Security software: Choosing the best antivirus software Free vs paid-for security software
Security software comes in two types – free and paid-for – and many popular products are available in both versions.
Many people think that paying for antivirus software is a waste of money when you can protect your PC with free antivirus software. Others see paid-for security software suites as a good investment for the peace of mind having your PC fully protected against malware and viruses brings.
Paid-for software has more features, but Which? has found some Best Buy free antivirus software in our lab tests.
Check the Which? security software Best Buys to see which free downloads can keep your computer safe
Choosing the best paid-for or free security software
Free security software provides must-have antivirus protection, but typically not much else.
It can help you locate a virus on your PC, remove a virus and prevent a virus being installed on your PC.
Paid-for security software typically includes extra features along with antivirus and antispyware protection, and everything is controlled through a single interface.
A security software suite can include a two-way firewall that controls both incoming and outgoing traffic to the internet, identity protection software and parental controls so you can monitor your children’s activities online. Some premium packages also include maintenance and back-up tools.
It’s possible, however, to get most of these features using a combination of free antivirus tools, though they won’t be packaged up neatly in one place and you can risk compatibility problems.
Choosing the best free security software
Free security software pros
- It’s possible to completely protect your computer by using separate free antivirus, antispyware, antispam and firewall programs in tandem.
- You choose only the tools you need. If you already use a built-in firewall and antispyware program, then you may only need to install an antivirus program rather than pay for an entire security suite.
- Free antivirus software means you can try different tools to find one that suits without worrying about wasting money. Remember you can only run one antivirus and firewall at a time on your computer.
Free security software cons
- Free antivirus software provides only a basic level of protection and lacks the extra features of paid-for software.
- You’ll have to keep each individual program updated to ensure you’re protected against the latest threats
- Some free security software programs are trial versions of paid-for packages and may have time limits for how long you can use them.
- Free antivirus software is typically single-user so you’ll need to download, install and manage a separate version on all your computers.
- You’ll get limited technical support. Most free antivirus programs only have online support.
Paid-for security software
Paid-for security software pros
- Paid-for software provides an all-round antivirus, antispyware and firewall solution accessed through a single interface.
- Individual components are automatically updated at the same time so you get protection against the latest threats.
- Some security suites come with multi-user licences so you can install the same protection on two or more computers in your home.
- Many include useful extras, such as performance management or backup and recovery tools that can help you restore your computer in the event of a disaster.
- Paid-for security suites often provide better customer and technical support.
Paid-for security software cons
- Security suites can be expensive – usually around £30-£50, and you’ll also face ongoing costs usually in the form of an annual subscription in order to receive updates after the initial period of protection is over (usually a year).
- You may not always need all the options a security suite provides and, therefore, you may be doubling up in some areas or paying for protection you won’t use.
- Some security suites can place a huge drain on system resources, potentially slowing down your computer’s operation.