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How to Choose an Antivirus Solution in Practice
Choosing an antivirus protection can be very difficult. The market is very competitive and products are at the forefront of information technology.
Antivirus vendors have both knowledge (found in the daily war with cyber criminals) and money to fight an epic brand war in the field of computer security. There are many sellers and each of them is pushing many things in their product in the market. Do you really choose between them? Let me try to go deeper into this matter in this article.
Security is boring
Security is always at odds with usability. Whether you’re working on your documents, playing video games or watching a movie, there are no security measures or programs to help you with your work. On the contrary, they mess up – they take your computer down, ask for different passwords, force you to choose the right folder to save your files and so on.
Yes, I understand the need; The security premium is the price of your security, but it’s not fun at all. Today’s marketing is trying to get people involved, entertained, to get some kind of closure by using the product. What kind of blocking can you expect from antivirus software?
All you need from an antivirus solution is to block and remove viruses. This is why antivirus vendors have never had a large fan base. LOST has 7.5 million followers on Facebook, Symantec has 35 thousand.
To make matters worse, almost no security measures give you assurance or any kind of psychological closure. Remember the movie “Mission Impossible”? There was a well-secured computer and now Tom Cruise came and hacked it. With any antivirus product, there is always a chance that viruses can still penetrate your protection. That is sad.
An endless race
Antivirus software developers are constantly fighting a war with cybercriminals and each other.
There are many ways to make money online illegally – spam, drug sales, pornography, gambling, identity theft, credit card fraud, and so on. And where the money is, brilliant (but cunning) minds use their knowledge to find it. Every day, criminals try to find a new way to infect your PCs.
When a new virus is created, it is tested against the most important antivirus protection; they should not be able to detect it. It is then pushed “into the wild” and begins to do its dirty work. Antivirus software labs around the world work 24x7x365 trying to detect new viruses using “honeypots” and various other methods. Usually, when they find an example, it is not very difficult to make a treatment. Within hours (sometimes minutes) of detection, this vendor’s software can and will protect you from this virus. (Top antivirus brands also have effective protection against unknown viruses. They try to analyze the behavior of any new program and determine whether it is a virus or not. But the intelligence of such programs is not very good.)
Normally, all major antivirus labs in the world exchange information about the latest viruses with each other. So we can assume that all antivirus products are very good at finding new viruses. The problem is that hundreds of new viruses are developed every day. You never know when someone will make a mistake and let the other one go.
It looks like a Formula-1 race. We know that all cars are good. Actually 99.99% near perfect, and the drivers are brilliant minds. However, they have to compete with each other. Someone will make a mistake and is not “perfect” at this point.
Antivirus vendors have to run every day, 24 hours a day on the Formula-1 track to ensure their effectiveness.
The first logical idea is to try to find the leaders in the market. Who sells the most antivirus products in the world? Maybe they are the best at what they do and the “invisible hand” of the market has already chosen the favorites.
According to Softwaretop100, the largest companies are:
- Trend Micro
- (Kaspersky ranks 3rd strictly)
Some are very small.
However, this does not include so-called “free antivirus” software. This means that the vendor offers the basic version of its security software for free and receives money for additional products or services. Free is the magic word, and according to some sources, free antivirus protection is installed on 50% to 60% of all computers in the world! The free antivirus industry leaders are:
They all start with A, and they are all European (Avira is German, avast! and AVG are from the Czech Republic)
There are independent labs that try to test antivirus products to see how well they perform in the endless race. Let’s see if we can find which antivirus product is the best
AV-Test tests 20+ products and issues a report quarterly. They give points from 0 to 6 in three categories (protection, maintenance, use) and the worst products do not receive a “guarantee”.
Let’s see who scored the highest in defense:
- 2010 Q2: AVG, G Data, Symantec, Panda
- 2010 Q3: Kaspersky, PC Tools
- 2010 Q4: BitDefender, BullGuard, Kaspersky, Panda
- 2011 Q1: BitDefender
I don’t see any leader here. Some months some sellers are better, some months they are.
