Choosing Malware Protection

Viruses, worms, and spyware are ever present.   Protection is essential, but it is difficult to make sense of all the various products.  Over the last six years, I have tried several: Norton, McAfee, MS Security Essentials, Zone Alarm, and AVG.  Last month I switched to Webroot Secure Anywhere.

Before settling on a security suite, I try to read reviews and visit forums looking for praises or complaints. On average, each system has it supporters and detractors. Ultimately, I have used reviews from CNET, InfoWorld, PC Magazine and a few other places to make the final decision. Currently, I am trying out Webroot on my Windows 7 laptops and Microsoft Security Essentials (MSEE) on my aging Windows XP Desktop. Here are my experiences with the above products.

For years, Norton security products were all I used. Occasionally, I still use the online scanner. However, seven years ago, I ran into problems with Norton on two different XP systems (a desktop and a notebook). On both systems, the software would give warnings that an infection was present. Running detailed scans that took hours never turned up anything. The warnings would then increase over the next few days, and finally, the computer would hang. This happened twice about six months apart on the desktop. The first time, I had to repair the XP installation; the second time, I had to rebuild the entire system.  I never did find an explanation for the odd behavior. I used online scanning tools to look for viruses both times, and they did not detect anything either–go figure. ( BTW, the notebook hard drive crashed making the Norton issues moot.)

McAfee seemed to work well. However, when it was time to renew the subscription, Zone Alarm caught my eye and I switched four systems to it. Zone Alarm worked like a charm. It was fast and allowed fine-tuning of all settings. I found the company easy to deal with the few times I had questions about possible infections or licenses. Windows 7 was the undoing of Zone Alarm. My HP notebooks had only 1 GB of RAM installed–and, on Windows 7, Zone Alarm required 2 GB of RAM. Unwilling to buy memory to feed anti-virus software, I switched to MSEE and the free version of AVG. AVG lost out to MSSE due to laziness, nothing more. MSEE was on the computers I used most often, and I became more comfortable with it.

MS Security Essentials is free, which is always attractive. Reviews deemed it to be about average in terms of protective capability. After two years of use, I have only two complaints. On my XP Desktop, it causes issues with the operating system’s validation.   Occasionally, I receive a message telling me to verify that I have a genuine copy of Windows XP—irritating, but not a deal-breaker. The software is fast and easy to use, but lacks Zone Alarm’s configuration options, which I really miss. I decided to go back to a more full-featured security suite, and went with Webroot Secure Anywhere.

After a month of use, I am impressed. Scanning is fast and unobtrusive. Reviews consistently rank it as one of the best systems at detecting threats. It takes up only a few megabytes of disk space (yes, megabytes) because WebRoot is a cloud-based system. In addition, numerous configuration options permit fine-grained control of features from a well-designed, easy-to-use interface. No security suite is perfect, but I think I’ve found a winner.



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