Is Antivirus Software Necessary in 2020? (You Might Not Like the Answer)

Windows, Android, iOS, and Mac operating systems all have decent security protections, so is an antivirus still necessary in 2020?

  • The answer is a resounding YES!

The best antivirus programs on the market offer 100% protection from advanced cyber threats — things like network hacks, phishing websites, financial theft, and yes, even traditional computer “viruses”. Some of them can even prevent identity theft.

But not all antivirus software is created equal. Some are poorly created, often leaving massive holes in a person’s cyber defense. Others are secretly harvesting data (like this one). But a good antivirus program will make sure that you and your devices are safe.

Some people claim that you can stay safe from malware just by taking precautions when you use the internet. While there are a lot of important precautions you should take, the reality is that you need quality antivirus software to stay 100% safe online.  

How do antivirus programs protect my computer?

Antivirus scanners use a variety of methods to identify malware before it can make any changes onto your computer.

Malware tries to hide itself in seemingly innocent files, like movies, mp3s, program files, and images. It can be impossible to tell from looking at a file that it contains hidden malware — which is why a high-quality antivirus is so important.

There a few methods used by antivirus scanners to detect malware:

  • Malware database. This is the most common method used by built-in virus scanners like Windows Defender and Apple File Quarantine. Malware databases contain thousands of types of known malware, and they’re frequently updated so scanners can identify the newest threats.
  • Heuristics. Viruses can be encrypted or altered to deceive malware database tools. Heuristics-based scanners make logical assumptions, analyzing seemingly safe files to unmask encrypted malware.
  • Sandboxing. A sandbox is an artificial virtual environment — any files running in a sandbox can’t affect system files outside the sandbox. Any changes that a piece of malware tries to make disappear the moment the sandbox is closed down.
  • Machine learning. Behavior analysis and machine learning are the latest threat detection tools, capable of detecting zero-day threats based on the threat’s behavior alone. Only a few of the best antiviruses offer true machine learning in their antivirus engines.

Why do antivirus programs come with so many extra features?

Keeping your online activity, passwords, cloud storage, and financial information secure is just as important as avoiding malware infections. Just because your computer is safe from malware doesn’t mean that you’re safe online. That’s why antivirus programs offer additional internet security features such as:

  • Firewalls — to monitor network traffic and prevent invasive processes from entering into a network.
  • Web protection — to analyze websites for unsafe behavior and block known phishing sites.
  • Password managers — to generate, store, and auto-fill secure passwords.
  • Virtual private networks (VPNs) — to hide IP addresses for private browsing and downloading.
  • Parental controls — to block inappropriate content, limit device and app usage, and track location on children’s devices.
  • System cleanup tools — to eliminate junk files, bloatware, and PUPs (potentially unwanted programs).  
  • Encrypted storage — to keep data 100% secure using military-grade data encryption.
  • Identity protection — to provide real-time alerts if your information or identity is at risk of being stolen.

Why are third-party antiviruses better than my operating system’s built-in defenses?

Every operating system has built-in malware protections — and they’re all pretty decent. Unfortunately, all major operating systems have big vulnerabilities, which is why I recommend everybody — even Mac users — should use antivirus software.

  • Windows. Windows is the most frequently hacked operating system in the world. While Windows has put a lot more effort into Windows Defender in recent days, it doesn’t get updated often enough, and it doesn’t use any kind of heuristics or machine learning to detect new threats. If you’re looking for a PC antivirus that can handle the latest internet security threats, check out this list of the best antiviruses for Windows.
  • macOS. Many Mac users are under the impression that their computers are completely virus-proof. Mac’s File Quarantine feature is indeed a good virus scanner, with new viruses added to its database daily — but it’s not good against zero-day threats, and it often fails to recognize adware and spyware. For example, millions of Mac users were infected with the Shlayer spyware, which harvested browsing data and inserted affiliate products into users’ suggested searches. If you want to keep your Mac spyware-free and protected against zero-day threats, there are a few really good Mac antiviruses out there.
  • Android. Android is the most widely used mobile operating system in the world, and Android devices are a huge target for hackers. Google Play Protect is the built-in scanner in every Android device — it does a pretty good job, but it doesn’t offer good protection against ransomware, spyware, or phishing. For example, millions of Androids were infected with the Locker ransomware, causing each user to lose thousands of dollars just to get their data back. The best antivirus programs for Android offer ransomware protection, safe browsing features, and powerful anti-theft protections.
  • iOS. Because of the strict developer protocols around the App Store as well as iOS’s native sandboxing, it’s basically impossible to get a virus on an iOS device. However, iOS users are susceptible to phishing sites and malicious Wi-Fi networks, as well as unethical apps that track user data. Cybersecurity apps for iOS can protect device usage, and the best ones also come with powerful anti-theft features. Check out our list of the best antiviruses for iOS here.

Internet Security is Personal Security

No matter what device you’re using, there are significant risks to going online without proper internet security protection. Your device, your financial information, and your online identity can all be compromised by hackers. I’m in the US and I pay insurance for my car, my health, and my home. I use my computer and my smartphone every single day, so it just makes sense for me to keep them insured against the many dangers that exist online.

Protect your computer, your data, and your identity with one of the top antiviruses of 2020:

About the Author

Bjorn Johansson
Bjorn Johansson
Cybersecurity researcher and digital rights advocate

About the Author

Bjorn is a cybersecurity researcher and digital rights advocate. Originally from Sweden, he now lives on the Maine coast with his wife and their two kids. When he’s not helping keep the internet safe for everyday people, he enjoys boating with his family and woodworking.
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