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Is anti virus still necessary

by Mark Nolan - 20:23 on 28 July 2008
One of the most frequent questions I’m asked as a self-taught IT specialist is; “What anti virus software do you recommend?” The short answer is; there isn’t a short answer. If you want the long answer, read on.
 
First I’d like to mention two anti virus solutions I don’t recommend. They are Norton and Mcafee. Let me go further than that; even if you’ve been persuaded to buy a paid subscription to either of these programs, remove them. Your computer will run faster and give you a lot less grief. Nine times out of ten it’s the first thing I do when setting up or servicing any computer. There, I feel better now I’ve got that off my chest.
 
The accepted alternative used to be AVG, a free anti virus program which was less intrusive or draining on resources. However, even AVG has become more bulky and demanding, and often seems to cause as many problems as it solves. Another respected free alternative is Avast, which is similar to AVG and preferred by some users. But I’m going to stick my neck out and say it; the best anti virus solution is no anti virus.
 
This will bring howls of protest from experts who probably know more than me, but no-one has yet satisfactorily answered the following points.
 
How do you know it’s working?
If it’s checking the next day, isn’t it already too late?
If you bought a car from Honda and they told you to go to Halfords for some extra equipment to make it safe, wouldn’t you ask why Honda didn’t fit it themselves?
 
In the interest of research I left AVG on my home desktop and took it off my laptop. So far I haven’t had a problem. This doesn’t mean I can advise my clients to dump anti virus, but I’m very tempted. If you are using a router, have XP set to download Microsoft updates automatically, and stick to trusted mainstream sites like eBay, BBC and Tesco, you are very unlikely to be the victim of a virus. Oh, and it helps if you are naturally suspicious of popup messages which say ‘your computer is infected, click here to fix it’. Basically if your computer does something you didn’t ask it to do, it’s time to start worrying.
 
Ah, but what if you have teenagers using your computer? Then my friend you have a problem. There is no solution apart from making sure anything valuable is backed up somewhere else. Young people are not experts at setting up and maintaining computers. They have different objectives when using them, and they will override any security to get their hands on a download they want. Virus writers know this too. Basically, let them have their own computer and learn to fix it themselves if they break it.
 
There are some who will say that anti virus is like vaccination, that I am benefiting from everyone else’s caution, and I’m irresponsible for not using it too. But hey, I get viruses every day, I just don’t let them in. 
 
The fact is, the internet is not secure. It was never designed to be so, and it’s too late to redesign it in a secure fashion. The inherent danger is what makes it so cheap, accessible and vibrant. In my opinion it’s a fair price to pay.
Comment from Julia at 10:31 on 29 July 2008.
Although I agree antivirus software is a waste of time, space and possibly money, unfortunately banks have now brought out "A quiet rule change which allows British banks to refuse to compensate the victims of online fraud if they do not have 'up-to-date antivirus and spyware and a personal firewall'".
See www.computerweekly.com/blogs/when-it-meets-politics/2008/06/is-your-pc-security-adequate-c.html

I think AVG lurking quietly in the background is adequate. Scanning slows everything down so I set this for 6pm on a Friday when I am hopefully sitting in the sun sipping a g & t.
Comment from Mark at 12:56 on 20 August 2008.
I love it. So my bank now has an interest in my computer. I notice they stop short of specifying which anti virus software I should be running. If my account is compromised, are they going to send a technician round to check whether I was taking suitable precautions? I think this will be difficult to enforce.
Comment from Mark at 17:44 on 21 August 2008.
Update; I just installed AVG 8 on the laptop and did a scan. Not surprised it found no viruses so AVG is coming back off and I'll test again in a few months.
Comment from Mark at 15:21 on 03 June 2009.
Update; since the beginning of the year I have been installing Avira free anti virus instead of AVG. It's unobtrusive, apart from serving one advert a day for itself. Doubtless there will be something else along in the future, but for the time being Avira looks like a good compromise.
Comment from Mark at 21:24 on 10 August 2009.
I should say that my comments about AV not being necessary pre-suppose starting from a clean machine which is not already infected. If there is already a virus then any scan will be better than nothing.
Comment from Mark at 18:09 on 04 May 2010.
I am now recommending the new Microsoft anti virus Microsoft Security Essentials as it is free, lean and comes from a known source with the clout to keep it up to date.

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