Let’s see how the 3 market leaders (Symantec, McAfee, Trend Micro) fare in this test:
- Symantec: 5.5,5.0,5.0,5.5 (almost top score)
- McAfee:5.0,3.5,3.5,3.0 (incorrect)
- Trend Micro:2.5,4.0,4.5,3.5 (not good at all)
AV-Comparatives tests about 20 products almost every month and has a number of tests to show the effectiveness of antivirus protection.
Almost all leaders detect more than 90% of viruses, but there are those that detect close to 100%. Let’s see who is the best on demand:
- Feb 2010: G Data, Avira, Panda
- Aug 2010: G Data, TrustPort, McAfee
- Feb 2011: G Data, TrustPort, avast!
G Data is doing very well. It’s surprising that it’s not always good according to AV-Test.
Let’s take a look at the market leaders by their position in the top 20:
- Symantec: 7,6,12 (intermediate posts)
- McAfee: 5,3,10 (near the top)
- Trend Micro: 18,13,13 (almost always near the bottom)
“Low” in this case means >90% detection; We are talking about 90% of thousands of new viruses and the most dangerous virus threats, so I think it is good enough.
Virus Bulletin is the leading site, measuring a wide range of vendor products and providing the most comprehensive results. They have a lot of historical data on antivirus product performance. Let’s take their RAP (Reactive and Proactive) test from October 2010 to April 2011.
Top vendors are: Trustport, Coranti, Avira, G Data, Kaspersky.
How are leaders doing?
- Symantec: ~90%-80% (definitely the upper quadrant)
- McAfee: ~75%-75% (typical results)
- Trend Micro has stopped testing for 3 years (hmm)
What can be said about antivirus protection, if it is tested by independent sources?
– Results are inconsistent. Completely different vendors come up and fall down without showing why
– Top sellers are average or below average in their level of protection and the best places are given to small companies
– The same seller can show a perfect result in the same test in 2010 and drop a year later
– The websites of antivirus vendors are filled with certificates obtained from one of these three labs. Each of the 52 vendors has at least one. I’m not sure how to compare myself based on this information.
The power of the fourth inheritance
There are many computer magazines. And they are released every month. Market research says that recommendations from computer media are one of the most important factors in consumer decision-making for antivirus products.
I gathered information from a number of PC magazines, both online and offline. Let’s see which antivirus products they think are the best:
Dennis Technology Labs, “PC Total Protection Suites 2011,” February 2011
The best option: Symantec, Trend Micro, Webroot
PassMark Software, “Customer Product Performance Characteristics (Edition 3 Feb. 2011),” February 2011.
Top Picks: Symantec, ESET, G-Data
The best option: Symantec, avast!, Sophos
The best option: BitDefender, Kaspersky, Webroot
Top Picks: ESET, Symantec, McAfee
The best option: K7, Symantec, Kaspersky
The best option: Kaspersky, McAfee, TrendMicro
I could go on and post more examples, but I think I’ve made my point. Pick any of the 52 vendors and there will be an IT magazine that will rank it #1.
What do the marketers say about them?
Marketers tell stories. Inside many antivirus vendors there is a marketing tool called “fight card”. It’s a list of their product features and how they compare to the competition.
This is of course not public information, but it is more-or-less openly available to the software’s sales channel partners – distributors and resellers. You can do a little Google and find research examples and comparison tables released by the vendors themselves.
(Disclaimer: this information is provided as is and the way I found it – via Google – is subject to criticism.)
To find examples of these “fight cards”, please Google the seller’s name + “fight card” and you will surely get some interesting results.
What to do?
Choosing an antivirus product is like choosing a car. Everyone has their own preferences, and marketing machines spend millions to change our opinions. But there are no Ferraris or Porsches among the antivirus products, just a large row of mid-size sedans.
You need one, of course.
But if you want to choose between antivirus software – don’t! Choose the one you use today or the one your engineer friend likes. Or one recommended by your company’s IT department. If one of the products is causing you performance problems, choose another. If you have 5 PCs at home and the subscription is cheaper, choose the cheaper one.
A more interesting question is how to buy antivirus software. What do you need to know to buy software safely, quickly and at the best price? Unfortunately this is beyond the scope of this article.
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