Just like humans, computers can also become infected with viruses and get ‘sick’. And like a human virus, a computer virus also has the ability to replicate itself and infect other computers. We call this a malware, short for malicious software. A computer that has been infected with a malware may have a slow performance, lose some of your precious data, and experience system crashes.
Updated on 23 February 2024
To keep these digital illnesses at bay, you can protect your computer by installing the best antivirus for PC that you can find in the market – much like vaccinating yourself to build up your immune system against diseases. The best antivirus software detects and removes malware, and prevents them from coming back and inflicting more damage to your computer. So if you’re still asking yourself if you really do need the best free antivirus software, the answer is a big YES, unless you want your computer to go berserk and lose everything you saved in there.
Best antivirus software checklist:
There is a wide selection of antivirus software to choose from, ranging from free services with awesome tools to fully-featured paid software, and it makes choosing the best virus protection very difficult. Fortunately, we have listed some of the features that you should look for:
- Low maintenance. The best thing about today’s antivirus software is that once you set it up, you won’t have to do a lot of maintenance work to check your computer’s health. It usually gives you status updates on a daily basis if your computer is okay or not. If you think that there’s something wrong with your computer that is not reflected in the status update, you can manually run a full scan of all your files. You should also check if the software is up-to-date to get the best antivirus features.
- Free software programs. If you’re looking for a cheaper way to protect your computer, there are plenty of best antivirus for PC and Mac OS. However, just like every free stuff, its functionalities and features are quite limited compared to the paid versions. If you want the best virus protection for personal use only, then free software could work for you. But if your needs tend to be complicated and you use your computer for sensitive transactions, then a paid software with full features might be needed.
- Extra layer of security. A lot of people think that having the best antivirus software simply isn’t enough to ward off dangerous malware. Indeed, the best virus protection can be used alone or paired up with other security systems such as a firewall. But do you really need an extra layer of security? It depends on your computer usage. If you don’t surf the web too much, then the best antivirus software will already do a good job of protecting you (especially from flash drives, CDs, and DVDs that could be infected). However, if you use the computer for online banking transactions, email correspondence, and other confidential activities, then a firewall is highly recommended along with other internet security tools.
- Real-time scanning. This is one of the most useful features that saved plenty of users from viruses that were detected a little too late. The best antivirus software that you choose should have real-time scanning, so even if you’re going about your tasks with the computer, it will just run from the background and always be on the lookout for malware.
- Email scanning. Viruses are easily spread through emails disguised as links and attachments from a legitimate source. If you’re not careful with the stuff that you click or download, you could easily get email viruses and spread them to your contacts. The best antivirus for Mac OS and Windows will monitor outgoing and incoming email traffic to protect you from malicious email attachments.
- On-access scanning. This antivirus feature scans files as you open, save, and run files on your computer. It runs on the background and actively scans for new threats as long as your computer is turned on. It prevents you from saving files that could contain malicious codes.
- On-demand scanning. It does the opposite of on-access scanning – it scans the files and folders that you select. You can check it to scan hard drives, flash drives, and other removable storage devices before you copy the items that are stored there.
- Scheduled scanning. A convenient feature for forgetful users (just kidding), scheduled scans allow you to set the date that you want to perform a full, quick, or custom scan. The best antivirus software will automatically run this on the set date. This is very useful especially if you want to periodically check your computer’s health.
An antivirus software might slow down your computer especially if you’re performing a full scan. It also happens when you’re using other apps and programs while scanning your computer.
If you currently have an antivirus software installed in your computer and you want a new antivirus to run instead, make sure that you uninstall the old one first. Your new antivirus will perform better with this.
Sometimes, your new antivirus software might detect malware that the old one missed. This is because virus detection depends on the vendor of the software, so perhaps your old antivirus doesn’t recognize the malware that the new one did.
Why is an antivirus software important?
It’s similar to vaccinating your child to protect them from deadly diseases and to prevent it from spreading to other children: you’re preventing many malicious programs from wreaking havoc in your computer and from spreading to other computers a well.
If you’re still unconvinced, just remember that there are different types of malware programs types that exist:
- Worms replicate themselves and slow down your computer, then spread to other computers through weak security systems (read: computers with no antivirus).
- Trojan horses and keyloggers allow a hacker to get your personal information including passwords.
- Spyware programs monitor and record your activities such as the websites you visited and what you did there.
- Adware programs cause unsolicited advertisements that suddenly pop up and interrupt your activity.
