Can free anti-virus software really work?

The rapid evolution of technology means an increasing amount of modern-day business dealings are done digitally. Yet, whilst this convenient click-of-a-mouse approach is making many SME owners’ lives easier, it brings many security risks too.

From data breaches to phishing attacks, we’ve all seen in the news how cyber-threats – in all their forms – have affected businesses worldwide. So, it’s never been more crucial for SMEs to have a finger on the technological pulse when it comes to defending themselves against cyber-attackers. And deterring against viruses and other malware infections is a crucial part of this defence strategy.

But the array of protection options can be overwhelming. Paid-for or free – which anti-virus software will work best for my SME? Aside from being a quirky little rhyme, it’s a question that is causing many business owners to come unstuck. So, how should you decide?

Assess your requirements

We’re not here to tell you which anti-virus software options are the best or worst, because this is completely subjective to your organisation’s needs and requirements. So, to determine the right solution for your SME, it’s pivotal to undertake a self-evaluation of how your business operates.

This is a useful first step in helping you whittle down what you want from your software. For example, if you have a high number of remote workers or regular contact with overseas clients, this may dictate certain features that your chosen package would need to have.

What are the differences?

Whether you’re swaying towards the paid-for or free variety, there are many intricacies to be aware of with anti-virus software. In many instances, basic performance tasks such as detecting issues isn’t a problem for either option – but this doesn’t mean that you should be hoodwinked into thinking that a free one will suffice.

But equally, it isn’t the case that the most expensive package is always the most high-quality.

In fact, one of the main differences between paid-for and free is the catalogue of features on offer. Yes, free anti-virus software works, but SMEs shouldn’t be led into a false sense of security in thinking that it does the job just as good as a payable option. In reality, unpaid options only give a flavour of what the full package can do.

For example, many free programs don’t come with a technical support option – which can be a turn-off for SMEs that like having a qualified technician on-hand for any issues or malfunctions. Also, paid-for suites often have extra features such as additional security tools, maintenance scans and back-up and recovery functionalities – all beneficial when battling sophisticated cyber-threats.

Ask yourself – “how much protection do I need?”

This is undoubtedly an important question, but how long is a piece of string?

Arguably, the more basic, consumer-led products don’t offer the high-level protection needed for corporate settings – and many are designed only for private use only.

Given that businesses hold a high volume of sensitive data on their IT systems, it’s better to have a comprehensive defence mechanism in place. That way, if an attack does happen, your information is at less risk of being compromised.

So, with varying levels of protection on offer – regarding malware detectors, phishing filters, ransomware alerts and more – paid-for options offer a stronger layer of protection, as these are better at detecting newly developed threats when updated regularly.

Think about your employees too

As well as external threats to your company data, there is a threat a little closer to home in the form of your employees – which we’ve talked about before.

Even if your firm has all-singing, all-dancing anti-virus protection, this doesn’t mean that employees can stop being careful about the sites they browse, the email links they click or the public Wi-Fi hotspots they connect to – quite the opposite in fact!

Alongside robust anti-virus software, ensuring staff are well-equipped with knowledge about the dangers of cyber-crime, the threats out there and any warning signs to look out for is essential – training events are a great idea! This will help them adopt good-practice habits and prevent your people from becoming the weakest link in your cyber-protection chain.

Plus, if your SME stores a lot of personally identifiable data, it’s better to be safe than sorry – especially when it comes to being faced with GDPR fines from the Information Commissioner’s Office. Therefore, a combination of effective employee education and a centralised, paid-for anti-virus solution is likely to tick more of those preventative-measure checkboxes.

If you need advice on which anti-virus software would work best for your organisation, contact our friendly team of IT experts!

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