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Reality Check

How Free Antivirus Software Can End Up Costing You

Created: 08 Apr 2010 • Updated: 03 Jun 2014 • 6 comments
Ctrox's picture
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In this tough economy, getting something for free is always a good thing, right? Short answer: It depends on your tolerance for risk.
Take free antivirus software as an example. It may seem like a bargain, but it’s not. Here are the issues to consider before you download this particular “freeware.”
First and foremost, free antivirus software doesn’t provide the comprehensive protection you need against today’s biggest online threats. So when you trust your computer, applications, files and identity to free antivirus software, it can end up costing you more in time, aggravation, and money than you ever imagined.
Most free antivirus software is really just bait that some software companies use to lure you in. It’s usually a “light” version of one of their paid products that offers only limited protection against today’s online threats.
After you install most free antivirus software, you can expect to be hit with a barrage of annoying, time-wasting pop-up alerts telling you that it only provides “basic” protection. Then you’ll receive recommendations to switch to one of the software maker’s paid security products for “complete” protection.
Latest threats get a free pass
Another point to keep in mind: Experts agree that today’s biggest online threats come in forms that free antivirus software doesn’t stop. Threats such as rootkits, bots, keyloggers, hackers, phishing scams, and infected Web sites breeze right past most free antivirus software.
These threats can pose an even bigger danger than viruses, not only to your computer and files, but to your bank account as well. They can lead to a hard drive crash, system failure, or worse, identity theft. And that’s when using free antivirus software can get really expensive.
Also, free antivirus software is generally reactive. That means it only deals with threats after they’ve attacked and had an opportunity to do damage to your computer and files.
And that’s not all. Because free antivirus software offers only limited protection, you also have to find, download, configure, and install a standalone firewall and standalone spyware program to get the protection you really need.
That takes time. A lot of it. But the drain on your time doesn’t end there. When you build your own security suite using standalone free security software, compatibility issues can cause conflicting alerts and even hard drive crashes. That’s even more time wasted -- and a whole load of aggravation you don’t need.
So what’s the bottom line? Free antivirus software simply doesn’t provide the comprehensive protection you need in today’s online world. When you add up the various costs listed above, free antivirus software isn’t free at all.

Comments 6 CommentsJump to latest comment

reedmohn's picture

I'm sorry but this post is just not up to standard I expect from a serious vendor.  (I am a Symantec customer)

All vendors like to take shots [edited] at their competition, but Symantec going at their's like this, with undocumented (unreferenced) claims and derogatory comments apparently shot from the hip is just low.

If your sales people showed up at my doorstep with a sales pitch like this, I would throw them straight out.

I suggest you leave it to your communications or marketing dept. to post public opinions on your competition.

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DMarshall's picture

But not all of the free solutions are bad--at least not for home PCs.  Although I use 360v4 at home, I have friends and family that just will not pay up when it comes time to renew any paid-for security product, and I am the go-to guy for PC problems.  A free solution is much better than an expired paid-for suite.

For this reason, I install Microsoft Security Essentials on their PCs.  It does the job for those who don't seem to understand the importance of security, and MS no longer makes a paid-for home security solution, so there are no upgrade popups.  MSE uses their industrial-strength Forefront anti-virus engine, and so far it seems pretty effective.

As for me, I like 360 because the complete set of tools is very useful to me, and I like the way that everything is handled transparently in the background with almost no performance cost.  But this works for me because I am very diligent about not letting my subscription expire.

It is true that there is no satisfactory free solution for a business environment, and most of the "free" licenses do not allow for use in a commercial setting anyway.

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Gisabun's picture

I've actually seen very few free anti-virus/anti-malware software the come up with pop-ups saying thie software isn't a full version - except maybe the fake anti-virus software.

Even anti-malware software from Symantec and others seem to missed the boat when it comes to some of the fame anti-virus software. I don't know the "code" name for it, but someone I know got hit with one of those fake-anti-virus software on a System with Norton AV [fully to date] and it not detect it. I did a search and found out that the malware was 3 weeks old and the culprit file was named VMA.EXE. Searched the Symantec site and nothing. But various other sites knew about it.

I've seen fully up to date anti-virus software from other vendors also missed these fake malware crap..

As what DMarshall said, MSE is suppose to be quite a good free product because it uses [according to a Microsoft security MVP] multiple scan engines.

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deepak.vasudevan's picture

When it comes to free version mostly we should also pay attention to the license. It would most probably be for 'Home/Non-Commercial Use only'. However I  have seen a number of commerical establishments in Chennai (India) trying to use AVG which disallows commercial use but they use it in their business PCs.

I have been wondering where to report it. The best I could do is to go to their contact form and give details. But nothing seems to be going. AV consortium should take some measures towards this aspect too.

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jesternl's picture

As said before, there  most definitely is sufficient free AV available for home users, MS  and AVG are mentioned and are both decent enough.
If the OP was referrring to business so0lutions, then I agree. Any business shouldn't even consider a free product, if only for he support one would expect to come witha paid subscription.

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SEONg's picture

Well, the free antivirus is a free trial. Once you got that and you liked using it then go for the paid ones. Its your choice anyway.

"Regards, Seo Ng"

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