In the article “How to protect your computers against viruses and malware” I discussed the threat to computer users of malicious software designed to inconvenience them, obtain their sensitive information by trickery, extort money from them and/or gain control over their computers.

The first line of defence against these software threats is programs which are designed to protect the user’s PC against attempts to install malware on them. These mostly started out in life as antivirus programs, capable of detecting and removing huge numbers of different viruses, but they have evolved into more complete security packages designed to protect against other threats as well.

Keep it Updated

Protective programs evolve on a regular basis, sometimes even from day to day, as new threats are found and the developers add defences against those threats to their software. The first advice, given the constantly changing threat environment, is that computer users, particularly those using PCs, need to use a program to protect them against malware and not only that, to keep it updated.

There is a huge variety of antivirus/security packages available on the market including some paid and some free. There are many different opinions about which the top five packages are but the ones I have chosen, occur on most lists.

They are ESET Smart Security, Bit Defender Pro, Kaspersky Internet Security, Microsoft Security Essentials, and Norton Internet Security.

1. ESET Smart Security 4

ESET Smart Security 4 incorporates protection against viruses, spam and spyware and includes a personal firewall as well. The package requires the payment of a yearly subscription and they also offer the NOD32 Antivirus package that deals solely with viruses.

2. BitDefender Internet Security 2011

BitDefender Internet Security offers a full suite programs for protecting against all malware threats and has, in addition, a firewall to protect your network, and monitor children’s online activities. The standard subscription allows you to install the software on up to three PCs.

3. Kaspersky Internet Security 2012

Kaspersky Internet Security is the latest version of the well-regarded package which also provides full protection against threats including, they claim, as yet undiscovered ones. It also includes a firewall for protecting the network. The package is available on subscription and there is a cheaper antivirus-only package as well.

4. Microsoft Security Essentials

Microsoft Security Essentials is a free solution provided by Microsoft to all users of the Windows operating system. It can be downloaded from the Microsoft website and is quick and easy to install. It automatically updates itself each day with program improvements and the signatures of new malware threats which have been detected. Security Essentials protects the system against viruses, spyware and other malware.

5. Norton Internet Security  2011

Norton Internet Security  2011 protects against the full range of threats and includes parental controls and malware signature updates delivered every 15 minutes. They also have a product called Norton 360 which incorporates malware protection and PC tune-up utilities, backup software and online file storage space for backups. There is  an antivirus-only package available as well.

Using antivirus or security software is definitely a vital first step in defending against the constant threat of malware but it is not enough in itself. The threat is so serious and the malware originators so ingenious, that a multi-layered defence is an absolute requirement. This includes keeping your Internet browser and operating system right up to date, having security software in place and being on the lookout for attempts to trick you into running programs that install malware on your computer. I have no doubt that all the listed products are effective anti-malware tools as long as they are kept up-to-date.