There’s an old adage that says you should never trust something that’s free because “you get what you pay for.” While that is at least partially true, it doesn’t quite cover the best free antivirus software.
Many companies are electing to offer free antivirus software to consumers that have only the most basic features in the hopes that they will entice consumers to purchase full or premium versions of their software. This approach, often termed the “fremium” approach is used by plenty of legitimate companies to varying degrees.
While some antivirus software has plenty of free features and only make you pay for advanced content, some free software barely even give users the minimum protection they need. So, how do you know what’s worthwhile and what’s not?
Here are several key things to look for when you are looking for the best free antivirus software.
Best Free Antivirus Factors
Automatic updates are an essential feature of today’s antivirus software, and something that can’t be compromised on. As new viruses are detected and cataloged, virus scanning software must be updated to catch these threats before they can harm your computer.
Automatic updates are standard on most antivirus programs, but some require you to upgrade to paid versions before you can access the most recent program updates. However, the best free programs will have this feature standard. TechRadar points out a few such programs that have free versions that update several times a day, including Avast! and Avira Free Antivirus.
Real-time scanners are web shields that scan your computer as you browse the web. This is also a must-have feature, as they are your first line of defense against viruses and can often catch malware before it is even downloaded to your computer.
Real-time scanners (also called real-time shields) are the best preventative measure a user can have against a virus infection and are an essential feature in any free antivirus program. Just like with automatic updates, many free programs require you to upgrade to a paid version of their software to access this feature, but there are many, including AVG Free and Panda Cloud Antivirus Free, that do give free users access to this feature.
Automatic Wi-Fi Shields With Pre-Set Security Settings
For today’s on-the-go computer user, connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots might not seem like a big deal. However, when you connect to wireless networks outside your home, devious hackers can use these unsecured networks to access content on your computer. A good free antivirus program will allow the user to select a security scheme that best fits the type of security you might need.
Often, a free security program will allow you to select a home, work or public shield, which in turn will protect your computer from unauthorized access. Though Wi-Fi shields may not seem like a big deal, if you access an unsecured network, any content on your computer, including saved passwords and browsing history could be at risk. Avast! and AVG Free both include this feature with their free versions.
Though you may think that all companies should offer an option to contact them if there is a problem, free software often doesn’t include this option. While phone support is rare among free software options, email support is a must. Sure, it is not ideal (especially if you suspect your computer is infected), but being able to reach out to someone via email or chat is an important feature to have, and will also put your mind at ease if you have had trouble installing or using antivirus software in the past. It’s certainly not as effective as the 24/7 phone support that paid programs offer, but at least it will offer help if you are struggling with a certain component of the program or need help with installation.
Making sure your free anti-virus program has these three components is an essential step in choosing the right software for your computer. Though no free program will ever have a full feature set similar to a paid service, if you only browse the Internet occasionally, then a free antivirus program will probably suit your needs just fine.
While you may not go into high risk areas of the web, it is important to make sure you are downloading the best free antivirus software for your computer. Looking for these key features is a good way to determine which programs are worthwhile, and which should be left undownloaded. If you find, however, that your web usage increases, you still may want to consider upgrading to a paid antivirus software subscription.
Photo Credit: Don Hankins