Almost every server and workstation uses antivirus protection — at this point, it's an industry standard for network security.
Because everyone is using it, it has become a large and very competetive marketplace that has resulted in many products, both paid and free. Almost every free offering is offered up as a loss leader by a company with a paid offering. With that knowledge, it's easy to assume that the free version would work just as well—after all, it's developed by the same people. Right?
Wrong. The free versions are always less effective than their paid counterparts in a head to head comparison for a variety of reasons.
To understand these reasons, however, we need to remember that antivirus isn't just preventative — it also works on viruses after they run, and provides network security measures for dealing with the aftermath. No antivirus solution can catch everything, but the good ones make sure your PC or server is equipped to handle it when it comes.
7 Reasons Paid Antivirus is Better than Free for Network Security:
- Active Virus Protection
Paid antivirus includes an active virus protection that catches viruses as they are starting to run. Free products rely almost entirely on scheduled scans and may not catch an active virus infection for a week or more, depending on when your system is able to run a whole virus scan.
- Extra Layer of Security
Ever seen one of those pop-ups asking you if you want to allow your new web connector to communicate with the Internet? That's because your paid antivirus likely incorporates an easy-to-use firewall that adds an extra layer of security. This will be regularly updated by the antivirus provider with an understanding of the threats that are currently cropping up around the world. Because of these updates, it can intelligently categorize new firewall exceptions automatically, or provide insight to help you modify your firewall settings. Free antivirus doesn't include this feature.
- System Maintenance Tools
Are you dealing with a slow computer? Even if the performance isn't related to a virus, paid antivirus often includes automatic system maintenance and cleanup tools that help to keep your system running optimally.
- Backup Solutions
What about when a virus gets through? Even paid antivirus can't catch everything. There is little any antivirus can do when a new virus is launched from an email by a user and all of their files are encrypted within a few minutes. In situations like this, the best defense against potential threats is having backups that you can restore easily and that are being performed and monitored automatically. Professional-grade antivirus is typically paired with or even includes a backup solution, making sure there are more layers of network security than just catching everything the first time.
- Spam Email Filtering
While we're talking about email, remember that paid antivirus will often scan your emails as they come in to your email program, as well as provide a certain amount of spam filtering. Free antivirus usually doesn't include these features.
- Tech Support
With paid antivirus, you aren't left to your own devices. Paid antivirus programs will often include a certain amount of tech support. This support can come in very handy when trying to remove persistent viruses or resolve installation problems and incompatibilities.
- Internet Security
Web filtering, too? Paid antivirus will often assist your web browser in identifying suspicious and known bad sites, to keep you from accidentally going to a site that would compromise your security. This risk is much more prevalent than most people realize, as there are many legitimate sites that have been infected themselves and are automatically attempting to infect visitors to the site. Most visitors are then infected through no fault or action of their own.
If paid antivirus is so much better, why do free solutions even exist?
- The free product is often a way to capture a slice of the mindshare of the general public and give them a peek into how their product works. In many ways this is a functional demo that is provided in the hopes that the user will upgrade. It almost always comes with built-in advertisements for the paid version.
- The release of a free product influences the ecosystem of antivirus in general and can effectively set the bar higher and higher for other companies in terms of system performance, effectiveness, user interface design, managability, and user satisfaction. Users who like the free product are more likely to recommend it to others as they see one product pulling ahead of others in the marketplace.
- Free products are also very useful as second-opinion scanners that often catch something that another company's paid antivirus will miss. While you can only install one paid active antivirus package, you can install any number of free scanners that are well worth running every once in a while, especially if your paid antivirus catches something. Only so many infections are completely caught and handled by one product, even paid products.
The approach we take with our clients is to provide a high-end paid antivirus solution that includes backups, spam filtering, and web monitoring. We supplement this with regular second opinion scans from free antivirus programs.
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