Good browsing hygiene and "common sense" only get you so far on the internet. A solid antivirus utility is an essential part of your security arsenal. This week we're looking at five of the best antivirus tools, based on your nominations.
Title image made using Maksim Kabakou (Shutterstock)
Note that we deliberately excluded three popular choices: "nothing," "Mac OS X/Linux," and "Microsoft Security Essentials" for a few reasons: First, "nothing" and "OS X/Linux" don't really help anyone (and it's not true that Macs are free from virus worries). On the "nothing" point, we've already explained explained that your security isn't something you can manage with no help. As for MSE, while it used to be a great tool, is no longer at the top of its game, and even Microsoft says it's not built to offer the same protection as third-party antivirus.
So with those out of the way, let's look at your top five nominees, in no particular order:
Avast! Free Antivirus has come a long way in a few short updates, with the 2014 version offering a streamlined, easy-to-navigate interface and a plethora of on-access scanning and protection tools (some of which you may not want, so take care when installing). It's still one of the top picks available, according to AV Comparitives and AV-Test, and performs well in antivirus tests. Avast offers an on-access antivirus scanner that examines files downloaded, pages you visit, emails you receive, and any files downloaded, and also features an on-demand scanner you can run at any time. It updates quietly in the background without fuss, and has a "silent" mode where you can disable notifications and warnings to keep performance slim and trim. The app itself is relatively resource-light — you may not even notice it's there. Best of all, it's completely free.
ESET's NOD32 Antivirus suite has been popular for years, and has earned a reputation for offering complete on-access and on-demand protection while being extremely lightweight when it comes to system resources. If you thought you'd have to balance performance with protection, NOD32 has consistently proven you don't. The most recent version of NOD32 includes more than just antivirus protection however — you also get anti-malware scanning, phishing protection, anti-spyware protection, and even special tools to make sure you don't fall for scams and hacks on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. AV Comparatives still loves it, and while it's not free (it starts at $40/year), it does offer premium protection to match its price tag. If you're looking for even more protection, it's worth stepping up to the pricier-but-more-robust ESET Smart Security. It also offers anti-theft protection for your devices, advanced tools and scanning options, multi-device management tools, a silent "gaming mode" that's even lighter on resources, and parental controls. It will set you back $60/year.
BitDefender prides itself on offering a one-click antivirus and security tool for people who both need to be able to get their hands dirty when they want to as well as people who just need a simple tool that runs and keeps them protected from threats without a lot of tweaking. Whether you go for the paid or the free version, BitDefender's minimal interface and lightweight install earned the praise of the folks at AV Comparatives. BitDefender's Internet Security ($69.95) suite comes with a firewall, parental controls, and other useful tools to keep your system — and presumably all of its users — safe. If you're looking for something lighter to keep your machine safe without all the bells and whistles, BitDefender Free won't cost you a cent, and gets the job done. In fact, if you were a fan of MSE's simple install and slient protection, BitDefender Free is very close to that experience.
Kaspersky Antivirus is a bit of a controversial entry. It earns extremely high praise in some quarters, and revulsion in others. For its part, AV Comparatives gave it the product of the year award, which counts for a lot in our book. Kaspersky boasts rapid updates, strong heuristics, and the ability to quickly adapt to new threats without needing entire product updates to keep you protected. It's a fully-featured antivirus tool that offers both on-access and on-demand scanning of files, emails, downloads and executed applications. Kaspersky promises that its smaller, more regular updates will help protect your PC from known threats, but also keep you safe from OS exploits and holes in software you may not have been able to update or patch yet. The tool also comes with a resource-light "gaming mode," that will let you play in peace, and anti-phishing protection. It's a premium product, and starts at $US40/yr.
Avira is another tool that ranked near the top of AV Comparatives' list of great antivirus tools as well as AV-Test's rankings, and offers a suite of features beyond traditional on-access and on-demand scanning, completely for free. It also offers anti-malware protection, anti-spyware protection, and browser protection. It's not brimming with features, but the important ones are there, and they perform well. Avira also prides itself on its cloud-based scanning, meaning instead of waiting for updates to the application, the program can upload suspicious files to Avira for scanning against more recent threats.
Want to make the case for your personal favourite security tool, even if it wasn't included in the list? Make your case for it in the comments below.