Killer Download: The Big Three free security applications

Part of using the most used operating system is being the target of the most threats. I've rounded up what I consider to be the Big Three in the security category. Frankly, if you don't have a program for all three, you're not safe.

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As users of the Internet we face security threats every day. Nefarious hackers (not all hackers), viruses, and spyware are rampant when online, and not taking precautions can mean lost data or even worse, identity theft. Frankly, if your computer is unprotected, you are rolling the dice every time you go online. Certainly many users already know this and are already using trusted software, or have other security measures in place to ensure safe surfing. This Killer Download is for those who don't or anyone who has questions regarding their safety online.

Whenever I get a new system or get the call to "fix" a friends computer (which more often than not is infected with some sort of system-slowing malware), I always download software from the security categories I refer to as The Big Three. The Big Three includes an antivirus program, an antispyware program, and a software-based firewall. There are certainly other, even safer methods (like using a secure external router instead of a software firewall), but most people can surf safely with these three program types on their system. At the bare minimum, every Windows user should have The Big Three covered.

There are several applications you can buy to fulfill these needs, but there are plenty of free alternatives which will keep you just as safe. Clearly, if your information is of the national security variety, or the plans for a working time machine, you may want to consider higher-end methods for protecting your data. But if you're just a regular computer user who surfs the Web, plays online games, downloads software, or does some occasional banking and bill paying online, this Killer Download is for you.

I should point out my favorites change as I find and test new applications, and you may have an even better solution to use as one of your Big Three. If so, make certain to let us know in the comments so we can all benefit. Here are my current Top 3 free applications I use at home.

Comodo Firewall Pro
The summary screen lets you know your firewall is up to date and operational. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Comodo Firewall Pro offers solid protection against threats by learning your computing habits and what applications you use. This way, if something out of the ordinary occurs, you'll get a notification giving you the option to block suspicious connections to your computer. The interface is easy to understand and guides you through the setup process to make sure you're protected. It's important to note that you will get a lot of notifications in the beginning as Comodo Firewall learns your habits. However, after awhile a window might pop-up which seems suspicious and you'll be glad you have the ability to lock out a potential threat. As an alternative, the free version of ZoneAlarm Firewall is another solid firewall.

Spyware Terminator
Use the tabbed interface to get to all of this applications features. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Spyware Terminator is my current favorite for antispyware applications. It has a slick interface, performs relatively fast scans, and includes free real-time protection. So many antispyware demos scan, but don't remove malware before you pay the registration, or they do scan and remove, but the real-time protection is locked. Spyware Terminator has all the features of the paid applications, but it's absolutely free. One word of caution: I'm not fully sold on the real-time protection in Spyware Terminator because it seems to notify me a lot, even to the point of repeat notifications. Whether you choose to have real-time protection on or off, if you stick to a scan schedule, this application will keep your system clean. Another great alternative is the ever popular Ad-Aware 2007, but you won't get the real-time protection without paying.

AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic
Check this summary screen often to make sure you're up to date. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Avira AntiVir PersonalEdition rounds out my Big Three with solid antivirus protection at no cost. This reliable application quickly scans drives for every form of virus, trojan, and worm, letting you delete or quarantine anything it finds. It lets you focus your search to specific types of scans, and select drives if you have a hunch about a particular problem. This application also offers a real-time guard, so you can stop a virus before it takes root. Like any antivirus program (or antispyware program for that matter) AntiVir will only remain a contender if they keep updating their virus definitions, and so far they are perfect. Your alternative for the third slot of The Big Three is the well known AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition which is definitely worthy of any home computer security system.

If you don't have a program which fits each of these three security types, download and install them now. Though no security system can be foolproof, once you have the Big Three covered on your home computer, you'll be able to surf much more safely.

About Jason Parker

Jason Parker has been at CNET for more than 13 years. He is the Senior Editor in charge iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.