The internet is a dangerous place. Even if you’re careful where you browse and what you download, one little mistake could result in your personal information being stolen or lost. But help is available: you can “hire” a full-time security guard for your computer. Security software is not expensive (especially compared to the costs of identity theft or a ransomware attack), there are even some free options, and the peace of mind can be priceless. All you have to do is decide what features are important to you.
Any security software you choose should detect and block or remove computer viruses and spyware (software that tracks your actions and steals information), and it should include a firewall to prevent unauthorized users from getting on your computer or network. It should also be easy to install and configure. You should be able to do it yourself, even if you don’t have mad technical skills. Beyond these necessities, different security software suites offer a number of features to choose from:
- Backup software, so you can save money and get two kinds of critical protection for one price
- Password managers to help you track and protect all your passwords
- Spam filters to help block bulk emails
- Parental controls to limit where your youngsters can browse
- Privacy tools to warn you if you browse to unsafe websites
- Coverage for multiple computers or mobile devices with a single license
Prices for security software range from free to around $80 for a suite loaded with different features. The tradeoffs tend to be ease of use and completeness of the protection. PC magazine does annual reviews of different types of security software. Paid security software is designed to be installed and managed easily, and those companies have whole teams updating the software to keep pace with the latest cyber threats. If you go with free software, you may need multiple products to provide different kinds of protection, and freeware is often maintained by volunteer programmers, so it may not provide up-to-the-minute defense against the latest threats. Also, check online reviews. Malware sometimes masquerades as security freeware. Some paid product vendors also have free versions that you can try out.
Once you have security software installed, you can connect with confidence. Your virtual guard should tell you if you’re about to visit a dodgy website and warn you if your computer is executing something it shouldn’t. If you’re in doubt, you can run a security scan to make sure your machine is clean. If you consider the stress of identity theft or the $200–$300 that a single ransomware attack can cost, even if you pay for security software, it’s a sweet deal.