Do I Need an Anti-Virus Program Or Not? – (Probably Not!)

Frequently we get calls from people who say “I have a virus that’s popping up windows on my computer and changing the website I go to.”  Now you could say that it is a matter of semantics regarding using the term “virus”, the customer is essentially saying that something is on the computer that doesn’t belong there and is causing problems.  The trouble is, most anti-virus programs will not fix, nor prevent this particular problem, because this behavior is typically NOT associated with a virus.  This particular infection in more likely either malware or a BHO or browser infection.

Believe it or not, these problems could be caused by a program THEY INSTALLED!  So there is a more difficult problem to address here, and that is to teach a user about what actions THEY are taking that is creating the problem.

Now, you could buy an anti-virus program that contains additional capabilities, including identity/browser protection, anti-spyware protection, a firewall, etc. and this may in fact help.  But if you tell your computer to install a program, that’s exactly what is going to happen whether the program you’re installing is good or malicious.  Many will argue that it’s simply a matter of running a program such as CCleaner, Malwarebytes, Super Antispyware, etc., but the question you always have to ask is what got installed that IS HIDING from you so that you DON’T know about it, so you don’t remove it!  What about the rootkit that is downloading a trojan that is logging the websites you go to and the keystrokes you’re entering and sending them covertly to a server somewhere.  Those are the programs that you should REALLY be concerned about, much more so than a BHO (browser helper object) or pop-up ad generator.  While these are annoying, the former could completely ruin your finances.

So what to do?  If you are running Windows 8 or 8.1, Microsoft has included an anti-virus program for free that is as good or better than any 3rd party program you can buy.  Programs like McAfee, Norton, AVG, ESET NOD32 provide an ADDITIONAL layer of services including anti-phishing, anti-spyware, robust firewall, etc., however none of them are 100% fool-proof.

The BEST solution is to treat the Internet like a loaded weapon and handle it CAREFULLY!

  • DO NOT download and install programs from websites that you are not familiar with.
  • DO NOT open links in emails or email attachments even from people you know.  Many viruses and phishing attacks are spread from the computers of people you know, so just because you know the person doesn’t mean the email is safe.
  • Keep your computer up to date by letting Windows install automatic updates.
  • Try to use a browser like Google Chrome or Firefox instead of Internet Explorer.
  • Even Word documents can contain macros that can infect your system.
  • Use a spam filter or program that scans your emails for malicious links or viruses BEFORE you receive them.

An anti-virus program does add a layer of security to your system, but if you’re running a current version of Windows, you more than likely are perfectly fine running without one.  If you use your computer carefully, as you SHOULD, you can easily avoid having to call someone to try to remove something nasty from your system.

For more information, The Tech Guy, Leo Laporte put up an episode covering this topic in detail:

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