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Do I really need antivirus software on my computer?

Why use antivirus software? What about antispyware, anti-adware, and ransomware protection? Does Windows 10® need an antivirus? Does Mac® need an antivirus? What's the difference between free and subscription antivirus software? If you find yourself asking any of these questions, read on for our take on the best solutions for you.

Do you really need an antivirus?

This is becoming a complicated question. On the one hand, computer viruses aren’t as much of a threat as they used to be. Hackers don’t just write viruses anymore – there’s no money in it. Instead, threats come under a variety of names, such as spyware, adware or ransomware. All of these threats fall under the umbrella of malware and can still infect your computer, causing you headaches you’d rather avoid. There are many types of software that combat malware but choosing the best solution for your computer can be tricky.

Spyware obtains information without your knowledge about your computer activities, such as internet browsing habits, logins, and bank and credit card information. The program sends the information to another computer for analysis that could lead to cyber crimes such as identity theft. 

Adware can be a part of a larger spyware program, or a stand-alone program. Although some legitimate products have built-in ads, adware here refers to malicious software that pops up windows, sometimes "uncloseable," while you browse the internet. 

Ransomware blocks access to some or all the data on your computer, or threatens to publish data, unless a ransom is paid. The ransom is usually demanded in cryptocurrency to make tracing the perpetrators more difficult.

Generally, your browsing or downloading habits determine how at risk you are from these threats.

Does Windows 10 need an antivirus?

Microsoft Windows 10 comes with a proprietary antivirus software called Windows Defender at no additional cost. Windows Defender is a reputable defense against most attacks and includes the following benefits for users:

  • Real-time threat detection
  • Firewall and network protection
  • Protection against phishing sites
  • System performance reports
  • Hardware security
  • Parental controls

Windows Defender was also bundled with Windows 8.1, but was sold separately for use with older operating systems.

Does Mac need an anti-virus?

If you have a Mac, you need antivirus protection. Although Macs have traditionally been safer from viruses, as hackers expand into other areas, the popularity of Macs makes them more vulnerable.

Mac OS X, like Windows 10, has a built-in antivirus called XProtect, which operates a lot like Windows Defender. XProtect runs behind the scenes, automatically checking for known malicious content when applications are:

  • First launched
  • Changed

When XProtect detects a virus, the software is blocked. The user is then notified and presented options on whether to move the program to the trash or not. If a virus or malware makes its way onto your Mac, there is also a program called Malware Removal Tool (MRT) that removes infected programs through updates delivered by Apple.

Best antivirus software – free & paid

To protect your computer, you should always be running antivirus software, whether that's a pre-installed program, freeware, or a purchased subscription service. There are multiple freeware antivirus applications. There are also multiple subscription services that provide antivirus software and periodic updates. You should always update your computer to ensure your information is kept secure.

Most of the free services are completely adequate for the average consumer. The service sends software updates as attack methods change and new attacks are begun. The drawback to freeware is that some programs install unwanted bloatware, which requires excessive disk and memory space. 

A purchased subscription service also works well. After you sign up and download the software, the service takes over, scheduling checks of your computer and keeping you safe while you browse the internet. The drawback to subscription services is the annual fee.

A good antivirus program that incorporates antispyware, anti-adware, and anti-ransomware protections will help keep you safe. Self-encrypting drives can also protect and secure business data.

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