Hopefully, these FAQs will answer your questions. But, if not, please see our specially-created glossary of antivirus terms.
1. Will an antivirus slow down my system?
Software requires a certain amount of processing power to carry outs its functions, so all antivirus programs will consume some RAM and CPU resources. Concerns about antiviruses significantly slowing down your system stem from the idea that modern computers suffer the same limitations as older, significantly less powerful models of the past. We frequently benchmark RAM and CPU overheads during our testing process and find that even the most thorough scans consume negligible amounts of both resources. In fact, we have yet to review a solution that caused a noticeable impact on performance.
2. What are the main threats I need to protect against?
Unfortunately, today’s cybersecurity threats come from both the digital and physical world. In fact, a new attack vector seems to be discovered every year. It’s still possible to condense those threats into major categories, however, and we advise selecting an antivirus solution that offers protection against as many of these as possible.
The most significant threats facing users at the moment are:
- Macro Viruses: These are common file-based viruses that infect data files. Virtually all antiviruses protect against these. If you’re still using desktop email, you should know that virus-laden attachments are an important attack vector. Choose a provider that includes attachment scanning, such as Norton.
- Boot Sector Viruses: These sophisticated viruses infect the firmware that handles a computer’s boot sequence—typically either MBR/BIOS or the more modern UEFI/EFI infrastructure. Look for mentions of “boot scanning” or “MBR scanning” in our reviews to know that the product features this important component.
- Malware: This is a broad category of malicious software that is written to infect and harm the host system. Malware includes viruses, trojans, worms, adware, and spyware.
- Ransomware: A type of advanced malware that is rising in significance, ransomware extorts users to pay a sum of money in order to regain control over their operating system/private files. Payment to the cybercriminal is typically made with an untraceable cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin.
- Rootkit: Another type of malware, rootkits are designed to provide continued elevated-privilege access to the host computer. They are usually also able to hide from common program listing utilities, so they require a special program to identify and quarantine.
There are also remote-operated keyloggers, social engineering exploits like man-in-the-middle attacks, and simple phishing scams—but the above are the main threats facing today’s computer users.
3. Is an antivirus enough? What other types of protection might I need?
We would respond to this question with a resounding “no”. Given the partial list of cybersecurity threats we listed above, it’s clear that modern users need sophisticated cybersecurity programs that offer protection across multiple levels.
In particular, we recommend:
- A program with a strong antivirus component. Select a program that has been tested and certified by an independent virus testing laboratory. Although we have reviewed many lesser-known providers that provide outstanding protection, it’s hard to go wrong with household names such as Norton and AVG — both of which frequently score top marks on these tests.
- A product that includes internet security features. These typically include tools such as secure browsers that will prevent access to known phishing URLs, VPNs to encrypt traffic when surfing from unsecured connection points, and file shredders that make sure that deleted directories have really been removed from the filesystem.
- Some firewall management tool. Windows does have a built-in tool for this, but some additional protection—such as two way firewall filtering—is advisable.
In fact, the more levels of protection your solution features, the better. We also recommend choosing a solution with a keylogger blocker, password manager, webcam/microphone protection, and parental control filters.
4. Is there really a difference between providers? Aren’t antiviruses basically the same thing?
No. These are significant differences between the titles on the market (which is why our team enjoys reviewing them so much!).
- Platforms supported: Many antiviruses protect a number of devices with each license. If that’s the case, you’ll want to make sure that the platforms you use are all supported. You’ve found an antivirus with a great Android app, but do they also offer a program that will work with your son’s iPad?
- Features: Some products offer an excellent virus scanner but not much else, while others provide a multi-faceted feature with a variety of internet security tools.
- Focus market and use-case: Some products are targeted specifically at the enterprise market and are designed to be administered centrally by an IT team. Others are family-oriented and offer competitively-priced deals for multi-device households. Some are even specifically designed to protect internet of things (IoT) devices.
5. Can I use multiple antiviruses?
While a second antivirus can be installed over an existing one without throwing a system error in some cases, in most instances, this will not be so; one program will ask you to uninstall the other. Running two antiviruses simultaneously creates overlapping system resources and runs the risk that either program will mistakenly label the other’s scanning process, quarantine areas, and other components as threats.
The exception to this rule would be two running two cybersecurity products that each scan for different types of threat (one scanning for viruses, for example, and the other only looking for rootkits).
This is another reason why we recommend selecting a single product that provides protection against as many components as possible.
6. I have just installed Ubuntu, a type of Linux. Are there antivirus options for this operating system?
Welcome to the exciting world of Linux! The old days of fumbling around a terminal trying to configure a ClamAV scan are thankfully behind us. Nowadays, Linux users have a decent selection of antiviruses from which to choose (although we should note, the choice is still far more limited than Windows and MacOS), and Ubuntu is typically the most widely supported Linux operating system on the market.
We’d recommend that you check out our guide to seven completely free Linux antiviruses—which includes some major names such as Comodo and Sophos. If you do like the command line, ClamAV is a good tool to start with, and many paid consumer and enterprise tools also support Linux variants.
7. Are viruses still a significant threat?
Yes. Although it is fair to say that viruses are less of a menace than they used to be, this is due to operating system security and huge advances in antivirus programs’ threat detection abilities.
In particular, machine-learning based tools, including behavior-based and heuristic detection algorithms, have made it possible for these programs to identify and protect against threats that haven’t even been formally identified yet (so-called “zero-day” attacks). In addition, both the sophistication and number of attack vectors facing users have grown in recent years to include firmware viruses that target even advanced systems. This now includes non-human operated computers (like IoT devices) that could be exploited as entry points to local networks.
For that reason, we recommend that every computer—mobile or desktop—run some form of protection.
8. Who makes viruses?
Computer viruses can be the work of many actors, ranging from individual hackers to governments (the best example being the Stuxnet worm that targeted an Iranian nuclear facility). Motivations can range from financial gain to political activism and everything in between.
9. Can I get by without an antivirus?
Despite what you may have heard, every major class of operating system—including both Linux and Android (which is a mobile-optimized Linux fork)—is susceptible to viruses. And although Windows includes a built-in tool to conduct basic scanning and firewall management, users should install a dedicated solution.
Most antiviruses are multi-faceted programs that provide protection against a wide variety of cybersecurity threats—and come with clever built-in automation (like turning on a VPN when an online banking website is accessed) designed to keep their users safe. Some browsers include built-in phishing protection, but in most cases, these don’t compare to software offered by professionals.
Use an antivirus—it’s a small investment in your privacy and the health of your computer.
10. I need to provide antivirus software for my entire office with over 100 employees. Do I need to buy licenses one by one?
Enterprise-grade antiviruses are specifically designed to manage large-scale deployments and typically feature administrator-friendly features, such as script-based update managers and bulk provisioning tools. Many excellent software tools cater specifically to this need.
For more information, feel free to contact us.