What's the Difference Between Paid and Free Antivirus Software?

It boils down to how you use the internet

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Using Antivirus software is important, especially if you're using a Windows or Android system. But you'll need to know the difference between paid vs. free antivirus software before you decide which one to go with.

Overall, both free and paid antivirus software offer the same general protection against malware infections. The differences are mostly in additional features and how effective the cleanup process is after infection.

Paid Antivirus Software Features

When you make the choice to pay for your antivirus software, you aren't necessarily getting more protection against malware. What you're paying for are extra security features.

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  • Parental Controls. Most antivirus software companies include a parental control component in the paid version. For example, Kaspersky's parental control module includes the following features:
    • Restrict what kids can do on a computer
    • Completely block access to certain computers
    • Manage access to specific applications
    • Control what your kids can do on the internet
  • Identity theft protection. Paid antivirus software usually offers identity protection. The antivirus company actually monitors the web in areas where stolen identity information appears when it's stolen. Once the company identifies suspicious activity involving your information, you are alerted so you can take action to protect yourself.
  • Technical support. If you're using free antivirus software and come across an issue with the software not working as expected, or if it causes problems with your system, you're on your own. However, paid antivirus software almost always comes with 24 hour phone support for whenever you have any issues with the software.
  • Faster signature updates. Most tests industry testing companies have run against both paid and free antivirus apps have shown that they are almost completely equal when it comes to the library of malware signatures used to identify threats on your system. However, paid antivirus apps may receive updates for immediate threats (like zero day exploits) sooner than free apps. This means that with paid antivirus software you're slightly better protected against new threats.
  • Better cleanup algorithms. Once malware is detected on your system, antivirus software will attempt to full remove all infected files. It isn't always successful at cleaning up all components, but paid antivirus apps have been shown to be slightly more successful at it than free antivirus apps.

Free Antivirus Software Features

All of those reasons may not be enough to get you to pay for your antivirus software.

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If all you need is protection against malware and have no need for any of those additional paid features, there's nothing wrong with using free antivirus software.

You will still get plenty of features with a free antivirus app.

  • Malware protection. The signature database that both free and paid antivirus apps use is the same. This means you have the same malware protection as you would if you had paid for the software. The app will run scheduled scans as well as manual scans on your entire system.
  • Web and email protection. In addition to scans, free antivirus software will monitor your web activity and block threats before they make it to your system. This includes more than just Trojans or viruses. You'll even see alerts that malicious website ads or potentially unwanted software (PUP) has been blocked.
  • Email support. While free antivirus apps may not include phone technical support, they do sometimes provide email technical support. There are also community forums for all users of the software. This is a great place to get help if you're unsure how to configure the software, or not sure what a specific popup message means.
  • Ad Supported. One downside of using free antivirus software is that there are usually ads displayed somewhere on the main software screen. While this can be annoying, there are rarely any popup ads that obstruct your use of the software or detract from what you're working on.
  • Simple interface. with most free antivirus apps, there isn't much to the interface. Usually, you'll only find malware scanning and web protection. However, thare are some apps, like Avast, that offer a few extras like free private VPN and password management.

Choosing free antivirus software doesn't necessarily mean you'll have less protection from threats. It just means you won't enjoy a wide suite of features that paid antivirus apps offer.

Choosing Between Paid And Free Antivirus Software

If you're still not sure which way to go, then consider your typical computer use. If you take part in more risky behavior, then you may want to opt for paid antivirus software. If you're very careful about what sites you visit and easily recognize dangerous phishing emails, free antivirus software is good enough.

You should purchase antivirus software if.

  • You often accidentally clicked on phishing emails.
  • You frequently download free software off the internet
  • You've mistakenly clicked on malicious ads on social media
  • You sometimes visit dangerous websites that have a lot of pop-up ads
  • You have children and want to control their computer and internet use

However, if you try hard not to take part in any of those activities, the odds are very good that a free antivirus application will protect you from all threats.