Beware: Free Antivirus Isn’t Free Anymore

Alex Patel

Feb 12 2018

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The internet is sort of like the minesweeper game we all played at one point in our lives. You never know which move you make might end up in your defeat. The difference here is that defeat means your identity could be stolen, your system might be infected, or your files may be locked or deleted. But that’s not all. In today’s time, you also have to look at your digital footprint.

Governments and global corporations try their level best to keep track of everything you do, and you will be stunned to realize just how they go about their business. One of those methods is through free antivirus.

What is an Antivirus and Why You Need One?

An Antivirus is a piece of security software that keeps your system safe from malicious programs. These can be malware, spyware, viruses, etc. Antivirus software has security features which either prevents these malicious programs from making a home in your system or detects them and rids your system of them as soon as possible if these malicious programs somehow bypass their defense. It is of great importance to keep your system clean of such programs.

Antivirus software, such as McAfee, routinely checks your system for malware or viruses. Modern antiviruses will warn you and prevent access to suspicious links and websites, preventing adware and malware from getting downloaded to your system. Antiviruses even have their own firewalls, which you can set up from their terminal, for added protection.

Advantages of Using an Antivirus

  1. You have a basic protection against online threats. Of course, no antivirus is completely impenetrable, but it’s better to have some protection rather than no protection at all. Good antivirus software ensures that you are protected from a wider spectrum of online threats, and have better security features such as storing your online passwords securely.
  2. You can remove viruses and malware from your system if you think something is wrong. Antiviruses can’t guarantee that no virus or malware will reach your system, but it does give you the tools to fight them and drive them out of your system.
  3. Routine checks can reveal malware or viruses. Identifying modern malware is not always that easy as it has fewer tell-tale signs of its presence and/or activity. If you have an antivirus and conduct routine scans, you are more likely to discover viruses and malware sitting in your system.
  4. You are protected from phishing scams because antiviruses block access to suspicious websites even if you click on the link you receive in a suspicious email by mistake. It’s a good option to have, in case you make even one slip-up.

What is Free Antivirus?

Antivirus software is a good place to start securing your system from online threats, but you can’t get the full service for free. You have to input a paid-for key for using all the features. However, there are free versions or trial versions of most antivirus software on the market today. These give you a feel of the software before you make the commitment to buy the licensed product. There are antiviruses which are completely free to use, although there are certain restrictions as to the capabilities of those software. We will discuss more about their limitations later.

How Free Antiviruses Make Money From You

Nothing is free in this world. Everything comes at a cost. If you think something is free, you just don’t always know how that service is making money off of you. It’s the same with “free” antivirus software. While it’s true that these software are free, in that they don’t charge you money up front, they make money on your expense nevertheless, and in ways that you wouldn’t really be comfortable with. These ways are with:

  1. Tracking

Free antivirus will do the spying for government and non-government organizations. They have access to your browsing activity and history, and they share this information with whoever wishes to buy it. If you think why anyone would want to pay for your browsing activity, you only have to think how it is that healthcare or insurance companies send you ads and offers to deal with your current medical or financial situation. Selling policies isn’t based on salesmanship; it’s based on your online activity.

  1. Toolbars

This is the most common problem with installing free antivirus software. Each of them comes with its own set of toolbars that bombard you with useless ads or redirect you to unwanted web pages. Some of these might even be malicious in nature. But mostly this free antivirus software installs toolbars that helps it generate revenue by redirecting you to specific websites and web pages.

  1. Search Engine Change

When you install a free antivirus, you don’t usually stop to check what each dialog box in the installation wizard is asking for. You just focus on clicking on ‘Next’ and ‘Install.’ Well, the chances are that you would have seen the change to your default search engine through this installation if you had paid more attention. Free antivirus sells search engines in this way, and these search engines could even be malicious in nature.

  1. Junkware

Ever wondered how come there are more icons on your desktop than you remembered some time ago? If you think carefully, you will recall having installed a free antivirus or free software some time ago. Free antivirus software installs junkware that occupies memory on your system and consumes valuable system resources. These apps could be passive, i.e., just sit and do nothing, or active, i.e., fight with other apps and services for system space.

Why you shouldn’t use free antivirus

While the side-effects of using free antivirus software were discussed in the section above, there are a few more reasons why you should not use most free antivirus software.

