/ Technology

Why pay for anti-virus security software?

Computer keyboard with word Virus

We get loads of emails sent to the Which? Computing Helpdesk about the price of anti-virus software. This raises the question; is it worth paying for security software in the first place?

I’ve owned a computer for two decades (not the same one I hasten to add) and I’ve never paid for anti-virus software.

Why? If you add the average price of a yearly anti-virus licence (around £25) then I would have spent a whopping £500 over that amount of time!

They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, well, in the world of computing there is.

Good old free anti-virus software

AVG Free anti-virus used to be an old favourite of mine, but since Microsoft brought out its free Security Essentials (MSE) software I’ve been quite happily using that alongside my Windows firewall. And I can report no problems to date.

Have you seen the prices Norton and McAfee charge for their security products? It’s touching on £40 for your first year’s subscription, and then another £20 a year to keep your licence up-to-date.

Is it really necessary to spend that much? In reply to a Conversation about anti-virus renewal costs, Mark explained why he pays:

‘I’d rather pay for my Norton’s 360 as I have tested free vs. paid-for and have watched Norton fight off a virus and remove it in real time. Unfortunately the free software never noticed any problems.’

However, in our own tests we’ve found that free anti-virus options like AVG and MSE are perfectly adequate at keeping your computer virus free and protected, even if they may not be quite as good as paid-for software.

The case for paid-for security software

Some might argue that an all-in-one security package will guarantee that everything works together well. However, since Microsoft is the one who put together my PC’s operating system, an argument could be made to say that Microsoft’s own security solution is the best option. MSE is the anti-virus of choice for commenter Bob Smith:

‘Microsoft Security Essentials wins for me because Which? like it and it never nags me to upgrade to a paid version; it just gets on with the job without making a show of itself with pop-ups telling me about what it is doing.’

Are there any other arguments for spending lots of money on security software? Some might say they get technical support included. This is often true, but we’ve had lots of emails complaining that they’ve had to pay extra for the anti-virus company to remote into your computer and sort out your virus infested computer. Who would have thought that you’d be charged again for something you already paid for?

So please stop and think a moment before you hand over your cash for anti-virus software – a free lunch is just around the corner.

Ike Tomkins says:
20 July 2011

I bank on line with Nat West. They are continually pushing me into using RAPPORT. I tried it once and found everthing slowed up, so immediately removed it. I wonder whether, if there ever was a problem with my bank accounts, can the bank cause me any problems through not taking up their recommendations. I currently use AVG free which I have done for many years and, touch wood, havever experienced any problems.
Would appreciate comments on this situation because I don’t think I can be the only one in this situation.

Mark says:
20 July 2011

It’s funny you mention Rapport as I just heard someone bad-mouthing it recently. The very little I know makes it sound pretty poor.

That’s an interesting question. My understanding is that as long as you take reasonable steps to prevent yourself from being a victim of fraud, you won’t be held liable. For example, Natwest states this in their T&Cs:

“6. Where a transaction on the account is confirmed by use of the Security Details and the Service but you subsequently show that the transaction was not authorised by you, you will not be liable for that transaction provided you have kept your Security Details secret, you have acted with reasonable care and in accordance with these Terms and Conditions, and you have not acted fraudulently.”

Therefore, I don’t think it’s necessary to use Rapport, just as long as you protect yourself in a similar manner with other software.

Hope this helps.

I downloaded Rapport from my Santader account when they suggested it over a year ago and now Nationwide are offering it too. I’ve had no problem with it at all and I’ve used it on all the sites I visit where password are used.

Further to my previous post:

I’ve uninstalled ZA but now I can’t turn Windows Firewall on! At the Security Center there is a message saying ‘The Security Center is currently unavailable because the “Security Center” service was not started or was stopped. Please close this window, (or start the “Security Center” service), and then open the Security Center again.’ I’ve done that but it makes no difference.

If I click on the Windows Firewall button a message comes up ‘Windows Firewall settings cannot be displayed because the associated service is not running. Do you want to start the Windows Firewall/Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) service?’ I click Yes and another message comes up saying ‘Windows cannot start the Windows Firewall/Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) service.’

Can you help me with this please? I bet that there’s an easy fix – I hope so anyway! I’d be very grateful for any assistance with this. Cheers. Denis

I have uninstalled Zone Alarm.

