Choosing an Anti-Virus program

Howdy and welcome to one and all to The Weekly Geek!

In this fun filled edition, I want to cover a question that I frequently receive. “How do you choose which security products to use and recommend?” Well the answer is not simple. In this edition we will go over how I pick, choose and then test anti-virus software applications.

Now, bear in mind that my current research has been for peer-to-peer and individual computers, servers are an entirely different category.

Gathering the data: How I find out about products.

  • Magazines test different software packages. I fear a little bias however I try to keep my checks and balances in place.
  • Students.
  • Walking through the electronic and office supply stores.
  • Internet Forums like Lockergnome’s.

Testing the programs

There are several great web sites that test anti-virus products. The following is a list that I have collected over time.

I also refer to magazine articles to help filter based on ease of use. Magazines such as PC World and PC Magazine as well as Computer Shopper have proven indispensable. Since all magazines are end user and advertisement supported, I balance out the possible bias towards sponsors through the other testing listed here.

One thing that I notice is that some free anti-virus programs are skipped in the above testing. This is usually because they are old versions of products like GriSoft’s AVG which version 6 is free and version 7 is not. Other companies like Computer Associates have offered 1 year free subscriptions of security programs. In this case their free version was the current version at the time it was released but one month later they released a whole new version and the freeloaders (yes, like it or not that is what we are) could get updates but not upgrades for free.

Recommendation: Computer Associates and NOD32 are on the top on my short list of best AV products currently out.

I get a small list of those programs that pass every one of the above web site testing facilities and those that get high marks for ease of use and friendly interface. This allows me to feel comfortable suggesting a program to a security or computer novice.

Once I have gathered a list of AV programs to test, I download copies onto various machines. Until recently I have only been testing Windows machines but now that I am getting more involved in the Linux community I am beginning to research on programs for it’s various distributions. I have a test lab set of consisting if Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, 2000, XP Home and XP Pro for a total of 11 machines. On each machine is a different set of hardware, office suite (several flavors of Microsoft as well as others), photo editor and a full set of security programs from firewalls to anti-spyware to cookie watching programs.

I install one program on my PC’s and run it for the free trial time, sometimes this is 14 days sometimes 30 and even rarely 90 days unless of course it is a freeware program. Sometimes AV products won’t work on some versions of Windows, especially 95, in that case I just skip those computers.

Once installed, I set my wife and kids free to do their thing. No, I don’t go to know servers crammed with viruses as the magazines and testing facilities do, after all they have already done that testing, I am narrowing down compatibility and reading License Agreements. If the family is able to use their programs and not have interference by the AV product and not get a virus it goes into my suggestion box. You would be surprised at the way I can eliminate certain AV products and other security programs this way. Through this process I eliminated Norton AV 2003 and 2004 as well as McAfee’s last three versions (I have not tested the 2005 versions of these yet). There were simply too many conflicts, slowdowns and overall botchery with my test systems.

The final test is time. If I get complaints from students, users and businesses or see viruses on various computers I note the AV product, version and DAT file and keep up with that. In most cases infections are caused by using the original AV that came with the computer four years ago. I strongly recommend getting a new version of the AV every two years. I also note if a program is installed on an infected machine the results. For instance even though many people and professionals recommend Grisoft’s AVG free version 6, I have found that on infected machines it will quarantine infections that are in Windows system files rendering the operating system or various other programs useless. This program is good when installed on a non infected computer but just not good for cleaning up infections after the fact.

Well, that all folks for this weeks edition. My plan is to go over how I check out and test other security products in the near future editions of The Weekly Geek. Until then have a virus free week.

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