The importance of antivirus programs

Antivirus programs belong to the basics needed for your computer. They protect against malware, which is any kind of harmful program. Being connected to the internet can pose a high threat: viruses, worms, and trojans are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to attacks. There are various forms of malware attacks and they’re using more and more complex techniques and spreading at a rapid pace. If a computer system is attacked, this can lead to the loss of highly sensitive data, such as passwords, bank details, and other personal documents. However, malware attacks often overload or destroy essential system components, which, in extreme cases, can paralyze the entire network.

Choosing the right antivirus software

To find the right program for your computer system, you need to consider different criteria: does the software only need to offer basic protection or the highest rate of security? Do you need specific tools, such as protected areas in online banking or additional encryption for highly-sensitive data? User behavior plays an important role in these decisions, as well as deciding whether a free or paid version is necessary. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the most expensive program offers the best protection. As a user, you should be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of individual programs and choose the software according to your own requirements.

The best antivirus programs in comparison

There are countless antivirus programs on the market, such as Bitdefender, Symantec, Avira, Kaspersky, AVG, Avast, and Trend Micro, just to name a few. To compete with each other, the programs are offering more features and are bettering their quality, especially when it comes to safety, performance, operation, and support. Even free antivirus programs nowadays offer very high standards and are therefore a promising alternative. Which security features you can expect from current antivirus software, what additional tools and features exist, and how the freeware programs differ, can be found in our detailed overview of four of the top selected vendors.

Tip

When choosing your antivirus software, be sure to use the correct operating system. In the meantime, many antivirus programs offer all-round protections for all common operating systems. Exceptions can include Linux, macOS, Android, and iOS.

Bitdefender

Bitdefender is a Romanian manufacturer of antivirus programs and offers various software packages for consumers and businesses. With several paid products such as Antivirus Plus 2017, Internet Security 2017, and Total Security Multi-Device 2017, Bitdefender offers great quality when it comes to security, range of products, and program operation at relatively high prices.

Bitdefender provides the best security with the real-time scanner. This ensures a security field that is constantly active and remains high-performing (thanks to the integrated cloud scanner) without demanding too much processing power. With several automatic updates per hour, the program is always updated and achieves a high detection rate when it comes to malware. Bitdefender not only offers high protection against 'common' malware such as viruses, worms, and trojans, but also against extortionate ransomware, sleuth-like spyware, advertising adware, and fake phishing websites.

Other interesting features include Safepay, (additional protection for financial transactions), spam protection, as well as a vulnerability scan, which reveals weak areas in the system. A major disadvantage of Bitdefender is, however, that the features on offer decrease the lower the price is. In the cheapest version of the antivirus software, spam protection, firewall, mobile protection as well as additional encryption technology are missing.

The program operation is clear and is indicated by large buttons, which also makes it easier to use on touch-enabled devices. The program operates exclusively in the background and does not send pop-ups or notifications to the user. If you have questions or problems with the software, Bitdefender offers average support: personal contact is only possible by completing a form. A guidebook and forum are provided, but are difficult to find due to the confusing website.

Norton by Symantec

Norton is an antivirus program range from the US-based software company, Symantec, which bought the Peter Norton Computing company in 1990 and has kept the product name, Norton, to this day. The fee-based products on offer from the Norton Security range are of a high standard and offer customers protection for multiple devices at the same time. There’s a broad range of products, a user-friendly program operation, as well as direct support options at a relatively low price.

Norton Security offers real-time protection against all types of malware attacks with integrated firewall for PCs, Macs, smartphones, and tablets. Depending on the product, a single subscription can guarantee all-round protection for up to ten devices. By having a Norton expert always available, the manufacturer ensures absolute antivirus protection and reimburses the full cost if the product fails at removing all viruses.

Norton automatically carries out updates every hour, even during periods of inactivity. Special virus scanners such as Download Insight or Norton Security Toolbar prevent malicious software from being downloaded as well as stopping potentially viral scripts from being executed. The IdentitySafe feature also provides protection for personal data, such as passwords or credit card numbers, which can be stored and managed in the cloud. A so-called master password prevents unauthorized access. The premium version also offers safety measures for when children are surfing the internet, automatic backup protection for important files, and more than 25 GB of secure cloud storage. One disadvantage is the absence of a P2P worm protection i.e. in peer-to-peer networks where users exchange data directly with one another. There is protection for instant messaging attachments, but only for Apple Mail, and Apple messages.

Norton’s program operation is simple and user-friendly: just enter the license key once in a pre-defined account. The key can be downloaded via a link sent by e-mail. The Norton Management Console allows you to manage multiple licenses for different devices simultaneously. Automatic product installations also facilitate the operation. The antivirus program mostly works in the background with a low system load, but pop-ups and status messages do show up in the foreground. The silent mode comes in useful here.

Norton also has received positive reviews when it comes to support. The website provides different kinds of assistance: guides, tutorials, forums, and online chat platforms in different languages. There’s also phone support, but this must be paid for.

Tip

If you want comprehensive security for online shopping and surfing, read more about 1&1’s security offers.

Avira

Avira is a well-known software company from Germany, which offers various antivirus programs for private users and companies, both in free and paid versions. The current fee-based programs include Antivirus Pro, Internet Security Suite, and Total Security Suite, which all provide very good protection and maximum support at moderate prices.

