For a couple of months I did not use my computer to access the internet and so when I returned to using it, my antivirus software was out-of-date. I tried to update it but the antivirus database download stopped at a certain point each time. I downloaded a newer version of the same software but the same antivirus database download issue accompanied it. In addition, it knocked off my internet connection immediately after installation. After the antivirus software used up about 2 gigabytes of data trying and failing to update itself, I decided to install a different antivirus.
The newer antivirus program did not have any problems updating itself. Rather, it overdid it. After updating the antivirus database, it began to update what it called a “web shield” and a “mail shield” using up an additional 300 – 400 megabytes of data. In addition to preventing some programs from working after I installed it, upon scanning, the only threats found were three harmless uninstalled software files that I had owned on several computers for more than 8 years. This led me to wonder whether having an antivirus made that much sense.
Before I go on, I agree that it makes sense to have antivirus software but there are also a few cons to using them.
The advantages of having antivirus software installed on your computer are pretty obvious. You get protection against viruses, trojans, worms, spyware, adware, rootkits, keyloggers, and so on. The list of potential threats is long. While nobody asks to be infected by malware, a lot of people do things they are not supposed to on the internet. Like clicking on suspicious links or attachments in emails, visiting untrustworthy websites, and installing questionable software. In cases like this, having an antivirus program can decrease the likelihood of getting infected. You also avoid getting infected by malware in peripheral devices like USB sticks. In addition, installing a firewall will prevent intrusions by malicious hackers.
Despite of all the above, the dangers of over-relying on antivirus software or firewalls are severe.
Inadequate protection If you install software that calls itself an antivirus then that is exactly what it is. It is not a firewall and will not prevent you from getting hacked. You need to install firewall software also or install a full internet security suite. Many people make the mistake of assuming that an antivirus is a firewall or that a firewall could act like an antivirus. Some security software vendors do not provide up-to-the minute antivirus updates for their software – especially for free versions – leaving users exposed to newly discovered threats. Also, having more than one antivirus or firewall running on your computer – whether from the same vendor or not – can cause them to interfere with each other leaving you exposed.
False Sense of Security Most malware attacks nowadays take the form of zero-day attacks. A zero-day attack exploits a previously unknown vulnerability in computer software for which no patch or solution has been developed. This means that while users assume they are secure because they have installed an antivirus, they could already be infected without knowing it. The Heartbleed bug immediately comes to mind and while Heartbleed is not a virus or worm or trojan, it shows just how inadequate antivirus or firewall protection can be.
Malfunction Like what happened to me above, an antivirus can stop updating itself and leave you vulnerable to malware. Such malfunction can have other effects like how my antivirus kept on using up internet data trying and failing to update itself. Antivirus programs may identify useful and/or harmless files as malware like I also mentioned above. If your antivirus settings allow it to automatically delete such files, it can render the software containing the files inoperable. In addition some antivirus software employ heuristic analysis to identify new or unknown malware. Such heuristics can also identify useful files or software as malware and may damage them.
Antivirus and firewall software are very useful but as you can see from the above a lot of common sense is also required while using them. In the end, staying aware and up-to-date about current internet security issues is even more important.