I mostly use free security solutions to protect my home PC, but I wonder if I would get better protection from a paid solution.

I prefer the free software, since I can have multiple applications protecting against different threats.

With paid software I feel like I have to choose just one, and hope it can protect against everything.

Is it worth it to pay for security when there are free options?

18 Answers 18


Paid security suites can often be more trouble than they are worth, they are bloated and slow and are full of bugs. Most of the time open source software is just as good, free, and has a much larger support community. The only problem is that open source software will generally require a more technically savvy user. Here is my security suite:

Update on antivirus on Windows: Microsoft Security Essentials is now at a level where it competes well with AVG and other antivirus suites.

SmoothWall (Separate computer, Linux box, easy install)
AVG 8.5 (free or paid)
Vidalia Bundle
Firefox w/ AdBlock Plus, No Scripts, IE Tab, AVG Safe Search, Tor button;

All of these applications are easy to install and use if you do a little bit of research first.


I will give you a concrete example of where free software is likely better. Check out TrueCrypt. It is very had for me to trust encryption algorithms that are not openly available and thoroughly reviewed by the community.

Per comment: This is a good an "old" question. In the case of encryption software (and other security software), it's a matter of trust. Do you trust that a company will not buckle and sell you out when the NSA comes calling? Personally, I don't. In this case, I believe that only the distributed nature of the community, without the built-in need for self preservation on a micro-level can earn my trust. For other security software than encryption, firewalls and things of that nature, it can be less important -- unless you really distrust what a company might be doing.

  • Couldn't open source be bad for security software? If an attacker can view the code, wouldn't it be easier to find a hole? – Tester101 Aug 18 '09 at 15:26
  • 3
    there are holes in commercial software too. having the source code can make it marginally easier to find, but it also makes it much easier to fix. – Keck Aug 18 '09 at 15:30

There are plenty of free alternatives to security applications, firewall, AV, spyware/adware scanners/removers. The problem is I've noticed that several commercial applications can find things the free ones cant, however the reverse is true, some free ones find things the commercial ones dont see.

The other issue I've had with commercial applications is they tend to be bloated and cumbersome.

I've been using Avira anti-virus for about two years now and I've not had an issue. I transitioned from AVG after the upgrade to the newest version seemed to slow my PC down.

Being a new user I cannot post more than one hyperlink, replace the *'s with t's and you can visit the sites.

A good alternative for spyware/adware is Spybot and Malwarebytes

There are plenty of commercial vendors that picked up freeware applications as well, which should tell you something about the quality of that freeware. One that comes to mind is Hijack this, it used to be an independent freeware application, that Trend Micro now owns:

Part of the issue of keeping your system clean and running optimally is to be smart and know what you're installing/downloading or what sites your going to.


Any security software is only as effective as the user of the system so protected; and if you have a user that insists on clicking on any and every link they get ... You're going to get burned.

That said, I use ClamWin AV, for scanning suspect files, and am quite happy with the results; it's not a bloated resource hog.


Free or cheap is often better than, or at least as good as, paid security suites, which tend to be way more bloated (not to mention expensive).

In the anti-virus realm, AVG Free used to be good and light-weight, though it has swollen over the years. F-PROTECT is considered to be pretty good and lightweight, and though it isn't free, it's pretty cheap.

Here's a review of a few from last year. LifeHacker reviews things like this regularly, as in this Five Best Antivirus Applications. They seem to like ClamWin and Avira.

As for firewalls, ZoneAlarm is a good, free choice. There are other free firewalls that people like, such as Comodo.

On the spyware front, AdAware and Spybot Search & Destroy are free and highly recommended.

For malware, MalwareBytes is good and free.

As for suites, Microsoft Security Essentials supposed to be very good (given feedback on their beta), but is isn't released yet. Keep an eye open for it.

Personally, I run AVG Free, ZoneAlarm, Spybot, Adaware, and MalwareBytes.

On the other hand, there is an argument to be made for running no security software on your PC, but adopting a safer approach in general. Some interesting articles on this at CodingHorror:

The bottom line answer to your question is that yes, free works as good as paid software.


In my humble opinion, the price is not a criteria to decide whether a product is good or not. No one software will protect you against everything.


"Better" protection? Not really, but yes you do get an all-in-one package when you pay for premium software. Ones that will do anti-virus, spyware, and firewall all together. The thing is they all detect for the same issues and compete with the same viruses databases.

Let me know if you want some of my recommendations for freeware alternatives.

  • I think a list of free alternatives would be excellent. – Tester101 Aug 18 '09 at 15:23
  • Firewall: snapfiles.com/reviews/Privatefirewall/privatefirewall.html Antivirus: Google "free-av" and it will be first listing for Avira AntiVir Spyware: Go with "Adaware" or "Spybot" ***I wasn't able to list the links for the last two because I am a new member and can only post one link per post. – Chris Aug 18 '09 at 16:01

Security through obscurity is no security at all. It's been proven time and again in history that proprietary/"secret" security algorithms don't work. Open security standards are the best we have, and it's unfortunate that security is full of nonintuitive results like that, but that's how it is. Whether that makes free software better or not is entirely up to the specific implementation. Products like TrueCrypt, PasswordSafe, OpenSSH are all very secure, but that's not to say you can't get better support/configuration/etc from a "paid security solution" that's using free/open security standards. Essentially, it boils down to a case-by-case basis. You'll have to investigate each decision individually.


