I now know, after 10 years of doing this, the best way to instantly bury my credibility: tell clients that all anti-virus software is largely the same and ineffective. This statement results in hysteria. The idea that there is no way to be protected online (there is a way which I will get to later) terrifies customers. Big box stores that profit from the sale of packaged anti-virus through scare-to-sale tactics and computer manufacturers that bundle anti-virus software in an attempt to reduce the consumer’s final retail price contribute to the widespread idea of effective anti-virus.
Anti-virus is not effective, or at least not effective enough to spend money on. We’ll get to numbers and analysis (which you can confirm yourself) later but let’s start with personal experience derived from hundreds, if not thousands of computers, serviced between two stores: over 90% of the computers we check in for our Virus Removal Service have Anti Virus software. This software did not block the infection, and can not remove the infection once it takes hold.The software probably notified the user, but only after it was too late. What’s worse is the AV software usually leads the user into a frustrating long loops of trying to remove the virus files through ineffective scans and talks with tech support (which usually cost more money).
I am not going to suggest that you should just bring it to us instead. We are happy to help you, but I am also happy to give you information that prevents future infections – just as your doctor should be happy to give you information that prevents future health problems.
How did Anti-Virus get to where it is today? I do not know, I can only speculate. I do know that in my opinion AV Software is one of the last great shams pulled over on the buying public. Sure there are controversial shams in other fields – ideas about planned obsolescence, intentionally problematic products, and medicine that only staves off disease instead of curing it, but I am not an expert in those fields and I can not point to a large degree of evidence that blankets over a small niche of products. Anti-Virus products, on the other hand, whether they are from Norton, AVG, Avast, or others are something I am prepared to discuss. They are overpriced and largely ineffective.
Above is a chart from http://www.av-comparatives.org/ - a site that conducts third part research on anti-virus software and publishes the results. “Wow those results are great!” Pause, for a moment. The chart does not scale from 0% to 100% of threats blocked, but rather from 60-100%. Windows 7 and 8, for as often as they are criticized, protected the computer against 88% of all potential viruses on their own. This is a typical result over the last 6 months with Windows guarding against 88-89% of malicious files without anti-virus software. So we can establish, immediately, that Windows 7 and newer will block most virus attacks on its own. Roughly 9 out of 10 files block is obviously not good enough, however, so what about that last file? That one you will catch?
Take a moment and browse their results http://chart.av-comparatives.org/chart1.php
You’ll notice some software packages block almost nothing without User Intervention (the yellow area). This means, that in exchange for your $50-$100, you must know what to do when a virus comes or you will get infected anyway. You will also notice that some vendors come dangerously close to reducing the built-in functionality of Windows 7 and 8 – probably not worth your money.
There are some Anti Virus packages available that approach (but never hit) 100% protection. Here’s the kicker – they are available for Free – not trial editions or temporary installs, just free. BitDefender and Panda AntiVirus, two relative unknowns in the industry compared to the old guns like Symantec and McAfee, release free versions of their software that provide best-in-class protection. If you can get great protection for free, the other guys probably aren’t worth $60-$100.
Let’s talk about that $60-$100. Microsoft Windows, if you buy it on its own, generally cost around $100. Windows powers your entire computer, lets you get online, lets you network, lets you run any other piece of software, and comes packaged with a wide variety of utilities and basic programs. Windows, through its own updates, blocks 9 out of 10 malicious files. The only job of AV software is to block that remaining 1 file. If it can not do that, is it really worth the same price as an entire operating system?
Comparing Gross Income between Software Companies
Why is this comparison relevant? Both companies employ engineers to build software that costs around the same price and can be purchased through similar outlets on similar media (CD, DVD, or digital download).
|Gross Profit 2013||$986 Million||$5.7 Billion|
|Gross Profit Per Employee||$123,250||$285,000|
Ubisoft makes video games including the very popular, and beloved, Assassin’s Creed series. These games also cost between $60-$100 depending on the version. They are made by a team of software engineers with the sole purpose of providing the end user with an enjoyable experience. They can provide 10s or 100s of hours of enjoyment. Symantec mainly produces anti virus products. They can potentially provide you with hours of protected surfing if they do successfully block 1 in 10 files, or hours of grief when you attempt to clean up the mess from a missed attempt.
How to Actually Stay Safe Online
Here are some tips to stay safe online. I do not generate $5.7 billion dollars off providing these tips.
1. Run Windows Updates – always. Windows Updates are more effective at blocking bad programs than any anti virus software. If you do not know how to do this it is simple. Click the Start Menu on your Windows Vista or 7 Machine. Right-click “Computer” and go to Properties. If you are on Windows 8 click the Folder icon in the bottom left corner on the task bar. Look for “Computer” in the left hand panel of the Window that opens. Right-click it and go to Properties. From here either OS is the same. Click Windows Update in the bottom right corner. Click Change Settings. Make sure it is set to Automatically Install and that it does so every day. You just protected yourself against 90% of viruses.
2. Use an Ad Blocker – malicious ads that tell you you need to install fake software are one of the most common sources of viruses. AdBlock Plus is available for most browsers at https://adblockplus.org/ This alone is more effective than anti-virus software in my opinion. Almost every thing you do on your computer is on the web at this point.
3. Take your time when installing software. Most software comes packaged with other software in an attempt to subsidize and make it free/cheaper. Look for check boxes and add-ons.
4. Use a free antivirus like Panda Free Anti Virus or BitDefender only if you are willing to do regular maintenance and check once a month or so if the program is actually running (down by the clock in the bottom right corner). Many times if these programs are not activated or need some type of user interaction they will stop working. These programs disable some of Window’s built in protection, so if they are not working you can be worse off than if you ran without them.
5. Stop using programs like Outlook and Thunderbird unless absolutely required by your organization. These programs download everything to your computer while syncing mail, including many malicious files. This is not 1999. You can learn to use the web interface. If your e-mail provider does not provide a web interface like http://gmail.com or http://outlook.com then you need to change email providers.
6. This ties in to Step 5. If you are still using your ISP’s e-mail, you probably need to change. Robust online services like Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo offer great spam and anti-virus protection. They are built on modern technology with huge server farms to filter data. It is still possible to have a bad file attached when using these services – it is just less likely.
7. Buy a cheap tablet. Google’s Nexus 7 is one of the best reviewed units around for $229. If you are in the mood to surf sites you feel may be unsafe use the tablet instead. If you do not have this available then use your smart phone. Tablets powered by Google’s Android OS or Apple’s IOS can not catch viruses meant for Windows computers.