/ Technology

Can you get away without anti-virus protection?

Computer mouse with security words

Do you need to laden your PC down with lots of paid-for security software to stay safe in this apparent virus-ridden day and age? Well, not according to a recent Which? Computing investigation.

We conducted an experiment at the tail end of last year to find out whether the average user’s PC was, in fact, far safer than they thought.

In our survey of PC users we found that 57% were worried about their computer being attacked by a virus, and a further 62% expressed a fear about their online security. This trepidation prevented just under half of those asked from banking online, a third shopping online and a quarter from using social networks like Facebook.

So, in our experiment we ran five test computers with various levels of anti-virus protection, including paid-for packages and free software like Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE), to see how well they fared against the estimated 60,000 or so virus threats that occur every day.

After continuously monitoring these test computers, which browsed 22 ‘safe sites’ for two hours daily, not one became infected. And that’s despite one of the PCs not having any anti-virus software installed (apart from being protected by a hardware firewall). These results seem to suggest that people’s PC security fears are nothing more than that – a fear.

Do you need to pay for anti-virus software?

Of course, it wouldn’t be a good idea to risk going without anti-virus software, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t just use a basic free package, like AVG Free, Avast! or MSE. They may not perform quite as well as paid-for software, but they’re perfectly adequate.

So as long as you visit reputable websites, use decent anti-virus software (even if it’s free) and exercise caution when clicking on email attachments, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Or does it still make you feel safer by spending a pretty penny on anti-virus protection?


I’m not sure what this investigation aims to show and I think it’s misleading. Real human use won’t just stick to browsing a small list of approved sites, but would also use email, will sometimes download and use attachments, might plug in USB drives from friends, will sometimes download and install programs. You just need to be unlucky occasionally in one of those actions to have a real problem.