Antivirus

Avira Phantom VPN

Avira Phantom VPN 1 YearUS$4,33/mthViewat AviraAvira Phantom VPN 1 MonthUS$6,99/mthViewat Avirapowered by Avira Phantom VPN is aimed very much at the novice user. The website landing page ignores almost every technical detail, and instead focuses on generic descriptions of the benefits of a VPN: anonymity, encryption and accessing geoblocked content. But dig into the small…

Avira Phantom VPN 1 Year

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Avira Phantom VPN is aimed very much at the novice user. The website landing page ignores almost every technical detail, and instead focuses on generic descriptions of the benefits of a VPN: anonymity, encryption and accessing geoblocked content. But dig into the small print, and there are some details to be found.

The network has a minimal 150 servers spread across 37 countries, for instance. There are multiple locations in North America and Europe, and more in Australia, Brazil, Chile, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Mexico and Singapore.

Check out the website here

Avira Phantom VPN makes its connections using the industry-standard OpenVPN and AES-256 encryption. That’s good, too, but there’s another ‘but’: you can’t tweak OpenVPN in any way (switch between UDP and TCP connections, for instance), and you can’t switch to another protocol, which can sometimes be useful if you can’t get connected.

Avira doesn’t mention P2P support at all on the website, as far as we could see. A quick check shows torrenting seems to be available on all servers, although as the company seems so unenthusiastic about it, Phantom VPN wouldn’t be our preferred torrent choice.

The service does have one unusual plus, with no ‘buts’ at all: you can connect to it with as many devices as you like. That’s a notable improvement on many VPNs, which typically restrict you to 5 devices, although how many people really need to connect with more than that simultaneously is open to question.

Website

You can download the free version of Avira Phantom Pro to test it out before signing up for one of the company’s paid plans (Image credit: Avira)

Plans and pricing

Whatever you think of Phantom VPN’s features, there’s a definite benefit in its free account. This has by default a crippling 500MB/month data cap (plus you get five additional free minutes after hitting the limit, before disconnection), and you’re not able to choose a location – the app automatically connects to your nearest server. Still, it doesn’t require registration or an email address: just download, install and connect. Register with your email address and you’ll get 1GB. You still won’t be able to stream anything much, but for occasional low-bandwidth use, perhaps while travelling, it might be enough.

Upgrading to a paid account gets you unlimited data, a kill switch to reduce the chance of a data leak if the VPN connection drops, and technical support to keep everything running smoothly.

The service is priced at $10 billed monthly, dropping to $6.50 if you pay for a year up-front, or $5.99 to cover Android and iOS devices only.

Buy the service this way, and it looks expensive. Private Internet Access’ annual plan ‘only’ covers up to 5 devices (mobile or desktop), but it’s much cheaper at an effective $2.85 for the first term, $3.33 on renewal.

Avira’s best deal comes in the form of its Avira Prime package, a full bundle of every application and service it sells: antivirus, internet security, password management, device cleanup and more. You can buy this for $75 in year one, so cheaper than the VPN alone, rising to a still decent $100 a year after that.

It’s a powerful package – read our full review here – and if you’re looking for a VPN and a new antivirus or security suite, getting them in a bundle like this could save you plenty of cash.

Privacy and logging

Avira Phantom VPN gets off to a good start in privacy terms with its no-registration-required free account. 

The service does a decent job of protecting your traffic with its OpenVPN protocol support, although your inability to change or tweak these in any way (choose new ports, for instance) might be an issue for experts.

Avira’s free plan doesn’t give you a kill switch, which means there’s a small chance your identity might be given away if the VPN connection drops. That’s not a problem if you upgrade, though, and the free and paid editions both give you capable DNS leak protection. We checked the desktop and mobile clients with IPLeak, DNSLeakTest and DoILeak, and found no privacy leaks of any kind.

Avira has a tiny amount of no-logging detail in its privacy policy. How tiny? This is what it says: 

‘If you use Avira Phantom VPN we do not collect any data about the web pages you visit or the services you use on the internet. The information we require for our billing system only tells us when someone was online and what data volume was utilized.’

In other words, there’s limited session logging (connect and disconnect times, data used), but the company doesn’t record any details on exactly what you’re doing online. We’d like to see this spelled out in a little more detail, but it’s still good news overall.

Avira Launcher

Avira Phantom VPN uses the standard Avira Launcher (Image credit: Avira)

Apps

Installing Avira Phantom VPN on a PC is easy, although it does have the same issue as all other Avira software: you also get the standard Avira launcher, whether you want it or not.

