6 free ways to save your digital life

McAfee is rolling out a new all-in-one security product for computers, phones and tablets. But the bundle includes a lot of services you already have, or can get for free.

By Stacy Johnson Oct 18, 2011 9:10AM

This post comes from Brandon Ballenger at partner site Money Talks News.


If you lost everything on your computer, smartphone and tablet, how would you price the damage? Internet security company McAfee claims it has about $55,000 in value for the average American.


Of course, they would say that. They're trying to promote their new software, McAfee All Access, cross-device security for multiple Internet-enabled devices (PCs, Macs, smartphones, netbooks, and tablets) under one annual plan. It's $100 a year.Symantec also came out recently with a similar service.


But before I get into all the "solutions" they offer, let me throw out a few more of their survey stats:

  • 60% of consumers own at least three digital devices per household, and 25% have five or more.
  • The average user has 2,777 digital files stored on at least one device, including music downloads, personal memories and photographs, personal communications, personal records (health, financial, insurance), career information (resumes, portfolios, cover letters, email contacts), and hobbies and creative projects.
  • 27% of those assets were considered "impossible to restore" if lost and not backed up properly, with personal stuff being the most valuable and irreplaceable.

"Not backed up properly" is the key phrase in that last point. If you don't take care of your files, frankly, you might deserve what you get. You can back up and protect your files for a lot less than $100 a year, although McAfee tries to scare you away from the free stuff:

When it comes to security software, free is not better. A September 2010 USA Today survey of 16 anti-virus companies shows that no-cost anti-virus programs generally lack important features such as a firewall, website health checks, and automatic updates.

Yes, USA Today did say that. It also relayed the story of a guy who researched and downloaded a bunch of free software to create "a small fortress" of protection, although it added that he spent 50 hours researching this stuff. At that point I would just buy from McAfee.


But you really don't need to spend 50 hours, or lots of money. Here's how to get for free most of the protections McAfee wants $100 for. Many of them you already have:


Firewall. Actually, some free antivirus programs do have a firewall. Also, PCs and Macs both come with built-in firewall software. And using multiple firewalls can cause conflicts, security gaps, and user frustration. Check that your firewall is enabled (instructions at the PC and Mac links), and you're good.


Website health checks. McAfee already offers this for free -- called SiteAdvisor. For that matter, so does Norton, as Safe Web. And Google has a diagnostic feature that will warn you when you click on a risky link in search results. You can also run its diagnostic on your own without visiting the potentially dangerous page. Here it is testing our site.


Automatic updates. Again, this is something PCs and Macs can already do. Most of the software you use also informs you of updates. If you're especially concerned about staying up-to-date, Macs have AppFresh and PCs have Secunia. But the update notifications can become more annoying than helpful.


Antivirus. We've covered this before: "Antivirus software is a waste of money." Our tech guy, Dan Schointuch, recommends Microsoft Security Essentials, which is also what I use -- without problems.


Do you need antivirus for your phone? McAfee is suggesting you do, and there have been a handful of Android viruses. For advice on this, I asked two of my techie friends -- an IT manager for a Fortune 500 company and a computer systems security researcher.


The former said his company doesn't use antivirus for smartphones, but it does block the download of risky third-party apps. The latter said the average phone user doesn't need to worry yet. Viruses will continue to target low-hanging fruit, and that's still desktops for now.


Device location. McAfee says its software can track and locate your phone by GPS, and "make it scream" so you can find it. This is another service you can get for free. There's Find My iPhone, and Plan B for Android, which is even more convenient because you can install it remotely after losing the device.


For missing laptops and PCs, there's free protection too. Check out this story I did on a man catching a laptop thief from hundreds of miles away. He did it with free software called Prey, which is available for most major operating systems.


Backup. With music streaming services like Pandora and Spotify, many people don't need to keep MP3 files anymore, and that's good, because music, along with video, tends to eat up the largest chunk of space. For those who want to keep their collections, Google Music lets you store 20,000 songs free and listen from various devices. For now, you can't re-download those songs, although it's still in beta and that may change. Post continues after video.

Amazon's Cloud Drive  gives you 5 GB of space for free (you can use it for music or anything else) and Apple's iCloud does the same. Dropbox is another popular service for backup and file sharing, and offers 2 GB free.


For traditional offline backups, PCs and Macs once again already have options built in to make it simple. Windows has the Backup and Restore Center, and Macs have Time Machine.


If you have more money than patience, or are responsible for protecting other people's data, it might make sense to go for McAfee's package. But the open-source, do-it-yourself ethos of the Web is as strong as ever -- and there's no reason the average consumer can't take advantage of it.


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:


Oct 20, 2011 12:52PM
Yeah no kidding! This states that free is not always better; however, Comodo and Microsoft Security essentials are free. I use Comodo's Internet Security Suite and it auto updates every hour and comes with a firewall, secure DNS servers, and other tools that help to protect your windows computer. I also use MSE to catch things that Comodo misses. Have had no conflicts with any of the firewalls or scans. This article is nothing more than a crap article about how great McAfee is when it does not catch much of the malware that is out there. The same can be said for AVG Free. Both of those AV suites do not catch even half of what my Comodo/MSE combo does. Plus if the software was so good, why do we have to pay to fix the computers when issues are found?
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