Free anti-virus software leaves users open to attack

The number of new malware strains is continuing to rise; we’ve counted over 1.2 million new computer malware strains in the first half of the year alone. Despite this, one in nine Internet users globally do not use a comprehensive security solution, according to the results of the international survey.

With total UK broadband take-up now at 74% (source: Ofcom, The Communications Market 2011, Q1), this means that a significant proportion of the population is surfing the Internet unprotected. Although nearly half of UK Internet users have a paid for solution installed, 47% rely on free security software, which is not in all ways as effective as paid for solutions.

Globally, four out of ten users consider free virus protection solutions as equal to paid security packages in terms of performance and the level of security technology. These results are worrying, because such Internet users are easy targets for cyber criminals.

Internet users who do not use powerful security solutions to protect themselves from malware and cyber attacks are at risk of falling victim to online criminals. Users can only protect themselves, if they use comprehensive security software. In addition to virus protection, this should include technologies for detecting unknown malware, as well as real-time protection from unknown malicious code.

Security packagesthat include an integrated firewall, an anti-spam module and a web filter provide the best protection. In such suites, all security components have been harmonised with each other, closely interlinked, thereby providing the bestpossible protection against any type of attack.

How do users protect themselves from online threats?

Nearly nine out of every ten Internet users around the world use a security solution to protect themselves against Internet-based threats. That’s the good news. In contrast, eleven percent of Internet users surf the web with virtually no protection.

Nearly half of UK Internet users have a paid for security package. However, 47% of the participants use a free security solution.

Users are not aware of the differences in performance between free and paid security software

On a global scale, four out of ten Internet users consider the scope of performance of free security solutions to be at the same level as that of paid software. This view is held by 44% of Internet users in the UK. 42% of Internet users with a free AV package believe they are actually using a fully protected suite, with a further 10% not even knowing what type of solution they have installed.

This misconception can turn out to be an expensive one for users. After all, free security programs generally only include limited security technologies, which means that the computer is not comprehensively protected from all Internet threats. Free virus protection solutions rarely include an integrated http filter, which uncovers malicious code when calling up a website and stops it before it reaches thebrowser.

The same applies to powerful firewalls, which provide protection from direct attacks, and anti-phishing modules, which prevent users from accessing fraudulent websites. With less than half of the UK users of free AV being aware of the limitations of their solution, this could be the downfall of many British PCs.

Eddy Willems is Security Evangelist for G Data Software. A Belgian, Eddy has been active in the field of IT security for over two decades. In that period, he has worked for influential institutes, such as EICAR, of which he is a co-founder and the director of press, several CERT associations, and the organisation behind the Wildlist - as well as for commercial companies such as NOXS and Kaspersky Labs Benelux. In his position of Security Evangelist at G Data, Eddy forms the link between technical complexity and the user.