/ 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.

Mark says:
13 July 2011

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.


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.


“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.”

If you shop around you can get it far far cheaper – Which? really should be quoting best prices.
I recently paid just over £20 for 3 licences for Norton IS 2011 .

However I agree MS Security Essential is good even if it does clobber the PC while updating.


Probably only needed for those who want to run Windows, use the Internet and exchange files. Of course there are alternatives if you just want to access the Internet and exchange files. 🙂

Sophie Gilbert says:
14 July 2011

I’ve used AVG’s free antivirus programme for a few years now and so far so good. Thanks, Which?, for letting me know about this programme.


Glad to hear you are getting along fine Sophie with your free AVG anti-virus.


Not everyone has the expertise or time to sort out problems if they do have a problem of malware. It can be expensive to have computers fixed and not all companies are reliable. Paying for anti-virus software is like taking our better insurance, and buying peace of mind.


I use Avast! (free) and it does a perfectly good job. My back up is MSE and also Malware Bytes. Avast!’s real-time scanning has been very useful so far, so much so that I don’t feel the need to do a full scan as often as I used to.


I used windows Essentials for a year,but got a virus from a program claiming to be Windows Essentials,which fooled me and i am quite experianced.Every time i done an Essentials scan,it deleted it,only to come back straight away and slow my computer down.Downloaded Norton Anti-virus Which? reccomended best buy and it was found and quarantined and delt with it.So for peace of mind I will use Norton,and all 3 computers in my house are covered for the price.