When making big decisions regarding cybersecurity for your business, the devil is usually in the details. Given that investing in software is a high-stakes choice when it’s done on behalf of your company, we wanted to take you step by step through our thought process, and how exactly we evaluated each service. We don’t rush our tests, in fact, our team evaluated each antivirus software for six months at minimum. This is going to be a long-term investment for your company, after all. We paid attention to how each product impacted our devices, and the process of making updates, such as, if they are automatic, or we have to follow a long and complicated process to get the most up to date firmware.
While bells and whistles are always nice, we start with the basics of what these services are supposed to do, which is, of course, detect viruses in files coming onto our devices. We perform a test where we download five files, each with a different type of virus or malware. Some examples are spyware, computer worms, and trojans. Then, we scanned the files with the antivirus software and saw which most successfully detected the viruses. While most of the time, the programs detected at least three out of the five, every now and then, something slipped through the cracks. It’s important that we know which services missed what types of threats, because in reality, it only takes one security breach to lead to a really big problem. We don’t recommend trying these tests yourselves. While we’re experts on properly testing virus detection without negatively affecting our devices, it’s a delicate process, and the last thing we would want is for you to unleash malware on your devices.
The next thing we looked for is services’ scanning capabilities. Services that scanned on-access search for threats whenever the software was running, even if only in the background. Otherwise, those with on-demand scanning perform scans only when we requested it or scheduled a scan. We personally prefer on-access scanning because it stops viruses and malware immediately, and we don’t need to remember to scan our computers. However, it’s also satisfying to be able to double-check that everything is running as it should with on-demand capabilities. In an ideal world, a software would offer both. It’s our preference to do a full scan each month, and then perform quicker checks each time we log in to our device.
Traditional antivirus software programs detect threats by comparing programs and files to a database of all known malware, a process called signature-based detection. The files get flagged as a threat if they share similar characteristics or code base. While that works great for detecting threats that we already know about, it’s not so effective on malware that might not be included in the database. Given that tens of thousands of pieces of malware are created each day, it’s crucial that antivirus software is able to detect newly-created threats on the fly.
Behavior-based detection, as opposed to signature-based detection, monitors suspicious behaviors of files. For example, one of the companies we tested used behavior-based detection to isolate a Trojan virus masquerading as a Word file, because the .doc file tried to get into our system’s files. That’s not typical for a Microsoft Word file, and it was flagged immediately. The behavior-based detection was perfect for detecting this possible threat because it wasn’t in the databases of malware yet, so signature-based detection would have missed it completely.
A tool can have everything your heart desires, but if it breaks the bank, it’s just going to lead to the deprioritization of cybersecurity. For us, we want to make sure that there are options for everyone, and we are very well aware that you’ve probably got a long list of other business investments to make that are more fun than antivirus software.
Typically, an antivirus software subscription starts at $100 a month for three to five users, and increases in price as more users are added. Some services like Avast offer the option to purchase 100 memberships on the same plan for a $7,778 three-year contract.
We tend to provide cost for the year subscription option to make it easier to compare software prices apples-to-apples, but if there’s a variety of pricing options, we’ll be sure to point that out, too. We checked the maximum number of devices that can log on to one subscription, in the event that your team has grown and you don’t feel like having to keep track of multiple logins.
We also checked if they have a free trial or even a free antivirus version. Free trials are the best way to take the softwares for a test run, in our opinion, because we get the full range of capabilities. The downside is that most only last 30 days, and protecting our devices from viruses is something we need to happen on an ongoing basis. A few of the companies also promote a free version of their service. In our opinion, they are not suitable for a business to deploy across employees, but they can still come in handy during the decision-making process, especially if you’re more of a hands-on learner.
While the free options are enticing, we do find that they lack extra features like password managers or VPNs. While antivirus protection is the most important, many companies offer bundles that include antivirus protection along with a VPN service or identity theft protection.
And now, the grand finale. When we download any type of software onto our devices, we grant access to a lot of our information. While some of the information is necessary for the tool to function and do its job, a lot of it isn’t, and when we click “I accept,” on terms and conditions, we are essentially giving companies the right to our information. We take the time to actually read through antivirus companies’ privacy policies to comb through what they’re really gathering from their users. Some examples of acceptable data collected is payment information, contact details, and usage statistics, but when we find out that companies are tracking their users’ browser activity or geolocation, that’s a different story. We also see if companies are selling your information to third parties, a common practice. We give brownie points to companies that resist the urge to profit from their customers’ information.