Is Antivirus Still Useful?Updated: March 18, 2019
Online security or Internet Security it’s all about a staying secure in this threatening online world. But is antivirus still useful?
Similar to real life, online security is basically a whole package that includes various actions, rules, software and so on - all aiming to protect you. An antivirus is there to do this - protect your computer by offering you features like malware protection (the classic), and VPN, along with ransomware protection (the new ones).
As for online security, the most basic example is the SSL certification that’s now required for most websites. Without it, you wouldn't be able to access the contents of a website because it may be unsafe. What’s this “unsafe”? For example, you could get viruses or your data can be hacked.
I grew up along the developing of the Internet, with all that it has to offer. Back in the days, I remember that I was skeptical and quite afraid of not getting a virus. This was the main situation/problem: your computer infected with a virus.
Nowadays, regarding that virus problem, I feel more secure. I don’t quite remember when it was the last time I thought about it. This is due to the fact that most of the devices I use have antivirus protection by default. Or they are just more secure regarding viruses.
Still, there are other things that we now worry about: getting your computer hacked or having your personal data exposed. For each IT people are working hard, along with politicians. There’s this new regulation, GDPR, that even though it was born in Europe (and applied here), it still has repercussions in the whole world.
For the hacking part, you can use a VPN while using public wifis or just simply navigating online.
I mentioned above the virus problem. With all the new technology, antiviruses are built right in the operating systems. One example is Windows 10. But we’ll get back to this.
Antiviruses and anti-malware software are there to protect your computer from being infected with a virus. It’s like a shield that keeps the bad guys away.
Antivirus software has to be downloaded and installed in your computer. It will constantly use resources because you’re constantly navigating the Internet, receiving emails and so on. You need protection at all times.
They are able to protect you by having a database of the existent viruses. Whenever they suspect something’s wrong, they scan the file and compare the results with what they have. After this, they either alert you or they block the file directly - this depends on the severity of the virus. Not to worry, this whole process is done in milliseconds.
The antivirus also blocks or alert you about files with a specific extension (e.g. the .iso file - remember?) It can also scan emails (depending on the time of antivirus that you’re using). You can use the scan function to verify if the USB you got contains viruses or if the file you received is compromised.
The one thing I still see are those viruses that you get by clicking a link on Skype, for example. If you receive a message from a friend, a rather dubious message that contains a link, don’t click it. You’ll get infected and you’ll automatically send the same message to your Skype contacts. Not fun at all, because in this way the virus spreads.
In order for an antivirus to work at a full security capacity, it needs to be updated daily.
The first (known) virus was The Creeper which appeared in 1971. I put “known” in between brackets because the roots of the computer virus date back to 1949 (there was a book called "Theory of self-reproducing automata"). They weren’t even using the term "virus" at this point. It was in 1983 when the first term of “computer virus” was used.
Back then, the main thing that a virus was doing was self-replicating itself. Over the years, programmers learned more about creating viruses, and they started making ones that were doing serious damage.
Regarding the antivirus, let’s go back to The Creeper. In order to get rid of it, specialists had to invent another virus that deleted The Creeper. It was called The Reaper. Some consider this to be the first antivirus, some don’t.
It was in 1987 when the first antiviruses appeared: Ultimate Virus Kill, VirusScan and NOD. After this, there was a wave of new companies that had their own antivirus software.
As I said, back in the days, antivirus software was a requirement, but not everyone was able to have it. There were some okay ones that were free and did the basic job. And there were those complete packages (better built, bigger databases etc.) that you’d have to buy - to be specific, from a walk-in store. Now you can simply buy the license.
I remember that besides the antivirus I had (AVG as I recall correctly), I also had some anti-malware software.
The difference between a virus and malware is *drums* that Malware is the main category, and the virus is a subcategory. When you’re referring to malware, you’re basically including everything that can be bad for your computer (in terms of “infections”). “Mal” is actually a Spanish word for “bad”.
So in the malware category, there are viruses, trojans, spyware, adware, worms etc. Each one does something different to your computer or device, but they are all bad.
Looking at how antiviruses work, I think you understood it pretty well. You saw that I said that this software was blocking various files. Therefore, not everything was milk and honey. The “false positives” appeared.
False positives are, exactly like in medicine, a situation where something might appear as infected, even though they are not. Some files were read by antiviruses as being compromised, even though they weren’t.
One pretty known example is from 2010 when McAfee VirusScan detected a normal binary Windows file (svchost.exe) and treated it like it was a virus. This caused some big problems, as computers were rebooting in a loop and losing their network access.
And there are many more examples, one right from 2017 when “Google Play Protect anti-virus started identifying Motorola's Moto G4 Bluetooth application as malware, causing Bluetooth functionality to become disabled.”
Regarding the antivirus software evolution, they’ve evolved in smartphone apps, too. It’s logical - with the start, the boom, in smartphones, people basically started to have mini-computers in their pockets. Programmers had to do something, as viruses and malware kept evolving, some being created specifically for smartphones; they were quickly spread (also because the fast-Internet that’s now all over the world).
There are also extensions that can be used for Outlook or other applications. To get you a more clear image about how antivirus software evolved during the years, let me present Bitdefender.
