A decade or two back, when you brought a new computer home, one of the first rituals of the post-purchase was to install a good antivirus software. Fear of infestation from malicious files, the threat of a hijacked browser, and the invasion from odd pop-ups were all rampant. In the 80s, floppy disks were the dreaded source of viruses, but when the Internet gained popularity in the 90s, the web became a convenient way for “mala fide” professionals (hackers who coded malware) to spread out their spiteful viruses to devices online. The Internet served as a malevolent minefield of ugly malware capable of bringing complete computer systems to a screeching halt. However, thankfully, things have changed quite a bit since then. Operating systems (OS), for one, are much more robust, browsers are more secure, and users have much more access to information pertaining to safe browsing habits.
The Rise of the Antivirus Industry
One of the reasons why the antivirus industry and antivirus software came into existence was because there was a dire need for protecting computers against obnoxious viruses. The system developers at that time were more focused on adding more features than on making the system foolproof. No one was really paying attention to the rising instances of malware infestations. After a particular virus named ‘Rabbit’ wreaked havoc on computer systems on a large scale, people with knowledge of programming and security were forced to think about securing the computer system more effectively. That’s when they started focusing on developing products that would help to safeguard computers from such nefarious attacks. The Rabbit virus used to engulf all of a computer’s RAM resources—making the computers unbearably slow—to the extent of being virtually unusable. It was in the late 80s when companies like McAfee and Avira came up with products that help to protect computers from infections by these malware, adware, and viruses.
However, fast forward to 2018 and I have good news for you! The OS and browser developers are now taking system security very, very seriously. In fact, much of the protection that once required third-party apps (e.g., tools to detect phishing websites/email attachments) now comes built into the system you’re currently using. By ‘system you’re currently using’ I mean the latest update—like Windows 10 for PCs.
Why Antivirus Software is Becoming Irrelevant
Although this is debatable, I’ve observed that antivirus software often creates more problems than solutions. They usually start up when you boot the computer, occupy a significant amount of system resources, install additional extensions to the browser and collect user data under the auspices of “improving services”. All of this weighs more towards opting against the antivirus software for many people.
Ramped Up Security by Microsoft in PCs
Windows 10 – the latest general-purpose OS from Microsoft – comes with a very high-security standard. This implies that it is quite difficult for intruders to design malware that can ruin or infiltrate Windows 10 OS. Indubitably, Windows 10 is the most secure OS to ever be released by Microsoft. It has an inbuilt antivirus, Windows Defender, that is capable of removing most of the malware in your PC. According to the UK security analysis firm, SE labs, Defender is capable of removing 94% of viruses. Also, since it is directly offered by Microsoft, Windows Defender has the advantage of being directly baked into the OS. This means a low drag factor when it comes to utilizing the system resources. A low drag factor means less of a slowdown of your computer when an antivirus is running a scan for malicious files.
Besides Windows Defender, there is also a built-in firewall for added security, such as stopping an app/program from sending personal data/files over the internet, or restricting downloads over the internet that might turn out to be a malware later. Windows 10 OS also comes with a SmartScreen feature that helps protect users from dangerous applications and websites. Although you might not be using the Edge browser due to the popularity of the Chrome or Firefox browsers, even the Edge browser comes with state-of-the-art security measures to prevent browser hijacking or phishing from unreliable websites.
How Product Developers are Striving for Security
Websites and application owners have taken on the onus of diligently securing their digital products. Interestingly, we use far more of Google’s tools and services compared to tools by different vendors in the past—most of which had a meretricious image. However, thanks to a unification of products offered by Google—with a plethora of products, we as users are much more secure. This is because Google scans every single file used on its cloud/tools/services like Drive, Gmail, Chrome etc. for suspicious activity, including virus infestations. That’s only for Google products. Our life is much more social than before, however, thanks to the advent of social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn etc. All of these social media websites constantly monitor content on their website and ensure that no malware can be spread through their platform.
And, finally, the most important thing—our browsers—once the primary source of viruses, are much more secure. All the modern-day popular browsers, such as Chrome, Firefox, Edge etc., employ robust security features in their browser. The theory of a browser being the gateway to infection is waning, thanks largely to improved security measures that browser developers have implemented. For example, Chrome will warn users about suspicious sites until they literally give their consent to access the notorious website by clicking on an “agree” button. Moreover, it uses sandboxing techniques that deter the malware from escaping one tab and infecting the rest.
Some Exceptions: Why You May Need an Antivirus Software
After delivering such long harangues on how antivirus software is becoming irrelevant, you may wonder why on earth anyone would need an antivirus. Well, the conjecture that antivirus software is becoming irrelevant is based on a small assumption, namely that Internet users have basic common sense when it comes to computer security. How do I define this “basic common sense” you ask? Basic common sense means following basic safe browsing practices, such as keeping your software updated, reading the “change log” that an update in your software usually comes with, and finally, restraining yourself from clicking on unknown or suspicious links/attachments. If you are a casual computer user and can’t follow these basic steps, then you might need additional antivirus software. Also, if you’re willing to trade your system performance for added security, then installing antivirus software is also recommended.
While I cannot resolutely vouch for complete abstinence from antivirus software, it is difficult to fathom its real need in the modern-day computing era. Remember, this is an ‘era’ in which the vast majority of programmers who program their products are getting proactive about security. Moreover, even with (additional) antivirus software being installed, there is no guarantee that you will never be attacked or infected. That’s because rapacious infiltrators (who code malicious malware) are constantly looking for new ways to outsmart security experts—just like criminals trying to outwit the police at every turn. It is an arms race of creativity, technology and willpower, but for now, it seems like the virus protectors are winning against the virus perpetrators!
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