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Windows Defender is good and it protects the PC from most threats. However, some third party software can increase the security even further. In antivirus tests by companies like AV-Test (avtest.org) and AV-Comparatives (av-comparatives.org), where a PC is subjected to hundreds of viruses and other types of malware, it has never won the top spot.
Windows Defender is better than some third party security programs, but a few offer even more protection.
Whether you need the extra protection offered by third party security software depends a lot on how knowledgeable you are of security threats.
You don’t need third party security if:
- You don’t open email attachments
- You don’t click links in emails
- You don’t download files from wares, piracy and cracked software sites
- You don’t click dodgy adverts on web pages
- You aren’t fooled by phishing attempts
- You know how to avoid installing bad programs
- You know not to give out personal information, passwords, credit card details
Third party security software mainly protects people that do some or all of these.
The best security product is you
Be sensible, know the dangers and avoid them.
Bear in mind that other people that use your computer, such as a partner or children, might not be as knowledgeable as you. They might need the extra protection provided by third party security software.
Would another user of your computer open an email attachment? Would they download software from a disreputable website? Might they be tempted to click a link in an email?
In these cases third party security software is recommended because it goes that little bit further than Windows Defender and Windows Firewall.
Free vs Paid security software
There are free antivirus and other security programs and a common concern is whether they provide adequate protection. Should you use free software or pay for it? Here are the pros and cons.
There are many security programs to choose from and some are free. Some popular examples include:
Are free antivirus programs worth it?
Not all security programs are good, no matter whether they are free or paid. Some are excellent and they increase the security of Windows, but it is wrong to assume that every program is beneficial, whether it is free or paid.
It is a good idea to check the latest test results and see which programs are currently performing well and which aren’t.
The difference between free and paid software
There are several differences between free and paid security software, such as the amount of security, adverts and support.
Free security software:
- May display adverts. Ads to upgrade or buy the company’s other products are common. They can be irritating.
- Little support. If you have a problem, it is up to you to find the answer.
- Basic protection only. Blocks viruses, spyware and other malware. Replaces Windows Defender.
Paid security software
- Few or no adverts: A better, less irritating experience.
- Technical support: If you have a problem, you can email support and get an answer. Telephone support may also be an option with some security software.
- A firewall: It might include a firewall to replace Windows Firewall.
- Password storage: It might offer to securely store passwords.
- Wi-Fi security: It might check and monitor Wi-Fi security.
- Remote access: It may allow you to configure security remotely, such as from another computer. This enables a parent to configure a child’s computer without needed to physically be there.
- Parental controls: You may be able to block children’s access to websites and programs.
- Anti-spam: Email protection for those running email software on their computer
The top paid security software
All of the companies providing free security listed above also provide paid security suites that offer more protection. In fact, the freebie will contain ads and notices to upgrade to paid versions offering more protection.
Here is a list of the best known security companies offering commercial security suites.
There are more companies, but a complete list would fill this page and too many options can be confusing.
Security software subscriptions
Security software requires regular updates to be completely effective. Both free and paid software include updates, but paid software requires an annual subscription. Updates contain the details of the latest virus threats and if a new type of malware is discovered, updates are pushed out to security programs on PCs.
Paid security suites provide updates for one year. After that you must either subscribe for another year or buy new security software. Extending the subscription is an easy option, but beware of sticking with security software for too long.
New security software is nearly always better than old software and it will detect more threats, If your subscription does not include an update to the latest software, you should buy new software.
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Real-time protection and cleanup tools
Real-time protection means that whenever you open a file or a program, it is first checked to make sure it is safe. Viruses and other malware can be installed when files are opened or run, so real-time protection prevent this from happening.
Real-time protection is essential and Windows Defender provides it and so do many third party security programs.
You can have more than one security program on your computer, but it is only necessary to have one with real-time protection. In fact, having two or more might adversely affect the PC’s performance.
All paid security software includes real-time protection.
Many free popular security programs include real-time protection, such as those from AVG, Avast, Avira and others.
To see if your security software has real-time protection, open the program and go into the settings. There will at least be an on/off switch to enable or disable it and often there are more settings.
If you cannot find anything in the security software about real-time protection, then it is most probably a clean-up tool.
Real-time protection vs clean-up tools
A clean-up tool does not provide real-time protection. It does not watch the system for signs of malware and does nothing to stop viruses and other malicious programs infecting the computer. They might seem pointless, but they are actually useful.
- Real-time protection: Prevents malware from being installed
- Clean-up tool: Removes malware if, somehow, it gets onto the computer
One or more clean-up tools can be installed alongside your regular security software.
Some types of malware are difficult to remove and if the security software you use cannot remove it, try a clean-up tool. It might be more effective.
Sometimes security software produces false positives, which means that it mistakes a safe program for malware. Running a clean-up tool can give you a second opinion and it can either confirm that the malware threat is indeed real, or, if it does not find any problems, show that it was a false positive by your security software.
Popular clean-up tools
The most used cleanup tool is provided by Microsoft. As part of Windows Update, Microsoft periodically downloads and runs a clean-up tool called Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT). You won’t notice it because it runs in the background without displaying anything on the screen. It silently cleans the computer.
Microsoft says it removes more malware than any security company.
MSRT runs automatically and removes malware, but it doesn’t run very often and you can’t run it when you need it. Install a clean-up tool and you can use it whenever you suspect something might be wrong with the computer.
Some software companies that sell security suites also provide free clean-up tools:
Not all free security software is a clean-up tool and some offer real-time malware protection too, which means that they run all the time and provide protection from a wide range of threats.
Third party firewalls - what they do
Windows Firewall protects your PC from hackers and malicious software on the internet or the local network your PC is connected to. It can be replaced by a third party firewall that can offer better protection or simply be easier to use.
Windows Firewall provides fairly good protection from outsiders trying to gain access to your computer and it blocks incoming connections, but is difficult to configure to prevent apps on your computer from sending private information.
Alternative firewalls are better at blocking outgoing connections and preventing data leaks. Third party firewalls are easier to configure for outgoing connections, which means that they are able to block undesirable applications, malware and spyware more easily.
Many internet security suites include a firewall with antivirus software and examples include:
- Panda Internet Security
- Kaspersky Internet Security
- Avast Internet Security
- AVG Internet Security
- Avira Internet Security Suite
There are many more and the above list is just the most popular.
Alternatives to Windows Firewall
If you do not have an internet security suite that includes a firewall, there are a few third party applications you can add to the computer to boost the security. For example:
Every firewall has a different interface and controls, and it is not possible to cover them all here.
Free antivirus software rarely includes a firewall, so a free firewall like ZoneAlarm for example, is a good way to boost security.
Paid security software often includes a firewall, so your PC is protected.
Third Party Security Action Points
- Get third party security software if you open email attachments
- Get third party security software if you get software from download sites
- Get third party security software if inexperienced users, such as children, use the computer
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