These applications are for Microsoft Windows users only, please check the licences to be sure that you are permitted to use them.
There are a number of fake antivirus/anti-malware applications available that will make your computer unusable if you install them. You should never download anything offered to you unexpectedly online (especially 'security' updates), and recently there has been much news of 'marketers' cold-calling people and tricking them into installing fake antivirus applications. The fake applications usually prevent you from using your computer on the pretext that they are 'protecting' you from viruses on your system, and that you must pay to 'activate' them in order to remove the viruses. The tools described as anti-malware below can help to remove such nasties - though their removal is often only possible with special tools targeting the specific malware variety. The main thing is never to pay for fake security products! In the light of what has been written here, you are advised to double-check the legitimacy of the applications recommended before installing them - don't just take our word for it!
The tools listed here fall into two categories, so far - those that protect you against attack or infection and those that are used after your system has become infected to clean up the mess. While the removal tools are some of the best at any price, you should ask yourself if you are willing to entrust the preventative role to free software products. While some of these products are very good, especially the firewalls, we have seen that the best anti-virus/spyware/malware protection comes from commercial products, notably from Eset and the current Norton/Symantec offerings (but not older versions).
If you are installing a free antivirus program because your existing one's licence has expired, then be sure to uninstall the existing one before installing the free one, as having two different antivirus products running at the same time is not a good idea. You can combine an antivirus program with a firewall program, however.
Memory-resident protection tools:
Comodo Internet Security (CIS)
This appears to be free for use by just about everyone, though it is considered to be a home security product, and Comodo aims its Endpoint product range at businesses.
Comodo provides a whole range of free security products, an antivirus, a firewall, an antispam program (this is emphatically not recommended by us*), and this product, which combines antivirus protection with a firewall and an host-based intrusion prevention system (HIPS), the latter being unusual for a free product. It is possible to deselect the antivirus or firewall elements at install-time.
CIS is at version 5.x at the time of writing. Comodo seems to be intent on establishing itself as a leading vendor of security solutions, and has improved its offerings significantly of late.
The major components of CIS are:
- Comodo Antivirus - a memory-resident antivirus/anti-spyware program that uses a frequently updated virus database.
- Comodo Antivirus scanner - scans your system for infected files, can check files in real time against a 'cloud' database (has to be enabled in the scanner settings - it's off by default). The scanner can be run manually or to a schedule, with different profiles available for each.
- Comodo Firewall is a memory resident firewall.
- Comodo Defense+ is an intrusion prevention system that monitors critical system files and provides a 'sandbox' environment for safely running untrusted or suspect files. These are submitted to Comodo for analysis and categorisation - if they are reclassified as trusted then they are removed from the sandbox.
- Update: CIS now comes with a free trial of "GeekBuddy", you may want to deselect this when installing CIS, unless you actually intend to try it out.
The default settings for this product are sensible, and on install Comodo offers to change the DNS settings on your computer to use their servers. The idea is that Comodo can then check each computer that you connect to against a database of known malware sources and block your access if you are heading for danger. The other side of the coin is that you are providing Comodo with a map of your Internet activity. So you may want to consider this setting carefully. (You should not use this facility if your computer is part of a Windows 'domain' - it will break your networking.)
CIS has been seeing increasingly good reviews lately, and its antivirus is seen to be the weakest part of the package, with very large update files, and some common programs seem to find their way into Defense+'s sandbox from time to time, though it is possible to fish them out of it, which increases their performance.
This is the only free product that offers such a comprehensive set of features. Unfortunately it is not very well known here in Ireland, so we haven't seen how well it fares in the real world of nasties.
Here are some screenshots of Comodo Internet Security 5:
* We don't recommend Comodo's AntiSpam as it sends emails in response to spam, and auto-reports spamming addresses to their administrators. The trouble is that most spammers use other peoples' email addresses, so reporting them doesn't achieve anything, except to annoy mail administrators! We use the guiding principle that any antispam system that generates MORE email is getting things badly wrong! Comodo AntiSpam is not included in CIS at the time of writing.
AVG Anti-Virus 2011 Free Edition
This is free for home use by individuals only (not for home business, educational or charity use), and is probably the best known and most widely used free antivirus application.
We were not impressed by previous versions of AVG Free Edition, finding it to be slow and over-complicated, while not providing very good protection, but it seems that AVG has gone quite a distance towards overcoming these shortcomings with its new version.
AVG Free Edition 2011 provides anti-virus, anti-spyware, and anti-rootkit* protection and a Web link-scanner. It also provides email scanning, though it does not provide any anti-spam features and does not provide a firewall. It has an Identity Protection feature which monitors program behaviour and blocks activity that could lead to ID theft.
(*A rootkit is a program that launches before Windows, so that Windows runs like an application within it. Rootkits have complete control over Windows and hence can hide from conventional antivirus software.)
While the 2011 edition looks similar to previous versions, it doesn't seem to load computers quite as heavily, but it is still very complicated and tries to persuade you to purchase other AVG products at every opportunity. It has a "PC Analyzer" component, for example, which scans your PC and then suggests that you might want to purchase a licence for AVG PC TuneUp, to fix the problems that it has found - such scanners will always find "problems", but these are of little or no importance most of the time. Most of the problems that it found on our test system could be fixed by tools included with Windows (the defragmenter and the disk cleanup tool).
We were impressed by the speed of the antivirus scanner in the 2011 version, it has improved dramatically. But we found the Advanced Settings to be overcomplicated with little or no tie-in between the settings for different components - for example, we set the real-time protection to ignore some test files in a specific folder, and we also set those files to be excepted as Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUP), but the scanner component still quarantined those files every time that we ran it, and there didn't appear to be any way of excluding them from being scanned. While it is possible to tell the scanner to ignore files with some extensions, this inability to exclude specific files is a major omission that sets AVG Free Edition apart from corporate antivirus products.
Here are some screenshots of AVG Anti-Virus 2011 Free Edition:
- Free for personal non-commercial use only: Avast Free Antivirus
- Free for home use only: Avira AntiVir Personal Free Antivirus
- Free for home use and small business use (max. 10 PCs, but not educational): Microsoft Security Essentials - antivirus and antispyware
- Free for home use by individuals, and for charities (but not educational): ZoneAlarm Free Firewall
Cleanup tools - some malware will block you from downloading or installing these: