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A Warning About
A Common Antivirus Scam

We printed this warning in our reviews of top adware and spyware blasters but it needs to be repeated here as well, because it applies to anti-virus software just as strongly.

Be extremely cautious if you're offered a supposedly free antivirus scan.

The way this scam works is that you download what you believe is a free antivirus program and install it. You then run the software and it informs you that your PC is infected by a variety of malware.

You then discover that what you thought was a free antivirus program isn't really free at all: only the scan was. You now have to pay the software company money to upgrade your download so that the "spyware", "adware" or "trojans" it supposedly found can be removed.

This scam is being run by a variety of shady people. And while some versions of it are little more than harmless time-wasters (ie you simply uninstall the downloaded scanner and get on with your life), some are genuinely malicious (ie the scanner proves extremely difficult to remove if you don't buy the upgrade and/or causes some damage to your machine).

The software we list here is all legitimate, comes from reputable companies and the truth of what we say can be easily verified by searching for these products on Google to see what the consensus view is.

We suggest you do the same if you run across any other supposedly free antivirus software or antivirus scanner (ie Google it and see what the majority of people say).

Other Antivirus Resources

Anti-Virus Software
Background: Antivirus software is a generic term used to describe a program that attempts to identify, neutralize and/or eliminate malicious software from your PC.

The earliest anti-virus programs were designed exclusively to fight computer viruses. But most modern antivirus software is now designed to combat a wide range of other threats including worms, phishing attacks, trojan horses and other malware.

Most antivirus software programs use a combination of two different techniques to accomplish this:
  • Examining files to look for known viruses that match definitions in a virus dictionary, which is usually updated on a regular basis by the antivirus manufacturer, and
  • Identifying suspicious behavior from any computer program which might indicate infection.

Typically, antivirus programs also do one (or more) of three things if a virus is found:
  • Attempt to repair the file by removing the virus
  • Quarantine the file so that it becomes inaccessible to other programs and its virus can no longer spread, and/or
  • Delete the infected file completely

Because viruses are never-ending, anti-virus programs require constant updates. And this (in turn) requires human time and effort. So most anti-virus software is commercial and incurs an annual maintenance fee.

However there are some genuine humanitarians out there who loathe virus builders so much that they make excellent anti-virus software available for free.

Here's who they are:


Popular Antivirus Software
AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition
AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition is part of a wide suite of antivirus and anti-malware software produced by Grisoft. It was voted Software of the Year at the 2007 PCPro Awards (along with Mozilla Firefox) and it's a completely free, industrial-strength antivirus program for non-commercial use. AVG performs every bit as well - and sometimes better - than the leading commercial programs. It will automatically scan incoming emails; can be set to perform routine hard drive scans; will also automatically scan every file you open, execute or save; and can be set to download virus definition updates on a daily basis if you wish. The Free Edition doesn't offer protection against spyware or spam and has no technical support either (you can consult a help area on Grisoft's web site if you need that). But having used this software on one of our home computers for two years we can say from personal experience that this will certainly provide all the anti-virus protection you'll probably ever need. The Free Edition runs on all versions of Windows from Win98 to Vista - but if you want a version for Linux you'll need to buy one. Get AVG Anti-Virus.


Avast Home Edition
Alwil's Avast Home Edition guards your PC with multiple shields that scan executables and files, and it offers all the protection of well-known commercial programs at zero cost. It's highly configurable (eg: you can select parameters for scanning - even wildcards to exclude specific file types) and it provides full scanning protection for downloaded files, instant messages, e-mails and many P2Ps. It also has a very fast boot-time antivirus scan (which an be bypassed if you're in a hurry). And if malicious contents are detected, Avast also has a great range of virus cleanup tools. You can also set it to block certain URLs and file operations, such as writing to files or renaming, deleting or formatting them. Avast has won some glowing reviews and a string of awards and just like AVG (above), the Home Edition is free for non-commercial use only - if you're in business you should buy one of the many other antivirus packages that the company makes. Avast runs on all versions of Windows from Win95 to Vista and regular virus definition updates are included. Get Avast Home Edition.


Avira AntiVir Personal Edition Classic
Avira AntiVir Personal Edition Classic may have a tongue-twister of a name but it's a reliable, free antivirus solution that constantly and rapidly scans your computer for malicious programs (such as viruses, Trojans, backdoor programs, hoaxes, worms, dialers etc) and monitors every action executed by the user or by the operating system. This makes it able to react promptly when a malicious program is detected. Avira will allow you to repair and/or delete, block, rename or quarantine infected programs or files and just like AVG and Avast, its completely free for personal home use only (otherwise you should buy one of the company's many commercial anti-virus products). Avira runs on all version of Windows from Win95 to Vista and is also a multi-award winner. Get Avira AntiVir Personal Edition Classic.


PC Tools Antivirus Free Edition
PC Tools have been making award-winning software since the days of DOS and their multi award-winning PC Tools Antivirus Free Edition is a home-use version of the company's commercial product that (we think) is every bit as good as the version you pay for. The only real differences between the two are that the home use version offers no technical support and no high-speed updates (updates to virus definitions are supplied on a regular schedule instead). PC Tools Antivirus Free Edition provides real-time protection against viruses, trojans and worms and constantly monitors sensitive files on your PC for any attempts to tweak or alter them. You can also use the software to perform fast, in-depth scans of your system any time you need to. The software runs on Windows (2000, XP and Vista) and an upgrade to the commercial edition is only US$30. PC Tools Antivirus Free Edition.


Norton Security Scan
Finally, Symantec's Norton Anti-Virus is very well-known commercial software and we used it happily for several years until a few years ago when Norton suddenly stopped upgrading the version we'd purchased (and regularly upgraded) and abruptly demanded that we buy another version instead. Since Norton accompanied this demand with a refusal to answer any of our emails or provide any explanations for its sudden abandonment of this particular product line, we took this to mean that they were encouraging us to become an ex-customer (you wouldn't treat customers you cared about this way, would you?). So we took up their kind offer and have stayed that way ever since. All the same, Norton now make Norton Security Scan available free as part of the Google Pack. Norton Security Scan is an on-demand scanner (ie it doesn't provide real-time protection) but it's a good backup to have if your main anti-virus scanner ever fails. And it's free. Symantec also claim that it will happily co-exist with any other virus scanner you've installed. Google Pack software runs on Windows (XP and Vista) and you can download either the entire Pack or just the parts you want. Get Norton Security Scan.

This page last updated: 05-Aug-2008


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