Internet Security Software FAQ
Frequently Asked Questions about Internet Security Software
- What is Internet security software?
- What are viruses and how do I protect my computer against them?
- What is spyware or adware?
- What is phishing and can I prevent myself from being victimized?
- What is a personal firewall and how does it protect my computer?
- What should I do if I think my PC has been infected with a virus, spyware or adware?
- How did NextAdvisor.com review Internet security software?
- What do the three-star ratings for "malware and antivirus" and "system performance" mean?
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Internet security software is a package of tools that protects your computer and your identity while you are surfing the Internet, checking your email, downloading applications or anything else you do online. Most Internet security software provides anti-virus and anti-spyware/anti-adware protection that will prevent harmful computer programs from being downloaded on to your computer without your knowledge. Additionally, Internet security software providers offer protection against dangerous phishing scams which try to trick you into exposing your personal information. Some will also help reduce the amount of spam you receive in your email inbox, which can not only be annoying but dangerous as well.
The main goal of many viruses, spyware programs or phishing scams is to access your personal information in order to steal your identity. Internet security software is an effective tool against preventing these Internet based identity theft risks.
Viruses are computer programs that infect a computer and then multiply by infecting other computers connected to the original target. Viruses can be passed through a computer network, the Internet or email. Some viruses damage the infected computer by erasing files or whole hard drives. Others may provide even more sinister risks, extracting the victim's personal information for criminal use or identity theft.
Most viruses can be identified, blocked and eradicated by a good anti-virus program. All of the Internet security software programs we have reviewed offer anti-virus protection that can help prevent dangerous computer viruses from infecting your PC.
Spyware, or adware, is the general term for software that is created with the sole purpose of taking control of some aspect of your computer's functionality without your knowledge. Spyware can simply be annoying, such as programs that launch never-ending pop-ups or other advertisements, or downright dangerous, such as programs that attempt to steal your personal information, access your personal accounts or otherwise put you at risk of identity theft. Often, spyware or adware is bundled in with legitimate software programs. This means that in some cases you may download a computer program you want and inadvertently also download a piece of bundled spyware.
Good computer security software typically helps prevent your computer from being infected by spyware in two ways. First, most security software scans your computer for spyware or adware to make sure that none is present or, if you have been infected with spyware, to identify and remove it. Second, most security software will alert you when you attempt to download computer programs that likely include spyware elements. These alerts typically come as a result of the settings in a personal firewall.
Phishing is a generic term for emails or websites that attempt to trick you into handing over your personal information to criminals that may use it to steal your identity, empty your bank account, make unauthorized charges on your credit cards or PayPal accounts or worse. One of the classic examples of phishing is when a criminal sends you an email that looks like it is coming from a trusted source, such as your bank or credit card company. These emails will typically lead you to a website that looks like your official bank or credit card company's website, but is really operated by criminals and identity thieves. This website may ask you to login to your bank or financial account. Once you submit your login information, the phishers now have access to your online account and can commit any number of crimes against you. These types of phishing attacks have been perpetrated against Citibank customers, PayPal users and even members of the popular social network Facebook, just to name a few notable examples.
In general, it is a good rule of thumb not to click on any links in emails from people you don't know and not to enter personal information on any websites linked to from emails or websites you don't trust. The best way to prevent being victimized by phishing scams is to always navigate directly to websites you trust. For example, if you receive an email from your bank informing you that you are required to login to your online account, it is a good idea to go directly to your bank's website through your web browser rather than clicking on any links in that email. Most Internet security software programs offer anti-phishing protection that will alert you to risks that various websites or emails may contain.
Most security software programs include a personal firewall, which is a version of the same technology businesses use to protect their networks. A personal firewall manages who and what have access to your computer system based on certain pre-determined rules built into the software. For example, when you attempt to download a program from the Internet, a personal firewall may warn you or block the download of that program altogether if it is known to be detrimental to your computer's health. In addition, a personal firewall will prevent any outbound attempts by programs already on your computer to connect to the Internet without your knowledge. This is important because it is possible for hackers or identity thieves to access your personal information if you inadvertently download a program that allows them to transmit information from your computer through the Internet. There are other less nefarious programs that may just want to send the creator information about what websites you visit online or other behavior that you may want to keep private.
The best way to combat viruses, spyware or adware that you may have inadvertently downloaded on your computer is to buy and download Internet security software. All of the services we reviewed will provide an initial scan of your computer's hard drive which will identify and eliminate any viruses, spyware or adware that are putting you and your PC at risk.
We actually used it. We signed up for the software, downloaded it, and set about surfing the web. We wanted to see how well it did with normal Internet use, but also how it dealt with threats. We visited websites that contained examples of phishing, malware, and other exploits. We also ran full system scans to judge time and performance. In order to bring users better data on malware detection and removal, we incorporated results from independent antivirus testing organization AV-Comparatives.
We only included internet security software providers that we believe offer a good value proposition. If there is a provider you know of that is not here, you can be fairly certain we did not rate that provider highly enough to include in our comparison. If you think we are missing a quality internet software security provider or have any other suggestions or comments, please visit our contact us page.
These are derived from tests by AV-Comparatives, an independent antivirus testing company. Test participation is voluntary, and based only on each company's simple antivirus product. The full Internet security suites we review usually contain additional security features and safeguards. The malware/antivirus score shows a simple average of scores from six tests, with three stars being the best. System performance is based on a single test. We suggest readers view the individual testing tables in each review to see the score distribution.
Disclosure: NextAdvisor.com is a consumer information site that offers free, independent reviews and ratings of online services. We receive advertising revenue from most of the services we review. Our editors thoroughly research and whenever possible test each service we review and offer their honest opinions about each one. We are independently owned and operated and all opinions expressed on this site are our own.