Most people in the western world have access to flatrate Internet connections, cheap data plans for mobile devices, and free WiFi hotspots at almost every corner, allowing them to be online wherever they go. While these amenities are convenient, the freedom they provide comes bundled with an increased risk of catching malware. A digital infection with viruses, trojans, spyware, or other malware can put your data integrity and your system stability at risk and has the potential to cause further damage, including data and identity theft.
If you realize that your individual browsing and download habits put you at a high risk of catching malware, you should make an effort to be protected from these threats in real-time. An anti-virus tool is essential for PC security, but it is not sufficient. Experts recommend a layered protection by using multiple tools and real-time malware scanners are one important layer you shouldn’t miss. You can pick from one of the three free malware removal programs I will introduce in this article.
ThreatFire is a malware detection and removal tool that works in real-time and provides a defense against zero-day attacks, i.e. novel malware attacks for which no virus definitions or signatures have been released yet. It works in cooperation with your existing anti-virus software.
The setup is dead simple and fast! After a brief setup, ThreatFire checks your computer for existing firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware protection. In a final step it scans for threats.
In my case, ThreatFire found that my setup was acceptable and no threats were detected. Installation and scan were completed in under 3 minutes and I was re-directed to a Quick Tutorial, explaining how the tool works. In this tutorial, ThreatFire addresses all common questions that you may have.
For a detailed review of ThreatFire, please see this article: ThreatFire – Free Zero Day Realtime Virus, Trojan & Malware Protection
Ad-Aware is an anti-virus and anti-spyware tool that offers malware protection, live ad-watch, and real-time protection against threats. Like all tools in this list, Ad-Aware works in cooperation with your existing anti-virus software.
Compared to ThreatFire, the installation of Ad-Aware took considerably longer, mainly because Ad-Aware instantly started downloading and applying updates, which took several minutes.
When the updates are completed, you are greeted by a screen that summarizes the current status for web update, system scan, and ad-watch. Via a button in the bottom left you can switch between simple and advanced mode. In advanced mode you can schedule scans and access other more complex settings.
It is recommended to perform an initial full system scan. Later you can choose between a smart scan, which will check critical sections of your system only, or a full in-depth scan.
I also recommend to head to the Ad-Watch tab (top right) and turn on real-time protection for files, registry, and network as desired.
Also see this review of Ad-Aware on PC Mag: Ad-Aware Free Internet Security 9.0
Spyware Terminator is a free spyware scanner and removal tool with real-time protection and an optional integrated anti-virus tool. Unlike its competitors, Spyware Terminator offers no paid alternative, meaning the entire suite, including personal use, commercial use, and software support, is completely free.
The tool installs via a standard installation process. Note that Spyware Terminator attempts to add a Net Security Toolbar during installation, which you can of course choose not to install. After the installation is completed, the setup assistant launches and you can define how you want to use the program. I selected the spyware protection without ClamAV and with advanced protection level. You can change these settings later via the Spyware Termination Center.
The Spyware Terminator Center reveals the full complexity of this tool. Here you can adjust scan schedules and control further advanced settings.
ThreatFire offers a very easy and straight forward setup and is suitable for the average user. Experienced users will feel more comfortable with Ad-Aware or Spyware Terminator. Ad-Aware was one of the first tools to offer malware protection that went beyond simple virus scans. While it offers an easy setup and a clear interface, which is suitable for both inexperienced and advanced users, Spyware Terminator clearly beats Ad-Aware Free when it comes to advanced options and features.
Malware protection and removal tools are only one level of security. In addition, you should use a firewall and a traditional anti-virus program. Please check out these MakeUseOf articles for more advice on how to keep your system protected:
- The Complete Malware Removal Guide
- 7 Essential Security Downloads You MUST Have Installed
- The 10 Best Free Anti-Virus Programs
- Free Security Suite for Windows: Microsoft Security Essentials
- How To Remove Computer Viruses At Home For Free
How do you protect your computer from malware and other threats? Have you ever experienced a serious malware infection and if so, do you know where you caught it? Please share your experiences in the comments!
Image credits: Oleksiy Mark