NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, October 2006
Free Antivirus Protection
By Ira Wilsker,
APCUG Director; Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

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http://free.grisoft.com AVG Antivirus – Free Version
http://www.avast.com/eng/free_virus_protectio.html AVAST! Free Version
http://www.free-av.com - AntiVir PersonalEdition Free Edition
http://www.clamav.net – Clam AntiVirus for UNIX, Linux, etc. (Free)

You may have seen the TV commercials which state that PCs are vulnerable to attack and infection by computer viruses and other malware, with the number of viruses stated as “114,000 in the past year”. This information is basically true, with some variance in the number of computer viruses. Whatever the number, viruses and other malware are out there trying to attack and infect our computers. The viruses and malware may attempt to destroy our data, take control of our computers from us, use our internet connections to propagate spam and additional viruses, display pop-ups on our monitors, steal our identities, and a plethora of other nastiness.

A visit to any computer, electronics, office supply, or mass merchandise store will show that software to protect against viruses and other malware is big business, with annual sales and subscriptions in the billions of dollars. The threat of viruses is very real, and antivirus software properly installed and updated very frequently (now typically every few hours) is a requirement for safe computing. It should be noted that there are some computer experts who purposely and knowingly do not use antivirus software, but these same people are also extremely careful about safe computing practices, and utilize other techniques and technologies to protect their computers from attack. For the rest of us, we need antivirus software.

Antivirus software is published by such well known companies as McAfee, Symantec (Norton), Trend Micro, Panda, Kaspersky, Microsoft, and many others. Generally all will provide some protection from attack, but vary in features, frequency and speed of updates, technical support, scan speed, degradation of computer performance, and other factors. Antivirus software also can vary in price. Antivirus software is so important that price should not be an issue, but pragmatically, it of course is a factor. Some may argue that an impoverished individual or college student who can afford a $600 computer should be able to afford $30 for antivirus software to help protect him/her, but in reality money can be tight. There are others who prefer to participate in open source concepts, where software is generally free, while there are inevitably others who just prefer to spend as little as possible on their accouterments. Let’s face it, and be truthful with ourselves – some of us are just plain cheap.

Fortunately, for those who either cannot afford antivirus software, or those who otherwise do not want to pay for legal copies, there are several free antivirus programs available to the general public, sometimes specifying that they are only for personal, non-commercial use. One of the most popular and widely used free versions of antivirus software is AVG, published by Grisoft in Czechoslovakia. Grisoft publishes a variety of computer security products for commercial use and sale, but offers its basic antivirus software for free at free.grisoft.com. The free version of AVG carries the proviso that “AVG … is for private, non-commercial, single home computer use only”. Users of the free AVG can also download a companion anti-spyware product, Ewido Anti-spyware, and join millions of other users of the free software. The free versions of AVG are fully functional, and offer good basic protection with frequent updates. The free version of AVG lacks the technical support and speed of updates as its commercial ($38) big brother, but still can count millions of satisfied users.

Another very popular free antivirus program with a wide and loyal following is Avast! (often spelled in lower case as “avast!”), published by ALWIL Software, headquartered in Czechoslovakia. Available since June 2001, avast! Home Edition” is “… free of charge for home users who do not use their computer for profit.” Avast! Is available for download at http://www.avast.com/eng/free_virus_protectio.html. ALWIL also publishes a commercial version of its flagship antivirus product, avast! Professional ($39.95), that offers an enhanced user interface, updates “pushed” to the computer in real time, and other benefits.

A German company, Avira GmbH, publishes both free and commercial versions of its antivirus software, the freeware version aptly named AntiVir PersonalEdition. While not well known in the U.S., AntiVir PersonalEdition is very popular in Europe, where it has won recognition by many European computer magazines and websites as a top performing antivirus product. Available for free download at http://www.free-av.com, this software may be a good choice for those who want a good quality but free antivirus product. Its commercial counterpart, Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition Premium (about $25) has enhanced capabilities, including anti-spyware, anti-adware, email scanning, rapid update service, and other premium benefits. Avira AntiVir offers versions that will run on a variety of operating systems, including Windows 98, ME, NT, 2000, XP, Linux, FreeBSD, and Solaris.

A non-commercial antivirus product, Clam AntiVirus, is becoming the darling of “geekdom”, in that it is free “open source”, and for the UNIX, Linux, and FreeBSD operating systems. Very well regarded in technical circles, this product is maintained by an international team of volunteers centered in Poland, but includes team members from throughout Europe and the U.S. Clam’s claim to fame is that according to tests and research done by German computer magazines, this team is often among the first of the dozens of antivirus companies to distribute updated antivirus signatures, and offer the latest in protection to its users. Clam AntiVirus is available for download at http://www.clamav.net.

With the ready availability of dozens of commercial antivirus utilities, as well as the selection of free antivirus products available, there is no fiscal reason why any computer user should not have a functional and updated antivirus program on his computer.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

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