Antivirus or not to Antivirus?

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Headlines reporting the latest computer viruses are common to the point of blasé these days, and experts estimate the most widespread attacks—including the recent MyDoom virus—can account for one e-mail in every sixteen. Defensive computing—arming oneself against the hackers of the world—is not longer something reserved for the tech-savvy. These days, experts say everyone needs antivirus software. What's more, computer users need to be pro-active against hackers and spammers, actually modifying one's computing behavior to dodge infection.

These destructive viruses earn front-page coverage in mainstream newspapers and magazines, but for the purposes of this report, we were more impressed with the methodical, comparative reviews of antivirus software packages conducted by less glamorous sources like PC World, Smart Computing and PC Magazine. We found that the magazine PC World, in particular, is relentless in its testing, bombarding each program with over 250 known viruses, and (along with AV-Test.org) pits each title against 23,000 "zoo" viruses—which include old viruses, bits of malevolent code and Trojan horses—recording detection results and false positive readings. We checked Consumer Reports but that magazine has not tested antivirus software.

Since our last update to our antivirus software report, two titles appear to run neck-and-neck with Symantec's Norton AntiVirus 2004 (*est. $50), featured in our last report: Network Associates' McAfee VirusScan 2004 (*est. $50) and Trend Micro PC-cillin Internet Security 2004 (*est. $50). While Norton AV and McAfee represent the most well known choices—and both are excellent, according to reviewers—PC-cillin has some standout features, including a bundled firewall (protecting your Internet connection from hackers and would-be identity thieves), a spyware-detection application and a spam filter. Even more, Trend Micro offers one year of free phone support. Phone help through either Norton or McAfee costs between $30 and $40 per incident (although McAfee does offer free online chat help).

Other titles don't get the same reverence reviewers devote to Norton AV, McAfee VirusScan and PC-cillin. Norman Virus Control (*est. $60) has "an interface only a techie could love," according to PC Magazine. If you are an expert and relish tweaking each aspect of virus protection, reviewers say you'll like Norman. Most home users, however, will appreciate the "set and forget" features of Norton, PC-cillin and McAfee. Reviewers have similar comments about F-Secure Anti-Virus 2004, which also has an impressive virus-detection record. PC Magazine says the F-Secure manual is too sparse for novices, but will suit tech-savvy types with lots of settings and options.

Panda Antivius Titanium (*est. $40) is "more intrusive and clunky than most alternatives," says Computer Power User. Panda is a favorite of About.com's reviewer Mary Landesman, who ultimately makes PC-cillin her top pick.
Compared to PC-cillin, Computer Associates eTrust EZ Antivirus is a bargain at $20. However, experts say this product isn't as robust as its more expensive competitors. Editors at Computer Power User say eTrust EZ may be a good choice for those who have older computers, since this program's small file size will be less-taxing on slower computers.

-DSI Staff

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