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With the rise in cybercrime, I am slightly worried about my computer security.

I have been using open sourced anti-virus AVG for years and it has been doing well. Are anti-virus software like Norton and McAfee worth the money to get?

It would be good if there are reports that showed how much difference a paid versus free anti-virus software would make or showed which areas of security are covered by paid but not free and vice versa.

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4 Answers 4

Whether an antivirus is free or not has almost no correlation with its quality. The theory is that when an antivirus is expensive, then the vendors have more money to spend on maintaining the antivirus, and, given the theoretical impossibility to reliably distinguish virus/malware from non-hostile code, an antivirus can be effective only if it is continuously tuned and augmented, on a daily basis.

The theory breaks down on two points:

  • That the paid vendor makes money does not mean that he wishes to spend it on making a good antivirus. The ultimate goal of any commercial venture is to make a profit, so the vendor will prefer, all other things being equal, to pocket the money rather than spending it on exhausting antivirus maintenance. In theory, market pressure should evict antivirus companies of poor quality; however, it is known that the software industry is full of de facto local monopolies because of technical details (switching from one software to another incurs a noticeable cost, so competition is not fully effective at lowering prices).

  • The free vendor may be sponsored. An example is Microsoft's Security Essentials: it is in the best interest of Microsoft that Windows users don't get bogged down by malware, so they fund the development and maintenance of a good antivirus that they then give for free (it is now included in Windows 8, which is why there is no separate "Windows 8" download).

  • Banks sometimes sponsor antivirus packages for their online banking customers, since it is in their interests to ensure the security of their customer's computer, as the bank may be liable for some or all of any losses.

  • Either way, maintaining an antivirus is labour intensive and security engineers must be paid somehow. Free things are not actually free to create.

It may be possible that any specific third-party non-free antivirus offers some extra functionality which, from your point of view, makes it worth the cost; however, if you don't see it by yourself, then chances are that a free antivirus will be fine for you. Potential distinguishing qualities include ease of deployment in large infrastructure, scalable email scanning on the mail server, and other business-oriented features which are usually not relevant for home users.

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Paid anti-virus software on companies networked PCs allows a system admin to.

  • Get an email if it is turned off or uninstalled.
  • Stop users of the computer changing the settings.
  • Get a central alert if any machine on the network detects an virus.
  • Update the anti-virus software on all machines on the network in a controlled way.

Paid anti-virus software on a home computer often provide an support service with a phone number to ring if you need help to remove an virus the system let on.

I don’t think the paid anti-virus software is any better at stopping virus, but the add-on centralized admin can be of great value to some companies.

(Personally I like Microsoft Security Essentials, as it does not try to trick you into installing lots of other software unlike AVG, it also seems to slow down our computers less then AVG does. Anti-virus software is the last line of defence; the first line is “don’t go where bad people go”, then “don’t install any software unless it is worth more to you then the current contents of your machine”.)

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+1 for central management... In a business setting, management is half the battle. –  BrianAdkins Feb 2 at 14:44

AVG IS NOT OPEN-SOURCE

As others have said, any comparisons of products are limited by the nature of testing. Certainly some products do seem to have better heuristic capabilities which are less susceptible to measurement bias - but it's impractical to test these with closed source software. They also vary greatly in the collateral impact they have on your system - they often interfere in very fundamental ways with the working of your computer. There are several organizations publishing "benchmarks" for AV software - but mostly they just tell you what proportion of their sample set was recognised by each product on the day they tested it.

While there are particular products I currently favour "Questions seeking product recommendations are off-topic as they become obsolete quickly. Instead, describe your situation and the specific problem you're trying to solve."

What is a more interesting argument is whether black-listing alone is an effective security measure. Certainly FUD is a very effective marketing policy - it's interesting to note that Verisign (a company whose main business is in selling an effective tool for securing your computer) was swallowed up whole by Symantec (whose business model is dependant on Operating Systems having intrinsic vulnerabilities). But then we run into some of the fundamental issues of economics and the question becomes way too broad.

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Paid Antivirus is not necessarily better, personally I dislike all 3 options you mentioned, I use avira on my laptop and bitdefender on my desktop and am happy with both. You should keep in mind no antivirus is perfect, AVG will detect some threats norton will not and viceversa or some antiviruses are more agressive than others and may detect threats where there are none which is sometimes troublesome. Another main difference is the ammount of memory/system resources each antivirus uses, of course there is also a difference in services provided, some include firewalls, anti-spam, anti-spyware, etc while others do not. I suggest you find the options that fit your requirements and then search for reviews on google, you can then compare the cost/benefits of each one

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