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Antivirus Software Features (continued)

Our research found that free antivirus programs offer the same basic malware protection as the paid versions sold by the same company, but the latter include extra features that throw up more barriers against a wider assortment of threats, such as phishing websites. All the cheap antivirus programs we researched include at least some extra protections.

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Even Ad-Aware Free casts a wide defensive net, which snares malware such as rootkits and keyloggers.

Firewall.

Having a firewall in place to protect against hackers and other attacks launched through the Internet is critical. McAfee Antivirus Plus is the one program we researched that includes a firewall as part of the package. Users must supplement the other software with a separate firewall for complete malware protection.

Antiphishing Capabilities.

Another major security concern involves phishing websites. These bogus websites are designed to look just like a legitimate site, such as the site for your bank or credit card company. The phishing site tries to trick you out of your personal information, like passwords or sensitive financial details, by getting you to use the phony site. The 2011 versions of cheap antivirus programs from McAfee, Kaspersky, and Bitdefender include antiphishing capabilities.

Email Protection.

Email is yet another source of PC vulnerability. All kinds of bad stuff can arrive in your inbox, including emails with tainted documents, virus-infested videos, emails with links to phishing sites, and who knows what else. Virus-protection programs, whether free or cheap, often feature at least some security measures to detect threats in your email before you open a message. The 2011 versions of Norton, Trend Micro Titanium, and Kaspersky are virus scanners that provide email protection.

IM Protection.

A handful of malware-protection programs can scan your IM/chat messages to make sure you don't receive a virus or bad links via your instant messaging software. This is not a common feature in antivirus software, and if you don't use an instant messaging program, it's one you can overlook. Regardless whether your virus-protection software scans your instant messages or not, always regard any files, downloads, or web links in an instant message with a great deal of suspicion, especially if an IM comes from someone you don't know. Norton Antivirus, AVG Anti-Virus (starting at $20 for up to three licenses), and Panda Antivirus Pro (starting at $40) can protect your PC while you chat or use IM programs.

Keylogger Protection.

Keyloggers are another potential threat to PC security. A keylogger records the keystrokes you make on the keyboard and sends that information to the person who planted the keylogger. Keyloggers can snag sensitive information, such as passwords, bank login information, and other data, even as you type it. They aren't as common as other types of malware, and many virus-scanning programs don't guard against such attacks even though they're a legitimate security concern. Two of the malware-protection programs on our list, however, do; Ad-Aware Free is one. Kaspersky Lab Anti-Virus is the other; it features a "virtual keyboard" that appears onscreen (click on the appropriate letters and symbols with your mouse) and prevents keyloggers from snagging your keyboard keystrokes -- and you.

Review continues below

Rootkit Detection.

Are we out of the woods yet? Not quite. A few security threats remain that you may decide to defend against. One of the most potentially dangerous is a rootkit. This is a program lurking in your PC that can give an intruder complete access to your system, letting the attacker steal passwords or personal data, or simply take control of your PC. Rootkits can be very hard to detect and remove, but some internet protection programs include software that can sniff them out. Ad-Aware Free, Norton Antivirus, and Kaspersky Lab Anti-Virus include rootkit detection.

by Michael Sweet (Google+ Profile)

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