Worried about malicious software harming your device? Find out if antivirus software can help.
Most of us feel that the internet’s benefits far outweigh the risks, but those risks are still real and could cause you significant harm. One way to minimise these risks is with antivirus software.
Once considered a must for any computer user, antivirus is less common nowadays as smart technology has become better at neutralising the risks itself. And in some cases, antivirus can actually do more harm than good.
Here we’ll weigh up the pros and cons and help you decide if you need antivirus software.
What is antivirus software?
Antivirus software is a computer program that you install on your device, be it a desktop or laptop computer, smartphone or tablet. It then monitors the files and other software on your device and analyses whether any of it could harm your device, either by making it not work as it should or by stealing your data like passwords and personal information.
This harmful software – known as malware – can find its way onto your device when you download a file, install something from a USB stick, or even if you visit a dodgy website.
Is antivirus software safe?
Yes, as long as it’s legit. If you download official antivirus software from one of the big brands, you can rest assured that it won’t interfere with your device.
But it does have its risks. With antivirus software installed, users can become complacent and assume they are protected from all online risks. While viruses and malware were once the biggest threat to computer users, now the bigger threat is fraud through data theft through methods like calls impersonating a bank or other official institution, as well as spam emails and text messages.
Generally speaking, antivirus can’t protect you from those, so you still need to keep your guard up. Our page on keeping safe from scams goes through some of the common ones to watch out for.
If you think your personal details have been stolen, our page on protecting yourself against identity theft goes into more detail.
Do I need antivirus software?
If you’re regularly downloading files from unofficial sources and visiting many unregulated websites, then antivirus software might be a good idea. But for general internet use, sticking to official sites for browsing and downloads, most of us will be just fine without it.
That’s because modern operating systems – on both computers and mobile devices – have plenty of security features built in that do the same job as antivirus software. Make sure your device is up to date with the latest operating system and software updates as soon as they’re released, and you should be fine.
This will mean upgrading your devices every few years, however, as most companies don’t extend software support to older products. This will be expensive, as a new smartphone or computer will cost hundreds of pounds. If you’re using devices older than about five years old, you should definitely consider antivirus software.
Which brands offer antivirus software?
The biggest names in antivirus software are:
Is Windows Defender enough to protect my device?
It really depends what you’re using your device for. For general internet use, Windows Defender will be enough. If you’re a bit more cavalier in the types of websites and files you download, dedicated antivirus software might be a sound investment.