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Help – Free vs. Paid (Antivirus, Firewall, Spyware)

With free anti-virus programs most of the companies that offer a free program also sell a commercial version. This clearly indicates that there is a difference.  Viruses, Trojans and worms are dealt with by anti-virus programs, while spyware and adware are generally addressed by programs designed to detect and remove those types of malware, generally referred to as anti-spyware.

One of the differences that can be significant in the anti-spyware arena is the proactive vs reactive protection. Most pay versions of anti-spyware have a more sophisticated ‘proactive’ component that helps prevent ever getting infected in the first place. Many of the free programs aren’t that good at preventing the spyware from getting into your computer, but they are very good at detecting and removing once you are infected.

At the core of paid & free programs, the basic anti-virus engine is the same; they search for ‘signatures’ of known virus code to detect and remove infections. If you are a fairly knowledgeable surfer; don’t engage in activities such as scrupulous search engine result clicking,  file sharing, software warez cracks, adult content, online gambling or other high-risk behaviors, the basic free protection is may be adequate.

The ‘signature’ updates are generally the same, although some companies offer them less frequently for the free vs the pay versions.

The real difference in most cases is the sophistication level of additional protection against the newest types of exploits. Signature based AV programs can only update signatures once a new strain is discovered. That means, until the new threat has been discovered, a new signature string has been developed and you download it to your computer, you won’t be protected against the new threat.