Advertising: Much like a free app making its fortune with in-app purchases, the free antivirus software will push for payment. Expect popup boxes pestering you to sign up to the paid version at least daily. Some free options will also try to change your browser home page and default search engine, an inconvenience you may be stuck with. Paid options are more respectful and largely invisible unless they’ve detected a problem.
Effectiveness: It’s fair to expect your antivirus to detect malware, and testing showed that in a head-to-head battle free and paid are about equal at catching known infections. And therein lies the kicker: generally speaking, free antivirus needs to have recorded a virus to its library before it can detect it. Paid antivirus is more likely to identify and stop a new virus. It essentially bases the detection on suspicious behavior, source and attributes, a far more effective method of detection.
Features: Free antivirus options are usually created from the paid version, taking out everything except the bare minimum. In your paid version, you can expect advanced features like spam filters, firewalls, parental controls and secure web browsing. Some paid antivirus will also update your other software packages, forming a more secure protection against attacks. For example, you might view a malicious image file that takes advantage of an exploit in your PDF software. Unfortunately, hackers have advanced beyond simple tactics and it’s not just about avoiding email attachments anymore.
Support: Free antivirus options are the most popular choice because they’re… free. Obviously. This also means there’s generally no support available. If there’s a problem or conflict with another program, you may find yourself without protection until it can be resolved. Paid antivirus options usually include telephone support, ready to help with problems ranging from installation to system diagnostics.
Ease of use: Depending on what you use your computer for, this may be an important concern. Free antivirus options are easy to install and use but are very limited in their flexibility. They come as-is, meaning you can’t pick and choose what it monitors or how it reacts. For example, users occasionally find it necessary to disable ALL protections in order to install a network game. Paid versions are more likely to allow you to adapt the way it runs, switching features on and off as required.
Free antivirus is fine for very basic protection, those on a budget or those with an older PC. In these cases, something is always better than nothing. But we generally recommend you go with a paid antivirus to defend you from the new attacks that are released daily, and to ensure you’ve got solid protection that will make a real difference to your digital safety.