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What’s the Best Anti-Malware Tool to Keep Me Safe?

This is a very old question, and it (and its variants) continues to be asked frequently.

As time has progressed and software has matured, the answer has changed in some fundamental ways. a discussion that once included anti-virus software, anti-spyware tools, and pop-up blockers has morphed into a simpler response.

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From many, one

In years past, we had two classes of issues to deal with:

  • Viruses: software that attempts to damage or destroy computers and data, as well as replicate itself to other computers
  • Spyware: software that attempts to be stealthy, perhaps collecting data or altering your interactions with your computer

There’s a high degree of overlap. In fact, there’s such a high degree of overlap that these days we rarely consider the difference, and refer to them both as “malware” — short for “malicious software”.

The same is true for the tools we use to stay safe. Where once we might have had an anti-virus tool and an anti-spyware tool, today we generally run “anti-malware” tools, or, perhaps more commonly, security suites from a single source that do both.

So the question got simpler: rather than wondering which of each we should be running, it all comes down to one: which one is best?

There’s no winner

Best Choice!Unfortunately, it’s become excruciatingly clear that there is no clear winner — there is no “one”.

There’s no single software package, no magical tool, free or paid, that will catch everything.

A person running a name-brand, respected security package on their machine can still get infected. Running a different name-brand package catches the infection and corrects it. Or perhaps it doesn’t, and yet a third one does. Or the third one reports the infection but doesn’t fix it — but it is fixed by yet another tool.

It’s unfortunate and confusing for the average user. And most certainly frustrating.

I’ve referred to it as the nature of “the race”. Anti-malware tool vendors are constantly playing a game of catch-up in a race against the bad guys creating new malware. Some days, tool “A” is the closest, and some days it’s tool “B” — but the bad guys are, by definition, always in the lead.

Steps to take

So what’s a poor user to do? What package should you use?

In a way, and within reason, I’m not sure it matters. As long as you pick a reputable brand and purchase or download it from a reputable source, you’re probably in pretty good shape.

My recommendation for Windows 10 remains Windows Defender, but if you feel otherwise, there are plenty of other good solutions to choose from.

Rather than choosing based on the latest head-to-head comparisons, which a) are rarely accurate and b) are quickly out of date, most people make choices on more practical matters, like whether the software has annoying upsells, adversely impacts their system performance, or how much it costs (free, a one-time purchase, or an ongoing subscription).

Pop-ups

The original version of this article also discussed pop-ups. We used to require additional tools or add-ons to block annoying pop-up ads presented by websites. Fortunately, almost all the major web browsers have now incorporated pop-up blocking technology, and traditional pop-ups are almost a thing of the past.

Note that I said “traditional” pop-ups. Advertisers and website owners1 now use different technology to present something that looks and acts much like a pop-up window. In reality, it’s nothing more than a part of the page you’re looking at that’s been hidden. Once un-hidden, it appears to have had popped up.

Script blockers such as NoScript can help a lot, as can privacy tools like Privacy Badger. They work by preventing selected scripts from being loaded and or executed. The downside is that they can also cause websites to fail to function properly, which is why they allow you to specify exceptions.

You are the weakest link

No software can protect you from yourself. The most important thing you can do is know how to use the internet safely. It can be done — honest.

There’s more to staying safe than using a good anti-malware tool. These days, choosing that anti-malware tool might be the easiest part of the equation.

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Video Narration

Footnotes

1: Including me.

14 comments on “What’s the Best Anti-Malware Tool to Keep Me Safe?”

  1. ” it’s nothing more than a part of the page you’re looking at that’s been hidden”
    Aren’t many, if not most, pop-ups third party ads which are blocked by ad blockers?

    As for NoScript. When I used it, it was a bit of a pain at first, as I had to set an exception and reload the page for every page I wanted to allow Javascript for, but eventually, it became less of a hassle as the pages I visited regularly were all whitelisted.

  2. My favorite package is combination of Windows Defender+Malwarebytes Antimalware+Spybot S&D, if needs additional firewall – Zone Alarm.

  3. Leo keeps telling us that Windows Defender is the best protection and that has been the case for me since getting Windows 10 a few years ago when it was free.

    I use Firefox and duckduckgo and must use CCleaner when the computer bogs down. Otherwise, Windows 10 works as advertised.

  4. Please can you help me. I keep getting a message that I cannot install the latest windows update because I don’t have enough room
    Went to trouble shooter where I was advised to click ‘fix it,” followed instructions, got rid of excess baggage but still being told same
    It’s a lap top so can’t use CD disc and don’t have a key. Any advice would be greatly appreciated and do I really need the latest download?

  5. I have used Avira Antivirus for years, through Windows 98, XP, Vista and 7 and have nothing but praise for their program, which consistently earns high marks in tests and still runs on an old XP system. They also offer security addons and I use their Browser Safety and at times, VPN. Others addons are available. I usually use Firefox with uBlock Origin, HTTPS Everywhere and Disconnect as well as Avira Browser Safety. NoScript made browsing too difficult. If I am concerned, occasional use of Sandboxie completes my security plan. I also have Malwarebytes free version installed as an extra, on demand scanner for any suspect files. Touch wood, I have never had an infection.

  6. My wife and I both have used Malwarebytes (installed on two Mac’s by our computer repair shop), for many years with complete satisfaction.

  7. With the installation of Windows 10, I decided to purchase SpyHunter5 and received a piggyback program: “RegHunter”. I use both programs at the end of every week to ensure that my PC is running in tip top shape. Thus far, no issues to contend with, excellent customer support and easy to use.

    • SpyHunter is…..well:

      “In October 2016, Enigma Software filed a lawsuit against popular security software vendor, Malwarebytes. The lawsuit arose after Malwarebytes’ software began targeting SpyHunter as a potentially unwanted program. On November 7, 2017, Enigma’s case was dismissed by the US District Court.”
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SpyHunter_(software)

      It’s certainly not a product I’d ever even consider using.

  8. I want to install windows 10 on pc that has widows 7 on it. I am going to format the drive because it will not let me install as an upgrade… my question is are the pc sites that sell windows 10 for $40 or so ok to buy?

      • I’ve seen OEM versions selling at that price. Not sure of the legality but they sometimes work. If you do decide to get it, Amazon or eBay might be your best bet as they have fairly reliable rating systems. Be sure the seller has hundreds of sales and a rating in the high 90%s.

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