Before going for Smart Security Software. some questions should Ask Yourself: The malware threat is more insidious than ever. If you’re not properly protected, you may not know you’ve been hit until dodgy-looking transactions start appearing on your online shopping accounts, or an alert pops up warning that your files have been encrypted.
Simply being careful online is no longer good enough-not that it ever was. Fortunately, as we all know, security software isn’t something you necessarily need to spend money on. A decent degree of protection is built right into Windows 10, and in this month’s Labs, we take three free alternatives for a spin as well.
Before You take the plunge on any of the Smart Security Software, here are the seven most important questions you need to ask yourself
With so much at stake, though, the question is whether opting for a free suite is a false economy- especially when some paid-for suites can be had for almost nugatory sums. Alongside the free options this month,
we test a whole spread of commercial security software at prices ranging from just £7 up to £50 per annum. So if you’ve been wondering whether it’s worth paying a premium for high-end protection, or whether you’re just as well off with a cheap or free solution,
you’ll find the answer on the following pages. Read on to discover which products will keep you safe on a tight budget, and which struggle to justify their price tags.
1. Do I really need Smart Security software?
You really do. The days are gone when you could protect yourself by simply ensuring you didn’t download dodgy apps. Modern threats exploit invisible vulnerabilities, embed themselves in innocuous-looking websites, and use sophisticated phishing techniques that even security experts would struggle to recognize.
Don’t panic, though: even if you haven’t actively installed any sort of security software, you’re probably not completely exposed. Recent versions of Windows include advanced security measures built right into the operating system, which can fend off the majority of attacks. Take a bow, Windows Defender.
Defender certainly isn’t your only choice when it comes to smart security software, however – indeed, as we discuss on p86, it isn’t necessarily the best one. If you take your safety seriously, you should at least consider whether a different suite [night serves your needs better.
2. Won’t installing extra security software slow down my PC?
Some Mill of performance Impact is inevitable, but if you’re remembering the bad old days when smart security software could cause Windows to slow down to a crawl, relax.
Today’s packages use efficient techniques such as giving applications a thorough scan at the point of installation, rather than waiting until you want to use them.
It also helps that modern computers have multiple CPU cores and fast SSD storage that doesn’t stutter every time your antivirus software wakes up for a scan.
This doesn’t mean that the effect won’t ever be noticeable – as we note in our reviews, a key point of distinction, between different security packages is their impact on system performance – but even in the worst case, it won’t make your computer unusable.
If you’re currently relying on Windows’ built-in defenses, you might even find that switching to a third-party security suite makes your PC feel insecure because Windows Defender is one of the slower options around.
3. Antivirus or security suite?
Many security packages come in a bewildering array of editions. beginning with straightforward antivirus scanners and moving up to more comprehensive packages that might include backup and VPN capabilities. And if you’re looking at a free security product, there’s almost certainly a paid-for version that unlocks extra features.
Which edition should you choose?
A mid-tier internet security suite is likely to come with some useful extra features that expand on the basic anti-malware provision, such as safe browsers and parental controls – and that’s the sort of package we’ve focused on in this month’s Labs.
You will find a breakdown of what’s included in each suite in our feature table overleaf, and in each review, we discuss exactly how useful these extra features are.
While you might be tempted to move up to a premium suite, these often include make-weight additions such as secure deletion utilities and tune-up tools that do little or nothing to protect you from real threats.
However, each publisher offers a different spread of features at various price points, so if the standard Internet security suite doesn’t tick all your boxes it’s well worth checking out the alternatives.
4. Do false positives matter?
This month’s security products have all been tested against a huge variety of real-world threats – but that’s only half the story. After all, you could achieve a 100% protection rating by never allowing anything to run, regardless of whether it was safe or not.
That’s where the false-positive test comes in. Both of the testing organizations featured in this lab (see below) also scan a large number of harmless programs and websites to check that the security software correctly gives the green light. It’s rare for a product to get a perfect score here and that’s understandable.
If there’s any doubt as to whether an app or website is safe, developers will naturally err on the side of caution. There’s not much point insisting on a perfect false positive record, therefore, but what we will say is this if you have to repeatedly override warnings from your security software then, sooner or later,
you’re in danger of mistakenly unblocking something that should have remained blocked. For technically-advanced users, that might not be much of a concern, but if you’re not so experienced then we would recommend you look for smart security software with a low false-positive rate.
“Sometimes a publisher’s website will show one price, while third-party retailers offer the same product for less”
5. How do I get the best deal?
If you want to save money then obviously one option is to go for a free security solution – although prepare yourself for an advertisement avalanche, as the publishers will seek to persuade you to upgrade to one of their paid-for products. If you opt for a commercial suite, it can pay to shop around.
Sometimes a publisher’s website will show one price, while third-party retailers offer the same product for less: the prices are shown on our feature table overleaf represent the best deals we’ve been able to find at the time of writing. (And, for transparency, we should say that the PC Pro store is often that choice due to the deals we can negotiate.)
Remember, though, that the up-front price normally only covers your first year of service. When that runs out, it may be automatically renewed for a second year at a higher rate. Keep an eye out for an option to disable auto-renewal when you make the initial purchase, or cancel it as soon as you have the opportunity.
If you want to stick with the same product for another year, you can simply allow your existing license to expire and buy a new one when the time comes. Also consider buying a two-year deal, as this can save money.
6. Should I look for a “2020” suite?
It used to be standard practice for security vendors to release a new edition of their software every year and to brand it accordingly. Nowadays most have switched to the Windows 10 model. whereby the base product receives periodic updates but keeps a consistent name.
This means you don’t need to worry about seeking out the latest version of your chosen security suite. Indeed, it opens up a potential way to save money: shop around and you can often find retailers selling off boxed copies from a year or two ago at reduced prices. As soon as you launch the installer, you’ll find that the latest features and signatures are downloaded, Just as if you’d bought the current edition.
7. Are My Passwords Safe?
Hackers love to steal usernames and passwords from online services. If you’re using the same passwords across multiple sites, a single breach could leave you massively exposed. Unfortunately, smart security software can’t help you here, because it all happens remotely.
Consequently, your best defense is to set a different password for every site you use – but it’s hardly feasible to remember unique credentials for each site. The solution is to use a password manager, and many suites include a browser extension that will store and enter your login details for each site.
Be wary, though: such tools may require an additional subscription, or they may only remain fully functional for as long as the security suite itself is licensed. After that, extracting your passwords and importing them into a different manager can be a tiresome and fiddly process.
Your best solution, therefore, might turn out to be to ignore the password manager that’s included with your security suite and instead use the one that’s built into your browser. Alternatively, check out a third-party option such as LastPass (lastpass.com), whose cross-platform service is free for a single user.
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