Free antivirus software: Should you rely on them for your business?

Free antivirus software: Should you rely on them for your business?

The year 2020 saw a significant increase in cyberthreats like COVID-19-themed phishing scams and malware attacks. In fact, a malware aptly named “coronavirus” was discovered last April making hard disks unusable by overwriting a computer’s master boot record. There’s also the dangers of ransomware, which could not only force businesses to pay cybercriminals a steep amount of money, but also close down for good.

Using antivirus software is essential in keeping your business's IT systems protected from malware. Antivirus software is available in two versions: free or paid. While small- and medium-sized businesses may go for the free version to save on costs, they may not realize the downsides this decision, such as:

1. Less powerful features

Free antivirus programs only come with a few basic features, such as detection and removal of common malware and internet threats. They usually do not offer phishing protection, advanced firewalls, multi-device support, and identity protection, among others. And at a time when data breaches are becoming more common, not having these features can be harmful to businesses.

2. Slow scans

Antivirus programs consume a portion of a computer’s RAM while running, and may use even more during virus scans. If you often use your PC for resource-intensive tasks such as video rendering, CPU folding, and spreadsheets, your antivirus may slow down your system and make your computer difficult to use.

What’s more, a PCWorld report has shown that some free antivirus software may scan for and detect malware more slowly than their paid counterparts. This is a crucial factor to consider for businesses that prefer a faster and more efficient malware protection.

3. Data collection

Antivirus makers have to make money off of their free software, so they collect user data and sell them to third parties.

In fact, popular antivirus firm Avast was caught earlier this year recording users’ online behavior, which included browsing history, searches, and clicks. While the company stated that the collected data was “fully de-identified and aggregated,” a joint investigation by PCMag and Motherboard found that the information can be picked apart and linked back to individual users of the antivirus software.

4. Targeted ads

Third parties can use user data sold to them to create targeted ads. This means that if you've searched for computer parts, you are likely to see ads related to that search.

While targeted ads may be helpful for some, they are controversial because of potential privacy invasion issues. Data collection and targeted ads are also a security risk for businesses, as the harvested information could be used for data theft.

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5. Bloatware

The addition of bloatware is another shady practice that antivirus firms do for monetary gain. When installing a free antivirus, the installer would ask the user if they want to install additional software, such as browsers and web toolbars. This option may be enabled automatically, so users who don’t read the fine print may find that unwanted programs are installed aside from the antivirus software. Bloatware may also change your preferred homepage and search engine to generate even more money for the antivirus firm and its affiliates.

6. Poor customer service

Paid antivirus software users get better customer support than those using the free version. If manufacturers of free antivirus do offer support, it is only limited to forums, knowledge bases, and basic troubleshooting.

What antivirus should your business use?

Your organization should go for a paid antivirus program, as it offers more features that can better protect your IT systems from malware, phishing, and other cyberthreats.

An application sandbox feature, for example, lets you run suspicious applications without the risk of damaging your computer. Ransomware protection can also prevent your files from getting encrypted in case one of your employees opens a malicious file. Some paid antivirus programs also provide protection for mobile devices.

That said, your business’s malware protection shouldn’t entirely rely on an antivirus program. Cybersecurity is also about educating your employees about staying safe online, as human error plays a significant part in data breaches. Teach your staff to refrain from opening links and email attachments they don’t recognize, and to stay away from potentially dangerous websites. You can also simulate a malware attack to see how your employees would react. Reward those who perform well, and provide a refresher course to those who struggled with the exercise.

Maximize your protection from cyberthreats by partnering with INFINIT Consulting. We will provide you with proprietary, intelligent technology that improves threat management efficacy while minimizing risk for your business along the way. To learn more about our services, schedule a FREE meeting with us today!

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