There’s really no reason not to install a free anti-virus program; for a basic level of protection, the free A-V applications avoid the recurring expense and the bloat of the commercial versions. For more advanced threats, none of these products are perfect and some threats, such as zero-day exploits will spear through the anti-virus software with no warning.
The question is, can you keep a computer safe and infection-free without an A-V program?
Safer Web Browsing
Most viruses, mal-ware and root-kits come from contagion via the Internet. You can reduce the risk by keeping safe browsing habits on line.
- only visit websites directly, don’t click in-line links off third party sites, adverts or emails.
- do not download any files from unknown sites
- do not surf at length on unfamiliar web-sites; unknown provenance of a site on the Internet is a cue to curtail your stay. If in doubt – leave.
- sites to avoid include those with:
– unfamiliar domain names
– odd looking branding, rough graphics, mis-translated text, unprofessional language, broken page layouts
– too-good-to-be-true offers for goods or services
- turn on the anti-phishing/ phishing filters within your browser
Ensuring your operating system, web browser, office suite and any web-accessing programs are up to date with the latest versions and patches will close out a lot of known vulnerabilities. Do this often. Windows Update will take care of a lot of this for the operating systems and Microsoft’s own software. You may need to check for updates in third-party programs.
In Windows Update and a lot of software, there is a “check for updates” option in the settings, preferences or control panel.
There are on-line utilities to run virus checks and security scans without you having to install one locally. Some of them aggregate tests across a number of web sites in order to provide better coverage and corroborate results across tests. Check the on-line reputations of such utility sites as there are numerous scam sites harbouring mal-ware under the guise of security products.
Turn on in-built Security Features
E-mail services such as Google Mail, Hotmail and Yahoo have utilities built into their web-clients which scan all incoming mail and attachments with a tolerable performance hit. Centrally maintained and industrial-strength, these tools usually produce trust-worthy results. Conventional, local email clients such as Outlook don’t contain these utilities. Office 365, however, does.
Browser Extensions for Security
There are now many web browser add-ins, plug-ins and extensions providing enhanced security; NoScript for Firefox and SaferChrome for Chrome / Chromium being among of the notables.
Switch Operating System
Windows has hundreds of millions of users across many versions still in use. Given the size and maturity of the target and the corporate behaviour of Microsoft, Windows might as well have a target painted on its backside; every hacker, cracker and script-bandit will cut their teeth on it, or in Internet Explorer in its’ many versions.
You could simply switch to a mature, capable alternative operating system like Linux, which has a fundamentally more secure security model and is less of a target than either Windows (90%) or Mac-OS (9.95%) for mal-ware writers. All Linux distributions come with a firewall turned on by default and such a small target base for cyber-criminals, you can get by on it with no A-V software.