We get this question pretty much every day, usually from people currently suffering from an infection and looking for a better way to avoid infections in the future.
Down below we will give you our suggestion. However, we don’t go so far as to recommend any particular brand because all of them are imperfect. All of them are regularly defeated by new infection strains. Your safest bet is to consider antivirus products to be strictly a second line of defense. Your first line of defense is to be extremely cautious in your online activities, for example:
- Never open an email attachment unless you are 100% sure of it. Do not assume that an email from someone you know is really from that person.
- Never click on a link in an email. If you ever feel you must click on a link, hover the mouse over the link text to see what the actual link is.
- Never download “free” software, games, videos, or music. Much of it is either directly infected or bundled with adware and spyware.
- If you do download legitimate software, in many cases it will be bundled with junk. Even products like Adobe Reader or Flash are bundled with browser toolbars or useless scanners (e.g., McAfee Scanner is just a marketing tool for selling you McAfee products). On the download page, uncheck any checkboxes for optional junk. Also when running the installer for the program, never select “Express” installation. Instead, select “Custom” installation, where you may be presented with more opportunities to decline bundled junkware by unchecking boxes.
- Avoid torrent sites, pirate sites, pornographic sites, etc. Be extremely skeptical of anything online except from highly trusted sites, and understand that even trusted sites usually have advertisements that take you to another site that may have other links to other sites. The further you get from your original trusted site, the less trustworthy is the material.
If you follow these very simple rules, you are unlikely to become infected. There are other ways to become infected, but the above covers probably close to 100% of cases. It should also go without saying that you should always have at least one type of backup of all of your important data. We recommend two or more types of backup (e.g., regular scheduled backup to an external drive, plus an online backup service). A good backup strategy is particularly important given the current proliferation of “ransomware”. This type of infection encrypts all of your data and holds it for ransom, ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars in extortion. The data cannot be decrypted without paying the ransom, which involves a protracted and painful process of buying “bitcoin” currency and wiring funds to the criminals. You should also note that the encryption attack will impact all connected drives, which could put your backup drive at risk, so you need to carefully think through your backup strategy. We have had customers who have lost everything, and others who have paid the ransom. Please take proactive steps in order to avoid their fate.
Okay, all that said, which antivirus software is the best supplement to your defensive strategy? For most purposes, we suggest Microsoft’s security software, for the following reasons:
- The software is really and truly free. It is not a trial product, nor a teaser for another product.
- They do not attempt to market or advertise to you, or trick you into downloading other tools.
- It is relatively “quiet” in operation and does not unduly slow down your computer.
Microsoft’s solution goes by two different names, for reasons that only Microsoft’s product manager could explain. On Windows Vista and Windows 7, it is called Microsoft Security Essentials, and you can download it here:
It is no longer available for Windows XP, so if you are still using that obsolete operating system (which is also a bad idea), you will need to use another antivirus product.
On Windows 8 and above, it is called Windows Defender, and is built into the operating system. If you have a fresh, clean installation of Windows 8 or higher, Windows Defender is already there and activated. Unfortunately, most computer manufacturers bundle a trial version of a different product such as McAfee or Norton, and because of this Windows Defender is deactivated. To activate it, you simply need to remove the pre-installed trial software. (Occasionally the uninstallers do not do their job, leaving parts of the trial installed. As such, check the Action Center to be sure that Windows Defender has indeed been reactivated).
(Incidentally, there is a different tool called Windows Defender that runs on Vista and Windows 7. This is not the full antivirus product, but only the antispyware component. Again, only Microsoft’s product manager can explain why they have followed such a confusing naming policy.)
Of course if your computer becomes infected despite the above advice, we are here to help you. In the vast majority of cases, we can have your computer thoroughly cleaned up and operating normally within one business day.