To answer the question frankly, there is actually quite a lot of downsides in using free antivirus. They are free, after all. But do these downsides really matter? That is the real question.
Internet security software has a lot of downsides whether it is free, paid, or premium. More often than not, the differences aren’t really between free and paid but between the different brands available. Many free security programs lack special features and only have low scanning power. However, some paid software brands too are like that. It’s expected for paid programs to feature more applications and cover more types of computer viruses, but some free brands also perform well on many technical tests.
It’s best to compare the available features rather than the price tag because there are so many competing free brands nowadays, the quality has been getting higher.
For instance, Malwarebytes is just a free PC security that anyone can easily install in his computer. It is so effective in removing malware that even Microsoft technical specialists highly recommend it. On the other hand, Kaspersky and Norton are two popular paid brands that are quite effective in blocking most types of viruses, but in some expert reviews, their performances are seen to be at par with AVG and Avast when cleaning systems. The latter two are among the most popular free programs.
Many security programs offer free, paid, premium, and enterprise versions. More features are provided when users get an upgrade. With the free version, you get to have the same quality of the paid versions but with lower features and smaller virus coverage.
If you are really planning to push through with a free security program, read these downsides first in comparison with paid programs.
1. It comes with online advertisements, most often than not.
When an online security company offers a program for free, that doesn’t mean they don’t earn anything from it. Like most free computer software, they come with online advertisements that you have to ignore while using the free security software. It might be a pain for some, especially those with an already slowed down computer matched with unstable internet connection. There are reports that some brands even automatically play video advertisements while the software is in use.
The good news is that these ads are relatively safe unlike that ones that suddenly appear on your screen while browsing an unfamiliar site. Since software like this doesn’t have to appear on your screen while scanning, you can easily minimize the window and just continue with what you are doing. You can also use internet browsers that allow you to install pop-up and ad blockers.
2. It is commonly just a trial version.
Offering a free version is the most effective way to convince consumers to try out a product. It has no strings attached, mind you, and they really let you go once the trial version expires and you find the product unsatisfactory. However, security companies won’t offer you their products if they are not confident of the quality. They make sure that you’ll miss using their program until you have no choice but to purchase the paid version. It’s up to you if you’ll give in to the temptation, but users who heavily rely on trial versions will feel the difference when the program is gone. You know what happens next.
Many brands make it easier for you to purchase a paid version. Before you are given the trial version, you will be required to enter your credit card details first so that when you decide to purchase in the future, all they have to do is to show you a pop-up order form with one simple button to click. Consumers are expected to become more amenable when all the hassles are taken out.
Many free security programs don’t expire. Avast, Avira, and AVG are all like this. However, a minority of free programs do not allow you to reinstall because they automatically block your IP address. There are registry cleaners that can help you find a loophole, though.
3. It requires essential but paid updates to fully work.
Some free security programs let you use their best features for a limited time just so you can experience and enjoy them. As a behavioral manipulation tactic, it is expected to condition the consumers to rely on these features until they become indispensable. Once they expire, the users will be required to download an update or upgrade to continue enjoying the features, but they come with a price of course.
There are some startup removers of Trojans and other malware that automatically download the updates unless you stop them. This is against the Consumer Act but many average users never really learn what they are being billed for.
4. It usually requires regular system maintenance and updates.
Some free security programs like Avast require all users to have an updated operating system to fully work. They also need to have clean systems before all the free features are installed properly. It’s hard to tell if this is a part of an exchange deal between OS developers and internet security developers where both sides agree that only genuine systems and programs are to be used. Nevertheless, for your own sake, it’s better if your system is at its best before you install programs that may botch up if you’re unlucky.
5. It doesn’t feature identity theft protection and system performance tools.
These are advanced features that many average users don’t really know how to use, if ever they’ll need them to begin with. Some free security programs have some sort of system performance tools, but as expected, they are not fully functional unless the essential updates and upgrades are purchased.
6. It rarely features firewalls and parental controls.
Firewall is becoming common now for popular free security programs like Avast and Avira, but most of them still don’t have it. There are still limitations as to how effective their firewall can work, but average users will definitely have more than what they need.
Parental control is less common even for paid versions but they do give a lot of options for parents who need to monitor the internet usage of their children. They may just opt for paid versions for that reason.
7. It only provides minimum level of online security.
On many technical tests, both free and paid versions fare well in signature-based malware detection. There are small differences that may not mean so much for average users. However, on on-access testing, paid versions seem to detect more types of virus and worms. It probably has something to do with updates available only to paid versions, but it still shows how disadvantaged many free security program users are sometimes.
If there is a consolation though, free security programs actually scan faster than the paid versions only because they rarely perform in-depth scanning. Paid versions are also slower by a few seconds because they automatically check updated online databases for new records of malware and viruses. The difference in speed is not too considerable to cause inconvenience, though.
8. It usually gets updated last.
While paid versions automatically get updates, it usually takes time for free versions to be updated. You don’t expect them to be the priority when they earn less from it anyway.
9. It rarely offers behavioral malware detection.
This type of detection system alerts users based on malicious activities in your computer. This is really effective in blocking possible threats that have not been recorded yet like in the case of newly released malware. Users of free security programs rarely get this, leaving them more susceptible to getting infected than the users of paid versions.
10. It comes short, if not totally lack, technical support.
Only paid versions get full technical support for an understandable reason. Nevertheless, many free programs still offer some form of help by giving you an accessible knowledge database where you can find answers to common questions and concerns. They also have their own online forums for the updates that technical support specialists cannot offer. Avast offers email support, which is really generous of them, but don’t expect most free security programs to be like that.
11. Its tools are not all readily usable.
User interfaces are normally the same for free and paid versions, but some tools are only accessible for paid users. These are just extra features that you may not need at all, but those who use their security programs for professional reasons like in businesses and freelancing jobs may need to buy an upgrade for it.
Asking “Do I need to pay for internet security?” can only be a valid question if first, no free security program meets your requirements and second, you have money to spare. There are a lot of reliable free security programs out there, but you do have to consider buying one if you are an advanced user. Always remember that your role as a keen observer and careful internet user is still an important part of it.