10 Of The Best Free-To-Use Computer Tools To Defend And Clean Your Computer From Viruses, SpyWare, And AdWare -PC, Mac, And Linux

antivirusIt’s unending… Most casual conversations that I have with everybody and anybody (so it seems) usually entails them telling me about how “screwed-up” their computer is as soon as they find out that I’m an Electronics Guru -not that I mind, usually!  If you are lucky enough to be good friends with a Computer Guru, it’s like hitting the “jackpot” with regard to free technical support (almost always better than sitting on the so-called helpline for hours).   In many ways it reminds me of the medical-doctor friend relationships…free advice and sometimes even, free treatment!  

Most people are not aware of the myriad of computer attacks used by many people with “evil” intentions.   I use the word “evil” intentionally because I’ve seen, first hand, how a small piece of malicious code (Malware) can bring down a large corporation, small business, and personal computers in minutes.   All of these types of computer attacks cause people to spend time and money to try and repair the damage that they cause…often, lots of time and lots of money.   A successful infiltration by a destructive piece of Malware can literally bankrupt a company -and has.

So what are people with little-to-no technical expertise in the security arena to do?  First, they need to have a background in the terminology associated with the “AntiVirus” industry so that they can build a better understanding of the topic.  Second, they need to protect themselves against these types of computer attacks.  Many computer users do not have an endless supply of money to spend on the never-ending software and software updates that provide protection against Malware.  Fortunately, there are a great number of excellent and free programs that are able to help solve the monetary problem.  The scope of this article is to provide a brief understanding of each type of Malware defense and the location of a number of free programs to help people defend, find, and eliminate Malware related computer problems.

There are FIVE common types of defenses that can be employed with regard to protecting your personal computer against malicious computer programs: AntiVirus, AntiMalware (technically, this includes all malicious software programs), AntiSpyware, AntiAdware, and Firewalls.  Each type provides protection against a specific form of malicious software program.  Many of the solutions available to help defend your computer against the various types of threats may encompass any or all of the areas of protection.

AntiVirus Software-  Every computer should have a good and CURRENT form of an anti-virus program installed on their personal computers.   AntiVirus software will scan a computer (automatically, on-demand, or even in real-time) to make sure that it has not been infected with a computer virus.  There are many types of computers viruses.  All viruses have the ability to self-replicate in some way and range from being relatively benign (simple things like making a program do behave slightly different) or extremely destructive (like deleting all the files on your computer or causing it not to boot properly).  Trojan Horses and Computer Worms are sometimes used as synonyms with the term “Computer Virus”, but are technically different.  A “virus” actually needs a host to “infect and reside”…it must attach itself to an existing file (usually executable files like .exe, .com., and .bat files); a Computer Worm can actually replicate itself without attaching itself to an existing program.   A Trojan Horse is a piece of code that appears to be desirable and normal but, in actuality, can give access to your computer to a remote hacker.  In any case, most AntiVirus software programs will look for all these types of intrusions in various ways. 

Great FREE AntiVirus programs for home-users and/or non-commercial use:

1.  AVG provides a great and free AntiVirus solution that will proctect you against a number of undersirable programs including: Viruses, Trojans, SpyWare, and Adware.

Find it and more information here:
http://free.avg.com/   
Linux and PC Based.

2. AVAST provides superb AntiVirus protection including: Viruses, Trojans, Rootkits (See AntiMalware), Network Intrusion, SpyWare, AdWare and more.

Find it and more information here:
 
http://www.avast.com/eng/avast_4_home.html
PC and MAC Based.

3. ClamAV is a basic Open-Source AntiVirus program that provides basic antivirus protection.

Find it and more information here: http://www.clamav.net/
Linux, MAC, BSD Unix, and PC Based.

4. Avira provides a reliable and free Personal Free AntiVirus program.  It provides protection against Viruses, Worms, Trojans, and SpyWare.

Find it and more information here:
http://www.free-av.com/en/products/1/avira_antivir_personal__free_antivirus.html
Linux and PC Based.

AntiMalware Software- While the term “MalWare” actually is short for malicious software, it encompasses all forms of software that are considered to be dangerous to a computer: Viruses, Worms, Trojans, Rootkits, Spyware, Adware, and anything else.  These solutions often times comprise of a generically named “AntiVirus Suite” that literally is a complete AntiMalware package (Avast, McAfee, and Symantec are examples of these types of software suites).   Good Malware detection solutions include both real-time scanning of network data and the programs in memory and may include newer “sandbox” Internet browser techniques (sandbox technology attempts to isolate your web browser from other computer software and functions) .  One particular piece of Malware that is a particular nightmare for companies or people with highly sensitive information is known as a Rootkit.  Rootkits are a type of Malware that is installed on a computer and masquerades as other legitimate software programs.  Most rootkits create “back-doors” that can give full-access privileges to a computer and it’s associated network to a hacker.

Great FREE AntiMalware programs for home-users and/or non-commercial use:

5. Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware (Free Version) provides the most well-known solution for finding and removing many types of Malware after they have implanted themselves on a computer system.   Their software is known to have great success in removing certain types of malicious programs even where other, so-called, complete AntiVirus solutions have failed.  They offer a low-cost full-version of their software that provides real-time protection and other benefits.

Find it and more information here:
http://www.malwarebytes.org/
Linux, BSD Unix, and PC Based.

