Why Anti-Virus Software Is a Waste of Money

When Intel bought anti-virus software vendor McAfee a few months ago, there was a lot of speculation about why the deal happened. After pondering the question for a while, I have an answer: Who cares?

The fact is, if you’re paying a dime for anti-virus software, you’re paying too much. This is an industry that has grown clueless, incompetent, and hopelessly addicted to seedy scare tactics. Oh, and let’s not forget their annoying habit of building software designed mostly to sell you — surprise! — more software.

It’s time to bring down the curtain on this clown show. They don’t protect your small business against anything except the possibility that your bank account might get too big. Do yourself a favor and quit feeding them more cash.

Of course, there are a number of free anti-malware alternatives. Companies like AVG, Avast, and Avira all offer free versions of their products. Some of these work pretty well, although they also tend to push “premium” features that, again, your small business doesn’t really need.

So, what do I see as the best anti-virus software alternatives? Glad you asked: If you’re running Macs or Linux systems, you don’t need one. Yes, there’s a theoretical possibility that malware could find its way onto a Mac. There’s also a theoretical possibility that a flying pig will crash into your house, but I don’t see you rushing to call your insurance agent.

If you’re running Windows, you definitely do need anti-malware protection. And if you’re a small business running 10 or fewer PCs, the best place to get it is from Microsoft itself.

Microsoft Security Essentials is an often-overlooked product. That’s because it doesn’t actually ship with Windows. Microsoft has to offer it as a separate product, mostly to avoid anti-trust lawsuits.

(That’s a legitimate concern, by the way. Most anti-malware software makers couldn’t compete their way out of a paper bag, and they’re right to worry about MSE getting too popular.)

Why use MSE? Three reasons:

  • It’s free for small businesses running up to 10 PCs. (If you run more than 10 client systems, whether or not you honor this limit is up to you, your conscience, and Microsoft’s legal staff.)
  • It stays out of the way. When MSE runs a routine system scan, I never even notice. Many competing products seem to think they’re not really working unless they slow your system to a crawl.
  • It works. Or at least it works just as well as any anti-malware product works these days.

That last point is worth considering for a moment. Anti-malware products are not as effective as they were in the past, and things are going to get worse. There are too many zero-day exploits now that circulate online before the anti-malware vendors ever get wind of them. A decade ago, zero-day threats were exceedingly rare; today, they happen all the time.

There’s no good solution to this dilemma, except to practice sound network security, educate your employees, and use common sense. Just don’t buy into vendors’ claims that the only good anti-virus is the kind that has a price tag attached to it. Nothing could be further from the truth.