(There’s nothing wrong with the launcher – it’s a simple way to view and manage all your Avira products from one place – but if you’re only using Phantom VPN, it’s just not necessary.)

The launcher can be safely ignored, though, and otherwise the client looks and feels much as you would expect. Launch it from a system tray icon, and click a button to connect to the nearest VPN server, or, if you have the paid version, choose your preferred option from a list. Easy.

Windows App

This is the user interface of Avira Phantom VPN’s free Windows app (Image credit: Avira)

The location picker is relatively basic, with no ability to view servers within a country, and no Favorites system. Location ping times help choose the best server for you,

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5 easy ways to avoid identity theft and protect yourself from identity fraud

Whether you’re savvy about online security and how to look after your finances online and offline, everyone is a target for cyber criminals. Identity theft isn’t just about stealing your name, it’s the process of using details normally associated with you to spend money – often money you don’t already have.We’ve put together a list…

Whether you’re savvy about online security and how to look after your finances online and offline, everyone is a target for cyber criminals. Identity theft isn’t just about stealing your name, it’s the process of using details normally associated with you to spend money – often money you don’t already have.

  • We’ve put together a list of the best password managers
  • These are the best home security systems on the market
  • Protect your privacy online with one of the best VPN services

Identity fraud has a sudden impact 

In almost every case, identity theft happens without the victim knowing. It isn’t until occurrences of identity fraud become known that it becomes apparent that something is amiss.

This is a moment you will never forget. The realisation that someone is posing as you, taking out credit cards, applying for loans, and more, leaving you liable for the debt, is sickening.

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Sapann Design)

5 Tricks to Avoid Identity Theft

password manager with lower- and upper-case characters, numbers, and punctuation (where allowed). Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts and keep your passcodes and PINs safe. If you must write them down, lock the cheat sheet away. A password manager like LastPass is the smart option, as only one password needs to be remembered. Two-factor authentication should also be enabled where available.

Meanwhile, ensure all your devices have a password, PIN, or thumbprint access set up. Also, ensure devices have working antivirus software and stay aware of current threats, such as ransomware and phishing.

  • Also check out the best password generators

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

2. Strengthen home security

Losing a credit card or a driving license would be bad enough – losing both would put you in the fast lane to identity fraud.

You can mitigate the risk of important details being stolen by ensuring all old credit cards, letters, bank statements, and other identifiable information is shredded once it is ready to be discarded. Meanwhile, keep things like birth certificates under lock and key.

For shared accommodation, b

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Antivirus

Paid antivirus vs free antivirus: which should you get?

Antivirus software can be divided into two broad camps: free apps, and products that you must pay money for (usually known as paid or premium apps).Obviously, the difference between the two is that one involves a financial outlay and the other doesn’t. In this article, we’re going to look at which is the best choice…

Antivirus software can be divided into two broad camps: free apps, and products that you must pay money for (usually known as paid or premium apps).

Obviously, the difference between the two is that one involves a financial outlay and the other doesn’t. In this article, we’re going to look at which is the best choice for you between these two options, weighing up various key factors that will help you decide.

  • Our definitive list of today’s best antivirus software
  • Looking for even more protection? Grab the best VPN
  • See why we rate Bitdefender so highly in our testing

Budget

best free antivirus.

That said, note that some antivirus developers offer their premium products on long-term contracts at what works out very cheaply in terms of a monthly rate, and these apps give you a lot more in terms of features as we’ll discuss next. So the overall value proposition, at least with some products such as those which top our best paid antivirus list, is actually very strong. Check out how reasonable some of the best names in the business have made their premium offerings:

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus

33% off
Norton
Kaspersky
Trend Micro
Webroot

Furthermore, don’t forget that paid apps often offer either a trial, or a money-back guarantee if you’re not happy within a certain period, meaning you can try before you buy, and see first-hand if the software is worth splashing out on.

Features

With free virus protection, you’ll only get a basic feature-set. These apps might only carry the core antivirus engine, and perhaps a couple of additional pillars of defense – but vendors reserve all the more heavyweight functions for their paid products for obvious reasons.

With premium versions, you’ll often get important additions like extra layers of anti-ransomware protection, or web protection with anti-phishing tech or perhaps a tailor-made secure browser. You’ll be even more secure with these kind of features backing you up online, which is great news for those who might be less confident about the web and all the potential dangers out there.

Premium features like parental controls can help keep kids safe

(Image credit: Google)

Similarly, because parental controls and the likes of social media monitoring tools are generally only in paid security apps, those with a family may well want to pay for such features in order to keep the kids safe when they’re online.

