirus software available, however I don’t recommend using these. In the free software, you don’t get customer support or any automated features – like automatic scanning or real-time protection.
When you buy antivirus software you can set it up to do everything automatically. Most of the computers I see with a virus problem are usually running free antivirus software, and the person just forgets to run regular scans. So, in short, they really are not doing themselves any favors.
Sadly, you do still need antivirus software in 2017. It's not necessarily to stop viruses anymore, but there are all kinds of miscreants out there who want nothing more than to steal and cause mayhem by getting inside your PC. It sounds scary, but because much of our lives are now conducted online, the threat is as real as ever.
Ultimately, if you do go the free route, don't just click on the first "free antivirus program" button you see, whether it's a pop-up ad or the result of a Google search. Those are often malicious programs looking to infect a PC. Stick with one of the applications mentioned in this story. There are a lot of open source AKA free software out there claiming to fix your computer, when in reality they are the problem. Technicians sometimes refer to this as “crapware” or “freeware” as it claims to do one thing and doesn’t perform as expected.