Protect Your PC Without Spending a Cent

Free firewalls, anti-virus scanners and other utilities can offer security and savings. Keeping a Windows-based computer safe from online threats is hardly cheap these days. The cost of an Internet security suite that includes a firewall and protection against various online threats ranges between $40 and $70, an amount you must fork over again and again, year after year to keep software up to date. Not to mention a renewal cost that is usually as much as or more than you originally paid for the software.

With discretionary spending getting increasingly tight, it is important to know that protecting a system doesn’t necessarily have to cost anything. That’s because a number of companies offer free security utilities like firewalls and virus, spyware, spam and rootkit scanners. (Rootkits are a type of malware often used to secretly seize control of a computer.)

What’s the Catch?

Well, there are always a few. First, companies that offer free security software aren’t entirely altruistic, since they’ve also got programs to sell. Therefore, they typically leave certain features out of the free versions in the hopes you’ll opt for a paid version instead. Whether you actually need the missing features is another matter. Free versions of software may include mild pressure to upgrade to the paid product in the form of built-in ads or periodic pop-up boxes, but generally it’s not enough to be bothersome.

Second, technical support people don’t work for free, so you can usually forget about support with free software. (At least personal support — there are usually online forums to which you can turn.) Of course, most commercial security software comes with only a few months of support anyway, after which time they charge handsomely on a per-minute or per-incident basis.

Last but not least, the license agreements of most of these programs permit installation only on computers used in the home and not for any profit-making purpose. This precludes any kind of business or organizational use, and sometimes applies to non-profits as well.

The List

Even with these caveats, free security software will be a viable option for plenty of users. Check out the following programs that (unless otherwise noted), work with both Windows XP and Vista, can be installed on multiple computers, and don’t require registration or personal info to download or use.

Category Product Comment
Anti-Virus avast! Home Edition avast! 4.8 Home Edition requires registration, although you can forestall it for 60 days
Avira AntiVir Personal For single computer use for home and non-commercial use
Grisoft AVG Anti-Virus Free Can install use AVG Free only on a single computer
Firewalls Comodo Firewall Pro Comes in 32- and 64-bit versions, the former is preferable unless you’re running the 64-bit version of XP or Vista
Tall Emu Online Armor XP only, though a Vista version is in the works
CheckPoint ZoneAlarm The download page is a bit misleading; be sure to click the link under “Get Basic PC Protection Only”, on the right side of the page that appears after you click Download Now.
Anti-Spam BullGuard Spamfilter Works with Outlook/Outlook Express/Windows Mail or Mozilla Thunderbird
FireTrust Mailwasher Works with any mail client
Anti-Spyware1 Ad-Aware 2007 Free
SpyBot Search and Destroy Free, but donations appreciated
Windows Defender For XP users, built-in to Vista
Anti-Rootkit Sophos Anti-Rootkit XP Only
1 Two of the three anti-virus utilities listed above scan for spyware (Avira AntiVir being the exception), but it’s always a good idea to have several anti-spyware programs at the ready.

So whether you have a suite coming up for renewal or just a few unprotected PCs, these free software programs can provide both security and savings.

Joseph Moran is a regular contributor to PracticallyNetworked.

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