This comes up pretty regularly. A reader writes to ask if it’s worth paying $70 a year for anti-virus protection, or should he use Windows’ own built-in support? A large surge in so-called “Ransom Ware” infections has exacerbated the problem. RansomeWare locks up your files, and the sender, naturally, demands a ransom to unlock them. Typical demand is $300. This can be blocked.

Microsoft says their own free program, Windows Defender, offers enough protection for Windows 8 and Windows 10 users. Perhaps so. Research on the web found that Microsoft Defender caught 94.5 percent of threats. But the sample size was 1517 threats, which meant that 83 went through. It’s that extra 5.5 percent that gets ya.

The answer, says our favorite guru, Kenny S, from, is to use the Windows Defender anti-virus program along with the free version of an anti-malware program from MalwareBytes. This works well if you have an older computer. Otherwise, adding a second anti-virus program can slow an already slow computer another 20 percent.

If you have a faster computer, we recommend the free Avast from, in addition to MalwareBytes. “Faster” is defined as an Intel i5 processor or better and eight gigabytes or more of RAM. You can find out what processor you have by typing “system info” into the Windows search box.

Our main computer falls into the slow category, having an outmoded AMD e2-1800 processor, instead of a faster i5 or i7 from Intel. We tried Avast anyway. (We’re used to slow.) It updated our out-of-date programs, removed an add-on with a bad reputation, and noted that an extension had tampered with our default search engine, Google, and fixed that. It said we had a weak password for our Internet connection, so we changed it. (Even though our previous password had been in Sanskrit.) It offered to install the free Avast “Safe Price” which lets you know if a lower price is available whenever you’re shopping online. We went shopping online and immediately found 22 coupons giving us discounts on stuff we didn’t want.

What if you have a Mac? Since it’s based, ultimately, on the Unix operating system that has been used to control huge main-frame computers, a virus can’t get in deep. You might get some spyware if you add suspicious extensions to your web browser, but you can remove those by running the free MalwareBytes program. Your biggest danger is passing on an infected email to someone else, though it failed to harm your Mac. Avast for the Mac can prevent that.

If you happen to have a Google Chromebook — an inexpensive laptop used mainly for the Internet you don’t need anti-virus software. It comes with built-in malware and virus protection, with multiple layers of security. Every time you boot the system, the software goes out there to the great beyond and fixes any problems.

Beware the Pop-Up

We’ve been warning others about pop-up ads for decades. We should have warned ourselves.

On American Airlines’ website, we were asked if we wanted travel insurance for $24. Sure! We thought we could get our money back if we had to cancel our flight for any reason. A friend of ours fell for the same thing. But she was savvier.

She called American Airlines and was told they don’t offer travel insurance. The insurance, it turned out, came from Allianz, a 100-year-old company. It’s legit all right, but it will take a medical emergency, an act of terrorism, or the failure of the airline, to get them to pay up. It says so right on their website.

Our friend had just gotten out of the hospital and needed to cancel her trip. Allianz told her to fill out a form online. But since she needed her doctor’s signature– and he wasn’t sitting beside her at the computer– she sent it all in by mail, getting the P.O. box address (unlisted, by the way) from an agent on the phone.

Even Fishier

A reader wrote us he couldn’t get on the Internet, so he Googled the phone numbers for Avast, the anti-virus company. None of those phone numbers worked, so he went to From there, he got a company called “Nanoheal, but it’s unclear whether he clicked on a suspicious link or Avast has now outsourced its tech support. Nanoheal didn’t give him a virus, but it charged him $119 for installing a free program.

The Nanoheal tech installed the free MalwareBytes program,AdwCleaner,” which stands for “adware cleaner.You can get this at

 (MalwareBytes has a great reputation and we’ve used their other free products.) It fixed everything, including the Internet problem. Learning this — we‘re always learning we installed it on our test computer. (That’s our regular computer, but we think it sounds more professional if we call it our test computer.) It found 54 threats after we clicked “scan.” When we clicked “clean” all was well and we rebooted. Rebooting, by the way, will fix many problems all by itself. In general, it’s worth doing that before panicking. Remember: there’s always time to panic.

Cutting the Cord

We’re constantly asked (okay, once in a while) about the best way to “cut the cord,” or dump your cable TV service. The new “Hulu” service for $40 a month is getting the buzz lately. Instead of the usual channel listing, it shows you what you probably want to watch. But there are cheaper solutions out there.

One way to go is to use Amazon, Netflix, and YouTube, plus an antenna. Amazon gives you free movies for $99 a year as well as other perks like free two-day shipping. Netflix costs $8 a month and is better than we initially thought: We’re currently hooked on a defunct series called “White Collar.” Use an antenna for local TV channels and get classic shows like Perry Mason as well as old movies from YouTube or your local library. It all works out to about $16 a month.

The big complaint with cord-cutting however, is the cost of getting on the Internet. Companies like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T bundle everything. It can cost so much to get Internet service that you find you might as well add TV. However, after noticing that new subscribers were being offered Internet-only service for about $40 a month, we went on AT&T’s web site for a bit of a chat. We asked what our bill would be without TV service. The chat guy on the other end immediately offered to slice $55 a month off our bill. So we now pay $115 per month for TV and Internet instead of $170. Hey, that’s $660 a year back in our pocket. And he was friendly too.

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