Anti-virus software has improved dramatically over the last decade. Severe disruptions from viruses and malware, affecting many thousands of computers, were frequent occurrences. Such things now seem to be a rarity. Newer versions of email programs, particularly Microsoft Outlook, once a primary carrier for viruses, are much safer and less likely to spread viruses.
Infections still occur. Old viruses are out there, and new ones are created all the time. The consequences of getting one can be minor, usually just wasting time to clean it up. It can also be very costly, resulting in lost data, stolen passwords, sensitive files, or personal information like credit card or social security numbers.
Many new PCs arrive with anti-virus software already installed. Norton Anti-Virus seems to be a favorite of the PC manufacturers. Unfortunately, in my experience, Norton, once one of the best programs for defending your PC against infections, is now one of the worst. McAfee is similarly quite poor.
I routinely recommend AVG and AVG Free by Grisoft. I’ve been using them both for several years, and they have never failed to protect any machine I have installed them on. AVG (the subscription version) has more features, but for the average user, AVG Free is perfectly adequate. It is reliable, doesn’t tax your PC’s memory or CPU as much as many of the big name programs, and it is effective.
In the last six months, I have helped clean-up three PCs that became infected with severe viruses. Two were running an up-to-date, paid subscription version of Norton. A third was running McAfee. Neither of these programs detected the problem. In one case, the infected PC could barely function because the infection was so widespread. And Norton still couldn’t detect a problem. In all three cases, AVG or AVG Free cleaned up the problem quickly and easily.
Even if you have a current, paid subscription for Norton or McAfee, consider abandoning the subscription in favor of AVG Free. It seems illogical that a free program would outperform leading commercial software, but it does.
AVG and AVG Free can be found here: AVG and AVG Free by Grisoft
Let me end by saying that it’s not enough to install a good anti-virus program. The most common way to get a computer virus these days is to invite one in. For example: Someone you trust sends you an email with an attachment, you open it, and a virus in the attachment infects your PC. A good anti-virus program will catch this 99.9% of the time, but if it’s a new virus, it may not be recognized. Another example is downloading files from non-trusted sources. File sharing services and sites like Facebook and MySpace are notorious for serving up viruses for the unwary and the unprotected. You need to be cautious about what you download! If the source cannot be trusted, don’t download from it!