Group Test: Switch your antivirus

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Group Test: Switch your antivirus
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It’s important to protect your PC against malware, but are you using the right software? Windows 8 has ushered in a new generation of low-power hardware, so performance is more important than ever.

BUYER'S GUIDE
Security software is always evolving: it must, in order to keep up with the ever-changing nature of online threats.

The hardware doesn’t stay still, either. Increasingly, we’re using Windows on low-power laptops and hybrids, and carrying out our daily business on tablets and smartphones.

So, when it’s time to renew your protection, it’s a good idea to take stock and make a fresh assessment of your needs.

Perhaps the first question to consider is whether you want a basic antivirus package or a more comprehensive security suite. Most of the products in this month’s Labs are offered in both forms, and either ought to protect you from dodgy downloads and network worms.

The difference between the two is that a suite will typically include extra features, such as a custom firewall, parental controls to keep kids away from dodgy websites, and browser extensions to prevent spies snooping on your banking and shopping sites. It’s an option that may suit a family PC, where you can’t be sure everyone will always act responsibly. It’s possible to
attain a similar level of protection by installing various free tools, or using features built into Windows, such as the Family Safety parental-control system, but it’s convenient to have everything tied together in one package.

For a personal computer where this level of coverage isn’t necessary, a simple antivirus package may be all you need.

Windows 8 comes with the Microsoft Windows Defender antivirus tool built in, and users of earlier versions of Windows can download it (under the name Microsoft Security Essentials) via Windows Update. However, we’ve found that third-party offerings do a better job of neutralising malware, as this Labs will reveal.

Where Windows Defender excels is system performance. Necessarily, security software must scan applications and files as you access them, which inevitably slows things down. The extent of the slowdown, however, varies across packages. This is something to consider when you choose security software, especially if you’re running on low-power hardware, where performance can vary noticeably.

Price is a factor, too, but commercial security software needn’t be expensive, especially if you shop around: independent retailers often sell subscriptions at much lower rates than you’ll pay if you go straight to the publisher’s website. Our graph to the right shows the MSRPs of the various paid-for packages in this month’s Labs versus the best online prices we’ve found.

Choosing a free antivirus tool means you’ll never have to deal with an expiring subscription, but you may have to put up with advertising as the developers push you to upgrade to a paid-for package.

Some developers, such as Kaspersky (Kaspersky Pure) and Norton (Norton 360), offer premium packages that supplement the expected security features with online backup capabilities. These are good for peace of mind – you know your files will always be safe, even if your hard disk fails or your computer is stolen. Setting up a local backup can work out cheaper, though, and your online files will be available only for as long as you keep renewing your subscription – possibly at the publisher’s full rate, once your initial licence expires.

We’re also starting to see multidevice licences. The prices we’ve cited this month cover three PCs for a year, but several publishers now offer packages that cover mobile phones and tablets. As we discuss on p62, mobile security software is mostly useful only for Android, and there are plenty of free security tools on that platform.

As we’ll see, your best bet could be to use a paid-for security suite on your PC and a free scanner on your smartphone.

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