Do I Really Need Antivirus Software?

In certain parts of the world where rainfall is more likely than not, it makes sense to instinctively carry an umbrella everywhere you go. After all, you don’t carry an umbrella because you want it to rain; you carry one for protection in case it does.

And that’s a lot like going online these days. Technically, there are viruses and malware lurking around lots of online corners, waiting to rain on your parade. According to reputable antivirus-testing outlet AV-Test, there are 450,000 new instances of malware discovered every day. So having one of the best examples of antivirus software is a great peace-of-mind tool for keeping your compatible devices safe from online threats.

Do I really need antivirus software?

Yes, you do need antivirus software these days for your critical (and compatible) devices, but there are some caveats. For starters, the antivirus services we’ve reviewed all support four major platforms: PC, Mac, iOS, and Android. This means you should only expect to be able to protect devices that run on these platforms.

While many other devices in the home connect to the internet, they tend to have closed ecosystems, which means it’s a lot harder to stumble on viruses or malware when you use them for their intended functions. Because of this, it’s not really worth hunting down antivirus software for gaming consoles, smart TVs, and any other internet-connected devices that aren’t listed above.

There’s a ranking when it comes to which antivirus-compatible devices need protective software the most. It starts with PC, which is the most popular computing platform, so it’s more likely to encounter viruses, ransomware, and other forms of malware. Mac is increasingly popular each year but, like iOS, it has a more of a closed ecosystem than a PC, so there’s a layer of protection from viruses and malware if you stick to official app channels.

Android devices have the potential to be the second most likely to find viruses and malware, given their open ecosystem, but if you stick to Google Play Store apps, it’s a lot safer than installing third-party apps.

Compare the best antivirus software

Antivirus
Best for
Initial annual price
Number of devices
Threat protection
Learn more
Review
Best antivirus software overall1099.9%
Best cheap antivirus software1, 3, 5, or 799.6%
Best antivirus for families5 or 3099.6%
Best antivirus for enhanced security3100%
Best antivirus for first-timers1 or 1099.6%
Best runner-up597.4%
Best for infected devices1 to 1099.9%
Best for device diversity1, 2, 3, 4, 6, or 10 100%

Prices are accurate as of post date. Read full disclaimer.

How to avoid viruses and malware

While viruses fall under the malware banner, they earn their infamous reputation because of the potential damage they can do to an infected device. The easiest way to avoid viruses is to use antivirus software to catch any you may miss. Regularly update antivirus software and perform scans at least every couple of weeks, paying particular attention to manually scanning any downloaded files or email attachments from unknown sources.

Email attachments can be a source of viruses and ransomware, which is why it’s important to carefully scrutinise any attachments before opening them. You should absolutely trust when your email provider puts a file in the junk folder. There may be false-positive emails there, but you can manually check each email safely in the junk folder without downloading any files or clicking on links.

It's also important to keep your applicable operating systems, software, and apps up to date. These updates may only include quality-of-life updates, but patches also tend to include applicable security updates to help protect against the latest vulnerabilities. Getting into the habit of regularly updating also means you’re more likely to download hotfixes, which may address vulnerabilities that are occasionally introduced in updates.

With billions of websites online, a whole lot of them are not worth discovering. Learn to spot questionable websites to avoid accidentally or automatically downloading viruses and malware. If you’re uncertain, use a search engine to query whether a website is okay to visit by adding “is it safe” after the website address. Similarly, pirated software (including games) is a big no-no, not just from a legal standpoint, but because they have a reputation for including viruses or other malware.

If everything goes wrong and you’ve got an infected device (we’ve got a guide for cleansing infected devices), it’s okay to start over and either format or factory reset your device. To make this less stressful for losing critical data, it’s important to have a backup process, ideally an automatic one. External hard drives are a great tool for setting up an automated backup for computers, while cloud storage means you can back up critical files across devices if you need to reset a device without the stress of losing your data.

Situations where antivirus software is optional

While we absolutely recommend using antivirus software, there are situations where it’s not always necessary. For instance, PC users with Windows 7 or later versions of Windows have inbuilt antivirus and anti-malware protection from Microsoft Defender. Admittedly, Microsoft Defender’s protection isn’t as robust as alternatives like Bitdefender or Norton, but it does offer a base level of real-time threat protection and the option to run quick or full system scans or to scan individual files manually.

Similarly, there are free tools to help plug some of the Microsoft Defender gaps. For example, the free versions of CCleaner and Spybot – Search & Destroy are great tools for protecting against malware. Regular scans from these kinds of tools can help keep your computer clean.

Mobile users on iOS and Android devices who use trusted apps, only ever source apps from the official respective stores, and who visit reputable websites may also get away with not installing antivirus. Still, there is full-fledged antivirus software for mobile devices that’s worth installing if you want that extra layer of protection.

If you are concerned, the good news is there are plenty of viable free antivirus services available, including Avast and AVG. Like the more reputable versions of free virtual private network (VPN) software, which don’t compromise on the all-important privacy and security parts, the best instances of free antivirus software don’t cheap out on threat protection. That said, free VPNs may not have more advanced security features.

FAQ

We absolutely advise considering free antivirus software, but it’s not as important to pay for protection these days unless you want advanced features. Thankfully, modern operating systems are getting better at detecting threats, which is why it’s important to keep them updated.
Every version of Windows since Windows 7 comes with inbuilt Microsoft Defender antivirus software. While it’s not as effective as other antivirus software at detecting threats, it’s still a decent layer of inbuilt protection.
It’s worth paying for antivirus if you want access to extended security features and support across multiple devices. If you’re only seeking basic threat protection, though, it’s okay to stick with free antivirus software.

Disclaimer
Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time of publish and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on the retailer’s website at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. SafeWise Australia utilises paid affiliate links.
Nathan Lawrence
Written by
Nathan Lawrence

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