What is the best antivirus software?

We look at how you can protect your PC

People regularly ask me, "What do you consider to be the best antivirus software currently available?"

If only they understood the brain melting complexity of such a question. There are a large number of very good antivirus products currently on the market, but the unfortunate (and untrue) perception is that a good antivirus program is an impenetrable shield of steel, providing guaranteed protection against any form of nasty stuff likely to ever be encountered. A common reaction from many of our customers goes something like this — "What do you mean my PC is virus infected? I use Gumblestump Antivirus!"

In a lot of circumstances the most important aspect in keeping your PC Virus and Malware free is the amount of risk it is exposed to. I know of people who have gotten away with not using any kind of security software on their PC and have miraculously remained virus- and malware-free. They use their computers very occasionally, only ever visit low risk Web sites like the ABC or The Bureau of Meteorology, and only ever open emails from people they know. This is certainly not recommended, and I advised them to obtain some antivirus or internet security software ASAP.

There are people who, despite having the latest, greatest, up to date antivirus software, continue to get regularly infected

Conversely, there are people who, despite having the latest, greatest, up to date antivirus software, continue to get regularly infected. Why? It’s the way they use their PC. There are areas of great security risk that average users can expose their PC to. One of the worst is peer to peer file sharing software. Many people around the world install this type of software, which is often available for free, and then proceed to share files amongst other users on the network.

This exposes your PC to great risk, as you don’t know where the files are coming from, or indeed, if they are actually what they claim to be. Many of our customers have been subjected to a common form of attack, when they try to play a media file they have shared, such as a song, or a video clip. Instead of playing the file, windows media player tells them that it needs to download a certain plug-in or codec. The unsuspecting user clicks the "Yes" button, impatiently waiting for their file to play. Malicious code is installed and suddenly the PC is infected.

This is probably the #1 most common form of virus attack we see in the DCA repair centre.

Web surfing habits also play a large part in exposure to risk. A commonly used tactic by virus writers is called the "drive by" infection. Most PC users don’t realise that merely viewing a web page can send malicious code straight to their HDD. This is why PC users who frequent "less orthodox" websites such as "warez" download sites, cracks and serial number sites, and our good old favourite "adult" websites are exposing their PC to much greater risk of infection. It’s a bit like hanging around with a crowd of people who are all really sick with the flu, and thinking you will be OK, because you have had a flu vaccination this year.

So, to reiterate — try to minimise your PC's risk exposure. Make sure that if others, such as your children, friends, Uncle Ken or your next door neighbour uses your PC, you know what they have been doing with it. Hey — what’s this new "FrostLime" icon on my desktop?

Now to answer the question presented in the title asked in the headline of this article. There are many good antivirus and internet security programs available on the market today. They each have strengths and weaknesses. I like to divide their capabilities into three major categories.

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Glenn Howlett

PC World
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