This is how it looked in 2011:
You can see that it had the following features:
- Resident shield
- And some protection for the web.
According to an old article from their website, this is what the 2011 package included:
Enhanced Detection - Every product in the BitDefender 2011 family provides multi-layered, proactive technologies to hunt down and eliminate the latest threats in seconds.
- Search Advisor - The entire product line also includes phishing warnings for search results and safety ratings for all websites that may contain spyware or inappropriate content.
- Enhanced Game and Laptop Modes - Special task modes ensure seamless and secure computing, prolong battery life, or reduce system load and interruptions by delaying requests during favorite activities.
- Smart Tips - BitDefender now includes a series of personalized suggestions, warnings, and safeguards that are relevant to the user's recent activity.”
And some more.
I believe that 2011 was actually the acceleration point regarding all the new (online) technology, as well as bigger online threats that required more protection.
This is why Bitdefender tried to spread in every area possible, not just protecting your computer. Here’s how it looks now:
The features have grown and you’re more protected. I do have to mention that this is a licensed version of Bitdefender.
As you can see, it has not only protection features but also security ones. It protects you from every angle possible. And yes, it also has smartphone apps.
You can see that it also has a VPN feature, confirming the fact that using a VPN will help your online security.
Bitdefender also helps your computer’s performance, by offering some optimization tools: oneclick optimizer, disk cleanup, and even an anti-theft tool.
As you can see, antivirus software is not just a protection against viruses. Even though the battle with some malware has been won many times, these threats constantly try to expand and transform. That is why programmers have to keep up with them, and even try to be a step ahead of them.
Is antivirus software still useful? - heading 1
Like almost every other topic in this world, the usefulness of antivirus is debatable. Some say that antivirus software is still useful, some will come and offer counter-arguments.
I tried to look to every side of the discussion, and the main idea is simple, so here are a couple of aspects.
The main idea this usefulness revolves at is that it all comes to where you're going to use the software: at home or at work.
Are antiviruses necessary at home? - heading 2
Yes and no. For total security protection, you can buy and install an antivirus. But for the most common people, Windows Defender is quite enough.
An antivirus software is one that will keep your computer busy at all times (when the computer is on). It has to run in the background constantly, uninterrupted, otherwise you’ll be exposed to
Taking this into consideration, you have to check your computer’s capabilities. Yes, the antivirus software are being optimized, but they’ll still drain your computer. You might feel that it’s slow and that you can’t work with it.
Windows Defender is integrated in the operating system. This means that it won’t slow down your computer, not even a bit.
Therefore, antivirus are worth it only if you have a good computer. I mean, they are worth either way, but you seeing that your computer gets a bit slow at times, might get you frustrated.
Some even say that installing an antivirus adds a layer to your vulnerability. Because the antivirus software has access to everything in your computer, the malware can try to infect it; if it didn’t succeed by doing it directly, because your operating system was impenetrable.
To remember is that what I’ve heard is that most of requests regarding the infected computers come from the people who are playing online games, the ones made for adults. I will say that people aren’t playing these games at work, they do it at home. Therefore, they have to use an antivirus. This isn’t a judgment, this is just a friendly and strict advice. If you’re going to play those games, you should really have antivirus installed.
Is Windows Defender enough for the personal computer? - heading 3
Let me explain a bit more about how does Windows Defender work. Back in the days, it was pretty useless, but now (since the Windows 7 release), it’s pretty much a good enough shield to protect yourself from online threats.
These are the features that it offers:
It’s a wide range, from virus and threat protection to the Windows Firewall and to family control. Each main feature has more subcategories.
Being a part of the operating system, Windows Defender has something more than Bitdefender (mentioning this one because it’s the one I’ve written above):
core isolation (virtualization-based security, which is running to protect the core parts of your device)
Security processor (it’s also called the trusted platform module [TPM] and it provides additional encryption for your device.
Fresh start (basically resets your system, but it keeps all of your personal data. It can improve the device’s startup and shutdown, the battery life and the memory usage.
Other than these, Windows Defender has all the basic (sometimes premium) features an antivirus software has:
Virus & Threat Protection (you should keep your operating system updated, in order to benefit from the newest security additions);
Firewall & Network protection;
App and Browser Protection;
Device Performance and Health;
Family Options (as long as you have created a family account and included family members)
Parental Control (activity, restriction, schedule)
Some differences between Windows Defender and Bitdefender. Here’s what Bitdefender offers you and what Windows Defender doesn’t
File Shredder (a more advanced Ctrl+Shift+Delete);
I think they’re all available in the licensed version (some, like the VPN, even require other another subscription to fully benefit of them). But to be honest, they sound pretty cool and they might make you quite invincible when it comes to fully keep your online security at the highest level (adding also you responsible behavior).
Keep in mind that you’re the only one that actually has the main shield of protection. It’s called common sense and responsibility. If you don’t care about which websites you’re visiting, or you open various suspicious links or files, then you should install all the antiviruses in the world (just joking). What I’m trying to say is that malware is constantly updating; so do antivirus software. But why expose yourself to threats, when you could easily avoid them from the start?