  1. Ads

When you use free antivirus software, you have to bear with seeing hundreds of ads every day. Whenever you want to get something done, along comes an ad on your browser that annoys and distracts you. The antivirus itself will show you ads for software and services you will probably never want. The ads won’t be malicious unless you have installed a free antivirus that is unheard of, in which case the antivirus itself could be malicious in nature. However, no one wants to be overwhelmed and pestered with ads.

  1. No Customer Support

You don’t often find customer support for free antivirus software. If you need help with something, you don’t have anywhere to go. There are instances when you might need help with customer support. If you are using the trial version of a recognized antivirus, you are unlikely to face this issue. However, if you are using a completely free antivirus or a pirated version of a proper antivirus, you cannot get customer support. So if you want help with issues like failed updates, or if you want to learn how to allow or block access to apps and websites, etc., you will pretty much have to figure things out yourself. You can get that done yourself, but the chance of a mishap is high.

  1. Clumsy Performance

If the antivirus is free, you are getting a pretty rundown version of a service. You will have been promised a lot, but you hardly get even half of the things. You don’t much mind that since you didn’t pay a penny. However, free antivirus software generally works inefficiently. Everything about them, including the speed and efficiency of their scanning, is unsatisfactory. The scanning might even take more resources than it needs. When you add that to the extra time your antivirus takes to scan for viruses, the time that your system’s performance suffers is increased. It is, no doubt, quite a major inconvenience to use a slow system.

  1. Your Data Is Shared

Free antivirus software can share your data with third-party businesses or servers. Your browsing history, as well as the data on your system, is at risk when you use free antivirus software. Information is the currency in this digital age, and global companies try their level best to get their hands on your personal data to sell you products you might want or need. If you think there’s nothing wrong with using your data in this manner, you might want to think again. You don’t want your healthcare provider to have access to your company’s files or your personal data now, do you?

  1. Lack of Protection

Your antivirus might be free to use, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to licensed antivirus software. You should not use free antivirus in general because they don’t give you the protection you want. Good antivirus software regularly updates in order to have the latest tools and list of known malware to scan for. Free antivirus software doesn’t have this feature. So, not only are they ill-equipped to deal with the latest threats you face, they don’t even know what the latest threats are. It’s not difficult to see why that’s such a big problem.

Free Antiviruses to Use

While it is not recommended to use free antivirus software, there are some which you can use. These antivirus software will give you decent protection from online threats, and won’t come with the additional toolbars, junkware, ads, or share your personal data.

  1. Avira Free Antivirus

Avira’s free antivirus is one of the best on the market. You get protection from a wide range of threats, including ransomware. Your privacy is never violated, and you get one of the most trusted protection services with a sleek user interface.

  1. Adaware Free

Adaware is one of the best antivirus software for preventing against adware, malware and viruses of all kinds. The free service they offer covers a general antivirus protection against threats. It scans downloaded files before you start using them, and, in real-time, scans files.

  1. ZoneAlarm

ZoneAlarm offers one of the best free antivirus services. You get antivirus and anti-spyware protection with ZoneAlarm, along with a firewall and identity protection services. With regular updates and protection against suspicious networks as well, you have a great free antivirus software.

  1. Panda Free Antivirus

This is another great antivirus service that offers a 1-month free trial. The antivirus software protects you from threats, helps you browse the web securely, and even lets you set parental locks and download files securely.

  1. Avast Free

Avast offers a free antivirus service which offers a comprehensive protection from all threats. You can browse the web securely, suspicious files will be sent to the cloud server for inspection automatically, and you also get access to Avast passwords service to store passwords securely.

  1. Comodo Free

Comodo’s free antivirus service is a good option if you want a free antivirus software. You get decent protection with this antivirus, though it is a little wanting when it comes to protection during web browsing.

Final Thought

Free antivirus software is rarely free these days. They don’t charge you money, so you think you’re not paying, but you’re actually paying more. Your activity, data, and identity are valuable commodities in today’s market. In addition to that, these antivirus software install useless apps and toolbars in your system quite frequently. Although there are a few good free antivirus software on the market, you should generally go for a paid antivirus service, because they give you the very best protection possible and don’t infringe on your privacy.

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