Adverts

Advertisements are a further key issue to consider. With free products, there will usually be some manner of advertising involved (although there are exceptions to the rule, they are few and far between). This might be ads for all kinds of things, or simple messages suggesting you upgrade to the premium version, but you will likely face pop-ups of some variety.

With a paid antivirus app, there’s none of this. So, another way of looking at this could be that with a free antivirus, you’re effectively paying for the product with another resource – your time (to dismiss adverts), rather than money. Granted, with most decent free apps you won’t spend much time dismissing adverts, as there shouldn’t be that many of them – but they can be a slight annoyance, even so.

Support

Another major difference between paid and free products is that with a premium antivirus, you get a fully rounded technical support package. That often means 24/7 support allowing you to talk to human agents – via the phone, or live chat online – which can be a really useful facility for troubleshooting.

Indeed, some security companies even offer additional benefits such as Norton’s virus protection promise, whereby if a paying user’s system is infected by malware, they get a guarantee that one of the company’s experts will remove it. If tech support can’t remedy the situation, the cost of the customer’s subscription is refunded.

Technical support could be a lifesaver if things go wrong

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Free virus protection won’t give you any guarantees, of course, and support is usually limited to simple FAQs, or forums where users can try and help each other out with varying levels of success. If your query is a thornier one, you may find you get no replies, and can’t find much out in any FAQ either, leaving you pretty much high and dry, perhaps speculatively Googling for an answer.

The answer to this question does, of course, depend on your exact needs. Broadly speaking, though, paid antivirus edges it because of the extra features on offer – many of which are very useful, particularly to computing novices – plus better support, and lack of any pesky ads.

That said, a free app is a perfectly viable option for robust core protection of your PC, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with going this route for those who want to save some money, and are perhaps more confident about avoiding online dangers.

  • Read more: How to choose the best antivirus for you
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Is paid antivirus really worth it?

Paid, premium antivirus apps are those security products that cost money to purchase – as opposed to the wealth of free antivirus apps out there, which won’t extract a single coin from your wallet.But is it really worth paying for antivirus software? That’s what we’re going to discuss here, examining the hidden costs of freebie…

Paid, premium antivirus apps are those security products that cost money to purchase – as opposed to the wealth of free antivirus apps out there, which won’t extract a single coin from your wallet.

But is it really worth paying for antivirus software? That’s what we’re going to discuss here, examining the hidden costs of freebie antivirus software, and the other points in favor of a paid antivirus app.

  • Our definitive list of today’s best antivirus software
  • Looking for even more protection? Grab the best VPN
  • See why we rate Bitdefender so highly in our testing

Free but basic

free antivirus from a reputable company, though, you’ll be fine, and these apps will provide robust enough protection for your device(s) on a basic level, at no cost (or no financial cost, anyway – more on that later).

The key word here, of course, is ‘basic’ – because paid apps offer a lot above and beyond the remit of a freebie. Those additional features vary considerably depending on which product range you’re looking at, but there are often a lot of valuable extras provided with premium antivirus apps.

Far greater functionality

Those extras might include bonuses like protection for your backups (Bitdefender’s paid Mac antivirus app includes Time Machine protection, for example), and often measures to keep you safe on the web, such as a secure browser which you can use to do your online banking or other sensitive tasks.

Paid apps often provide the likes of anti-spam filters to keep your email inbox free of nonsense or malicious messages, and anti-phishing protection to keep you safe on the web, and these can be key elements when it comes to staying secure online.

Indeed, these kind of layers of defense can be even more vital for less tech-savvy users, who may not be able to guard themselves against some of the well-constructed phishing threats around, or other scams built around social engineering. These vulnerable users will especially benefit from the extra security offered by a paid app.

Those with families will also find that premium antivirus offerings usually integrate some manner of parental controls, and these will be very useful for helping to keep the kids safe online.

Panda Antivirus with bundled VPN

(Image credit: Panda)

Premium antivirus software sometimes offers even tighter levels of security still by incorporating a VPN. The top-end security suites from some vendors who also run a VPN service bundle the latter, and if you need the extra encrypted privacy and security that a VPN can give you online, these can be a great choice in terms of value for money.

If you really want to feel super-secure online, only a paid antivirus can deliver on this front.

Better support

Another factor to bear in mind when it comes to paid antivirus is that you will get better tech support, with the likes of helplines you can call, or live chat to solve any problems you might encounter. Generally speaking, none of those options are provided by a free antivirus – indeed, with the latter, you’ll likely get little to no support, save for some FAQs or a web knowledgebase perhaps.

