Is Antivirus Dead?November 10, 2009 – 6:12 AM
Security is never black and white. If someone asks, “for best security, should I do A or B?” the answer almost invariably is both. But security is always a trade-off. Often it’s impossible to do both A and B — there’s no time to do both, it’s too expensive to do both, or whatever — and you have to choose. In that case, you look at A and B and you make you best choice. But it’s almost always more secure to do both.
Yes, antivirus programs have been getting less effective as new viruses are more frequent and existing viruses mutate faster. Yes, antivirus companies are forever playing catch-up, trying to create signatures for new viruses. Yes, signature-based antivirus software won’t protect you when a virus is new, before the signature is added to the detection program. Antivirus is by no means a panacea.
On the other hand, an antivirus program with up-to-date signatures will protect you from a lot of threats. It’ll protect you against viruses, against spyware, against Trojans — against all sorts of malware. It’ll run in the background, automatically, and you won’t notice any performance degradation at all. And — here’s the best part — it can be free. AVG won’t cost you a penny. To me, this is an easy trade-off, certainly for the average computer user who clicks on attachments he probably shouldn’t click on, downloads things he probably shouldn’t download, and doesn’t understand the finer workings of Windows Personal Firewall.
Certainly security would be improved if people used whitelisting programs such as Bit9 Parity and Savant Protection — and I personally recommend Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware — but a lot of users are going to have trouble with this. The average user will probably just swat away the “you’re trying to run a program not on your whitelist” warning message or — even worse — wonder why his computer is broken when he tries to run a new piece of software. The average corporate IT department doesn’t have a good idea of what software is running on all the computers within the corporation, and doesn’t want the administrative overhead of managing all the change requests. And whitelists aren’t a panacea, either: they don’t defend against malware that attaches itself to data files (think Word macro viruses), for example.