All computer literature emphasizes the need for virus protection on a system. For some, however, commercial programs are too expensive. Free antivirus software is an attractive alternative
to achieve security while also protecting your budget. These free antivirus downloads can be effective protection for your computer but you need to have some information before selecting such an offering.
Free antivirus programs like any such security software attempt to identify and to stop malicious computer viruses and other annoying or harmful applications such as adware or spyware. The programs work by scanning files and comparing them to known samples of virus code contained within a virus definition or “dat” file to which the security software refers. The regular updating of the software’s DAT file lies at the heart of its ability to ferret out and eliminate viruses. In addition to these activities, antivirus programs seek to identify and halt suspicious program or system behavior such as data captures or port monitoring that indicates the presence of a virus infection.
All modern anti-virus software including virus freeware should examine email (incoming and outgoing) and Internet activity in addition to scrutinizing application and data files. Virus authors are inventive and engineer their code to attack computer systems through a wide range of methods and to strike across a variety of viable targets. New viruses literally appear each day “in the wild” and virus authors show no signs of slowing down. In fact, many take better computer security as a challenge to ward off better viruses.
Although it may be asking too much of free antivirus packages, many commercial antivirus programs also contain ways to block email spam and to place a protective firewall around the system to thwart real-time, invasive threats. This is especially important for “always on” Internet connections like cable or DSL. If your free antivirus scanner does not include such capabilities you may want to research additional freeware anti-spam and firewall products to round out your security structure.
Three pieces of readily downloadable software that provide the user with a free antivirus scan are AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic, AVAST 4 Home Edition, and AVG Free Edition.
The AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic package consistently receives a “good” rating from reviewers. It does not specifically scan email attachments but does have an on-access mechanism that catches threats before attachments are opened. Unfortunately, however, it only attempts to repair or to delete threats and does not have a quarantine option. The software handles spyware well and its reports are thorough in case manual removal of a virus infection becomes necessary.
AVAST 4 Home Edition has the highest overall rating of the available free antivirus software. It does not, however, schedule regular scans but it does watch for malicious files arriving via email, instant message applications, newsgroups, and browsing. Some reviewers found that the package reports a relatively high number of false positives and in tests it removed only 33% of adware and spyware applications. Regardless of these problems, however, AVAST is considered to be one of the most robust of the free applications available.