The fear of malware is great – and for good reason: malicious software that has been cunningly planted is used by computer criminals to hijack computers in some form or to spy on them. They are aided by a zoo of countless viruses and worms that disrupt computers and networks. So-called Trojan horses, or Trojans for short, open a backdoor to the computer for the criminals or spy on the user or a network. In the worst case, they can even record all keyboard entries with the help of a keylogger. Other malware adds the infected PC to so-called botnets, which are used by criminals for illegal cyber crimes.
Computers can also get sick and catch all sorts of viruses and worms. Antivirus software aims to help against this. Let’s see if we really need an antivirus for home use.
What is the purpose of antivirus software?
How exactly does antivirus software work? It is a program or set of programs that scan for and help remove computer viruses and other types of malicious software – also known as “malware”. Antivirus software is an important component of the overall online and computer security strategy that helps protect you from data loss and security breaches, as well as other online threats.
Simply put, a computer virus is similar to a flu virus. It is designed to move from one infected computer or device to the next by copying itself, spreading malicious codes and programs that can damage and infiltrate your operating systems. Viruses are designed to give cyber criminals access to their victims’ devices.
Such viruses, spyware and other types of malicious software are referred to as “malware” and can be secretly installed on your computer or device. Malware can have all sorts of functions, for example, it can cause your device to crash or monitor and take control of your online activities. This control can allow cyber criminals to send spam or phishing emails and steal your private information, which can eventually lead to the disclosure of personal information.
Why virus protection is important
One should therefore avoid malware finding its way onto the computer. A first line of defense is healthy skepticism when strange links or attachments land in your inbox, websites warn of alleged viruses, or programs are loaded from dubious sources. Unfortunately, common sense alone is not always enough, because even the most thorough person makes mistakes once in a while – especially under time pressure or in other stressful situations. If worms then spread automatically via security holes and the Internet, users can hardly avoid an infection for sure. This is exactly where antivirus programs come in: they help protect against infections and can remove viruses, worms and Trojans that have already been introduced. Therefore, they should not be missing on any system.
Antivirus software extends basic protection
The common operating systems already offer basic protection against malware in one form or another: Android and iOS, for example, want to ensure that no malicious apps are distributed via the app stores. Mac and Linux are rather uninteresting for cyber-villains due to their small market share and also provide technical protection functions. Windows 10 includes virus protection with Windows Defender, which offers very good detection rates. However, malware can still manage to infiltrate these solutions – and the user himself can also inadvertently introduce malicious code by installing apps from unsafe sources, for example. Additional virus protection means a security gain in such cases. If you have special requirements, for example, because you live with children or do not want to sacrifice performance when gaming, commercial antivirus programs offer additional functions tailored to these requirements.
What can antivirus software protect against?
Malware allows cybercriminals to access or damage a computer without our knowledge. It is important to be aware of the many different types of malicious code (“malware”) that antivirus software can provide protection against:
- Spyware: theft of personal information
- Ransomware: extortion of money
- Worms: spread by copying from computer to computer
- Trojans: malicious code hidden inside another program
- Adware: Advertising
- Spam: distribution of unsolicited e-mails
Virus protection for the Mac: Useful or not?
Basically, all operating systems are vulnerable and susceptible to malware. The sentence “there are no viruses on MacOS” is not true. The big difference to Microsoft’s flagship lies in the market share: Windows 10, Windows 8 and older versions of the system have a market share of over 80% on desktop computers, while MacOS only has a market share of just under 8%. This makes Mac computers significantly less interesting for computer criminals than Windows. In addition, MacOS has some security measures built in, such as the program signature, which prevent infection ex works. Self-propagating Mac viruses do exist, but they generally do not have the destructive potential of Windows viruses.
Antivirus solutions for iPhone and Android
Android, iOS and iPadOS are similar to MacOS: These two smartphone and tablet operating systems are much more widespread than MacOS, and smartphones in particular are extremely interesting for attackers as the hub of digital life. However, it is not easy for them: Software can only be installed via the App Store and Play Store by default, whereby Apple extensively checks software in the App Store. Google relies less on checks, but offers its own anti-virus software, PlayProtect, on Android devices. Of course, the situation is different for devices that either no longer receive updates or have a root or jailbreak: Theoretically, attackers have an easy game here, since the protection mechanisms are disabled. In practice, however, the variety of gaps and the low market share of such old smartphones and tablets make it difficult to transfer the malware.
All in all, smartphones are theoretically interesting for attackers, but make their business more difficult in practice. If you only install apps from official sources and keep your eyes open, you do not have to worry about viruses. The situation is different with more abstract threats like phishing or ransomware: Here, an additional security solution can be useful. However, this is usually not very powerful, especially under iOS, due to the otherwise protective limitations of the system.
Free antivirus software: does it work?
Another frequently asked question is whether free antivirus software provides enough protection. But does anything actually come for free? “Free” antivirus software is funded by advertising and tracking user behavior, and sometimes by installing PUP software (“potentially unwanted programs”, also known as “junkware”).
Free downloads may also contain malware. If you want to use such free programs, download software only from websites that you absolutely trust. Also, make sure that your security setting is set high enough to detect malicious code.
What you should also keep in mind if you are considering relying on free antivirus is the mobile device security and data security support options. These important security features are often not included in free software.