Anytime people talk about computer security and the need for antivirus, someone usually recommends staying clear of viruses and other malware merely by being careful about where you go on the Internet. Be a little alert to what you’re downloading, they say, and you won’t ever need software to watch out for you.
While this idea makes instinctive sense to many people, it isn’t a logical one. Antivirus software isn’t merely for people who don’t have the sense to know that a download link that goes Secret Software Lets You Earn $$$!!! is probably bogus. We live in a time of the zero hour malware – programs that are created and launched by criminal organizations simply for what they will let them steal in the few hours it takes the antivirus software companies to shut them down. Everyone is vulnerable now, even if they are smart and careful.
To begin, being alert only gets you so far
The makers of computer software often run hacker contests (with names like Pwn2Own) to see if motivated and talented hackers can find vulnerabilities in their software. They routinely do find ways to get into Chrome, Flash and Firefox. When they do, the software makers try to patch up the hole. The next time around, though, the hackers find new holes. It never ends. This is how vulnerable even fully patched up software is.
What happens when a criminal finds a vulnerability like this? He isn’t going to tell the software maker. Instead, he is merely going to find a way to use it to attack a visitor to a website he has control of. Sometimes, hackers try to take over legitimate websites that belong to others to infect them with malware. Those websites then take advantage of visitors coming in on browsers that are vulnerable. You don’t have to download anything from these websites to get infected – merely visiting them does the trick.
Antivirus software is your last line of defense
The way your operating system and your programs are designed gives you your initial defense. When those aren’t good enough, your antivirus software is your only hope. Certainly, even properly patched up antivirus software doesn’t guarantee anything – you could have the bad luck to have a very new piece of malware attack you even before the antivirus company has had a chance to develop a patch. Barring such spectacular examples of bad luck, though, you certainly are better protected if you have antivirus at your back.
So why do people resist antivirus, anyway?
To begin, people believe that antivirus programs tend to be such resource hogs that they slow computers down. They also fear that such software can be bothersome – coming up with unnecessary notifications all the time.
Neither one of these objections is necessarily true. While Norton Antivirus was notorious for being a resource hog at one time, it isn’t that way anymore. You don’t even need to get paid antivirus to enjoy unintrusive protection.
Windows 8 does offer a basic level of inbuilt protection with Windows Defender (OS X has built-in protection, too). These are only basic protection, though. You could always do better.