What’s worse is that your computers aren’t the only devices that are vulnerable to viruses because your mobile phones are at risk as well. Keeping your phones protected with the best virus protection for Android and iOS will do the trick.
How does a virus infect my computer?
Aside from the most obvious reason which is by failing to use the best virus protection, some of the ways that viruses and other forms of malware make its way to your computer are the following:
- Neglecting the importance of firewalls. Don’t underestimate the power of a firewall! It keeps out hackers and viruses from attacking your computer through the internet. Because you’re reading this now, you must surf the internet very often so we highly suggest installing a firewall.
- Opening suspicious email attachments. A lot of viruses are hidden by emails that are created to look trustworthy and legitimate. Never click links, download attachments, or fill out forms unless you’re 101% sure that it’s legitimate.
- Clicking popups. A lot of popups on the internet are designed to trick you into installing harmful programs. If you’re not careful, clicking one of these popups could put you in danger.
- Outdated operating system. Newer versions of operating systems such as Windows 10 updates automatically, but older versions do not. If you don’t want to expose your computer to any type of malware, make sure that you update your OS regularly.
Symptoms of an infected computer
If your computer is unprotected, be on the lookout for these telltale signs:
- Computer is running very slow.
- Programs that pop up then close unexpectedly.
- Ads that suddenly pop up whether you’re online or offline.
- Computer suddenly freezes and crashes.
- There are duplicate files or missing files.
- Hardware and accessory problems such as mixing pixels in the computer screen.
Once your computer shows one or more of the abovementioned signs, it’s very likely that a malware has made its way to your device. Installing the best antivirus software that you can find will detect and remove these before it can cause further damage to your files.
How does the best antivirus work?
As I have mentioned earlier, an antivirus software is designed to detect, remove, and prevent viruses from infecting your computer and spreading its wickedness to other devices.
There are three different detection processes that the best antivirus software use:
- Generic detection – It works by identifying programs or files that are similar to the known malware types like the ones listed above.
- Specific detection – It works by searching for a malware using a specific set of characteristics.
- Heuristic detection – It works by looking for unknown malware by scanning your computer programs and file structures for unusual behavior.
Antivirus myths, busted
Myth: The best virus protection vendors are the ones writing the viruses so people will buy their products.
Fact: There are millions of malware codes out there that are created by, surprise, cybercriminals with the goal of making money way more than the profits these vendors could ever have. So the answer is no. Although there are some people who believe this, it’s actually just a conspiracy.
Myth: Free antivirus software does no good to protect your computer because you’re not paying for it.
Fact: The saying that you get what you pay for is actually applicable to this one. However, some of the free antivirus software available out there are actually pretty good and sufficient already for some users. It all depends on your computer usage. If you’re not a heavy computer user and only surf the internet occasionally, then a free software is enough. On the contrary, if you use your computer for business transactions and the like, a fully-featured paid software might suit your needs better.
Myth: Mac and iOS devices are immune to viruses.
Fact: Any computer that runs on Mac and Windows is vulnerable to malware, there’s no exception to that. However, Windows has the largest user base and therefore the most likely to get infections than Mac computers. It’s the same with mobile operating systems. You should still install the best virus protection for Android and iOS because no matter what platform your device runs on, it can still get infected with viruses.
What is a firewall?
Firewalls sound just like its name, except that it doesn’t really keep out the fire. It acts as a wall of protection between your computer and people or programs who want to access it. As you know, the internet is a treasure trove of information and wonderful things, but it’s also full of harmful elements. A firewall filters everything that goes in and comes out of your network depending on how specific you want the filtering to be.
Firewalls use three different methods when filtering your computer/network’s traffic:
- Packet filtering – Packets are small chunks of data that are sent between networks, and these are filtered by the firewall. Safe packets get to its destination while unsafe packets are disposed of.
- Proxy server – A proxy server works as a middleman between your computer and the internet. You send a request to get files, websites, and documents that you want and the proxy server and they get it for you.
- Stateful inspection – Instead of filtering the contents of each packet, it compares certain parts of the packet and checks if it is trustworthy or not. The packets that do not make it through are discarded.
You can use a firewall along with the best antivirus for PC or Mac for an added layer of security. Firewalls don’t necessarily protect you against viruses but it prevents unauthorized access to your computer.
Check Out Our Reviews!
We’re constantly reviewing and comparing antivirus programs to help you make better choices regarding your digital security. Check our website regularly for updates on the best and worst antivirus software, from the good old antivirus programs to the new ones. We review the best antivirus for PC, Mac OS, iOS, and Android, so make sure you don’t miss out on any new articles and subscribe to our newsletter.