Can Antivirus Stop Hackers?

When the news of another massive malware infection breaks, you hear claims that antivirus is a waste of time. I think these rumors are spread by hackers because they’re the only ones who benefit from that viewpoint.

We’re all faced with this unsettling truth: no protection is hundred percent hack-proof. If attackers manage to break into highly secured enterprise networks, what can ordinary users do to protect themselves?

But here’s some good news: Installing antivirus significantly reduces your chances of becoming a victim of a malware attack. Antivirus tools hold their own against most of the threats you face every single day.

Protection Against Hacking and Zero-Day Attacks

Hackers rely on malware like viruses, worms, and Trojans to gain access to computer systems. Antivirus has long been the go-to software to keep our computers and devices safe. Your antivirus ensures that no malicious program can infect by checking all programs and files against a database of known threats.

According to the network security firm WatchGuard, more than a third of today’s threats are zero-day malware, which means that it has never been encountered by the “good guys” before. Fortunately, antivirus products are capable of more than just blocking known threats; the antivirus of today is a different beast.

While a dedicated hacker might evade sophisticated defenses, antivirus vendors deploy multi-layered protection that is capable of thwarting most of the attacks. With the rise of evasive malware, antivirus vendors have begun using behavior-based detection techniques to track and disable the advanced malware.

Not All Antivirus Software Is Created Equal

It is important to note that the effectiveness of antivirus tools varies considerably.

WikiLeaks’ CIA data dump in 2017 revealed the agency’s views on common antivirus software. According to the CIA hacking specialists, antivirus protection varies from “typically easy to evade” to a “colossal pain in the posterior.”  Recent tests show that while several antivirus tools are highly effective against zero-day threats, others fail miserably.

Hackers Prefer to Go After Easy Targets

It is normal to think that all hackers are brilliant programmers. While this might have been the case in the past, it is no longer so. Many hackers today are not technically sophisticated and have mediocre programming skills at best. Many don’t have any coding knowledge at all.

Pre-packaged hacking scripts are widely available online and on the dark web for anyone to use. Virtually anyone with the mindset and motivation can learn how to hack by using ready-made scripts that can easily be stopped by antivirus software. However, while not sophisticated, the sheer volume of threats makes antivirus protection essential.

Most People Don’t Follow Basic Best Practices

Plenty of people leave their devices exposed. The massive ransomware outbreak of 2017 could have been prevented with a handful of well-known best practices, such as regular patching and antivirus protection. But the truth is too many people make it easy for hackers to take advantage.

 The WannaCry attack wouldn’t have been as widely successful if the 150,000 affected computers worldwide were not running outdated software. NotPetya, which followed WannaCry, also preyed on unpatched devices. The fact is the security flaw that allowed both outbreaks to spread was fixed by Microsoft months prior to the attacks. Yet hundreds of thousands of computers were left exposed months after the patch was released and made publicly available.

Antivirus Alone is Not Enough

Cybersecurity is changing daily, and new threats arise all the time. Antivirus products go beyond signature-based detection and offer more than simple protection against known malware threats. Trustworthy, reliable tools deploy behavioral protection techniques to detect suspicious behavior and stop new malware and zero-day attacks.


Installing antivirus as well as keeping your software updated are extremely important practices that will make you less likely to suffer an attack. With the volume and sophistication of attacks, not having protection in place is no longer an option.

About the Author

Sophie Anderson
Sophie Anderson
Cybersecurity researcher and tech journalist

About the Author

Sophie Anderson has spent the last 10 years working as a software engineer for some of the biggest tech companies in Silicon Valley. She now works as a cybersecurity consultant and tech journalist, helping everyday netizens understand how to stay safe and protected in an online world.