For computer security, you need these 3 things

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Update: Unfortunately, since version 2 was released, Malwarebytes is no longer working properly. In fact I have seen on several computers where it is messing up other programs, including my clients’ online file backup software. I am recommending that Malwarebytes be uninstalled. The security software we now use and recommend is here.

“What’s the best antivirus to use?”  It’s a question that I am asked on a pretty regular basis.  There are lots of choices out there, and everyone seems to have a different opinion.  In the end, of course, that’s all I can really offer – my opinion.  But it is based on lots of experience, and it has worked for me as well as hundreds of my clients.

3 components


I feel that there are 3 primary things – 3 important components – that are needed in order to keep your computer secure.  A quick abbreviation of these would be MSE, MB, and UB.

Thing One: a decent antivirus program

The one I use and recommend is Microsoft Security Essentials.  Get it here.  It’s free.  It will update itself automatically, and it will do a scan either daily or weekly, depending on what you prefer (I just do a scan once a week).  If you use Windows 8, you already have this program installed – but it’s called Defender.  Essentially the same program.  But you need to make sure it is already running, updating and scanning.

Security Essentials

I’ve been using MSE for more than 3 years now and have been pretty happy with it.  However, just having it installed without the other 2 computer security components would be insufficient.

Thing Two: a good anti-malware program

I’ve been using Malwarebytes for years and highly recommend it.  Get it here (affiliate link).  You might be tempted to just get the free version, but don’t do it.  Get the “Pro” version.  It only costs $24.95 per year and that gives you licenses for 3 computers.

Malwarebytes Pro

Here’s the difference.  The free version is installed on your computer, but it doesn’t do anything unless you remember to click on it manually and do a scan.  If it finds bad stuff, you can get rid of it then.  But wouldn’t you want to keep that stuff off your computer in the first place?  The Pro version runs all the time in the background, and will potentially block a lot of the malware that tries to get in.  It will also update itself and scan your computer on whatever schedule you prefer.  And a bonus feature: if you happen to click on a link that leads to an infected or known malicious website, Malwarebytes Pro will throw up a red flag and block you from going there.

So it’s important to have both of those programs installed and running on your computer.  But without the third component, you’re still going to be vulnerable.

Thing Three: User Behavior

I might even venture to say that the User Behavior component is the most important of the 3 things.  By this, I mean that you – the user of your computer – need to always be aware of what you are doing.  Whether you are reading email, doing a Google search, or playing an online game, you must be careful and deliberate about where you go and what you click on.  Don’t be this person:

click happy


Here are some basic guidelines:

1. Don’t open email attachments unless you know what it is.  This is regardless of who the email says it’s from, and regardless of what the text in the email says.  Most people know this already, but even computer users that are aware of this can get tricked into clicking on an attachment.  That’s why email attachments are still the primary way that viruses are distributed.

2. Don’t trust Google search results to be safe.  A large portion of the websites that come up in Google searches are just there to infect your computer with junkware/malware/adware.  Especially dangerous are searches for free games, free music, free screensavers, etc.  Scammers know that millions of people search for these things all the time, and they’re ready.

3. Don’t assume that “tech support” person on the phone is legitimate.  Fake tech support is a huge scam now, and continues to grow.  If you’re looking for tech support, remember #2 above – you might find a website that claims that they are certified by Yahoo, or that they are affiliated with Google, or that they work for Microsoft.  But they don’t.  And if you get an unexpected phone call from ANY person or company that claims your computer is “sending out errors” or something similar, and they are contacting you to help fix it, it is a scam.  Don’t give them access to your computer, and don’t give them your credit card (they will ask for both).  Just hang up.

(For some entertainment, and to see how clever the fake tech support guys are, check out this video I made when I was talking to one of them and pretending to be an unsuspecting victim.)

4. Don’t let software get installed unless you know what it is.  This is another huge issue, and I see the effects of it on most computers I work on.  You might go looking for a legitimate program, such as CCleaner or Adobe Reader.  That program itself is okay, but during the installation they will try to slip in other software that you didn’t request and don’t need.  You need to be constantly on the lookout for checkboxes that are pre-checked by default, and for “Agree” or “Accept” buttons that are really just granting permission for junk software to get installed on your computer.

So there they are – the 3 important components of computer security.  If you’re only using one or two of them, you are only partially protected.  Don’t be a victim.

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Mike hill
April 21st, 2014

Please mention other FREE choices for antivirus software and let users decide. Among them are AVG, AVAST, AVIRA, ClamWin, and Trend Micro. MSE is not the best choice out there.

Scott Johnson
April 21st, 2014

Hi Mike – I have used several of the other free antivirus programs, and my choice at this point is MSE (in combination with the PRO version of Malwarebytes). Of course, everyone is free to make their own choice on that! Thanks for the input.