Do you really need antivirus software on your Windows PC or Mac?

Do you still need a third-party antivirus on modern systems? There are tradeoffs, so make sure you know what you’re getting into before you click that download button.

How dangerous are viruses and malware?

When you have to decide whether to install additional security to protect yourself from viruses and malware, it is essential to know the risks you face. If you get infected with one of the different types of malware, you could be in serious trouble.

The main risks are losing your data, your data being stolen, your identity being stolen and perhaps worst of all, money being stolen from your accounts.

Viruses and other malware have a lot of tricks to get your data or money. Nowadays, ransomware is perhaps the most dangerous and destructive. This malware encrypts your data in the background and then demands a ransom to free it.

Adware bombards you with ad popups in an attempt to make money. Spyware monitors you and looks for personal information or passwords for identity theft. Trojans attach to seemingly innocent programs. PUPs or potentially unwanted software are collected in other software installers. This is only the tip of the iceberg. There are many security holes that malware can exploit, but that doesn’t mean you need security software to protect yourself from them!

Common Sense is a great antivirus

The simple fact is that if you use your computer responsibly, it is doubtful that you will encounter a virus or some other type of malware. Stick to using software from reputable sources, check email attachments and email senders for authenticity, and refrain from using flash drives or hard drives connected to computers you don’t know.

You can also manually check attachments and other files for malware using a site like VirusTotal, which gives you the advantage of viewing results from multiple antivirus engines.

You can also use a virtual machine software such as VirtualBox to test the software and make sure it is safe before using it on the entire computer operating system.

Also, make sure you have cloud backups of your essential data so that if a virus destroys your data, you still have a copy in an untouchable location. Cloud storage services usually have a rolling window where you can restore any corrupt files uploaded from your computer to their original state.

Microsoft Defender is (mostly) good enough

If you are using Microsoft Windows, then Microsoft Defender is already running since you first started Windows. There is a feeling among users that using the “store brand” antivirus that comes with your operating system means that you are not well protected. The truth is that Windows Defender consistently ranks among the best commercial antivirus packages for detecting and destroying malware. It is not an exaggeration to call it a good antivirus, and dismissing it is probably a bit misleading.

Defender uses the best practices of modern antivirus software. It receives virus definition updates as soon as they are available, provides real-time protection, and uses heuristic virus detection. Heuristic detection allows the antivirus package to guess if something is a virus by its behavior, which means that it can stop viruses even without virus identification.

Like any software, Defender is not perfect. For example, it is disproportionately dependent on the Internet connection. So if you spend a lot of time offline and engage in risky behavior while doing so, another software package might be better for you. However, in terms of actual performance, it is right there with the paid packages while it costs the user nothing. It’s not the best antivirus, but when you consider its price, Defender is hard to beat!

Windows has a firewall

An essential part of computer security is controlling the information that flows from your computer to the Internet and back. You can get infected with certain malware (such as worms) through your internet connection or network without any help from you, as a user.

If you are already infected with malware, you also do not want it to call home and download information stolen from you. Paid antivirus programs may advertise that they include a firewall, but you should know that Windows already has a software firewall built in with the antivirus. Not only that, but there is a good chance that your network router has its own firewall. So it is not affected by viewing the firewall as a feature.

Windows Firewall is pretty basic, even if it gets the job done. The firewalls you get with paid software may give you valuable features. If you only need the basic features of a firewall, you’re already covered.

Web browsers offer free password managers

Antivirus software developers include internet security features to make more users switch to their products. This might consist of a password manager, and it might seem a good idea to get a free password manager with your security suite because that sounds like a better deal than paying a monthly fee for a service like LastPass.

There are excellent password managers built into popular internet browsers like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. They will generate and store strong passwords for you absolutely for free. You will also get a warning when one of your passwords appears in the process of being hacked by hackers.

macOS does not have a serious virus issue (for now)

Historically, Apple Mac computers like MacBooks and iMacs didn’t need antivirus software thanks to Security Through Obscurity. This is just a fancy way of saying that such a small percentage of computers out there in the world are Macs that virus developers don’t think it’s worth the effort to create anything for them.

