There are plenty of useful free antivirus programs out there. The trick is knowing how to get the best out of them.


You get what you pay for in this life right? Well, with many of the market leading antivirus programs costing £30 or £40 for a subscription, you can be forgiven for wondering if you can pay a little less. The good news is that you can. If you look around there are plenty of reputable and safe free anti-virus software packages.


The word free is always likely to raise a red flag for many people. You’re entitled to ask basic questions: will it be any good, and most importantly: can I trust it?



It’s a free world


These days we’ve become accustomed to getting things for free. We can get free apps, maps and much more. We can go online and read the news for free, listen to music for free and even watch free movies. Predictably, therefore, we can also benefit from free anti-virus software.


Some are basic free versions of more sophisticated packages you might get from more recognised names such as Avast, Avira and the BitDefender free edition. These work as an entry-level system in much the same way as free versions of online software do. They are good for basic jobs and services, but if you want more of the advance features, you may have to upgrade.


Each one of these will normally offer varying levels of paid for subscription – with each of these offering a little more protection for a little more money. These could include parental controls, spam filtering, performance checks and much more.


The question is: do you need them? Cleaner providers can be somewhat vague on this matter because it is of course in their interests for you to upgrade to their full package. The trouble is, for many people, these services could be more than they need.


It all depends on how much data you have and how you use your computer. Are you a cautious, basic user sticking to recognised sites and downloading nothing unless you’re absolutely sure of it? Or are you a bit of a geek – a heavy user with lots of sensitive information on your system?


For example, if you have a work laptop with lots of sensitive data on board, you may want a top notch antivirus software package which allows you to encrypt information in case you lose it or it is stolen. For example, let’s say you’re a top executive with vast quantities of important business information on your computer.


What about the basics?


So, what do free antivirus software programs offer? In short, they will do all the necessary to protect you from the basic common threats you might face every day such as malware, trojan horses, bots and so on. They will warn you if there’s a problem with a website or a download. In terms of performance, tests suggest there isn’t a huge amount of difference between free programs and some of the paid-for options – in terms of speed at least.


Of course, some free programs are better than others. Among the more common complaints users have is a slew of false alarms – with programs blocking off content users believe to be safe. There are some free options to solve this. There are sites such as Virus Total, which allow you to submit a suspect. It will then run this through a range of different antivirus tools and let you know if there is a problem.


An evolving threat


The one area in which a paid program should offer more protection is in identifying newer and more sophisticated infections. Cyber criminals are imaginative types and are constantly evolving their approaches. It’s a constant game of cat and mouse with computer companies raising their defences and cyber criminals inventing new forms of attack.


A paid-for program should be more sophisticated and have a better chance of identifying newer threats. That said, there is no guarantee. The very purpose of new viruses is to develop ways to elude defences and it’s impossible to be entirely certain.


Paid programs are more likely to offer ongoing technical support, which can be helpful if you have a problem, while a free program leaves you very much on your own. If you’re lucky their website may have some instructions or FAQs to help you out. You can also turn to the internet for help. Forums are full of people offering advice and troubleshooting guidelines. If you’re experiencing computer problems, try typing it up into a search engine – the chances are someone out there has encountered the same issue and may be able to offer a solution.


There are some benefits to a fee program. They may be easier to install than more sophisticated alternatives, and they are less likely to interfere with any other programs on your computer. A common complaint from users of paid-for platforms is that they seem to cause more trouble than the virus themselves.


Ultimately, it’s about what kind of user you are. If you’re running a business, then you may need a complete suite of services complete with technical support. On the other hand, if you’re just a casual user, something free may be easier and more convenient, as well as less expensive. Do your research, find out what’s available, and if you do choose something more expensive, make sure the additional features are ones you will actually need.