/ 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?

YouKnowWho says:
18 January 2011

Make a couple of simple changes to your router and let OpenDNS protect your system for free, and speed up your internet connection too.


What and where is OpenDNS and how do I change the router,Please?


Bob, you can find out about OpenDNS here: http://www.opendns.com/ and I’ll get one of our computer experts to help you with your router issue tomorrow (if you can wait that long!) That’s if they also agree on the changes YouKnowWho advises.


DNS stands for Domain Name Service and is what maps a domain name on a network like the internet (e.g. Which.co.uk) to an IP address so we don’t have to remember a string of numbers all the time while using our browser.

I’m not sure why this has come up when the piece is about malware which is going to cause problems for the operating system which of course is on your computers hard drive. The best thing for that is to keep your security software up to date and you should be fine.

Klint says:
23 January 2011

Before changing your DNS server, you might want to read this:


Doug says:
18 January 2011

Not so sure about this – I have had 3 trojans stopped by my anti-virus software – so I will continue with it. Which? may have just been lucky!

Stephen says:
18 January 2011

Having installed and supported AV software since the original McAfee free SCAN program in the late 80s/early 90s, I became quite annoyed at packages that purported to ‘completely protect’ one’s computer – at the expense of its use. Originally McAfee was great and unobtrusive; the first really obfuscative one was Norton’s ‘system’ some years later, which caused slowing of performance at best. Unfortunately McAfee’s ‘system’ has also become as bad – and quite redundant, given the built-in features of Windows XP and onwards. The free programs are quite good but support themselves by at times prompting you – sometimes deceptively – into downloading the ‘new version’, when you’re actually taken to a web page to purchase the ‘full version’. This is also true of the various anti-Adware/Spyware applications out there, the most difficult these days being the Ad-Aware package (which doesn’t often uninstall itself completely once you’ve had enough of it, requiring reinstallation and registry editing to get it off your system’s back).

I have had absolutely no difficulty using and recommending Avanquest’s Fix-It Utilities Professional for ten years. One can schedule its maintenance and scanning, and it doesn’t step all over your processing like the others do. The only time I disable it is when I am performing and editing live streaming video or audio. As I have an ISP that has a spam filter, I don’t have to use its email protection, and never have it turned on. An added plus to Fix-It is that when you purchase one copy, you get three installation licenses.

John says:
18 January 2011

I use AVG (free), Zonealarm (free) and Winpatrol (free) + Spybot (free) as a secondary spyware check (It has picked up items missed by AVG in the past) . Tracking spyware slips in occasionally and is removed during manual scans. In 10 years I’ve had no problems. However I do use Firefox with Ad-Blocker too (both free) and also have an ISP with a spam filter.

Steve says:
19 January 2011

Ad-Blocker is pretty good at its job but NoScript (https://addons.mozilla.org/af/firefox/addon/noscript/ ) is the top anti-malware add-on for Firefox. It is a bit tedious at first while you create a “white list” of sites you trust but it really does make it difficult for the bad guys.