Concluding, an antivirus is useful for your home computer if you want to have the highest level of protection. Or if you’re playing online games (adults ones especially). Just remember that it can come with two costs: the money, and that it may slow down your computer (you’re fine if you have a computer that has very good specifications).
How to protect yourself online without using a antivirus? -2
In case you decided that you don’t what to install a antivirus, then let’s see what you can do to enhance your online security and privacy.
Firstly, there’s the AdBlocker extension. It keeps all those ads away, good or bad. I’ve been using it since...forever, and I find it really useful. I don’t stress about accidentally clicking an ad, and having bad luck - the ad takes me to an infected website. Of course, Windows Defender will step in, but still.
AdBlockers can be used almost seemingly on your computer. On the other hand, on your smartphone or tablet, you might not get the same experience. I say this because there are VERIFY some apps that require you to browse within them; they don’t offer protection if you use the browser app itself.
Secondly, there’s the VPN. The easiest solution to almost every online security problem that you may have. Yes, I advise you to use a paid one, because in this way you can be surer that your data is actually secured. Otherwise, free might mean no money, but your data can be compromised (worth mentioning, there are probably some decent free VPNs out there, I don’t want to generalize).
Besides, the paid VPNs might come with some bonuses: smartphone app, account with multiple devices and unlimited traffic.
You can use a VPN at all times. But most when you’re:
Traveling or living abroad;
Trying to access location-restricted content.
These are the main benefits of a VPN, but there are more. You can read them in our article below:
In case you don’t know how to choose a VPN, don’t worry. We got you covered:
Are antivirus worth it at work? 1
You see, your work computer contains far more important data than your personal one. It’s not just about what you save locally. It’s also about the fact that you’re using the company’s network. In the unfortunate case, you get a virus, you can infect the whole company, leading to money loss in the end.
Not all companies have the luck to hire only people that have that good common sense I was mentioning above. Between them, there can be some that will click that suspicious link. Of course, there are cases when the virus is so good, that even the most skeptical and responsible people will somehow get it.
For these cases, the IT department has to be sure that the whole company is highly secured. As you saw, Windows Defender doesn’t have the Ransomware Protection. Which is quite necessary for a company, as in the recent years there were a lot of cases when hackers wanted ransom in order to offer you back access to your data.
Even small companies should invest in antivirus software. It can cost them their whole business if they don’t and they get infected somehow.
As for the bigger companies, they are the ones usually targeted. That’s why they will benefit from a a complete antivirus software.
You can never know what your employees are using their computers for, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
On what device should you use an antivirus software? 1
Now that we’ve seen some aspects regarding whether antivirus software is effective or not, let’s pinpoint some ideas about on what devices should you use antivirus.
Mac Computer 2
To be honest, I at some point lived with the impression that Macs didn’t need antivirus, because “there weren’t viruses created for them”. Naive, yes.
Still, I don’t remember hearing many people who owned a Mac that they had an antivirus. They pretty much lived in a world similar to the “After Windows 7” Microsoft computers.
Macs didn’t need an antivirus because their software was built with the idea of not sharing data with other software that were not Apple. Or so I heard. In this way, they were less exposed to threats, as their network was smaller.
Nowadays, the necessity of an antivirus on a Mac is pretty much the same as the one for a Microsoft OS computer. You don’t really need one, but you can add one for a full protection. And you should use an antivirus on a Mac if you’re running a company.
I applied the same idea that I mentioned above: iPhones were safe from viruses because they “lived” in their own little bubble.
If you had an iPhone in 2011/2012 you know that you were not able to share a single thing with your colleague, that had an Android phone. It was kind of frustrating, but I don’t blame them.
Still, they managed to live pretty well without this. When you think about it, there’s Whatsapp for this; and Instagram, and Facebook Messenger, and Google Drive and oh so many others.
Not long ago they added the possibility of transferring your whole Android phone data to your iPhone. Such a tabu back in 2012.
Does iPhone need antivirus? I, personally, never used one. But keep in mind that you still have to have a responsible behaviour when it comes to keeping yourself secure (online). It’s based on your preferences and how do you want to act in terms of your online security.
Android smartphone 4
I had and still have a lot of friends who have Android based smartphones. I do remember that a few years ago, they (or some of them) were a bit more concerned in terms of viruses and other malware compared to the iOS users.
There were cases when their phones got infected by some random malware, even though it was not a powerful one. Hence, Android phones had to have antivirus. Still, I have noticed something. The first results that Google returns when you search for “antivirus app” are for Android smartphones...
As years passed, things improved, of course. Android OS is more powerful and more secure than before, hence an antivirus might not be something that you need. You can install an antivirus app just to add an extra protection to your online security.
Yes, antivirus is still useful 1
To conclude and summarize an answer to the question “is antivirus still useful?”, yes it is. I find it very reassuring that I have one installed on my laptop, because as viruses and malware evolve, you don’t really know what could happen. Even if your responsible behavior is on point.
To be honest I’m actually thinking about downloading an antivirus app, simply because they are now more complex. They offer a lot more features like VPN, scanning you email for breaches and safe online browsing (these are for the iOS devices).