Anti virus software have been here almost ever since the computers and especially the internet came into vogue. The first anti virus software were those that helped prevent an infection from floppy drives. Remember those 3.5 inch and 5.25 inch disks? This brings in one of the oldest questions that have always accompanied the security industry as well – are anti virus software required today?
With the coming of the Internet age, virus infections became more popular (and famous). The demand for security software increased and in came the big industry with a number of solutions, many of whom exist to this day. Even today, anti virus software do a necessary job in preventing and removing infections in your computers. And no, Linux machines are not immune to virus attacks, they are just less likely to fall victim to one.
What is the Anti Virus Software here?
Anything that you install after you buy your PC counts as one. If you have a Windows Defender updated, you should be fine. Installing any other third party tool like Norton, McAfee etc is probably no longer required. Trust me when I say that I am not a Microsoft fanboy. This is what Robert Callahan, ex Firefox developer says about this – ‘antivirus software vendors are terrible; don’t buy antivirus software, and uninstall it if you already have it (except, on Windows, for Microsoft’s)‘
This is big. I mean really big. So for Mac you don’t need anything. No anti virus required for Linux either. For even Windows, the default Windows Defender will be fine – or so he claims.
Investigating is Anti Virus software required?
We should not take what he says at face value. I understand that he has got experience as a Firefox developer and in the test scenarios that he must have handled must have taught him about the inefficacy of anti virus solutions. But here is what he says in brief.
- You must stay updated. This is not new. In fact anti virus software solutions also often suggest you update existing software to their latest definition. Security patches are done regularly by their respective developers to remove vulnerabilities. This may seem as hard work. Over time you will install hundreds of different programs and they will require updates if auto updates are not a part of the module. Apparently you have to put up with that. This means using Windows 7 is not a good idea. If you are forced to use an older iteration of any software (including older paid software like Adobe’s Creative Suite), it is better that you stick to using some Anti virus software. But if you are using the latest tools, you should be fine.
- Third Party anti virus software increase the attack vector – This is a serious charge and one that he backs up with the vulnerabilities listed on the Google’s Project Zero. What this means is that the numerous bugs of the Anti virus software will increase the surface area of your online presence – almost like you are advertising the presence of a particular security solution. This enhances the chance you might be compromised. In fact, using the Defender is more than good enough. Personally, I have used only the Windows Defender for over a couple of years and have not come across a single infection yet. That is good enough for me to stick to this.
- Anti virus induced breakage – This is partly more technical. As a Firefox developer, he came across instances where the Anti virus often blocked regular Firefox updates and patches. This may be due to badly implemented code or otherwise. Long story short, it prevents you from protecting yourself by default and I am assuming that such instances are not entirely intentional.
- The fourth point is not much based on technology except that part that it has a resource overhead and the tendency of people to blame the slowness of a software on the software instead of the induced effect of a resource heavy anti virus software.
Bottomline – Should I uninstall Anti Virus Software?
Not if you have already paid for a year’s license. Also you need it if you work in a dangerous environment. By dangerous environment means a public PC, like if you are the owner of an Internet cafe – you will need third party protection. If you download pirated software, visit dubious sites often – again, you may need protection.
But otherwise, if you are using a free anti virus solution, are careful about your security, keep your software updated regularly – you should be fine. This is not easy for newer users to do, so you might install a light weight anti virus like the BitDefender to ease the process of shifting from one to none.
If you are Mac or a Linux user, the word of caution should be given but there is no need for any third party anti virus software. My personal experience in both cases points to the same. I will be making an update about following a number of safe practices while keeping you safe online even without using a dedicated anti virus software soon.