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Free AV/AM software is 'adequate': Which? report

Free anti-virus and anti-malware software are enough to deal with the threat from Web-borne viruses and malware, according to tests by Which? Computing.

The consumer watchdog publication connected five PCs to the Internet for four weeks, and none of them became infected by anything, it reports. The test rig comprised:

  • Computer 1 ran Windows 7, Internet Explorer 8, Windows 7's (two-way) firewall and Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE). It was also, effectively, protected behind a hardware firewall.
  • Computer 2 ran Windows XP, Internet Explorer 8, Windows XP's built-in (one-way) firewall and MSE; and was also behind a hardware firewall.
  • Computer 3 ran Windows 7 (and its firewall) with Symantec's Norton Antivirus 2011 with Antispyware (Norton 2011), and was behind a firewall.
  • Computer 4 ran Windows XP with no antivirus software, but was still behind a hardware firewall.
  • Computer 5 did not have a firewall and was broadcasting its IP address. This ran Windows 7 with Windows Security Essentials and the Windows 7 firewall.

For an hour a day over four weeks, a 'computer expert' used each machine to visit a list of 22 'reputable' websites, ranging from to Towards the second half of the fourth week, the tester went to file-sharing, bit-torrent sites, and found many infected files. The PCs weren't overloaded with security software, Which? Computer says: "One was such an easy target for would-be attackers it was practically saying 'come and get me'".

Computer security remains a genuine concern for many people: 57 per cent of people surveyed*** by Which? Computing (in October 2010) 'worry about their computer being attacked by viruses and other threats'; a further 62 per cent are worried about Internet security, a concern that apparently prevents 49 per cent of them from using online banking services, deters 33 per cent from shopping online, and 25 per cent from using social networking sites.

While Which? Computer is not discounting the existence or risks caused by online threats, it does suggest that 'supplied operating systems, free security software… and a common sense approach to computer use, offer adequate protection'.

"There are scammers out there looking to attack your computer, [but] you're safer than you may think online - as long as you're adequately protected," commented Which? Chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith. "You don't have to pay a penny for this protection either."

Cheekily, Which? Computing quoted malware emergence figures from paid-security software firm Sophos to inform its assessment of the online risk landscape.

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