How to choose security and anti-virus software

6 February 2014

Security and anti-virus software is a key component of your company's IT security strategy. It helps protect your computers, servers, software and data from viruses, malware, hackers, spyware, dodgy emails and more.

But choosing the best security software can be tricky. Many options are available, from free basic software through to all-singing packages with price tags to match.

Determine what you need from your security software

Not all security packages do exactly the same jobs. It's therefore wise to map your requirements before evaluating specific options. You need to consider:

  • What needs protecting? How many computers and servers do you have? You may also want to install security software on mobile devices.
  • Do you already have any security software? You may be able to save money by using or upgrading an existing package.
  • How much IT expertise do you have? Some packages are easy to set up and maintain. Others require technical knowledge.
  • Do your staff understand IT security? You may consider giving staff members more control if you are confident they understand the risks.
  • Do you need to meet external standards? For example, businesses that accept cards may be required to have security software under PCI-DSS regulations.
  • What are your future plans? If you intend to expand your business, make sure your security software allows you to add extra users or devices.

The key decisions about your security software

Although security packages tend to have similar feature lists, they may provide very different levels of protection. To make sure you're buying a capable package, check it's been independently tested by AV-TEST, Virus Bulletin or ICSA Labs.

There are two main types of software to consider:

  • Standalone software must be installed and managed on each computer separately. It's usually easy to set up, but it can also be easy for your staff to disable if they feel it's getting in the way – and that can leave you vulnerable. It's good for companies with five or fewer computers that want a package they can set up without requiring much technical expertise.
  • Centralised software gives you a control panel to check and manage protection across your business. This provides confidence that everything is protected and allows you to carry out maintenance more efficiently. Centralised security software is usually best if you have more than five computers, but does require some technical knowledge.

It's a good idea to speak to your IT supplier or support company when choosing a security package. They can help you understand the best approach for your circumstances.

What to check before buying security software

Once you have a shortlist of security packages, some other factors can help you identify which is best for your company:

  • Can your computers run it? Anti-virus software can demand a lot from your computer, because it's constantly scanning files in the background. Make sure your computers comfortably exceed the software's requirements.
  • Are there any potential clashes? Because security software needs to access all the data on your computer, it can occasionally clash with or block other software. Check the software's website for known issues.
  • Can you afford it? A decent security package typically costs £20 – 50 per computer, including updates for two years. Budget for ongoing update costs, as without these the software is much less effective.

If you have more than a few computers, it's wise to test a security package before you roll it out. Try to run it alongside other key software on one or two machines, just in case there are any clashes or problems.

Big-name security software

These companies all provide well-known security and anti-virus packages suitable for business use:

Before purchasing, evaluate your requirements and speak to an IT supplier if you need help.

Is free security software good enough?

You may be tempted by the security software that came with your PC, or by one of the free packages available online. But always remember that free security software can come with hidden costs.

Often these packages aren't designed for businesses, so they take longer to set up and manage. You may have to pay extra for updates, making them costly in the long term. Or they simply may not deliver the protection you need.

Evaluate free security software in the same way as any other package. The lower upfront cost is an advantage, but it's important you understand the downsides too.

Security software is part of your strategy

It's important you have security and anti-virus software on all your computers and servers. However, don't let it lull you into a false sense of security.

You need to stay cautious and vigilant to keep your business safe. Make sure you have a robust security plan, IT policies, good staff training and a backup system. Only then can you be confident that your business is well-protected.


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