Ask me which free anti-virus program is the best, and I’m likely to reply “At what?”. Some programs are better at one form of malware than others, but not as good at cleaning or preventing another type. Bear in mind that there are viruses, trojans, rootkits and God knows what else out there. The Internet is not a very clean pool to swim in. And the denizens are constantly changing – the threats tend to mutate as fast as the cures can be pushed out.
As a Support Specialist, I use a number of these tools, and I find that one is never enough. You might have one program installed to try to protect your computer, but if something gets through it can take several other programs to clean out the infection – and sometimes the time and effort involved can become an expense equal to or greater than the cost of the computer – software and all.
The main thing to remember is this: pretty good protection is far better than no protection. With that in mind, let’s look at the two main types of programs: think of them as the Resident Guardian and the Hitter.
Resident Guardians are programs that reside in your computer, or on your network, having the specific goal of preventing malware of all sorts from gaining a foothold in your computer. These are the names you’ve heard: McAfee, Norton, Trend Micro, Panda, and ESET just to name a few. Many of these companies offer free versions, especially for home use. I’ve had good success with AVG Freeware, Avast and Microsoft Security Essentials just to name a few of the more recent ones. Of these, I tend to favor the AVG – it’s certainly the one I’ve used the most. I’ve heard really good things about Panda Cloud Anti-Virus, but must admit I have not yet tried this one. You typically only run one of these programs on your computer, as they tend to get in each other’s way otherwise.
Hitters, on the other hand, you bring in after you’ve been infected. These are the cleanup tools, and a bad infection can require that you use several of these to root out the villain and destroy it. One of the most popular of these is MalWareBytes. It does a great job of finding and killing malware, but I’ve noticed that a lot of what we see in the field these days involves rootkits – MWB is not quite so good at finding these. So arm yourself with some of the other programs in this field, and use them as needed: Panda and Trend Micro both offer free rootkit seekers, and there is the old standby RootkitRevealer from Microsoft’s Sysinternals. Trend Micro also offers an on-line cleanup tool called House Call, which I’ve had excellent results with.
And speaking of Sysinternals, this handy little suite contains a number of useful utilities to help in finding and cleaning your computer. For example: Process Explorer, for looking at what is actually running in your PC, and AutoRuns to find out what loads up when your computer starts up.
Pick an anti-malware program and install it. Keep a few removal tools close, and replace them periodically – outdated tools generally won’t touch cutting-edge malware. And keep on educating yourself – for all of its threats, the Internet is a great source of knowledge o