A common mindset is that in order to feel truly secure on a computer, you must use purchased software.  There is a sense of reliability and accountability that is expected from purchased software.  However, I have found several completely free programs that have kept my computers virus-free for years.

Here are my favorites:

  1. Anti-virus: AVG Free Antivirus Software: AVG provides both paid and free versions of their anti-virus software, but the free version has worked wonderfully for me over the past decade or so.  What I like best about it is that it doesn’t wait for you to get a virus—it blocks the virus when it tries to download into your system, warns you, then places it in quarantine, removing it from your system.  AVG also offers a browser add-on to enable safe browsing.
  2. Firewall: ZoneAlarm Free Firewall: Windows offers a free firewall, but for additional security, I have used ZoneAlarm.  A firewall makes your computer invisible to hackers and prevents spyware from sending your information to the internet.  One thing to note about this firewall is when you first start using it, you will receive a lot of notifications about sites.  This allows you to let it know if you trust these sites or not and the notifications go away quickly once you have noted the sites.  It runs quickly without slowing your computer down at all.
  3. Spyware Remover: Spybot Search & Destroy: Spybot is a great program to remove any spyware you may have inadvertently downloaded.  This often happens when you download shareware or programs that have additional programs included that you may not realize you agreed to download.  Run Spybot periodically to keep the database updated, to immunize your computer against attacks and to remove spyware from your computer.  They accept donations, but this is a completely free program.  A file shredder is also included to permanently delete sensitive files.

While paying for security software has added perks, such as increased functionality, full customer support and increased security, free programs can provide just as much.  It can be difficult to decide and trust a free program, so I wanted to share my positive experiences with these three programs.

Also, keep in mind that it is not wise to run more than one anti-virus program at a time—they often view each other as a virus.  When transitioning to a new anti-virus program, install the new one and make sure it is running, then remove the old program.  For extra precaution, it may be wise to disconnect from the internet while doing this to prevent any vulnerability.

As always, be cautious online when downloading files or opening attachments.  One of my most trusted sites to get software is CNET’s download.com.  Software downloads from that site have been tested for viruses and spyware and there are reviews to help you make educated decisions.

What software programs do you recommend?