Look Ma! A can of worms!

My personal take on it, is that free software does not offer any better or worse solution than any commercial product. With that in mind, I have a low opinion of security software on the whole; for many reasons. I believe that many of these 'security companies' prey on people who are lacking the fundamentals of computer knowledge and sensibility.

  1. Computers don't get compromised on their own. If you plug into a router that has NAT, it is next to impossible. The only time you're going to get stuff floating on in is when you connect the machine outside of the NAT, in the DMZ. In other words, nothing bad is just going to float on in unless a user makes it happen.

  2. Software firewalls are a rubbish, CPU hogging idea. A software firewall can only at it's best do a mediocre job of protection, and nine times out of ten it's generating all sorts of alarming false positives from basic Windows Services. People get paranoid, and start blocking everything, then start cursing Microsoft (or "M$" as they're likely to call it) when they do get hit by a virus, probably from something they downloaded. Oh, and by the way, your software firewall is made redundant by a NAT router. Since that filters all traffic first. And don't get me started on using the firewall to block applications from calling home. That's a whole 'nother can, right there.

  3. Antivirus Applications are only good for two things - incoming mail scanning, and scanning on demand of certain files. (Like, the stuff you download). I know that malware just doesn't float on in, so the only way any of my machines will get infected is if a user makes it happen.

If you're serious about computer security:

  1. Get a proper browser.
  2. If you don't know, don't click.

I know heaps of people that follow this philosophy, and don't even have anything beyond a basic email scanning antivirus (like AVG or ClaimWin). Remember that stuff just doesn't float on in, a user makes it happen.

  • You make some interesting points, but your two steps for people serious about computer security are "get Chrome" and "don't click"? I'd advocate getting a NAT firewall, using proper passwords, not reusing passwords, etc for people "serious" about computer security. – Andrew Coleson Aug 19 '09 at 15:06
  • Using a strong password that isn't 'cat', 'dog', 'meow' or 'password' are clearly not good passwords, that's true. But the other points you made - to me, that borders on paranoia. I don't need to change my passwords (which in the grand scheme of things isn't that strong) and I do all sorts of banking and whatnot online. I don't find money missing from my bank because I don't click on silly stuff, and I use a real browser. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. As I pointed in my post, almost every router has a NAT firewall. It's virtually impossible not to get one these days. – EvilChookie Aug 19 '09 at 16:04
  • you're saying, that folks who don't use Google Chrome are not serious about computer security yet you conveniently seem to forget to mention the countless privacy issues related to Google Chrome. – Molly7244 Aug 22 '09 at 1:46
  • Molly, could you please describe some of the issues with Google Chrome? – EvilChookie Aug 22 '09 at 2:37

For the $29 a year fee, the low cost is worth the protection. Microsoft Essentials (free) becomes a moral requirement from the computer company given that these viruses, spyware, malware crop up almost unbidden, attacking the unsuspecting--even from the most innocuous searches. When people go to dangerous places--read porn sites--than the computer's vulnerability increases considerably. The protection then becomes worth every penny.


Don't ditch a commitment. As far as I am concerned if it's working, and you paid for it, may as well ride it out. Having said that, AVG is just a no-no. From personal experience (and from millions of other user's experiences) AVG has just been a huge let down. From taking up too much resources to crashing computers and even missing viruses that other free anti viruses find with ease.

I am using 2 antiviruses right now and one of them is ZenOK Free Antivirus . As I have said on other questions, zenok knows how to protect it's own OS. And they do a great job doing it.


I don't think the commercial versions are significantly better, but in general they seem to do more of the configuration for you that you have to do yourself with free software. Sometimes this is good in that you have more control but in some cases it does make for an uphill struggle.


I use Avira AntiVir Personal and Windows Defender. I've never had a virus, and they don't take up much room. Another free antivirus program that I've used is called Panda Cloud Antivirus. Panda Cloud doesn't use much memory, because the virus scanning is done from remote servers. I don't think paid security software offers better protection, but it can be easier to use.

  • Windows defender is lame. The only reason I have it on is so that Vista doesn't whine at me. Defender is unfortunately not very good software. – The Green Frog Aug 19 '09 at 15:57
  • Yeah, I should probably be using Spybot, just haven't gotten around to it yet. – ephilip Aug 19 '09 at 16:48

I can compare Norton and Avira Antivir, and i can say, Avira is better. And it is the free one.

So, if you select the correct free programs, it should protect you as well as paid software. :)


I've used Symantec Enterprise edition and AVG and the only difference I see is that symantec takes up way more processing power. They both catch the same virus's and AVG is free!


Security software varies from year to year, at one time avg was on top then slid way down the scale. To really know you must have up to date comparisons, what was good last year may be less than average now.


Avira AntiVir is better than Norton and Mcafee and Avira is free.


"Is free security software as good as paid security software?"

Yes. And consider using a layered defense. What I always recommend (and use myself) is:

free AV (avg, avast or avira, it doesn't really matter) + Threatfire (http://threatfire.com) + windows firewall and automatic updates enabled = 0 problems with malware

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