6. Microsoft’s Online Protection Scanner- A free and very up-to-date online system scanner that scans for many types of Malware programs on a PC Based Computer.

Find it and more information here:
http://onecare.live.com/site/en-US/default.htm
PC Based.

7. OS X Rootkit Hunter- A rare and free AV-related tool for Mac OS X Based computers that scans for Rootkits, Back doors, and Locally-based exploits.

Find it and more information here:
http://www.christian-hornung.de/
MAC Based.

AntiSpyware and AntiAdware-Perhaps gaining as much common-user recognition as the well-known threat of computer viruses is the increasing awareness of the threats that Spyware programs present.  Spyware programs are typically placed on a computer through the usage Internet browsers.   The primary purpose of these programs is to collect information about the computer and user without their consent.   Computers that have been slowed to a crawl and are not infected by any virus, many times, are loaded with Spyware.   It is not uncommon to find hundreds of instances of different types of Spyware on a computer system that is exhibiting signs of suspicious activity when it is first checked. 

Adware is software that typically displays unwanted advertisements with a downloaded and executed program; many times Spyware will contain Adware or vice-versa.  Spyware programs are devious; BEWARE clicking on any dialog box that appears in the Internet browser stating that the computer is infected with Spyware –very often these warnings are Spyware programs themselves!  If these dialog boxes are clicked on, they will embed themselves within your computer! 

Most Internet browsers now include “pop-up blockers” to help with some of the AD POP-UP types of annoyances.  Turn these blockers on to protect against many of these types of Spyware/Adware related programs and their enticing attempts to be installed.   Other common and clear-cut signs that a computer has been infected with Spyware include the Internet browser’s homepage being changed and various Internet windows opening without being clicked on.  Often a barrage of windows will begin to open one after another…this type of Spyware behavior is known as browser hijacking.

 Great FREE AntiSpyware/AntiAdware programs for home-users and/or non-commercial use:

8.Spybot -Search and Destroy: A superb program that includes Spyware/Adware detection and elimination methods.  In addition, Spybot, will also look for other types of intrusive programs that track your private data and even keylogging (record what you type) programs.  It also includes long term solutions to protect a computer after it has been scanned.

Find it and more information here:
http://www.safer-networking.org/en/index.html
PC Based Only

9. Ad-Aware Free: Another excellent program that is free for non-commerical users that detects, eliminates, and provides real-time protection against Spyware and Adware (as well as other tracking programs).

Find it and more information here: 
http://www.lavasoft.com/products/ad_aware_free.php
PC Based Only

10. iAntiVirus Free Edition for the Mac: Actually, a full-based AntiVirus/Walware solution that includes great AntiSpyware/AntiAdware “Scan and Remove” technologies for the Mac.  Many people talk about how the Mac is Virus/Malware “proof”… I always ask them if that was true then why are there so many many commercial AntiVirus programs available for it…

Find it and more information here:
http://www.iantivirus.com/download/
Mac Based Only

Firewalls- Almost every operating sytem comes with a decent firewall.  Computer Firewalls are designed specifially to stop network/Internet users from gaining unauthorized access to the computer system.  The problem is…many people turn them off because they don’t understand them and see them more as a nuisance.  Many applicaitons require specific computer ports to be open in order to communicate properly or specific data traffic to be allowed to “pass” from a computer to the network or Internet.  A firewall acts as a protective barrier between a computer and a Network (LAN) or Internet. 

Because many AntiVirus/AntiMalware programs take the approach of completely securing and firewalling all network-type traffic from the time that they are installed, a lot of people find the firewall protection frustrating to use as, seemingly, they can no longer “connect” to anything.   People also seem to become frustrated with having to open certain ports and “allow access” to programs so many times that they turn the Firewall OFF completely as a way to deal with the perceived annoyance!  This is a very, very bad idea as having your firewall turned off and connecting to an unsecure environment (such as the millions of FREE wi-fi access spots) will leave your computer in a very susceptible state to outside intrusion.  While firewall technology can be quite complex if you are dealing with a corporate firewall, hardware-based firewall, or many proprietary software-based firewall solutions, the average end-user can understand what they need to know about them if they take the time to read a little about them.  

Here are a few great articles about understanding firewalls:

http://www.howstuffworks.com/firewall.htm
http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/security/internet/sp2_wfintro.mspx
http://www.microsoft.com/security/firewalls/choosing.aspx
http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?path=mac/10.4/en/mh1042.html
http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1810

Please feel free to Tweet or Post about this article on Facebook or Myspace (or wherever) to get the word out about ways to protect your computer from Malware!  As always, feel free to comment in the comment section below. 

            

Joseph M. Pisano, Ph.D. is the creator of many education websites, a lecturer, clinician, trumpeter, and conductor. He is currently the Associate Chair of Music and Director of Bands in the Calderwood School of Arts at Grove City College in PA. He been named a TI:ME Teacher of the Year, received the JEN Jazz Educator Award and the PA Citation of Excellence. He is a past Vice President of the Technology Institute for Music Educators and the current Vice-President of the PA Intercollegiate Bandmasters Association. He also writes for DCI Magazine, Teaching Music Magazine, and is the Educational Editor for In-Tune Monthly Magazine; he has contributed hundreds of articles to various publications. Find out more at his website jpisano.com.
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