What you will get with many free antivirus products is adverts which continually urge you to upgrade to the paid version, or indeed just ads in general – these products have to eke out a living in some way, of course. Naturally, any software you pay for won’t have adverts popping up and annoying you (or shouldn’t, anyway, if you buy from a reputable vendor).

Finally, it’s worth considering that some paid antivirus apps really aren’t all that expensive, particularly if you’re willing to subscribe for a longer term. When you actually break down the cost of some of those multi-year contracts to work out what you’re paying monthly, it’s not very much for a high level of protection.

Is paid antivirus really worth it?

On balance, paying for an antivirus makes sense on a number of levels. As we’ve underlined here, those who aren’t very tech-savvy or confident can stay much safer online with premium antivirus software (and kids can as well, thanks to additional features like parental controls). And remember that it doesn’t have to be that expensive to get paid antivirus protection, with even the best proponents out there starting with prices of less than $2 per month. That said, a good free app is still a perfectly viable route to take for those who can live with just the basics.

  • Read more: How to choose the best antivirus for you
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Do I really need antivirus for Mac?

Traditionally, the Mac has been regarded as a safe and secure haven compared to other desktop platforms – particularly Windows – and a common line of thinking has been that Apple computers don’t need antivirus defenses, because security is tight enough anyway, and threats are relatively scarce.But is that still true today? The latter point…

Traditionally, the Mac has been regarded as a safe and secure haven compared to other desktop platforms – particularly Windows – and a common line of thinking has been that Apple computers don’t need antivirus defenses, because security is tight enough anyway, and threats are relatively scarce.

But is that still true today? The latter point most certainly isn’t…

  • Our definitive list of today’s Mac antivirus software
  • Looking for even more protection? Grab the best VPN
  • See why we rate Bitdefender so highly in our testing

Growing threat level

more threats were found per endpoint (ie Mac) than with Windows machines.

If any statistic will make a Mac user sit up and take notice on the security front, it’s the revelation that there were 11 threats per endpoint compared to 5.8 with Windows – in other words, nearly double the amount with Apple machines.

That stark headline isn’t the full story, though. The big caveat here is that much more malware is still aimed at Windows PCs, with the Mac getting hit more with adware and potentially unwanted programs (PUPs), or ‘malware light’ as Malwarebytes dubs it. These kind of efforts aren’t nearly as serious or dangerous as the full-fat malware out there, but they can certainly be unpleasant in at least some cases, hijacking your browser, changing your default search engine or perhaps serving up sponsored results to the benefit of the author.

Of course, we must also bear in mind that this is just a single report, and it’s unwise to put too much emphasis on any one source in isolation. However, we’ve also seen a regular drip of articles about Mac malware hitting the headlines. Witness, for example, the recent revelation of a new strain of Mac ransomware (the first such sighting in some four years).

So given this, and the apparent increase in Mac threats – which is doubtless tied into Apple’s machines becoming more popular – anyone who has been following all this will likely have become more concerned about Mac security, and rightly so.

Apple keeps improving macOS security

(Image credit: Shutterstock; Apple)

But isn’t my Mac secure by design anyway?

Despite these growing dangers, you may well ask: but isn’t my Mac secure by design anyway?

It is true that macOS is built to be seriously secure, and Apple implements a number of measures within the operating system to that end. The firm incorporates features such as XProtect antivirus protection, and the likes of Gatekeeper, insisting that all software is digitally signed (or notarized, in other words, checked by Apple for issues or malicious code). All this helps protect those downloading software from outside of the official App Store.

There’s no doubting that the level of security provided by Apple is sterling stuff – but nonetheless, these systems aren’t fool-proof, and we have seen ways to get around Gatekeeper in the past, or attempts to trick users and foil this built-in security. Vulnerabilities at a hardware level can be another dangerous potential attack vector against Mac systems, too, as we’ve seen in the past with the likes of ZombieLoad.

Besides, as Malwarebytes points out, Apple’s integrated security measures aren’t so great about picking up the ‘malware light’ efforts we mentioned above. As the security company notes: “macOS’ built-in security systems have not cracked down on adware and PUPs to the same degree that they have malware, leaving the door open for these borderline programs to infiltrate.”

And as we’ve noted, those ‘borderline’ apps may not wreak havoc on your system like a traditional piece of malware, but you still don’t want those kind of things hanging around on your Mac.

Do I really need antivirus for Mac?

When you weigh ever

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