I said this at the beginning of my last post! I’ve removed all elements of Zone Alarm using Error Expert. But now I’ve got a bigger problem in that I’ve had a Microsoft pop-up telling me that my software has changed substantially from when I initially installed it (10 years ago, so obvious it’s changed) and my copy of Windows has failed validation and I have to go to the Microsoft website to resolve it! I validated it when I first installed it, why the problem now?

Bloody brilliant, I’m well p***ed off!

I should have mentioned that the message also says I’ve got 3 days to validate Windows! I don’t know what the punishment is going to be if I don’t. I’ve sent this query to the Which? Computing helpdesk I hope they can help me.

I think it’s time for me to get a new desktop!

Mark says:
21 July 2011

Hey, denisiw.

Have you tried re-entering your validation code that came with your Windows installation? (If you have Windows 7 it should be on the top side of the packaging.) You really need that code, otherwise you won’t be able to use certain features of Windows when your time runs out.

It seems odd to me because you are normally only asked to validate again if a major hardware change has taken place (for example, if you’d replaced the motherboard).

If the worst comes to worst, you can always buy a new code directly from Microsoft; however, I would try contacting their support department directly to see if you can avoid this.

Problem solved!

I contacted Microsoft yesterday and was connected to Microsoft technical help. I had to install Microsoft Easy Assist and then pass control of my machine to the support engineer so he could sort the problem out. He had to go into the registry to make changes. I was on the phone for over an hour.

It turns out that the product key for my desktop, which was built for me in 2002 by a local computer company here on the Isle of Wight, was an OEM key. That explains why I wasn’t given the Windows XP disc at the time, I assume it’s so that in the event of a problem I have no choice but to take the desktop back to them to sort it out. Anyway a new product key has been installed and everything is ok. I can’t speak too highly of the support engineer who sorted this out for me.

Another benefit of removing ZoneAlarm is that my PC now takes about half the time it used to to load up. I’ve now got time to look around for a new desktop, at present I’ve got an 80GB HDD which is 90% full and an AMD Athlon XP2000 1.66GHz processor. The other drawback is that every time I connect a device to my one USB port I get a message saying that ‘this device can run faster if it is connected to a USB 2.0 port’.



Picking up on some earlier comments, there are viruses that can affect Macs (see, for example, the list here: http://stason.org/TULARC/os-macintosh/computer-viruses/7-1-Mac-specific-system-and-file-infectors-Viruses-and-the.html). However, Sophos AV software for macs is free and appears to be effective.

Wow, really interesting viruses affecting system 6 and 7 I think my original Mac SE from 1988 would have been vulnerable to these ones. If I were to list all the viruses affecting PCs since the days of DOS my guess is that this post would be rejected on the basis of length! However there have been a few changes since then, not least of which is 2 generations of CPU type (PowerPC Motorola chip, and finally Intel) and about 8 or 9 iterations of the operating system including a swop to the current UNIX based OS. I think most Mac owners now would be more interested in viruses for current machines and operating systems. Even viruses for PowerPC machines would not be too relevant as the switch to Intel CPUs happened back in 2005, most of the software for the PowerPC architecture still runs under emulation on Intel CPUs but my guess would be that in running like that the ability of any virus from that era (ie pre 2005) to do any harm to the host Mac would be small. The biggest curse for Windows machine owners is probably Mac owners unintentionally forwarding PC viruses to infect other machines.

Just found a problem with MSE; it gave me a little note with a yellow ! hazard icon that says “Preliminary scan results show that malicious or potentially unwanted software might exist on your system. You can review detected items when the scan has completed.” Trouble is, the scan never completes but it gives me no idea what or where the malicious or potentially unwanted software is. Not at all helpful as a so called anti virus fixer…….

So its back to AVG!!

I have just had a reminder from McAfee that they will soon autorenew my antivirus protection. The price for this will be £54.99 (1 licence) rather than the £25 per annum mentioned in this article! I have been having serious problems with a very slow running PC, that is sometimes unusable, for quite a long time now. I have just received a popup from McAfee Service Host yet again saying that it has encountered an error after struggling to write this post. Also, I have found that ‘mcshield.exe’ is using most of my CPU. Therefore I am now going to download Security Essentials, for free, and uninstall McAfee.

