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Cybersecurity

Bitdefender, Avast free antivirus programs just as good as paid options, Hong Kong Consumer Council finds 

In collaboration with global consortium of consumer organisations, the Hong Kong watchdog tested 2,360 types of malware on 23 free and paid programs to see which ones worked best

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 April, 2018, 7:17pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 April, 2018, 10:33pm

Two free computer programs – Bitdefender’s Antivirus Free Edition and Avast’s Free Antivirus – are just as good as paid-for software at protecting devices from malware, Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog said on Monday.

In collaboration with the global consortium of consumer organisations, International Consumer Research & Testing, the Consumer Council tested 2,360 types of malware on 23 free and paid-for programs to see which ones could block ransomware and other cyberattacks.

It found that 15 programs did well in guarding against attacks and ranked them at least 4 out of 5. Seven were “completely unable” to block ransomware and scored 1. One program scored 3.

The Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition got 4.5, while Avast’s free software scored 4, beating many programs that users have to pay for.

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Among the ones that scored poorly were Avira’s free and paid-for antivirus programs, and Microsoft’s default Windows Defender software.

The council suggested users willing to spend on software consider Bitdefender and BullGard’s paid antivirus programs, both of which it ranked 4.5 out of 5.

The council said it conducted the tests as internet security has become a bigger issue in Hong Kong. Last year, the notorious ransomware WannaCry plagued more than 200,000 computers globally, including systems belonging to Britain’s National Health Service.

Once in place, ransomware can encrypt data on a computer and demand a ransom to unlock it.

Hong Kong was relatively unscathed by WannaCry, with only 40 attacks found, as it was unleashed on a Friday afternoon in Europe – when most businesses in Asia had closed for the weekend.

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Apart from installing antivirus software, the council said users should regularly back up important data on an external hard disk to safeguard computers against malware.

People should also update their operating systems to get the latest security updates, it said.

Information technology lawmaker Charles Mok said there were now ransomware attacks that did not demand monetary payment. Instead, victims were asked to play a video game for a long time if they wanted the files on their computers to be unlocked.

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Mok said such acts might look like pranks, but the motives could be more malign.

“I can’t rule out that syndicates are testing their methods, looking at how to spread the malware,” he said.

Before buying or installing antivirus software, Mok said, users should read online reviews to learn of its reliability.