3 different levels of antivirus protection – which to choose?

Modern antivirus protection software is a very complex piece of IT engineering. Solutions from different companies have catchy marketing names. This article gives a short overview and tells you what to expect from your antivirus solution.

The antivirus industry looks a lot like the car industry. There are a lot of brands with a lot of features and a lot of claims. Some developers use different names for software components. Some of them even fight about what “virus” means (as opposed to “spyware” or “malware”).

But they have to compete with each other. So there is some logic to be found and information about products can be analyzed. In 99% of the cases, the products fall into one of three major categories: antivirus, Internet security, and total protection.

Antivirus Protection

Antivirus is the basic level of computer protection. There are some minor differences between vendors, but in general an antivirus product includes:

  • On-demand scanner – the oldest type of antivirus protection. It’s simply a program that scans a bunch of files on your computer and tells you if they contain viruses or not. However, it’s not very convenient for a user to start an antivirus scan every time he thinks he could be infected. That’s why all antivirus software has resident real-time protection.
  • Real-time protection drivers – by far the most important part of any antivirus package. This part is always in the memory of your computer, constantly checking anything that comes and goes from your hard drive to the Internet. Real-time protection catches most viruses and also causes most problems with performance or compatibility. Unfortunately, in order to deliver adequate protection, antivirus software has to go deep into the guts of the operating system and make some changes there. That is why antivirus software often causes problems with your computer. That is also why two antivirus products on one computer in most cases leads to trouble.
  • Sometimes simple forms of additional security components, like firewall intrusion detection systems and heuristic analysis, which help real-time protection drivers. Vendors have to put a lot of additional features into the antivirus protection in order to compete with virus creators as well as with each other. It’s really beyond the scope of this article to describe all possible combinations of features.
  • Updater, which downloads the newest information about viruses from the site of the vendor.


Internet Security

Internet security is a product providing protection one level stronger than an antivirus product. Internet security includes everything in an antivirus product plus a couple of additional security components. Mostly they protect against threats coming from the Internet (hence the name), such as direct network attacks and email-threats. At some point in 2005, this type of product was considered “a complete packet to protect your PC”. Later, even more advanced products appeared on the market.
These are the features in Internet security products inherited from antivirus protection:

New in Internet security:

  • Firewall (normally a so-called stateful, consumer-friendly firewall with a possibility to learn about new network attack treats. Firewalls are normally designed to protect from external network attacks. Recently, they are also used for monitoring any network traffic generated from the computer itself, protecting your privacy. For example, a new game tries to connect to a server in China and send information to it. The firewall software finds it strange and reports it to the user)
  • Antispam (normally a learning consumer-friendly antispam plugin for major email clients, like Outlook or Windows Mail)


Total Protection

Total protection is the newest trend in PC security. This is a product that includes Internet security and some additional utilities, providing information protection. Major companies on the antivirus market have bought additional small firms in order to broaden their portfolio and put a total protection product on the market.

The list of features differs from vendor to vendor, but in most cases includes components protecting targeting data on the computer itself:

Backup – an online or offline backup solution
Disk encryption tool, both resident and on-demand
Password storage utility, which allows you to store your passwords in an encrypted file.

There aren’t many vendors providing total protection; I’ve counted just 15 of them.

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