Do I REALLY Need Antivirus Software?

Category: Security

I've used antivirus software for years, and it's never found a virus. I get the feeling that it's only slowing down my computer and costing me money, for no apparent benefit. Do I really need antivirus software?

Do Ya Feel Lucky?

Congratulations! You've been very fortunate, careful, lucky, or more likely some combination of the above. Perhaps you've never been in a car wreck, either. Does that mean you don't need a seat belt or air bag? Let's dig a little deeper into the car/computer analogy...

Maybe you're one of those people who use the Internet only for email, and occasionally a visit to a trusted news or shopping site. Maybe you never open email attachments, and you always keep your software up to date. Even if you're the poster child for "safe surfing" I'd say it still requires a bit of luck and a LOT of diligence to stay safe online.

The only way to be 100 per cent certain that you will never catch a computer virus is to completely isolate your computer from the rest of the world. You can't use the Internet. You can't insert a CD, DVD, or USB flash drive into your computer. It would be as if you locked your car in the garage to avoid getting into a collision. Yes, you'd be safe, but you would not get much use from the computer or car.
Do I Need Anti-Virus?

Antivirus software does not immunize you against all malware infections. It's just one part of a total computer security strategy that relies heavily on you, not software, to keep your computer virus-free.

Part of your security job is to keep all of your software up to date with the latest security patches. Enable Windows automatic updates, which will download and install critical security fixes at set times. Application software may include auto-update agents as well; don't turn those off, but let them do their jobs. See my article Secure Your Software for tips on how to check all the software on your computer for security vulnerabilities.

Well, Do Ya?

Practicing safe Web browsing is just as important as looking both ways before pulling your car out into traffic. Always think before you click on a link. Would your bank really be asking you to login and verify your social security number? Why is someone offering you free software? Where is this link going to take you, really? You can tell by hovering your cursor over the link to reveal the underlying URL.

When you receive email with attached files, be wary even if the email seems to come from someone you trust. Forged email is a favorite way to distribute virus-laden payloads. If something about an email does not look right, don't open the attached file. Contact the purported sender to verify that the message actually came from him or her, and ask what's in the attachment.

If you do all of this, do you still need antivirus software? Yes, because you, like all humans, are fallible. Antivirus software is your protection against human error. Virus authors are highly skilled at forging credible emails, and they know all the psychological buttons to push in order to get you to click on their links. If you make one mistake, you will be glad to have antivirus software to catch you.

In my opinion, there's really no good argument for NOT having anti-virus protection. See my article Free Anti-Virus Programs for a list of several excellent freebies that will do the job with minimal impact on your system performance.

Just don't be lulled into a false sense of security just because you use an antivirus program. Antivirus software developers are in a constant arms race against bad guys who keep coming up with new ways to slip malware through defenses. An antivirus program is no substitute for safe computing practices. But if you want to enjoy the benefits of computing, especially online, then you need to keep a good antivirus program active at all times.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome! Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Do I REALLY Need Antivirus Software?"

Posted by:

21 Jul 2011

I suppose there must be a caveat for different Operating Systems. I use Ubuntu and my wife has a Mac and we haven't loaded any antivirus software (yet). But I do believe in safe web browsing. Mac OS and Ubuntu may be small fry but they both use browsers that are certainly susceptible to trouble. I like "no script" for Mozilla Firefox that definitely slows you down but catches stuff when browsing particularly sketchy sites.

Posted by:

21 Jul 2011

When I switched to a MAC, I was talked out of virus software. What is your opinion?

Posted by:

Ernst Verheij
21 Jul 2011

I use, together with an antivirus programm, already for many years, Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI)( as part of my security.
It is a FREE security tool designed to detect vulnerable and out-dated programs and plug-ins which expose your PC to attacks.

Posted by:

Pete M
21 Jul 2011

Well said Bob. Couldn't have put it better myself.

Posted by:

Ernie S
21 Jul 2011

I KNOW anyone that thinks anti melware/virus isn't needed is fooling his/her self. I've spent a lot of time rebuilding my system because of them. It may "slow down" the system, but IT IS worth it. However, some packages ARE more demanding of cpu time. I'm on Norton at this time, witchfriend is better than McAfee (an old trusted friend). Have tried others, but no longer know witch IS the best. God help us on this one.

Posted by:

21 Jul 2011

Many of us that have switched over to a Mac are of the mistaken belief that we are safe from virus' and malware. What's the real story? With only 17% - 20% of the market isn't a Mac also open to an equal % of the virus' ?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Mac has about 15% market share in the USA, but maybe half that worldwide. Still, there have been some high-profile Mac malware stories in 2011.

Posted by:

21 Jul 2011

. . . Unless you are an IT Specialist you can forgo an anti-virus system but for the REST of us mortals we N-E-E-D this kind of protection on Each of out computers!!!

Side Note:

Mr. Bob Rankin is like a true friend or member of the family who always has our best interest at heart and who continues to educate his viewers (or Cyber Cadets) on the Beauty and the Hazards of the computer and Internet. No doubt he has saved us much heartache and MONEY with his valued recommendations.

. . . So we will continue to support Bob by telling others of his fine work and also by supporting him in a tangible way by making a Donation - - He and this website are certainly worth it!

Thank You,

(current donor)

Posted by:

21 Jul 2011

Right on Bob. Pretty much what I've been doing for 20+ years and no virus so far, knock on wood (like my head). Now, if I could just get friends & family to do the same, all of us would be a lot safer. Have told a number of people I won't open their stuff. Too dangerous. You'd think after repeated viruses they'd get the message.

Posted by:

22 Jul 2011

Very good advice,antivirus and good malware detection are just behind caution and common sense.
But of course those can both be included in caution and common sense.

Posted by:

23 Jul 2011

Secunia PSI is very good. Another good program for finding updates to your current software is the free Update Checker from

Posted by:

Thomas Cresswell
24 Jul 2011

I have a Compaq Presario desktop computer which came with a floppy disk drive. Today, while trying to install a program from a disk, I was unable to. When I went into My Computer, I was surprised to find that there's no "A" drive. I've never heard of a drive being deleted.

If the floppy drive went bad, will that cause the computer not being able to detect the "A" drive?

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