Antivirus software seems essential for both individuals and businesses. However, users have started to question the need for antivirus software, even on computers running Windows.
So do you need antivirus software on your computer? And your smartphone? What next for separate antivirus suites?
Why do you need antivirus software on your computers?
There is a huge online network and now the majority of computers can communicate with each other. Anyone can send each other files, data and different content. Computers or mobile devices can download random content from the Internet. Technologies such as anti-virus software are needed to control all of these potential areas of vulnerability.
For example, you can download an .exe or similar file from the Internet and run it. This file could read critical data and leak it online, encrypt files and demand a ransom, depending on the ransomware model, or cause problems. Your computer must therefore have a mechanism to distinguish good files from bad ones. That’s what antivirus software does: detects problems, alerts you, and in most cases fixes the problem.
Do you need antivirus software on your smartphone?
Unlike computers, things work a little differently on smartphones. In particular, iOS is more susceptible to malware and viruses than some operating systems.
As Apple often warns, if you are going to download software, you must use the App Store for that, because App Store software is audited. Also, you can get information about the developer of the software you downloaded here. This greatly reduces the possibility of malware or viruses infecting your device. The same can be said of Android – you should stay on the official Google Play Store.
Also, the software you run on iOS has few OS-level privileges. This means that one software cannot read data from another. Imagine you download a photo editing application; this app cannot access your whatsapp messages or banking app.
Ultimately, it’s up to you whether you need third-party antivirus apps on your smartphone. They offer their own benefits (e.g. VPNs, in many cases), but as long as you don’t jailbreak your phone, visit suspicious sites, or download anything from unofficial sources, your smartphone already has capabilities to protect you.
Problems with antivirus products
Although antivirus software is useful in many ways, it also has some problems. There are new examples of malware every day and as such, it becomes very difficult to develop healthy and stable software. Here are some issues with antivirus suites.
Blacklist method approach
Antivirus vendors regularly add malware signatures to their databases. These databases are full of tens of thousands of different signatures.
Good antivirus software should easily detect both malware released last week and malware released 10 years ago. In other words, when the antivirus encounters new software, it calculates its signature and compares it to its huge database of signatures. If no match is found, it considers the software safe.
For example, imagine that you are preparing a list of invitations. Instead of an invite list of 10 people, you’ve created a list of 999,990 uninvited people. You check the uninvited list for guests, and if you can’t find that person, you allow them in. A waste of time and resources. The same goes for antivirus software. The list of unwanted malware in the database is growing every day. Therefore, this method might not be sustainable.
They create an additional attack surface
Antivirus software, like all other software technologies, is made up of code. There are certain security flaws as a result of this. Even reputable antivirus vendors are susceptible to major flaws such as remote code execution. Even though this software is often tested and updated, the risk cannot be ignored.
Many anti-virus programs send certain files from your device to their servers. The goal here is to analyze these files in much more detail. This could be dangerous if you are doing work that requires high confidentiality.
Additionally, most antivirus suites monitor your HTTPS traffic by essentially performing a Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attack. Although they do this to detect malicious websites, it’s a curious stance to take from a privacy perspective. There are many reasons to believe that security software is stalking you!
Antivirus companies spend a large part of their budget on protecting their databases and updating them daily. If you are a business with hundreds or thousands of computers, you may have to pay a small fortune for antivirus software licenses. This is a worrying situation for companies that already have budget problems.
Do you need an antivirus suite?
So how can you stay safe? The iOS model seems more secure than other operating systems; similarly, Macs too. You can take Apple’s idea of cybersecurity and extend it to your broader approach to staying safe.
For example, you should only download software from a supervised app store. If the device you’re using is a corporate computer, you probably don’t even need to use App Markets. A limited amount of necessary software such as web browsers, text editors and desktop programs should already be installed. If so, you or your business can simply apply the whitelist method instead of the blacklist method. In such a case, you don’t necessarily need antivirus because only limited software that you allow will run. However, if you prefer prevention to cure, use an antivirus as well.
Most individuals will need antivirus software regardless. Anyone can accidentally download something malicious, so it’s best to take a belt-and-braces approach. However, if you don’t have an antivirus, you can use online tools to scan files for security.
What will happen in the future?
The problem is that vulnerabilities persist in everything. If a “secure” operating system were developed, exploits would still be found. And so, we will all have to rely on antivirus software for some time.
However, while we encourage antivirus suites for home and business, you should also be aware that antivirus alone is not enough most of the time.