So many choices.
- What criteria (aside from price) could (or should) you use in making one’s decision and security product selection?
- Would a bundled application (all defenses in one) be necessarily more effective than several standalone products?
- Finally, is there some location on the web where one could find truly valid, independent assessments/reviews of products out there today?
You ask several good questions I think many people share.
If we’re paying attention at all, we’re constantly getting told, “Protect your computer!”
Great. With what? There’s a ton of crap out there, to put it bluntly, so how should you decide what to buy?
I’ll tell you how I decide.
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Selecting tools to protect Windows
Unfortunately, there’s no single place to go for reviews and recommendations. Instead, you’re best served by becoming familiar with a number of online resources and developing a level of trust over time. While they rarely agree on which tools to use, you’ll see common product names, trends, and specific advice that may lead you to making better selections for yourself.
I’m going to take your questions in reverse order.
Is there some location on the web where one could find truly valid, independent assessments/reviews of products out there today?
I’m a huge believer in reputation.
By reputation, I don’t mean the products you see everywhere are the ones to use. Rather, I mean that when you do a little research, they are the products recommended by real people.
Unfortunately, I know of no single location I would turn to for that information. Rather, I look for commonality or trends across several sources from which to draw my own conclusions.
The data for your research can come from a variety of places. One is recommendations.
For example many, many years ago I chose my anti-virus solution based on a very simple recommendation: Microsoft’s. When I left the company in 2001, Computer Associates eTrust Anti-Virus was the Microsoft-internal anti-virus solution distributed to all employees for installation on company machines and with license (and even encouragement) to take home and install on machines that might connect remotely to the corporate network.
That seemed like a pretty strong endorsement at the time.
Research naturally also includes mainstream tech and PC publications, but many of those have decreased in value over time as they succumb to the need to prioritize clicks and revenue over objective evaluations. They’re still worth considering, but need to be taken with a certain amount of skepticism.
Product reviews posted on sites like Amazon are another good source of information. Unfortunately, since reviews can also be faked or even purchased, skepticism must be applied here too. Remember, no product ever gets 100% positive feedback — you can’t please everyone — so a product that has 100% approval is probably something I’d avoid. I look at the negative reviews to see if they’re about things I care about. Often they’re not.
There are thousands of websites on the internet that provide forums for discussion, and there you’ll often find strong opinions as well. Once again, the problem here is identifying those sites that are legitimate and not pushing an agenda of their own.
So if there’s no one place, and all the above (and others) won’t agree on what the best is, how do you decide?
I look for trends. If more people complain about product A than B across multiple sites and sources, then I lean towards product B.
Would a bundled application (all defenses in one) be necessarily more effective than several standalone products?
I used to strongly say no.
In the past, security suites generally had one strong component and several weak ones. The combination led to less-than-optimal security.
The industry has matured significantly since those days. Honestly, it’s difficult to find something that isn’t an all-encompassing suite these days. The mainstream tools all seem to fall into this category now, and are effective.
What criteria (aside from price) could (or should) you use in making one’s decision and product selection?
Reputation is number one in my book.
I also believe in sticking with popular and well-known brands. As you research, you’ll see the same names repeatedly. That’s a good thing. If, after seeing all those names again and again, you’re suddenly presented with some solution you’ve never heard of, it’s time for some heavy duty skepticism.
One thing many people overlook is support. As you do your research, visit support forums or other solutions for the products you’re evaluating. Don’t necessarily worry if the forum is full of complaints — people using the product successfully won’t have reason to visit. Instead, look for responses from product representatives. Are they there at all? Are people’s questions being addressed or at least responded to?
I’ll also add one dis-recommendation: if you suddenly find yourself faced with a pop-up that says something to the effect of “You’re infected, click here to download our product to fix it”, DON’T! Any kind of ad or pop-up that looks like a warning and directs you to a specific product or website is not to be trusted, as they usually lead to a scam.
Do your research or select a source whose research you trust.
In case that’s me, here are some directions I would send you:
- My ultimate answer to your question: What Security Software Do You Recommend?
- My most important article covering the bigger picture: Internet Safety: 7 Steps to Keeping Your Computer Safe on the Internet
- And perhaps the most useful tool of all: It Pays to Be Skeptical
And finally, subscribe to Confident Computing to get the latest advice on topics like this. Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.