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Free fixes for your computer

In these times of malware and phishing, insulating your computers from intruders is a must. A look at antivirus options.

gadgets Updated: May 01, 2012 02:09 IST

Technology has made our lives simpler. But this has come at a cost: we have become so dependent on it that without our gadgets, we are lost.

This very dependence leaves us vulnerable, if a technological misanthrope chooses to attack us at home, that is, our laptop or personal computer. It started out as good fun, this type of intrusion, a sort of snooping around to find what the other guy is up to. But in a networked world, innocence is shortlived, and the snoop quickly evolved into a hacker, stealing information, using people’s computers to attack other machines via the Internet and generally wreaking havoc.

Ergo, we need to fortify our homes. Our computers. There are many options, ranging from free offerings, paid ones, and premium ones that promise the moon. This week let us look at free antivirus options.

Why should someone give anything for free, you might ask. Where is the catch? Some say stick to free solutions, others say go premium… what are your options?

AVG []

This is one of the most popular free antivirus solutions out there. If you were to talk to your system integrator (the IT guy with your vendor who sold you the computer), chances are he will refer you to AVG. Available only for Windows, the new version of AVG is faster than before, and zips through scans.

It does tend to flag bogus alerts, though. The interface is simple and easy to use, and installation quite fast. The free edition comes with a single-use PC analyzer that can find issues with your PC and fix them, but you can only use this feature once.

Downside: it slows down the boot up.

Avast []

Avast is closing the gap on AVG in popularity, especially with a Apple MacOSX edition, and a mobile phone edition for Android. In fact it is a moot point if it has already nosed ahead. Installation has become quite easy — though still not as easy as Avira. Avasst can detect and block viruses as well as spyware, and lets you take remote assistance from a geek friend.

The Interface for Avast is a bit clunky but it detectected most of the viruses I had on the system in its scan, and was also able to defend the computer against attacks. The Apple interface is great; wish they could replicate it for Windows.

Avira []

Avira has put its free antivirus through a major overhaul for the 2012 edition. Installation is fast, it sets up Windows security, can scan your system to prevent infection from viruses, worms and trojans, and in case an application is already infected, it halts the application.

Downside: the free edition does not stop Internet attacks, nor warns you when you visit an infected Website. It also does not come with company support, though you do get regular updates. In my testing, I found that Avira could not detect files already infected, but it fared very well when I tried to copy infected files to my PC.

Available only for Windows.

Comodo Antivirus []

A bit of an unknown quantity in India, Comodo is a great challenger globally. It offers intelligent protection from unknown threats, has an easy-to-use interface, a ‘default deny’ protection that can disable certain programmes, a cloud-based antivirus, a cloud-based behaviour analysis (one up on all others in this list, which lets it observe behaviour and detect viruses even before they get reported), a ‘game mode’ that suppresses antivirus pop ups during a game, and Sandbox technology that others give only in paid versions.

Comodo also has a ‘Defense+’ system that keeps malware out, and a strong realtime scanner.

Trend Micro Housecall []

It is not a full-feature antivirus, but a great tool to have by your side. Housecall (available for Windows in 32-bit and 64-bit editions only) has quick scan, full scan and custom scan options, but there is no realtime scanner or file scanner.

It is not meant to be a fullfledged virus-killer, but if you suspect your antivirus is not working or want a second opinion, it is handy. Housecall also has a cloud service; if it thinks your file is infected, it sends the file to the company’s cloud servers for scanning, and gives you back the cleaned file.

Downside: you need a fast Net connection; it cannot scan if you’re offline.

In case your current antivirus subscription runs out, give these free guys a try. They can't do everything, but they’ll keep your PC clean till you get the subscription going again. Next week, we’ll look at some of the paid solutions out there.

Tech Queries

(Gagandeep Sapra is a technology entrepreneur, who calls himself The Big Geek)

First Published: Apr 30, 2012 23:43 IST