When most people think of PC security they think of anti-malware or anti-virus software. Most of the time they also think of large, cumbersome programs that slow your system to a crawl, or several smaller programs they run on demand to try and clean up the system after damage is done. The good news is that there are lightweight, all-in-one solutions that work well when employed as part of a layered security structure.

First up is Windows Security Essentials (Windows 7) or Windows Defender (Windows 8 and later). It is part of your Windows operating system. If you use nothing else, use this. It is free, lightweight, and designed to meet the minimum security requirements. In any comparative test of anti-virus software it will probably come in last, but it is at least some protection. And it often beats the free or poor performing anti-virus.

A step above Microsoft’s minimal offering are the free anti-virus programs for personal use. I don’t include limited-time free trials in this category. The problem I have with most of these programs is that they often contain a type of malware: a PUP (potentially unwanted program) or monitoring software that tracks your behavior. Nothing is really free, and if you are not paying for a product then you are the product. In a recent survey (affiliate link) all but one free anti-virus program installed unwanted software or had serious security issues. Avast, Avira, AVG, Comodo, Panda and ZoneAlarm all presented at least one program you might not want. Only one of the top ten free antivirus packages didn’t spy on you or attempt to install PUPs: Bitdefender Free.

PUPs can ruin your browsing experience

None of these are suitable for a business, however, and the Terms of Service specifically prohibit their use for anything but personal use except for Comodo. But Comodo employs a “default deny” methodolgy that drives me nuts … you get a lot of “false positives” as it quarantines any file it doesn’t recognize, and sends the file up for review by several experts. In a business environment I think this is a very bad idea; your client’s information may be submitted this way if the file type isn’t recognized or the file contains sensitive customer or vendor information.

I use two independent testing agencies to try and cut through the noise of the marketing programs to find effective anti-virus. And you know what? The very best are only tenths of a point above the rest of the pack, which is to say most of the paid anti-virus packages do a very good job. The top spot is often 99.9% effective in tests, and the rest are from 98 to 99.4% effective. In a four layer defense system like I recommend any of these programs will work just fine.

Emsisoft’s AV-Test Scorecard

The two agencies I use are AV Comparatives and AV Test. You can look up your current anti-virus there and see how it does. Don’t be dismayed if your favorite program isn’t at the top of the list. Look at the “industry average” percentage on the AV Test charts and if your program is very close to that, there’s no need to change. AV Test also includes charts that tell you the impact the program will have on loading of programs, boot up, etc. Here’s a page for one of my favorite anti-malware packages, Emsisoft: AV-Test for Emsisoft (affiliate link). Scroll down for the impact information on loading programs, etc.

Based on my experience and the test results I’ve read, I like the commercial versions of Emsisoft Anti-Malware (affiliate link), Panda Software’s Small Business Protection (affiliate link) and F-Secure. F-Secure has been the top performer for the last few years, but is expensive for business use. I have used both of the former and find them very good. Panda’s free product asks you to install a toolbar, Yahoo search and a home page, but their commercial programs skip that step.

For business, I really recommend spending the money on a good, mainstream anti-virus program that will cost you from $20 to $40 a year. You can’t go wrong with any of the packages listed at AV Test that meet the industry average because you already employ free DNS filtering, free hardware monitoring, and you’re keeping your programs up to date at no cost.