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Depending on whom you ask, paying for antivirus software is either a good investment or a total ripoff. In reality, neither viewpoint is accurate. You can find plenty of good reasons to choose a paid antivirus product, and plenty of good reasons to go with a freebie. However, that may be fine for home use, but in a business environment operating a free anti-virus can have many draw-backs.

Free antivirus software usually provides a bare minimum level of protection. It will scan for malware, and often can perform automatic scans, too. Paid antivirus typically offer more comprehensive security tools (such as parental controls and identity theft protection) and more flexibility than a free antivirus package, an important factor for businesses to consider. One of the biggest drawbacks to going with a free product is the lack of technical support. While most companies offer some sort of phone support for paying customers, free antivirus users usually must fend for themselves. Business networks are complex and integrating your antivirus in your network and IT infrastructure can sometimes be difficult. Having support is vital in this case.

But the big questions often come down to virus signatures and detection. In most tests the comparison between the two is pretty close, however paid antivirus seems to be better at detecting viruses. In real-world detection tests, free products missed 15.2 percent of samples, while paid products missed 10.2 percent of samples. When it came time to remove malware infections, again, the results were close, but paid antivirus software held a slight advantage. We found that, on the whole, paid antivirus products did a slightly better job at detecting malware than their freebie counterparts. In traditional signature-based detection tests, paid antivirus software that we tested found 96.2 percent of the malware samples overall. By comparison, free products’ scores were ever-so-slightly worse, detecting 95.7 percent of samples.

Licensing is typically the biggest concern in free antivirus in a corporate environment. Many of the free ones don’t allow you to run their product in a business environment – it violates their terms of use.

Summary – free antivirus and paid are extremely close in terms of performance, detection and success rate, however the licensing issue causes concern as well as the lack of support on the free products. We always recommend a paid antivirus solution for our customers and strongly discourage operating a free solution on corporate networks.