You probably don’t have to worry about Mac users downloading only trusted Mac software or software from the official Mac App Store, but there are Mac viruses and other Mac malware. MacWorld maintains a list of Mac malware if you are concerned about the exact threats you are facing.

Apple’s recent switch to their own CPUs, starting with the Apple M1, has greatly increased the platform’s security. However, there is actually at least one malware package that attacks M1 systems in the form of Silver Sparrow. Ultimately, most users don’t need antivirus software on a Mac, but that highly depends on your usage patterns. If you want some peace of mind, check out our best antivirus options for Mac.

Antivirus software can kill performance

Microsoft Defender is built as an integrated part of Windows 10 and 11. Unfortunately, this is not true of other antivirus options. Anyone who has used the major antivirus brands has experienced performance issues at some point.

Not only do these programs consume CPU and RAM resources, but clearing them can also interfere with the operation of legitimate applications, slowing them down or causing crashes.

This varies from app to app and from antivirus to antivirus. It’s worth reading the impact of any paid antivirus software you’re considering to see what users have to say about its impact on performance. Professional auditors may also perform benchmarks to determine how well the performance of a particular antivirus program affects your computer.

If you depend on certain software or are a gamer, you should check if an antivirus is known to interfere or interfere with your favorite games or mission-critical applications.

Paid antivirus software can be expensive

It is becoming rare to sell antivirus software as a one-time application. Instead, you’ll likely pay a monthly fee. Even if you pay for the software once, you may have to pay an annual fee or continue to receive virus definition updates.

Depending on your risk profile, whether you have access to built-in antivirus software like Defender, and how much additional features some paid options provide, your operating costs may be unreasonable.

Free antivirus is not free

Speaking of costs, there are many free antivirus programs out there. They don’t cost you any currency, but they obviously need to make money somehow. If you don’t pay directly, that means selling your information, bundling unwanted software into its installer, or showing you ads.

If the free version also has an upgraded paid version, the free version may have many features removed to provide good antivirus protection.

Third-party antivirus software can be bloated

Installing antivirus suites can add a lot of bloat to your computer. There may be many different components of the wing, each vying for your attention. There may also be plug-ins installed automatically that add themselves to your browser or office programs to fight macro viruses. A good antivirus suite will let you choose which components to install and which to put off, but even that can be a confusing chore!

VPNs may be more important in some cases

One feature that most antivirus software does not offer is a VPN or virtual private network. VPNs create private “tunnels” across the Internet, hiding your online activity from anyone on the same network. This includes other users on your LAN and your Internet Service Provider (ISP).

VPNs are essential if you use your computer on public Wi-Fi. Whether it’s at work, in a coffee shop or in a hotel, other users can steal all kinds of information from your network data, and that’s something your antivirus won’t protect you from.

Worth a third-party antivirus

If you decide that you want to install third-party antivirus protection on your computer, it is a good idea to stick with the mainstream brands and have a known history. As there are many fake antivirus software out there, you may see fake antivirus software being advertised on scam websites or social media. They’ll tell you that your computer system is infected, ask you for money to “fix” it, and if you’re lucky, you’ll lose very little money. Prevalent cybersecurity software brands and software include:

  • Norton
  • McAfee
  • AVG
  • Malware
  • Kaspersky
  • BitDefender
  • Avira

Let’s say you want to evaluate the relative merits of different antivirus options or confirm that your antivirus is legitimate. In this case, AV-Test is a great resource, which specializes in reviewing and testing this software. You can also check out our best virus and malware scanner for some great suggestions.

How about an antivirus for your smartphone?

You probably use your smartphone or tablet more than your desktop computer these days, so you’ve probably wondered if you need an antivirus for that. If you are an Android smartphone user and use software from sources other than the Google Play Store, then you may want to consider a reputable Android Antivirus app.

Check out how to remove malware from your Android phone and the best antivirus and security apps for Android. For iOS users, antivirus is not an option, but if you haven’t jailbroken your iPhone or iPad, it’s not an issue.

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