How to Protect Your PC For Free

With new viruses, spyware, and other malware surfacing every day, keeping your computer protected can seem like a full-time job. It can also cost a lot if you buy a commercial solution for each problem. Luckily, there are a lot of cheap and free options to reduce the sticker shock and beef up your security.
Published: Dec 3, 2007
Author: Jordan Running
Related OS: XP / Vista
Software that can help Good for Cow Rating
Sygate Personal Firewall 5.6.2808
Download This firewall automatically protects your PC from hackers and other...

While commercial products have their advantages--often their interfaces are somewhat user-friendly and they offer more in the way of email and phone support--taking a chance on a free product won't cost you any money. Here are some of my favorites:

Virus protection

AVG FreeAVG Free from Grisoft offers complete virus protection with daily updates, at no charge for individuals for non-commercial use. AVG will do complete, speedy scans of your computer and also gives you the ability to check individual files and folders. It has saved my neck a couple times when I downloaded, and almost installed, files of dubious provenance. I've also found that AVG uses fewer system resources than some of its commercial competitors. If you want to add technical support, multiple languages, and permission to use it commercially, the Pro version has a $29.95 price tag.


Comodo Firewall ProThings don't stay still for long in the free firewall market. Sygate Personal Firewall, long my favorite choice, was discontinued by Symantec, which purchased Sygate in late 2005. Happily, Sygate Personal Firewall is still available for free at a number of sites, including right here at Tucows, and it's still a great product. If you want a product whose company still stands behind it, however, you'll have to look elsewhere. A top contender for the throne is Comodo Firewall Pro, which offers free spyware protection and updates, and doesn't look to be going anywhere soon.

Web browser

OperaMany people take their web browser for granted, using Internet Explorer simply because it's what came pre-installed on their PC. While the latest version, IE7, has made some improvements, its ubiquity makes it the prime target for malicious web sites that aim to install spyware and viruses on your computer. For Windows there are many alternatives, but the most popular, and for good reason, are Mozilla Firefox and Opera. It's a personal choice, and both sport mostly similar feature sets, but here's some pros and cons for you: Firefox is the second-most popular browser in the world (after IE) and hundreds of third-party add-ons are available for it that add all kinds of functionality. Opera, on the other hand, is said to be particularly fast and take fewer system resources, and has many of the best features that come in Firefox add-ons built right in. My advice: Try both and stick with the one that suits you best.


Mozilla ThunderbirdJust as Internet Explorer's ubiquity makes it a target for malware, so it does for Outlook Express, the most popular email program for Windows XP, and its Vista equivalent Windows Mail. There are a couple great free alternatives to choose from. For an Outlook-like desktop experience, check out Thunderbird from Mozilla, the same fine folks who make Firefox. Thunderbird has all the core features of Microsoft's product, plus tagging, advanced folder management, RSS feeds, built-in spam and phishing protection, and more. And like Firefox, Thunderbird supports third-party add-ons that can add all kinds of unique functionality.

Another option is to ditch the stand-alone email client in favor of a webmail like Google's Gmail. Gmail includes both spam and phishing protection, and it can be set up to check mail for your old email account with POP3 access. And webmail has the distinct advantage of allowing you to check your email from any computer that has web access. The disadvantage is that you're trusting your precious correspondence to Google, and the service is ad-supported. Unlike many webmail services, though, Gmail does not stick advertisements at the bottom of the messages you send to other people, which is a big plus in my book.

Spyware and adware

Spybot Search & DestroyEven the most cautious computer user will eventually find him or herself with a malware infestation. Adware alerts you to its presence by shoving pop-up windows in your face, but spyware often lurks behind the scenes, nosing about your address book, hunting for credit card numbers, and otherwise subverting your peace of mind. There are a number of free options for clearing them out: Spybot Search & Destroy is a popular option that offers frequent updates and fast scanning. Ad-Aware 2007 Free from Lavasoft is also, as its name implies, free. Another option is to download Google Pack, a free software bundle from Google that includes Spyware Doctor Starter Edition, a stripped-down version of its excellent commercial namesake.

About Jordan Running

Blogger since 1999, Jordan Running went pro in 2005 and never looked back. Sometimes programmer, occasional photographer, and serial tinkerer, he decided to to switch to Linux in 2001 but just hasn't quite gotten around to it yet.

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