The question about which AV (anti-virus) software to use comes up all the time. To date, it has been tricky answering this question to anyone’s satisfaction. The software provided by MIT, McAfee VirusScan (or McAfee Security for Macs), does a pretty good job of keeping the most dangerous of viruses off your system, but it falls short when it comes to spyware protection.
A recent survey and comparison report by PC Antivirus Reviews doesn’t even list McAfee in the top five AV products. At the top of the list are products by Vipre, BitDefender, Kaspersky, AVG and Avast. Their cost is on average $40.
However, for many of us, having a free product is appealing. McAfee is a free download for the MIT community and it’s better than using nothing. Another option, if you run a Windows machine, is to use the free products by Microsoft: Microsoft Security Essentials, Windows Defender and Microsoft Safety Scanner. Will these do as good a job?
The answer, again, is tricky. In the end, experiences may vary and depend on many different factors: The operating system and whether it has the latest updates, the use of protective measures built into the browser one uses, whether ports are open or closed and can limit incoming traffic to the computer, whether spam is caught before reaching one’s inbox, and how AV product settings are configured (which areas it will scan, how often, how often virus definitions are updated, etc).
User behavior can also be a factor. If you use the computer primarily for responsible work-related purposes, you are more likely to avoid dangerous viruses on the Internet, than if you use it for personal use or click on everything and anything.
My suggestion is to buy the best AV product you can afford or take a risk with a free one. But remember, as with anything in this world, you get what you pay for. And do your homework to find the one that best suits your situation.
For next time: An article comparing and contrasting McAfee VirusScan to the Microsoft products mentioned above and other commonly used AV products.