What antivirus software do you recommend?

A local LinkedIn group has a discussion recommending a specific anti-virus software. That made me wonder, what antivirus software do you recommend, and why?

What metrics are being used to define a particular antivirus (AV) as good or worthy of recommendation? Good AV is that which blocks most viruses, providing you definitions faster than their competitors. Anything else is just emotion…

It’s also important to remember that AV is effectively useless without regular deep/full scans using the latest virus definitions. If your AV provider discovered the fingerprint of a new computer virus on your computer right now, and tomorrow you download the latest definitions which describe it, you would still need to scan your computer to have that definition match with the virus on your computer.

Remember you need all three steps to use any anti-virus software:

  1. Install the AV software and activate it.
  2. Download the latest virus definitions (a list of known viruses to compare against all the files on your computer)
  3. Scan your computer using a deep/full scan. It’s often a good thing to start before you go to bed for the night, as this can take hours.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 on a regular basis, making sure to download the latest definitions before running a scan.

I also recommend when you have some free time, completely uninstall your AV software, and re-install it once a year, just in case you did get a virus that affected your AV software, which many viruses target.

This is also a good time to remind you that all computers get viruses, including Apple computers and smart phones. Most Apple users believe they are immune to viruses, which makes them even more vulnerable. If you have a virus on your computer you’ll never know what the attacker is doing in the background if you have no AV software installed to detect it.

Getting non-biased research results on which AV to trust more than others is difficult. One of the organizations worth checking out is av-test.org who produce comparisons; see a review of Windows XP AV options here for example. If you’re going to trust AV comparisons or recommendations from anyone, you need to understand who funds them, and their methodology for comparison.

As for paid vs. free solutions, the same argument applies. No AV vendor is going to admit to limiting their ability to detect viruses in their free version, so then you need to ask what it is you’re paying for and decide if that is worth it to you.