Is Free Antivirus Software As Good As The Paid Variety?

It’s an obvious question – when you get your antivirus for free (or your “Internet security” as they call it today), could it possibly be as good as the paid variety? Isn’t free software always inferior to paid software? In truth, it isn’t as simple as that.

Why do the antivirus makers offer free software even when they do business selling premium paid products? Do you get real protection when you choose a free product over a paid product?

The makers of antivirus give software away for free for the reason that if there are plenty of viruses running amok on computers around the world, they can become so entrenched that retail antivirus software will no longer be able to redeem the situation. This could be harmful to the prospects of their industry.

What about the question of efficacy?

Even if you do have high quality antivirus that’s paid for, it still won’t give you full protection. According to AV-Test, a German security research organization, there are nearly 50 million separate kinds of computer virus in existence today, with dozens of new ones coming up each day. The antivirus firms are unable to keep up with this level of innovation by the hackers.

One important reason often quoted for why you should choose paid antivirus software over the free kind is that paid software usually comes with antivirus updates several times a day – while the free kind gets updates only once or twice a day (the content of the updates remain the same whether you buy your software get it free). The multiple updates for paid antivirus software, you are told, make sure that you are up-to-the-minute with every new virus out there.

In reality, multiple antivirus updates every day do not mean that you are up-to-the-minute. A study by the security firm Imperva aimed at dozens of major paid antivirus products finds that it can take antivirus companies weeks to catch up with new viruses. The top paid antivirus products detect only about 5% of new malware.

In other words, the biggest reason suggested in defense of paying for antivirus is an imaginary one. In antivirus reviews by various magazines and security authorities, products like Avast consistently offer the best detection rates for malware. Avast has a free version, too. If the update frequency doesn’t matter and Avast’s database is the same for both the free version and the paid version, there is really no reason to pay for their software anymore.combofix is free software,there is no free version or paid (premium) version.

Magazine reviews that pit free antivirus against paid antivirus tell the same story. Paid antivirus is shown to offer little value over the free kind. Time and time again, the only way magazine reviews are able to fault free software is by pointing to their lack of customer support (Avast is the one exception).

Buying paid software for the firewalls and other tools included (they call these security suites) doesn’t make much sense, either – standalone firewall makers offer free versions, too.

Perhaps we should look at the problem differently

The entire model on which current antivirus software works, experts say, is outdated. Today, the antivirus makers need to see a new virus and study it before they are able to write an update to detect and remove it. Often, writing antivirus software for a very new kind virus can take weeks. For example, it took the antivirus makers years to find an antivirus solution to the malware known as Flame (can read about it in an article on Wired entitled Why Antivirus Companies Like Mine Failed to Catch Flame and Stuxnet).

Security companies like Symantec are changing the very philosophy they use to detect viruses. With Norton software these days, 60% of the time, it is the new technologies that detect malware – not the traditional antivirus database.

These new technologies monitor every piece of software that runs on your computer to look for suspicious behavior – the way they access the Internet, for instance.

For now, it doesn’t make sense to simply go with paid software because you believe they must update your antivirus database in a better fashion. This isn’t true. The antivirus industry is changing over to new technologies today. When the industry settles on a new standard for how detection should work, you’ll be in a better position to determine if you should go free or paid.

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