Computer Protection: Closing the Security Breach

Today’s Best Backup Software, Security Suites, Data-Retrieval Software & External Hard Drives

Computer-security software has more capabilities than ever before. The most expensive security suites also work with mobile devices and allow you to back up your data. Meanwhile, the newest external hard drives can hold up to four times as much data as they did 3 years ago.

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We spend so much time on our computers: checking email, monitoring social media, completing financial transactions and surfing the Internet. Nevertheless, it’s easy to forget how much security risk that we encounter each day. That’s why it’s important to know that the newest computer-security software and storage drives have expanded capabilities.

For the first time, security suites exist that allow you to protect tablet computers and smartphones in addition to both Apple Mac and Microsoft Windows home or notebook computers. Your options for backing up data also have changed. Manufacturers increased the capacity of external hard drives, and other companies increasingly offer cloud-based backup services that store everything that’s on your computer.

EXPANDING OPTIONS. All security software protects against viruses, malware (malicious software) or spyware (software that’s installed covertly on your system). What’s appealing about the latest security software is that you can buy a single license that allows you to get multiple programs that protect Mac and Windows computers as well as mobile devices. Previously, you had to purchase separate software licenses for Mac or Windows computers, and no security software license also bundled security mobile applications.

The first such software was introduced in February 2012. At press time, six security suites protect all computers and mobile devices. Five programs protect all computers as well as smartphones and tablets that use the Google Android operating system. A sixth program—Symantec’s Norton 360 Multi-device—also has security apps for Apple iPads and iPhones.

Unsurprisingly, such security software is the most expensive that you can buy. For example, you’ll pay $100 for Norton 360 Multi-device, which is $10 more than what you’d pay for Norton 360, which is compatible with Windows computers but not Mac computers or any mobile security apps.

Security software that can be used for multiple platforms typically supports five devices. Some specify the combination of devices, such as two computers, two smartphones and a tablet, while other programs allow you to choose the combination of devices. If you want to expand the number of devices on which you can use the software, you’ll pay at least $50 extra, but you’ll be able to use the software on twice as many devices. For example, Kaspersky Lab charges $100 for a version that covers up to five devices and $150 for a version that covers up to 10 devices.

Mobile security apps that are included in computer-security software provide no better virus protection than do free security apps that you can download separately to your smartphone or tablet, says Andreas Marx, who is the CEO of independent security-software testing company AV-Test. If you want additional security features, you’ll have to pay $4.99 to purchase apps that have features such as parental control, encryption or backup capability.

Intel and Kaspersky Labs tell us that they’re developing security suites that are similar to the Norton suite in that they would include security apps for iPads and iPhones, but neither company had launched its product as of press time. It’s unclear whether other desktop-computer security software developers will follow, particularly when you consider that Apple’s iOS operating system is considered to be fairly secure on its own and that independent security apps exist separately.

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We believe that unless you own both Mac and Windows computers in your household, you might as well stick with single-operating-system security software, such as Bitdefender Internet Security ($70), which is our midrange Best Buy selection, because it will protect up to three Windows computers.

Another significant change for security software is how it’s updated. Although most products update antivirus programs automatically, Kaspersky Lab’s Peter Beardmore tells us that developers are working on security suites that also will update other features, such as enhanced spam detection, automatically throughout the year. It’s unclear when such programs will arrive or how much extra that you’d pay for them.

BACKUP PLAN. Today’s desktop external hard drives have as much as 4 terabytes (TB) of storage, compared with a maximum of 1TB on earlier versions. Models that have 4TB of storage cost at least $190, which is about as much as you’d have paid for a 1TB model previously. Meanwhile, today’s portable external hard drives have as much as 2TB of storage capacity compared with a maximum of 1.5TB previously. However, today’s 2TB portable external hard drives cost as little as $150, which is $120 less than was the price of the previous 1.5TB models.

Storage expansion is particularly good news if you’re a shutterbug who has an increasingly large image archive, a music hound who has thousands of digital albums or a video buff who has a wealth of high-definition files. For instance, a 1TB drive could store up to 666,000 images, 245,000 songs or 526 high-definition movies, whereas a 4TB drive could store at least 2.5 million images, 1.1 million songs and at least 2,000 HD movies. Large families who have multiple computers yet share one external hard drive might find this helpful, too.

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In addition, USB 3.0 connectors now are standard for all external hard drives, which means that you no longer have to pay a premium to get data-transfer speeds that are at least 4.8 gigabits per second (Gbps). You’ll pay a premium of as much as $140 to step up to an external hard drive that has a Thunderbolt connection, which is twice as fast as USB 3.0 is.

Although Thunderbolt was introduced 2 years ago, primarily only Mac computers have a Thunderbolt port, and it’s unclear when that will change. The price, coupled with Thunderbolt’s high transfer speeds, means that Thunderbolt drives appeal largely to media professionals who transfer many large files.

In 2014, we expect to see new versions of USB and Thunderbolt. USB 3.1 will transfer data at 10 Gbps (twice as fast as USB 3.0 and the same speed as the existing Thunderbolt), and it will have backward compatibility with existing USB devices (albeit at the maximum speed that the previous device supports). Thunderbolt 2 already is available on the newest Apple MacBook Pro notebook computers. It also has backward compatibility, and it transfers data twice as fast as what’s expected from USB 3.1.

It’s unclear when external hard drives that are compatible with USB 3.1 will arrive, but the first Thunderbolt 2 drive is on the way. In January 2014, LaCie announced that it would make a Thunderbolt 2-compatible external hard drive. LaCie hadn’t announced pricing at press time, but we can’t help but believe that it will cost at least $699, which is the same as an existing premium Thunderbolt drive.

NETWORK NEWS. If you want to step up to a network-attached storage (NAS) drive so you can back up at least two computers at once over your home network, you should know that such drives increasingly allow you to back up at least some of your data to cloud-based storage. You’ll pay at least $150 for an NAS drive that allows you to back up at least 2GB of data to a storage website.

Such a feature is appealing particularly for people who want to share files or who want to have access to their files when they’re on the go. However, if the company that provides the online storage goes out of business, then you face the possibility that your data will disappear, too, data-storage experts tell us. In other words, if you use such online storage, you’d better have a backup plan.

Freelance writer Melissa J. Perenson has covered computer technology for 20 years.

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