04 May 2009

Are antivirus really needed in modern operating systems?

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Most of my friends get shocked when I tell that I run no antivirus on my machines. They are used to get hundreds warnings a day popping up from their icon notification area. Can they get any work done with that level of noise?

Why I don’t want antivirus software running on my PC

The first reason is that they slow down your computer. Depending on the features of your antivirus, you are sacrificing between 10% – 40% of your computer performance. That’s a high tax that I’m not willing to pay. I’ve seen systems crawl to the point of making them unusable to work.

They also interfere in the correct behavior of perfectly safe applications. And in top of all that, there’s the notifications noise issue.

Finally, antivirus are not as effective as people think:

The typical recognition rates of their heuristics fell from approximately 40-50 per cent in the last test - at the beginning of 2007 - to a pitiful 20-30 per cent. Only NOD32, with 68 per cent, still delivered a good result, while BitDefender, with 41%, could be called satisfactory.

Why I think I can live without an antivirus?

These are the main reasons:

  • My computers run behind a router with built in firewall, MAC address filtering and NAT.
  • Only needed ports are open
  • The Windows firewall is enabled
  • I only install software that I need from trusted sites
  • I don’t install pirated software
  • I keep my Windows machines updated
  • I don’t visit underground sites

If I need to install some app from an unsafe source I always do it in a virtual machine with no access to my network. Once I’ve finished I revert to an earlier snapshot.

Do I recommend to my friends to not install an antivirus?

Absolutely not. Most of them really need an antivirus. I’ve seen some of their computers and they make me cry. Web pages open randomly for no reason, the system is mostly unusable, Internet Explorer is infested with dozens of toolbars and so on.

However, if you think you can follow the above recommendations I think you are pretty much safe.