Is Antivirus Still Necessary in 2021?

Do You Still Need Antivirus in 2021: The Truth and the Myth

“Just don’t go to untrustworthy sites”.

“Just don’t download anything. You’ll be fine.”

“Operating systems are basically designed to prevent viruses. It’s not worth the decrease in speed”.

How many times have you heard people say things like this?

Yes, it’s true. IF you watch where you go, what you do, what you download, who you email, who you chat with, and what you click on, etc., then you probably won’t have anything to worry about.

And most of us aren’t exactly scrillionaires with private fortunes to protect, so there’s nothing much a “hacker” can get from you anyway.

But we live in the real world.

How likely are you to be that vigilant?

And, even if you are super vigilant? What exactly is the downside of using a light, free antivirus software?

It’s not like it’s going to harm you.

Or is it?

As cybersecurity threats increase, commercial-grade antivirus software (AV) is becoming more accepted by private business and people alike.

And, for the most part, it’s generally accepted that some protection is better than no protection.

It’s true. Good antivirus software has proven to block at least some malware.

But there are 3 key issues opponents of AV continually point to that do have their base in empirical fact.

Malware outpaces antivirus

This is a sad fact of the web.

Malware is continuously ahead of defenses, even the best.

It’s just a product of the game itself.

Thieves develop new and more sophisticated ways of trying to break their way into your computer. When these new attacks happen, cybersecurity firms develop defenses.

By the time those defenses are developed, distributed to the masses, and eventually downloaded by you, new and more malicious malware that the program can’t fight already patrol the web.

Risk Homeostasis

Risk homeostasis is a fascinating and complex theory.

When it comes to antivirus software, risk homeostasis basically posits that users who have antivirus installed on their computers will engage in riskier web behaviors, because they believe they’re “protected”. Whereas users without it will use the web safely.

One fascinating study from the Society of Risk Analysis demonstrated that, over the long term, there was no difference between users who installed AV and those who hadn’t.

Antivirus Isn’t Enough

This is very closely related to number 2, but needs a little more fleshing out.

Web security requires two-factor authentication, strong passwords, vigilant behavior, and a slew of other things like privacy enhancers, encrypted data, and continuously updated software.

Installing AV tends to make users think “I’m safe” when actually, they’re nothing even remotely close.

The Case Against Antivirus

Let’s start off by getting this out of the way:

No antivirus is enough to protect you from all viruses or vulnerabilities. There are potentially infinite types of malware that look just like nice, normal software. You’re never 100% safe.

But some protection is better than no protection, right?

….actually, maybe not.

There are plenty of well-documented issues with AV software including everything from vulnerabilities that make the cure worse than the disease to privacy issues that you should 100% be worried about.

Let’s take a look here quickly:

  1. Performance Issues: A staggeringly comprehensive test from the IT-Security Institute aggregated found that most commercial AV solutions put a heavy burden on your system. For example, McCaffee, the most widely known name in the industry increased the burden on test computers by an average of 6.1 load points. The study suggests most AV programs place a minor burden on your system, but a few place a very heavy burden.
  2. Vulnerabilities: Some antivirus programs come with vulnerabilities that open your computer to hacking. As one Google Project Zero researcher put it (describing a Norton product). “These vulnerabilities are as bad as it gets. They don’t require any user interaction, they affect the default configuration, and the software runs at the highest privilege levels possible”.
  3. Privacy: Some AV software, especially free ones, collect your data and sell it to third parties. In 2020, big name “free” AV software, Avast, was found to sell every click, every search, and every bit of data to big name companies like Home Depot and Pepsi. Is that worth blocking some malware?

Let’s put it this way: There’s a reason that security expert and former Firefox developer, Robert O’Callahan, said “antivirus software is terrible, AV vendors are terrible, and that you should uninstall your antivirus software immediately”.


And it actually gets worse. Antivirus may make your computer MORE VULNERABLE.

If AV companies actually made secure software, it would be fine. But vulnerabilities revealed in Symantec, Norton, and other big names prove they do anything but that.

This creates a larger attack surface. For example, without AV, hackers have to find vulnerabilities in your browser, most of which are Alcatraz-level secure. But with one on your computer, a hacker can find a vulnerability there, bypassing your Maginot Line and dropping paratroopers where there are no defenses.

So, is Antivirus Even Worth it in 2020?

The answer is surprisingly…

Yes and no.

Antivirus is fine, but unless you fall into certain categories, you don’t need it. Here’s why:

Windows Defender is Enough

AV-Test – the Independent IT Security Institute – shows that Windows Defender (the built in antivirus on Windows) is just as good as brand name software in most cases.

And since it’s Microsoft’s native app, they won’t constantly nag you to upgrade software, and it’s way more secure. The fact that no third party is involved eliminates an entire layer of risk and ensures smooth operation.

Plus it won’t root itself into other programs or start installing god knows what on your PC without asking.

If you’re using Windows, you’ve already got a good enough AV installed.

You’re fine.

Macs Don’t Really Need Antivirus (If You’re Smart)

Macs typically don’t get hacked for a few reasons.

For one, they are way less common than PCs, so they’re way less of a target and they tend to be owned by savvier users.

Two, they use mostly native apps developed by Apple itself, meaning there’s less chance of malicious intent behind the apps on a Mac, unlike windows which doesn’t have many quality native programs.

And third, Mac doesn’t change all that much. Windows needs to make concessions to allow legacy apps to continue running, which could leave you open to hacking. Macs rarely, if ever, do this.

Finally, You Already Have the Best Antivirus

Remember what we said about Macs?

That all goes out the window if you start installing random chrome extensions, downloading god knows what type of apps, or spend your days in the deepest reaches of the web.

But if you practice safe and secure internet behavior, you’ll MOSTLY be fine.

That makes the best antivirus of 2021…


Remember, strong passwords, two-factor authentication, sticking to reputable sites with SSL and HTTPS, not downloading extensions or apps you haven’t researched, not clicking random links in emails from spammers, etc.

As long as you follow basic common sense, built-in defenses on your computer should do fine.

There are however some exceptions.

Who Still Needs Antivirus in 2021?

There are some key groups who still do need antivirus in 2021.

Mainly, they fall into three groups:

School or work computers: If you’re using a computer that’s not your own, keep the pre-installed antivirus on the computer. It’s most likely part of a complex network of security that shouldn’t be altered.

You have sensitive info: If you have sensitive medical or financial information stores on your computer, it’s probably best to get a strong antivirus program.

Your browsing habits aren’t good: If you spend hours a day browsing where you shouldn’t be, then get an extra layer of protection.


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