Avira provides a high level of security against malware with the help of automatic real-time monitoring and integrated cloud-scanning technology, which enables malware to be detected and eliminated more quickly and efficiently, and to keep the system load low. Since updates are carried out several times throughout the day (albeit at irregular intervals), you can also use manual scans.

Other useful features include child security and mobile protection. The disadvantages are that Avira does not provide any protection against spam, scripts, or P2P worms, and also no security for instant messages (IM protection).

The program operation isn’t very clear due to the complex menu bar, and is therefore tailored to more experienced users. You can install the antivirus program using a CD-ROM or a download, but in both cases an internet connection is required. Worth mentioning is that the gaming mode, which does not provide any pop-ups or other notifications when in full-screen mode.

The multilingual support includes FAQs, tutorials, guides, forums, and 'virus laboratory', which is a collection of all current malware threats. You can contact a qualified employee using a digital form or by phone. All means of support are free.

Avira Antivirus Freeware

Avira offers not only fee-based, but also free antivirus software, such as the well-known Avira Free Antivirus, which provides basic protection albeit with greatly reduced performance when compared to the paid version. Since updates usually take place every 24 hours, there’s a risk that new threats won’t be detected quickly enough. This is, however, to counteract the cloud scanner technology and speed up the scanning process. A manual scan is also possible, but it only reduces the risk-potential slightly.

Even if the software can detect and combat a wide range of malware using the real-time scanner, there is still an increased residual risk. Many features included in the paid version (e.g. spam protection), are not available in the free version. Some, however, can be obtained separately via additional downloads, such as the SocialShield tool, which monitors minors’ behavior on social networks. A firewall also isn’t included in the free antivirus software and must be installed separately. In Windows systems from XP SP2 onwards, a reliable firewall is included that rectifies this deficiency.

Microsoft Security Essentials

Another free alternative is the integrated antivirus software in Windows, Microsoft Security Essentials. It offers optimal basic protection against all malware attacks. Using the real-time scanner and regular updates, the system is scanned and updated for intruders. A complete check of your computer system can be carried out automatically or manually. The integrated firewall completes the security package. Other useful features include spam protection and excellent protection against rootkits, which attempt to infiltrate the system though infected USB sticks.

Fact

The Windows Defender antivirus software comes already installed in new Windows operating systems from Windows 8 onwards.

The Microsoft application also scores well in terms of program operation and support. The operation is easy to use thanks to the clear and simple structured menu bar. Warnings are limited to the essentials – apart from that, the program works largely in the background. When it comes to support, Microsoft offers direct and indirect contact options in many languages and countries.

Free vs. fee-based antivirus programs

To know whether a free antivirus program is sufficient for your computer system’s security, you need to decide based on your own user behavior. If you use the internet a lot and share sensitive data i.e. with online banking, you should consider a fee-based option with extensive protection. For users who don’t go online too frequently and are already quite cautious, the free basic protection should be enough. In any case, you should compare what the different programs offer since fee-based versions don’t always offer more features than free versions.

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of free antivirus programs:

Advantages Disadvantages
Free Higher risk of malware and the attacks not being detected
Good standard of security Update manner: updates usually in 24 hour intervals
Real-time scanner with integrated cloud system Not many features
Manual scans possible Possible increased load times due to individual installations
Various free features and tools can be installed individually Possible advertisements

Antivirus programs in comparison: security

  Bitdefender ($$$) Norton Symantec ($) Avira – fee-based versions ($$) Avira – free versions Microsoft – free versions
Anti malware
Real-time scanner
Updates Several times an hour Several times an hour Daily, sporadically 24 hour interval Daily, regularly
Cloud scanner technology Not known
Firewall ✓ (not in the cheapest version) ✓ (not in the standard version) -
Online banking - -
P2P protection - - - - -
IM protection (✓) Not known - -
Spam protection ✓ (not in the cheapest version) - -
Back-up protection - ✓ (Premium version) - - -
Encryption techniques ✓ (not in the cheapest version) ✓ (Premium version) - -
Child safety feature ✓ (Premium version) (✓) -
Mobile protection ✓ (not in the cheapest version) - -

Antivirus programs in comparison: program operation and support

  Bitdefender ($$$) Norton Symantec ($) Avira – fee-based ($$) Avira – free Microsoft – free
Program operation ✓✓✓ Simple, clear ✓✓✓ Simple, clear ✓ For experienced users ✓ For experienced users ✓✓✓ Simple, clear
System load ✓✓✓ Low ✓✓✓ Low ✓✓ Medium ✓✓ Medium/ high ✓✓✓ Low
Performance ✓✓✓ In the background, no notifications ✓✓ Mostly in the background, occasional pop-ups and notifications ✓✓✓ Mostly in the background, occasional pop-ups and notifications ✓ Advertisements, notifications ✓✓ Mostly in the background, occasional pop-ups and notifications
Support ✓✓ Unclear, indirect support ✓✓✓ Clear, indirect support ✓✓✓ Clear, direct and indirect support, free ✓✓✓ Clear, direct and indirect support, free ✓✓✓ Clear, direct and indirect support