/ 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.

“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.

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.

John says:
15 July 2011

For genuine unbiased reviews of security programs I find av-comparatives to be the most useful
Having tried AVG, Norton, Kaspersky am now on AVAST free version which is good. However on a belt-and-braces approach try Adaware and Malwarebytes free versions.

Derek says:
16 July 2011

I’ve used Kaspersky for a couple of years. What I really like is that when I do have a problem I can actually get in touch with technical help and get assistance quickly. They have been great, can you get this service with a freebee??
My son & daughter run ESET on their laptops because it doesn’t demand so much system resources, important on a laptop.

Not on Sundays.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Mike says:
16 July 2011

I have used Norton 360 on 3 computers my own, my wife’s and my daughter’s. On 3 occassions it has dug us out of difficult situations we couldn’t resolve ourselves. The online support is better than the support that I have ever received from other software providers. Yes it is expensive compared to some other programs, but for the peace of mind I think it is worth it.

Get a Mac and Get a life 😉

Macs have virus’s too – you’d be foolish to assume otherwise, very foolish.

Too right! in reply to the other responder, what Viruses are these? The last Mac Virus I had was the WDEF one in 1989 -90, since then aprt from the usual spyware and a piece of malware a couple of months ago that kept taking you to a site where you were asked to pay to get rid of it, which was easily removed by the very cheap utility Cocktail, I am unaware of any others.

Kev says:
20 July 2011

Interesting comments but rather misinformed. Can you elaborate on exactly what virus’s the Apple Mac has succumbed to? Quite difficult to understand how the Mac permissions structure can let a virus do any damage. It can certainly pass on a virus in a forwarded email to another win doze user – that’s the worst it can do.

Warren says:
18 July 2011

Over the years I have tried several different anti virus programs and found that Norton put so much information into various different files on my laptop that it slowed it down. AVG was ok until a problem with the laptop forced me to take it to a shop and found that I had loads of malware which had got through. For the past couple of years I have been using Panda Internet Security which for £20 protects 3 machines and so far so good, the perfomance has been good, it hasn’t slowed the operation of my laptop and so far nothing has got through, My thought is that I use the internet a lot and do a lot of banking and paying of bills online, therefore want to ensure I protect my information as much as possible from hackers.

As a computer user with little technical knowledge I to like to feel safe with something like Norton 360. The one thing that does annoy me is that the annual cost to renew from Norton is usually greater than the cost of buying the latest version from a discount shop. I challenged Norton about this but they did not seem to care! I therefore tend to buy the latest version and install it anew each year. I don’t know if this is good practice or not, perhaps an ‘expert’ could advise me?

Mark says:
18 July 2011

Hey, Geoff. I used to do the same with Kapersky. Your getting the same package for less, so you are doing the smart thing.

david stobo says:
19 July 2011

ive been buying computeractive magazine since it started and its gave me a lot of tips how to look after your computer and ive never bought any anti viris software in me life and all my computers are running nice and smooth

I didn’t renew my Zone Alarm Security Suite when it was due in April, it was giving me problems which couldn’t be resolved. Since then I’ve relied on Windows Defender. After reading your article I’ve just installed MSE. When I restarted Zone Alarm (I still use the firewall) it came up with a message saying there was a conflict and ZA antivirus had been turned off. I’ll leave it off as it’s no longer being updated and MSE is, but what shall I do about Windows Defender, disable it or remove it?

Thanks for that, but as I said there’s no conflict with the antivirus programs because the Zone Alarm AV is switched off. But I will remove ZA.

I used various anti virus programs until I heard a computer expert on the BBC program “Working Lunch” who said he thought that most anti virus programs were “More of a problem than a solution” and he recommended Microsoft Security Essentials. I decided to try it and now have it on my 3 computers. I find it’s at least as good as many of the more paid for anti virus programs and therefore recommend it.

I used the free AVG for some years without a hitch until I took part in the beta trials of MSE. I’m not a security expert, so I cannot expound more than to say that MSE installs easily, integrates Windows Defender firewall and updates seamlessly (sometimes three times a day). I’ve never had a virus or malware infection which speaks volumes for me.

In large corporate or student network environments a different solution is necessary to ensure that all computers are kept up to date and that users don’t disable the protection.

Bernard Bedford says:
19 July 2011

How much you may or may not wish to pay for security software depends on your attitude to risk, your previous experience with viruses, your awareness of current malware techniques and how much you value your data. I totally disagree with Mark’s idea that the only people who need to be worried are under-educated less than average users and those who visit dodgy websites. I was part of the original homebanking experiment in 1983, get my share of spam and pfishing emails, and visit websites I think are legitimate and of value, but I have an inquisitive mind that seeks out data. I am happy to pay for antiviral software and particularly value Kaspersky because it invariably scores well in independent studies, it provides additionally a virtual keyboard as an anti-keylogging device, it provides a special safe browsing environment and a special safe test running environment for downloaded programmes. The price varies depending on time of year, but I invariably find a 3 licence version for less than £20 each year. Like John I find http://www.av-comparatives.org/ especially useful for making comparisons – much more than ?Which – because it gives me both data rather than stars and percentage scores that frankly tell me very little, and especially because it tells me the conditions under which the software was tested. I do a fair bit of online finance and shopping and I have no tolerance of risk in these situations.

James says:
19 July 2011

Some security software can cause unexpected problems, particularly if you have an old PC like mine (Pentium 4 running at 1.3GHz). I used to use Kaspersky Internet Security (2009 I think), but when I upgraded to a newer version my PC became very slow. Their tech support eventually recommended that I revert to the older version, even though their web site said the new version was compatible with my PC.
I now use Norton Internet Security. This runs fine now, but used to cause my PC to grind to a virtual halt if I left it unattended for a while. I tried turning off all of Norton’s features one by one until I discovered that it was doing a disk defragmentation. I turned this off and everything works fine now. I never suspected that security software would be defragmenting my disk!

Norton includes some tools in 360 that used to be sold under the name Norton Utilities (last time was 2004.

It was about 20 times faster than the MS version – so MS improved theirs with Norton code and made the utilities redundant. The Norton one is still faster, even if Norton causes your PC to grind to halt as the overhead is exceptionally high.

You don’t need to constantly run de-drag, about every 3 months would be good to check if a regular file user. Just turn it on and go to bed, it’ll be done by the morning, often quicker!

De-fragging a cluttered (fragmented) Hard disc does speed up things dramatically, anything over 6% when it first reports the status is worth doing, especially on big discs, a bit of math shows how much data is involved. This is not a thing you can do whilst working though, in fact it can make things worse as saving files, browsing writes files to clusters as they are being ‘tidied up’.

I am surprised that no one has mentioned NOD32, I have used it for years and the once or twice that viruses have got through their telephone and online support are superb.

As a matter of interest, I put NOD32 onto my partner’s machine about 18 months ago and it found several viruses, all of which I think were DLL files which seem to be a problem as they are loaded at startup and as such are difficult to remove, on contacting Eset (NOD32 company) they took control of the PC but struggled to remove some of the files, I said to the guy would starting up from a DOS disc and simply deleting the files work to which he replied that that was actually the easiest way to do it!! So here’s a possibility, use the free online scan that all the paid for AV programs offer, take a note of the file path, get yourself a DOS startup disc and just delete them????