Whether you have a brand spanking new computer or just an old reliable one, protection is a top priority. Hackers far and wide are targeting our laptops and PCs like never before.
That’s why knowing how to protect your computer is a necessity these days. In this article, we’re going to discuss the best ways to protect your computer, as well as the top programs to use and money expert Clark Howard’s unique solution for keeping your financial data safe.
Why do you need to protect your computer?
Attacks on computers both corporate and personal are growing not only in number but in scale worldwide. In fact, as of 2016 (the latest year for which numbers are available), “malicious cyber activity” in the U.S. alone did between $57 billion and $109 billion in damage.
Best virus protection: Table of contents
- Protect your Mac or PC
- What you need to know about malware
- How is computer protection software tested?
- Free vs. paid: Best antivirus software
- Financial Chromebook
- Final thoughts
Protect your Mac or Windows PC
First, it’s important to know that both Windows and Mac computers have built-in virus protection programs.
The default security program for Microsoft computers is called Windows Defender. Here’s how to use it.
If you’re running OS X and upward, your Mac has a built-in virus protection program called XProtect.
Through the years, many computer users have been led to believe that only PCs needed antivirus protection. In fact, if you have a Mac, you may be thinking that cybersecurity isn’t really a concern, but that’s simply not true.
While Apple computers have historically not been targeted by malware as often, Mac attacks have increased exponentially in recent years.
As viruses and other programs become more sophisticated and harder to stop, XProtect and Windows Defender have become increasingly limited in their abilities to keep your computer safe.
What you need to know about malware: Viruses, ransomware, adware and spyware
Once you’re aware of your computer’s (somewhat limited) built-in protections, be aware is short for malicious software. It includes basically anything that can cause damage by infecting your computer. It can take the form of content, executable code, scripts and more.
Before you download a program to protect your computer, you need to know a little about what you’re trying to defend against. Here are the definitions to some common malicious programs:
- Virus: This is software that spreads rapidly through a computer or computer network by replicating itself. Not all viruses are destructive and some aren’t designed to infect immediately.
- Ransomware: This is malicious software that rapidly encrypts your files and deletes the originals before you can take action. You may then be asked to pay money to have your computer restored to working condition again
- Adware: These files typically don’t harm your computer but they can cause endless pop-up ads and consume valuable memory.
- Spyware and trojan horses: Both of these programs clandestinely steal information from the user, like internet usage data, personal info and even financial data
How is computer virus protection software tested?
When it comes to the best virus protection, you should be looking for programs that protect you but don’t take up a lot of memory and paralyze your computer while scanning for or quarantining malware.
Virus protection programs are lab-tested by various entities. One is AV Test, a Germany-based independent research institute for IT security.
Another is AV Comparatives, a Austria-based independent IT organization that systematically tests computer protection systems.
Together, the groups’ tests and ratings have become a standard for computer virus protection companies around the world.
Computer virus protection software is evaluated based on four criteria: certification, performance, protection and usability.
Here are the best virus protection programs free and paid, according to AV Test and AV Comparatives.
Free vs. paid: The best virus protection for your computer
|Program||Features||Paid Version||Free Version|
|Sophos Home Premium For Mac||Virus & malware protection for up to 10 devices||$30/year||YES|
|Avast Free Mac Security||One of the best for malware, but not as robust for ransomware||$59.99/year||YES|
|Avast Security Pro||AV Comparables says this program detected 99% of Mac viruses & 100% of Windows viruses||$49.99/year||YES|
|Bit Defender Antivirus Plus||Ransomware protection and remediation, optional VPN, 3 devices (Windows 10 only)||$23.99/year||YES|
|F-Secure Antivirus Safe||Robust antivirus protection, 3 devices. Got perfect marks from AV Comparables||$34.99/year||30-day trial only|
|Avira Antivirus Pro||Award-winning program rates at the top for AV Comparables||$44.99/year||YES|
|Kaspersky Internet Security||Detected 100% of widespread prevalent malware||starts at $29.99/year||free trial|
|McAfee Total Protection||Comes with 100% money-back guarantee; for up to 10 devices||$44.99/year||YES|
|Norton Security||High marks for protection and usability||$39.99/year||YES|
Clark’s take: Set up ‘Financial Chromebook’
As you might expect, money expert Clark Howard is obsessive when it comes to internet security. That’s why he recommends that you have a dedicated Chromebook device to do all your financial transactions, so at least those aren’t exposed to malicious activity.
The major benefit of using a Chromebook is that they’re designed to store your data in the cloud, so there’s no physical hard drive that can be corrupted or infected by a computer virus.
The Chromebook’s operating system also doesn’t play well with other traditional programs, either. That makes it nearly impenetrable for malware. Read more about setting a “financial Chromebook” here.
While there are some good virus protection programs on the market, the criminals are working hard to break through the latest computer defenses.
There are literally thousands of malicious programs out there — from password-stealing scripts, phony advertisements, phishing campaigns, viruses, malware, adware and more — that will test even the heartiest cybersecurity programs.
Keeping your computer safe involves full-on support from you more than any software you can buy. Here’s what you can do:
- Be careful when clicking links: Don’t download files or click on pop-ups you know nothing about. Email phishing campaigns prey on the curious.
- Use strong passwords: Use a password checker to come up with a good one. After that, use a password manager.
- Make sure you have a secure connection: Many public Wi-Fi networks pose security risks, so be cautious.