Finding the right Antivirus Software for you
So, you’re trying to find the best antivirus for Windows. I know, there are so many options out there, and probably you have no idea where to start. In this guide, I will touch on subjects such as the definition of an antivirus, what are its functionalities, and also what you should be looking for when choosing one.
What is antivirus software and what antivirus should I use?
Antivirus has always been the go-to solution to fight malicious software and cybercriminal tactics. And it still is. Malware, phishing scams, ransomware, DDoS – these are just a handful of the threats that lurk on the Internet.
But let’s start off with the basics: what exactly is an antivirus software and what does it do?
Antivirus – The definition of antivirus software programs goes something like this: A piece of software designed block out viruses and other malware from entering your device and compromising your personal data or the hardware itself.
A good antivirus is a must-have. It minimizes the times you have to enter damage control mode to clean up the mess caused by a successful malware attack.
Before you proceed in your journey to find your dream security software, let’s see how exactly an antivirus works.
How does antivirus software work?
Virus scanner and script blocking
Reactive scanning is the bread and butter of an antivirus. Basically, it scans any new program or file before it’s opened and checks if it is a known malware or if it behaves like one.
It’s all done in the background, and the scanned file or program only opens once the antivirus has finished the scan.
Then there is the full system scan, where the antivirus goes through every nook and cranny of your device in order to find malware or any other suspicious software or files.
Some AVs also block malicious ActiveX or Java scripts from infecting your PC. Plugins based on these technologies can be used to make your PC part of a botnet, inject code or do drive-by downloads.
What to look for:
Ideally, the scanner should be lightweight and not hog down your device while still having a very high detection and block rate.
Database of known malware
However, scans cannot be effective if the program doesn’t know what it’s looking for. That’s why every antivirus software comes with a database of known malware and compares each scanned file to the contents of the database.
This database is updated very frequently, quite often on a daily basis. This is one of the reasons why we always advocate for people to keep their software updated, particularly their antivirus.
Updated software goes a long way to protect you on the Internet since it greatly diminishes the possibility of malicious hackers exploiting an unpatched vulnerability of your software.
But antivirus programs also make use of something called “heuristic analysis”. This means that it will consider a file to be malware if it behaves like one, even if it can’t be found in its database. This is one reason why some AVs falsely classify some safe programs such as Chrome as a virus. The industry calls this a “false positive” and it is a criterion used to judge the quality of an antivirus.
Any antivirus software worth its salt will automatically update itself, both to clean up any vulnerabilities it might have and to keep its virus database and capabilities up to date. Basically, the quicker and more frequent the updates, the better.
Sometimes, removing malware can be just as important as blocking it in the first place. Usually, the cybersecurity industry sees the two functions as being separate. That’s why many of the free AV’s out there can only detect and block malware, but won’t be able to remove it if your PC is infected.
For that, you will most likely have to purchase the full antivirus solution or download a separate piece of software specializing in malware removal.
Other features you should look for
Ransomware protection: Some antiviruses come with ransomware protection and the ransomware attacks won’t be able to encrypt your files.
File shredder: This may come as a shock, but the standard “Delete” + “Clear Recycle Bin” won’t actually delete a file from your hard drive. It will just make it invisible for you to see. But these files can be recovered with a specialized program.
Under normal circumstances, these invisible files disappear only after being pushed out of their memory block by a new one. But file shredders destroy them completely and leave no trace of them on your hard drive.
Firewall: Some AV’s can filter and scan your internet traffic to detect incoming threats before they reach your device.
Other features to look for: DNS Protection, Password Managers, System Optimization, Phishing protection, Antispam, Browser protection.
Test the antivirus to be sure it works
Sometimes you’ll go through a long period where you don’t encounter any online threats and seem to forget that you even have an antivirus installed.
“Is it still alive?” you may ask.
Well, there’s a test you can do to see if it still works.
So how do you test your antivirus to see if it’s still active?
Basically, you have to create a “false virus” that triggers your AV’s defense procedures.
What you need to do is to create an antivirus test file (a .txt file). A simple notepad document will do just fine.
Then you will need to use a standardized EICAR code. This is something recognized by all antivirus developers as a means of testing if their software is active.
Your antivirus should trigger immediately and activate its security protocols to eliminate the “fake virus”.
If it doesn’t, then that means your software is inactive/disabled.
What’s the best antivirus you could use?
Now that you know what to look for in an antivirus, it’s time to find out which one you should use.
Here are a few websites where you can find thorough reviews of antivirus solutions.
PC World – It offers reviews and buying advice on both software and hardware. On this website, you can also find some pretty good deals as well.
Techradar – This portal provides in-depth software and hardware reviews to help you buy the best product for your needs.
Softpedia – For a lot of people, Softpedia is a one-stop-shop for many of their software needs. They have a huge list of around 600 various free or paid antivirus software and programs available for download. A great resource point if you want to take your time and just browse at your own pace.
Obviously, there are so many other review websites out there, so feel free to do your own research.
Make sure you check how serious the AV developer is about security
Checking a few details on the antivirus developer’s website and patch notes can help you get a better idea of how seriously they approach updates and bug hunting.
For example, highly detailed patch notes will give you a better picture of what you can expect from the company in terms of reliability. And this applies for other types of software as well, not just antivirus or other security solutions.
After you’ve gone through these resources, most probably:
- You’ll know which are the best antivirus for Windows of 2020.
- You’ll understand what each program is capable of.
- You’ll be aware of the most important security features an antivirus should have.
- You’ll own a shiny new antivirus.
- Somewhere out there, a piece of malware cries because it can’t infect your PC anymore…
Most antivirus programs now come with a trial testing period to help you decide if you actually want it or not. The trial period is especially useful if you have doubts about a certain product or you can’t decide between two or more AVs and want to see them in action.
Keep in mind though that using two or more antivirus programs at the same time isn’t a good idea. The antiviruses will end up thinking each other is a malware, or compete in order to eliminate viruses and significantly drag down your device performance.
But in all of our blog posts, we always emphasize two things:
First, security software alone can’t keep you safe online. It’s a widespread belief in the cybersecurity field that the best antivirus is you, meaning your judgment and general internet savviness should always come first.
Second, a standard antivirus solution is not enough to keep you safe. We and most antivirus developers encourage you to use multiple security layers to stay safe. If malware passes one layer, they will have to face another, and with each new step chances of infection drop dramatically.
What antivirus software do you use? Please submit your questions, comments, or concerns using the reply form below.