Andrew says:
14 May 2012

Like if you had to check to see if the top row of your keyboard actually spelled out the word ‘virus’.

Forid Uddin says:
17 July 2012

Yes I agree. The prices of antivirus and internet security packages are very steep. I have studied and tested many antivirus packages during my academic studies and have reviewed the ‘top’ brands myself. I must say, some of the packages don’t really offer anything special. However, there are some that are really good.

[Hello Forid, we have edited your comment as we don’t allow self-promotional links. Thanks, mods.]

bobphl says:
12 October 2012

McAfee have just renewed my Total Protection Cover @ £64.99 and I find in todays paper it is being advertised @ £29 by Currys/PC World

Richard says:
19 December 2013

Microsofts MSE is finding less favour with some techie websites. Is it still Which’s opinion that its performance is still perfectly acceptable ?

SMY says:
20 July 2014

I know very little about the workings of computers but have a MacBook Pro which I love. However, as mentioned by someone previously, my bank keeps asking me to download ‘Rapport’. I was informed by a member of staff in my local shop not to download Rapport. Not sure what to do so would appreciate some advice please.

There are some previous comments regarding Rapport. I downloaded it when prompted by Santander and have had no problem with it whatsoever.

SMY says:
23 July 2014

Thank you. Do you have a Mac?

No, I don’t.

I have used Rapport on MacBook Pro and was very disappointed to find how much it affected performance.

SMY says:
24 July 2014

Yes that’s what I had been told by the assistant in the shop and that’s why I have been wary about installing it on my Mac. Thank you

With his ‘just posted’ comment, the ever watchful duncan lucas has brought to my attention this rather useful Thread.
However, having Read the Thread ‘Teaser’ from a Geezer called John Bogue, of no stated provenance, I was flabbergasted to read these two First interactions :
See what you think, and whether it consolidates, or not, your confidence in the objectivity of elements involved with Which?
***Note to ”mods”***
If you rule that this is taking this Thread ”Off Topic”, rather than just deleting my hard work, please set up a Thread where this particular matter may be discussed.
Mark says:4 years 4 months ago
My personal theory is that the only group of people who really need decent AV software are the ones viewing dodgy sites and downloading illegal torrents. Arguably the under-educated average user could also benefit from the added security if they are unable to recognise threats to their computer.

Profile photo of John Bogue [Indicators showing him to be part of the ‘mods’ group]
John Bogue says:4 years 4 months ago
Yes Mark I think you have hit the nail on the head there! A recent online survey indicated that only 3% of current security threats are from the old traditional ‘virus’. The most common security issues we hear of on the Helpdesk are phishing scams and cold calling scams which we highlighted in a recent issue of the magazine.

A bit of a “mutual admiration society” there, I think.

Personally, I would only ever visit dodgy websites or download illegal torrents from the comfort and security of Linux, so, even then, I wouldn’t need paid for AV s/w.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Duncan, I still use Windows for some things – but seldom ever for on-line activity. Otherwise, I prefer to use Linux.

Good security is all about multiple lines-of-defence. Very gradually, newer versions of Windows seem to be getting better at providing these, but I think they still have a lot of catching up to do.

Richard says:
6 February 2018

Just a gentle warning, the WHICH! recommended Bitdefender 2018 just corrupted on my W10 PC and would not restart after 3 tries so paying doesn’t ensure a satisfactory result! Windows defender no probs!
And after the struggle I had to find the support (?) not sure I will get any sort of refund.
Ah well you live and learn.

In Windows 7 days, Which? used to report Windows Defender as an adequate free solution.

It did not prove sufficient to prevent my Windows 7 PC from catching a virus, delivered via a fake update for Adobe Acrobat or Flash.

Although no security layer is ever going to be 100% effective, I thought that was a poor result.

In my case, I was able to restore that PC from backups. I also took the key step of dodging most traditional virus attacks by moving to Linux for my normal everyday home computing.

Linux PCs are not invulnerable to malware, but I think that – for a number of technical reasons – they are inherently more resistant than Windows PCs.

I’m sorry to hear this, Richard. I’ll share this information with the wider team. Have you tried speaking to our Tech Support team for help? https://computing.which.co.uk/hc/en-gb