Protecting your PC from threats on the web has never been more important. However, you don't need to spend lots of cash to make sure your PC is secure. Here are five security downloads that are free and have been given five stars, proving they're well worth downloading.
AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition 2011 v10.0.1375
AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition 2011 is the latest version of AVG's popular malware detector. At the program's heart is a strong core antivirus engine, which monitors incoming and outgoing emails, as well as every file you access, detecting and blocking threats before they can cause any damage.
There's a new focus on performance in this version, though. Like some of the competition, AVG Anti-Virus Free now checks known safe files just once, rescanning them only if they've changed: once that initial check is out of the way, scans can be much faster than in previous versions.
Comodo Internet Security 5.4
Comodo Internet Security 5 includes the company's free firewall and antivirus program, which together do a good job of keeping your PC safe from even the very latest in malware threats.
Reboot after installation and the program will immediately go to work, popping up alerts about any of your applications that want to go online, or otherwise behave in a suspect way. If you recognise the program and know it's safe, though, just click Allow, Comodo will remember your decision and you won't be asked again. So after a few minutes the pop-ups die down and you can carry on as normal. (Except, of course, now you know you're protected by a tool that's keeping a very close eye on everything your programs do.)
PC Tools Firewall Plus 188.8.131.52
The Windows Firewall is apable of monitoring outbound as well as in-bound connections but the outbound protection is switched off by default and is so complicated to configure there's little point in trying to persevere with it.
However, PC Tools Firewall Plus is a sensible third-party firewall that's easy to configure and ensures known applications and programs with valid digital signatures are automatically allowed an appropriate level of access, which helps keep the number of unwanted popups to a minimum.
Secunia PSI 184.108.40.206
Keeping Windows up-to-date should be a key part of every PC owner's maintenance routine: it's vital that you block any security holes just as soon as you can.
However, there's no need to waste time wandering around web sites looking for upgrades, though - especially when Secunia PSI can automate the process for you. Launch the program and it will scan your PC, looking for installed applications and components. When it's finished you'll get a full report on any programs that have missing security patches, or are end of life (that is, aren't supported by the author any more).
WinPatrol takes a snapshot of key system areas and then alerts you whenever a program tries to make significant changes.
The program monitors your startup programs, ActiveX controls, IE addons, file associations, HOST file, Windows update and UAC settings, and more. This isn't enough to stop a serious virus attack, but it will alert you to the behaviour of many spyware and adware programs, as well as regular software that just likes to install a lot of junk.
And this monitoring requires very little in the way of system resources. On our test PC the background WinPatrol process required only a little more than 3MB of RAM, and the main program only needed about 6MB.