Free antivirus protection – is there such a thing as a free lunch?

A couple of years ago, Microsoft released a new free anti-virus product – Microsoft Security Essentials.

A lot of people in the antivirus industry were afraid that Microsoft was going to kill the antivirus market. This hasn’t happened yet, despite the fact that Microsoft is performing OK in independent antivirus tests.

But Microsoft’s is but one free antivirus product; there are many other brands as well. What are the free antivirus products and can we trust them?

Initially, free software was always associated with Open Source Software: tools made by smart geeks; not very pretty, but working well. However, the strength of an antivirus product is in its updates. The most important part of every antivirus company is their lab. For 24 hours per day, 365 days per year, the engineers in an antivirus lab work in shifts and analyze current threats on the Internet. How could a free project support such a process?
Currently, free antivirus products are not just Open Source projects made by open-source enthusiasts to make the world better. Big, serious companies are making these products and distributing millions of copies.
These are the major antivirus vendors providing free solutions:

Avast! avast! Free Anti-virus 6
AVG AVG Anti-virus Free Edition 2011
Avira Avira AntiVir Personal – Free Antivirus
BitDefender Online Scanner
Microsoft Microsoft Security Essentials
Comodo Comodo Antivirus
Lavasoft Ad-Aware Free Internet Security
digital defender digital defender Antivirus Free
Emsisoft Emsisoft Anti-Malware 5.1 Freeware
PCTools PC Tools AntiVirus Free 2011
Preventon Preventon Antivirus – Free Edition
Returnil Returnil System Safe Free

Be careful if you see an antivirus product that is not on this list. It could be fake antivirus software, a nasty piece of malware, which could ransom or steal your money. If it’s not complete, you can always check the official virus bulletin list of vendors at http://www.virusbtn.com/vb100/latest_comparative/index)

The market shares of these fake antivirus products is huge (although it’s very hard to measure. Most market share measuring technologies measure products that are bought and sold). They’re very high in organic Google results for the best keywords, like “antivirus”. They also are spending hundreds of thousands on paid Google campaigns and download seeding via affiliate networks. Why all this? Just to deliver you a nice present?

Of course not. Their business model is, first get a huge portion of market to get very strong recognition from home users around the globe. And then sell them something.

You can visit their sites and see their business models. It’s mostly online sales, so everything is open, no hidden distribution agreement or union contracts. You’re told that “Just antivirus is not enough” to protect your computer and then asked to buy “full Internet security version” where normally you can find a firewall, anti-spam features, and a lot of different components.

Does it mean that this free antivirus solution is flawed? Most probably not; it can still protect you from viruses. Does a paid Internet Security Solution give more protection? Most probably yes; it has more security components. How exactly is one level of protection stronger than the other? It’s really hard to say, because nobody knows what kind of attacks you’re going to see in the future.

In any case, these free antivirus solutions are the real deal from well-respected companies. I expect them to do a good job.

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