Is it worth paying for a premium security suite?
Most security software vendors offer a range of products at different prices. The basic antivirus program will do the all-important job of scanning for malware, but probably not much else. The “Internet Security” suite will add extra features, such as tools to protect your privacy online. In many cases, there’s also a top tier that adds features such as online backup or companion apps.
It’s also worth noting that most publishers like to brand their products with a year, and they can be quite aggressive about the timing: in some cases, the 2017 packages have been out for months. But this doesn’t normally affect your licence: a 2016 subscription will often entitle you to step up to the latest version of the software whenever it becomes available.
Do I need a standalone firewall?
It used to be the case that every security suite worth its salt would include a firewall, to keep out intruders, and to identify and block dodgy software that tries to “phone home”. Nowadays, Windows comes with a very capable firewall of its own, and it’s quite common for the developers of security suites to leave this in place, rather than providing their own.
Advanced users, who feel at home customising network rules, may prefer a bespoke firewall – but unless you fall into that category we’d suggest that the Windows firewall is likely to provide the protection you need.
Do I need protection while I’m browsing the web?
One of the easiest ways to get infected by malware is to inadvertently visit a dodgy website. Some sites are deliberately designed to spread malware disguised as desirable downloads – so-called trojan attacks. Your security suite might well include a browser plugin that automatically blacklists such sites, so you can’t end up downloading something nasty by accident.
What’s harder to defend against is when a legitimate site is hacked, and starts serving up “drive-by downloads” to visitors. A good security suite will actively scan every web page you visit and every file that comes down the line, to ensure that attacks are spotted and intercepted before they can do any harm – although this has an inevitable impact on performance.
Why do some suites come with a standalone “safe browser”?
Web security is especially important on banking and shopping sites: if someone managed to hijack your transactions here, they could steal your financial details and cause very serious trouble. Some suites include an entire separate browser for use on such sites, that’s specifically engineered to shut out potential hackers.
Normally, a safe browser won’t support extensions at all, and will insist on encrypted connections. It may run in a sandbox or elevated environment to prevent other running processes from spying on what it’s doing. You can normally configure your security software to automatically switch from your regular browser to the safe one when you visit specific sites, for an effortless security boost when it’s needed.
How does email protection work?
As well as monitoring web page content, most security suites will also inspect incoming and outgoing email messages for dodgy attachments, or “phishing” links.
However, your security software can only examine messages that are stored on your PC, through a client like Outlook or Windows Mail. If you use Gmail or Hotmail, your security software has no way of looking inside attachments to see that they’re safe. Don’t worry too much about this, though: the very fact that attachments are stored in the cloud, rather than on your PC, makes it hard for malware to spread this way. Just don’t click on any unfamiliar links.
And what about protection for my phone and tablet?
Security experts have been warning for years that smartphones and tablets are just as vulnerable to malware attacks as computers, and many security suites are partnered by apps for Android and iOS – both free and paid-for.
Android is by far the bigger market, as its much more open architecture makes it easier for malware to spread. Offerings for iOS tend to be more limited, because the much stricter security model makes it very hard for both malware and security software to operate. If you like the cross-platform approach, it’s worth considering a suite that comes with a suitable companion app.
This feature is based on an article that originally appeared at alphr.com.