/ 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.

George says:
18 January 2011

Free anti virus tools have done the job for me over the last few years and I consider myself a heavy user of the internet.

Bob, if you don’t get a response, try asking the question on the Money saving expert website. There’s techie forum and there’s usually someone to answer your questions.

Thanks George, will do.

Sybilmari says:
18 January 2011

I have an Apple iMac and have been advised by several people from Apple that extra protection is unnecessary. They daily keep up with new viruses etc. I never go on to ‘iffy’ sites and never open emails I don’t recognise. I have had no problems. I do think that much selling (in this case of anti-virus packages) is based on making people afraid and that is, in my opinion, immoral. Just be sensible and also close things down/log off when you have finished with them. :O)

I’ve only had to deal with one virus problem on a Mac in 19 years (Melissa, a macro virus affecting Microsoft Word). Nevertheless, my anti-virus software often identifies PC viruses when people plug flash drives into my computer. Without anti-virus software I might pass on an infected file to another user.

I’m well aware that PC anti-virus software can make a computer much slower but I have never noticed this problem with Macs.

Alfredo says:
18 January 2011

Of course you can live without anti-virus and just a firewall, but for “normal” users is too risky, as it is not easy to know what is safe and what is not.

I just use mostly Linux (and Apple Macs sometimes), and never had to pay for anti-virus, neither have to tolerate their high CPU and IO usage which makes PCs slower.

Alban says:
18 January 2011

So why are we all so worried about security threats to our PCs, yet never pay for comerical security software for internet phones? If the phone security can keep the online user safe, why can’t microsoft / apple do this without additional software?

I’ve never had a crash but I would never consider not buying car insurance! Years and years ago and before terms like firewalls and spyware entered the domain of general knowledge I learnt the hard way of why these things are important!

I’ve also never paid for protection as there are so many good free products out there.

I just wish I could get a product that automatically deletes all those naff messages from friends warning of ‘Serious Virus! This is v bad (I’ve checked it myself!)’. Idiots 🙂

I pay for a light but effective A/V solution

BUT – when setting up a machine, most people say they will get around to it and they don’t.

Two nurses I know had their machines hijacked and were being used as zombie servers – thus making nice people (like me) suffer as their machines attempt to infect everyone else’s.

I used to set up AVG (free) and hear of zero problems thereon – I’ve started using the Microsoft freebie as of late – it seems to do the job, but a firewall is needed on Win XP machines, the windows one is poor – Zone Alarm (free) does the job well.

Win 7 has a proper firewall at last and suffices.

If you want a good test of your firewall I recommend Shields Up at grc.com.

I tried the common ones Norton McFee etc – Found them very slow and interfered with the operation – Bought ESet but found that became really slow at start up – Never had a virus.

But decided as I do not use any Microsoft Software except for OS I’d use AVG – so far after a few years long daily use – no viruses or malware – I prefer the operation of AVG..

Quick answer:

for a PC running windows the answer is “no”.

For macs (of any kind) running Windows the answer is “No”.

For any computer running any non-windows software the answer is “possibly, but be sensible”

For a MAc running MAc OS the answer is “yes” – but as Mac’s get more popular the virus writers will probably target us sooner or later so don;t sit back and assume it’ll be fine for ever.

i have used Norton for years and it has warned me of several dodgy sites i’ve clicked on. one thing i have never understood though is why re-subscribing via a download from THEIR OWN SITE for a further year on whichever Norton product you have, is considerably more expensive than going to a software shop/website and getting the same product sent to you through the post on a disc. i e-mailed them with this query and unsurprisingly received no answer.

P England says:
8 February 2011

Three years ago I realized my McAfee system was slowing down my PC almost to a halt. Someone pointed out that any code or program that interferes with your normal use is in-and-of-itself a virus. My paid-for Virus protection system had turned against me! So now I run the PC without protection (warily), and have a MacBook and a Linux operated laptop, both running without protection. No problems at all in two or three years.

Sue Sh says:
8 March 2011

I have recently expired Norton, so downloaded a free AVG – and got the dreaded bluescreen and crash scenario. Was advised to uninstall both as they argue – which I did, and then tried to install a paid version of Avast thinkign I’d been a cheapskate. Exactly teh same thing happened – computer crashed etc. Done a system restore, but now have no idea how to proceed and I ahve no anti-virus which is worrying. How the heck do you ever get these things right off your computer so you can start again ?

Ian Willis says:
20 March 2011

I have a dell laptop now about 5 years old, I have had Norton 360, Mkafee Internet security and AVG free, I have also tried to download Microsoft secuity essentials but it says I need 64bit SP and only have 32BIT all of them almost stop the laptop operating.
Can anyone advise if any anti virus is available that will not slow th laptop down.

Damn Young says:
18 July 2011

I paid good money just once for a version of Norton. It annoyed the hell out of me by harrassing me to update every time I used the PC. Does it beat you up if you don’t renew your subscription after a year? I never bothered to find out. Just discarded the rubbish.
Here is a better antivirus system:
Periodicaly re-format your hard drive, and re-install everything afresh.

Theplatypus says:
26 January 2014

On this windows laptop i have never had anti-virus installed, i use Google chrome and run AdBlockPlus as an extension (except on sites as YouTube). To this day i have never had a virus, i browse the internet for 2 / 3 hours each day and i have owned this laptop for nearly a year. The threat of catching a virus is really over emphasized and as said in the report is only a fear.

Does anyone know Linux systems need anti-virus?

An exception perhaps?