NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, August 2010
Probably the Best Free Security List in the World (Website)
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host
(click to email author)


In a previous column I wrote about "Gizmo's Freeware", a very popular site that compiles lists of free software, categorizes thousands of freeware titles, tests, and rates much of the available freeware. Unlike many of the other freeware websites, according to Gizmo himself, "Gizmo's Freeware is a non-commercial community website staffed entirely by volunteers. ... The best freeware programs are as good as or better than their commercial counterparts but finding the most appropriate program can be challenging. Sure, there are dozens of freeware download sites on the web, but few of these actually help you select the best program for your needs. That's what we do here. No downloads, just honest advice and useful guidance. It's honest because this is a community-based site staffed by volunteers and we have no commercial affiliations."

One of the most frequently asked questions that I receive requests information and recommendations about free security software. Computer users often seem to be on the lookout for that gem of a free program that will protect their computers from threats. I have reviewed and written about several freeware security programs, some of which I can personally recommend, but I must candidly admit that I have not tried all of the available titles. This is where Gizmo shines, in that a knowledgeable community of users has tried all of the programs listed, and posted their evaluations and recommendations. What is more startling, is that this list is remarkably up to date, in that new releases and upgrades appear on a daily basis.

Gizmo's "Probably the Best Free Security List in the World" is available online at http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/probably-best-free-security-list-world.htm. This comprehensive list is indexed into 25 security categories ranging from real-time protection, tools for virus removal, firewalls, browser security, network and system monitoring, system cleaning, system rescue, data recovery, and several other types of security software. One interesting component in the index is "Doing time in jail" where software is listed that is not recommended for specific reasons; while one title "in jail" is a rogue software product, all of the other inmates listed are the very popular IObit series of products. Sometime ago there was a controversy that alleged that IObit had pirated parts of the MalwareBytes malware signature database, and incorporated those signatures into the IObit security software, a dispute that has not been totally resolved. Another noteworthy feature on this Gizmo list is that security software that is compatible with the increasingly more common 64 bit operating systems (Vista 64 and Windows 7-64) is clearly labeled, such that 64 bit users can be sure to get the most compatible software.

In the early days of computing, only antivirus software was considered necessary; later, a firewall and anti-spyware software became essential components of PC security. Today, there are still many free-standing antivirus programs available, both commercial and freeware. Sadly, spyware and other types of malware have eclipsed viruses as the primary threats to computing security, such that a free standing antivirus only product, no matter how good it is at protecting from viruses, does not give adequate protection from contemporary threats. Most programs currently available that are listed as "antivirus" also provide some degree of spyware protection. Gizmo currently lists and rates over a dozen free antivirus programs that offer real-time protection. Popular titles that are reviewed and rated on Gizmo include Avast!, AVG, Microsoft Security Essentials, Panda Cloud, and Avira. Several other less known free antivirus products are also listed.

Since many of the antivirus utilities only provide limited protection from other types of malware, it will likely be necessary to run an anti-malware utility along with an antivirus program. Gizmo lists six free antimalware programs that run alongside antivirus software, providing an extra level of protection.

A firewall should prevent unauthorized access to the computer from across the internet, and also prevent rogue programs that may have made it onto the computer from sending data to persons unknown. Gizmo lists over a dozen free firewall products that include the free versions (often of limited capability) of commercial firewalls, totally free firewalls, and utilities that can improve the firewalls incorporated in most modern versions of Windows.

In commercial (pay) security products, my personal choices are the comprehensive security suites offered by the major security companies like TrendMicro, Kaspersky, Norton, and McAfee. For the many who prefer free security suites, compound utilities that include integrated antivirus, anti-malware, and firewall software, Gizmo has tested and rated two free security suites, Comodo Internet Security and Forticlient. I have had some experience with the free Comodo Internet Security (A hret="http://www.comodo.com/home/internet-security/free-internet-security.php">http://www.comodo.com/home/internet-security/free-internet-security.php) and found it a capable and comprehensive security suite; the only factor against the free Comodo suite is that some people question Comodo's privacy policies.

Many of the malware threats in current circulation are intended to penetrate and neutralize the security software that is installed on the computer, and this includes both commercial and free security software. Some published reports have indicated that currently updated antivirus and anti-malware products can only detect about one-half of the latest threats, so it is often necessary to perform a security scan with a third party product to dramatically improve the detection and removal of any malware that may have penetrated the computers' defenses. Gizmo lists over a dozen free antivirus scanners, nine anti-malware (anti-spyware) scanners, eight portable antimalware scanners that can be run from a USB or similar external drive, eight free utilities to create bootable CDs that can detect and kill infections, a dozen rootkit detectors (rootkits are often hidden from traditional virus and malware scans), and a variety of other free detection and removal utilities. The user of free detection software should be aware that while most of the free titles will both detect and remove malware, there are some products that are free while in the detection mode, but then have a fee for the removal component. For those who prefer to use an online scanner rather than a software product, Gizmo lists a dozen free online scanners. Just like the software scanners, while most of the online scanners will both detect and delete malware, a few only detect malware, and require the use of a paid service to remove the malware. My personal favorite free online scanner and killer is TrendMicro's Housecall, at housecall.antivirus.com.

Gizmo lists dozens of other free utilities, including anti-phishing (online identity theft protection), link scanning (protection from dangerous websites), privacy utilities, cookie managers, password managers, keystroke scramblers (protect from key logging spyware), and many other security utilities. While I have not seen all of the other security software list websites, of those that I have viewed, Gizmo's " Probably the Best Free Security List in the World" may have rightly earned its self-described moniker.

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