Security and Safety

The Best (and Safest) Malware-Protection Software

By Peter Simek 9.2.22

Every year, the financial services firm Allianz publishes an annual “Risk Barometer” that ranks the most significant threats facing businesses. In 2022, the No. 1 risk is cybersecurity.

It’s not just businesses who are seeing growing threats from digital criminals. Individuals’ computers — and the important personal and financial information we access through them — are also increasingly being targeted by cybercriminals. Last year, there was a record $21.8 billion in venture capital invested in cybersecurity companies and many new cybersecurity products hit the market. But hackers continue to invent their own strategies to circumvent these pricey security measures.

Among the most persistent cyberthreats is malware: malicious software that can sneak its way onto a computer to steal or compromise data. Malware comes in many varieties and styles, and for anyone who doesn’t spend their entire working day in IT, understanding the best ways to protect yourself from malware can be daunting. We’ll walk you through the threats malware presents and offer some guidance to help you find the right kinds of computer security systems and software to help you stay safe in the scary digital world.

What Is Malware?

Malware ranges from the annoying to the criminal. Most simply defined, the term refers to any kind of software that sneaks onto your computer intending to manipulate or steal your data. Sometimes this could be a form a software that tricks you into downloading more programs or clogs your screen with ads. More serious forms of malware troll your computer for personal data that it can use for financial gain. A particularly malignant and increasingly prevalent form of malware is known as ransomware. These programs lock your computer or block access to other important information and force you to pay the hacker in order to regain access.

The most popular form of malware today are Trojan horse programs. These are malware that appear to be beneficial programs and trick you into downloading them. Once they are inside your computer, they gather personal and financial information or download programs that can earn the hackers’ money. Some malware can track your activity, including keystrokes, which allows them to steal passwords as well as information such as your bank account or credit card numbers. Another form of malware is known as a bot. Bots allow hackers to infect and take control of many computers at once, which they can then use for a variety of purposes, such as bitcoin mining, distributing spam, or attacking other computers covertly.

Built-In Security

Malware is so prevalent that all computers today come with some basic protection. PCs running Windows come with Microsoft Defender, which scans files and programs before they are downloaded and can lock particular folders that contain important information. Mac’s operating system has many of these same features built right into software. But cybersecurity experts say that relying solely on the security that comes with new computers is not enough to ensure that you are protected from all possible threats.

Malware Scanners

Most third-party malware protection software works by scanning files on your computer or new downloads. They look for malware “signatures,” little bits of code that they can recognize from other malware attacks. Of course, hackers know that security programs are looking for these common pieces of code, so they have evolved to create viruses that are unique to every single victim. New antivirus programs have adjusted how they scan for code to catch these workarounds. Good security programs are continuously updating their database of malicious code in order to catch hackers’ latest variations.

Some security programs try to outsmart hackers not by scanning code, but by watching for how programs behave once they are on a machine. Malware programs may look different to scanners, but they all will behave similarly. As soon as the security software notices a program scanning through your computer or attempting to download additional programs, it shuts it down.

Examples of Malware Security Programs

When shopping for a malware protection software, make sure you purchase a product that includes both scanning and behavior-based detection. Some malware software can also handle virus removal and have ways to help protect you from phishing scams. Here are some of the programs recommended by top industry publications.

Malwarebytes Premium: Updated daily, this program has all the latest information on scanning for new threats. The company has been around for a long time and brings that experience to the table. However, the lack of a full suite of protection features has led some experts to recommend sticking with the free version of the software and running it alongside another program on this list.

Avast One Essential: Avast gets great scores for its detection rates and has both deep scanning and behavior-based protection protocols. The free version is highly rated, but an upgrade to the premium protection adds features such as regular operating system maintenance, secure file shredding, and anti-ransomware software.

Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security: An affordable option that still comes packed with features, this comes highly rated for its virus scan success rate. One downside: It can be overly aggressive and reports a high number of false positives.

For more ways to improve your cybersecurity, check out these online safety tips and password managers.

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