Back in the “olden times,” nobody much cared about computer viruses, or things like spyware, trojans or adware.

Even though they had been around since the 1970s, with viruses aimed at IBM PC’s and Apple Macintosh machines showing up in the 1980s, computer viruses didn’t reach the epidemic stage until the 1990s.

Then, in the late 1990s into the early 2000s, malicious programs attacking computer systems at a global level reached the pandemic stage, and have stayed there ever since.

Where there had been clear delineations before, the differences between viruses, adware, trojans, worms, root kits, spyware and the like became more blurred, and they were rolled into a single new term: malware.

Shorthand for MALicious softWARE, the war against malware was on. All this coincided with both criminals and big business discovering that the information superhighway called the Internet could also be the road to riches.

Malware, broadly defined, includes software programs, installed without your knowledge or permission, which can copy themselves and spread to other computers.

Sometimes they are simply annoying, or even harmless. More often, though, they are dangerous, with their ultimate purpose being to steal money.

Responding to the global malware pandemic, the antivirus and antimalware industry was born, with numerous companies inventing programs to detect and remove malware.

With companies rising and falling, two names rose to the top in the United States: McAfee and Norton. Time has not been kind to McAfee and Norton, though.

Superior antimalware products, mostly from overseas, have left McAfee and Norton behind in the dust.

I look to the antimalware product reviews issued by Consumer Reports for guidance in picking which antimalware products to recommend.

Testing antimalware products is an extremely complex and involved process; Consumer Reports has a million dollar lab to handle this task, and I don’t, so I defer to them when deciding which products are worth using.

The Internet is jam-packed with thousands of competing, conflicting and often phony antimalware “reviews,” but I have come to trust Consumer Reports’ independent, non-profit and unbiased status.

For years I have recommended free antimalware programs to my clients, and this year is no different.

The Consumer Reports antimalware ratings for 2022 are in, and, for free antimalware programs, the top five are: (1) Kaspersky Security Cloud Free, (2) Avast Free Antivirus, (3) AVG Antivirus Free, (4) Avira Free Security, and (5) Sophos Home Free.

Those are the free antimalware programs that Consumer Reports deems worth rating. You will notice that McAfee doesn’t even make the list.

Even though Kaspersky is rated Number One, there is a caveat; a big caveat. Next to the Kaspersky rating on the consumer Reports website there is a little “!” inside of a tiny box.

When you click the “!,” up pops a message that reads, “Alert. The Federal Communications Commission has added Kaspersky Lab, a Russian firm, to a list of companies it says pose a threat to national security.

Previously, in 2017, Kaspersky Lab products were banned for use in federal computer systems. In addition, a number of independent security experts have expressed concern about the company.

Consumer Reports has not independently tested Kaspersky Security Cloud Free for its vulnerability to exploitation by the Russian government.”Yep, you read that correctly; Kaspersky has been banned by the federal government, not once, but twice.

To learn more, check out my column on the Norman Transcript website titled, “Feds ban Kaspersky Antivirus, again,” dated April 24. 2022. Because of this situation, I do not recommend using Kaspersky.

The other top choices, Avast, AVG and Avira, will serve you well.Even though many of the threats coming at us these days are from things other than viruses, you still need a good antimalware program as part of your Internet safety regimen.

Stay tuned for Part Three of this series, when we will look at passwords, and multifactor authentication.