Consumer Guide: Choosing the Best Antivirus Software

When purchasing an Internet security suite keep in mind the features and if they match your needs. Some things may be more important than others; others you may never need.

Most importantly, more expensive doesn't necessarily mean more secure.

For instance, if your home doesn't have kids or if you're purchasing antivirus firewall software for your office computers, you'll probably never use parental controls.

Security software is more than the sum of its parts.

It's not just the features listed on the side of a box.
This applies to other areas of security software, too: just because software boasts more features doesn't mean it's better software or that you're better protected.

Take these things into consideration when choosing AV software for your home or business.

1. Antivirus Scanning

antivirus detection accuracy
Each antivirus vendor uses their own mechanisms to detect viruses. Some are highly accurate, detecting the vast majority of threats to your PC; some are terrible, leaving your PC vulnerable to all but the most basic viruses.

antivirus heuristics
Since new viruses and other threats are come out daily, antivirus software needs to detect viruses that haven't yet been identified. This is another place where things vary significantly from one antivirus manufacturer to another.

scanning speed
Whether you're manually scanning your files or allowing the AV software to perform an automatic scan, you don't want to wait all day for the scan to finish. In our testing we found the best antivirus software can perform the task, quite literally, twice as quickly as lesser-quality programs.

resource utilization
As with scanning speed, how resource-hungry your antivirus software is makes a big difference in how your PC performs when your PC is protected.

Low-quality antivirus programs can be such a drag that some users are forced to disable their AV software altogether just to get their PC to have enough free memory and/or CPU to be able to perform a certain task on their computer.

Since this is never a good idea, having software that can do its job while you do your job is critical.

2. Spyware Detection & Prevention

Right on the heels of viruses as major concerns for most PC users is spyware.

Insidious by nature, modern spyware uses a ton of different techniques to spread onto your system and monitor what you're doing.

Some spyware is fairly innocuous, as it "only" shows ads based on your web surfing habits. Other spyware is much more evil and can actually record every keystroke you type and every activity you perform on your PC and then report it back to a central location.

The worst spyware can even record the usernames and passwords to your most confidential data including your bank accounts and credit cards.

Today's best antivirus software also include antispyware components, too, so in addition to being on the lookout for you against threats from viruses, trojans, and worms, good antivirus software will keep spyware at bay, too.

More accurately it should be called "Internet security software."

3. Bidirectional Software Firewall

Today's best antivirus and Internet security software has a built-in (or optional) software firewall.

A good firewall should monitor Internet traffic in both directions: incoming and outgoing.

If there's unexplained traffic activity you should receive a warning, and the software will block it if it's from a suspect source, giving you the chance to see what's going on and allow the connection or block it.

This is particularly important if you have a high speed Internet connection that's always on because even if you don't think you're online, chances are you are, so you're still be vulnerable to an attack.

4. On Demand and Scheduled Scanning

This lets you scan your PC as you see fit. With the scheduled option you can set the antivirus scan to run at a time and frequency of your choosing.

You can select daily, weekly or monthly scans and the time of day to run it. If your antivirus software uses a lot of system resources you may prefer to schedule it to run late at night or in the early a.m. hours so as not to slow down any tasks you are working on.

On demand scanning allows you to run it at anytime you desire, just click the appropriate button on the user interface.

5. Email Scanning

When using email you need to know, before you open a message or attachment, that it doesn't contain a threat to your computer. Even if the sender is someone you know and trust there is always the possibility that their address book has been unknowingly used by a third party who's up to no good.

The ability to prescreen for risks will give you peace of mind that your email is safe. If it's suspect you will receive a warning and be asked what steps should be taken; should the software attempt to clean it or delete it?

6. Automatic Updates

Automatic updates keep you abreast of the latest online threats without you having to visit the software vendors website to manually stay up to date.

This means you don't have to worry about having the latest antivirus definitions.

It's no exaggeration to say that new viruses can be released on a daily or even hourly basis.

7. Hacker Blocking

This prevents someone from gaining unauthorized access and control over your computer to steal data such as passwords and confidential information. A hacker may also cause important data to be erased or corrupted.

Since there's more to complete Internet security than just protecting your PC against viruses and spyware, having software that will prevent hackers is a smart move.

8. Parental Controls

Some antivirus firewall software, particularly the Internet security suites, have built-in parental controls.

For the most part, this built-in parental control software (also sometimes called a "family filter") tend to be quite stripped down and typically offer relatively little to help keep kids safe online.

While admirable that they're included in these security suites, for better protection we recommend dedicated parental control software.

9. Easy Installation (and Easy to Use)

Quality software should "just work." It should install easy and painlessly--even for a novice.

Most antivirus software requires rebooting to operate at maximum protection, but after that it should be easy to figure out what to do.

Today's best antivirus software has options for users of different technical skill levels, including things like: Novice, Intermediate, Advanced.

No matter what your skill level, having antivirus software that you has an easy-to-understand interface and intuitive menus is a must.

Make no mistake though, not all software is easy-to-use, and not all software is intuitive. The best Internet security suites are easy-to-use and intuitive, though, and this can make all the difference when the time comes to get your PC protected.

10. Technical Support

No one expects their computer to get a virus. No one expects their computer to get spyware.

If it does happen though, having a company to stand behind their product and help you get your machine back in working order can be critical.

Some companies offer outstanding support; others offer practically no support.

Even if you're highly skilled technically, having the option of having professional help a phone call away can be a great relief if you ever need it.

Antivirus Software Guide Conclusion

Choosing the right antivirus and Internet security software really can be easy.

Just keep in mind the points in this guide as you read our antivirus reviews, and you're well on your way to making the right choice to keeping your PC safe from viruses, worms, trojans, spyware, and anythings else that can gunk up your machine and ruin your day.

As always we're always here to help and love questions from our visitors. If you have unanswered questions, please contact us.