The Great Antivirus Swindle

Andrew Rowland | 7 Feb 2022 | 0 comments

UPDATE 27 Jan 2024. Microsoft Defender (Windows' built-in AV) is now good enough to rely on, so the argument for third-party programs is weaker. If you want a free solution, simply uninstall your existing AV and reboot. It can still be confusing, though, so the paid-for programs in this article might suit you better.

When did you last check your antivirus? I recently saw a customer still using the expired version of BitDefender I warned about two years ago (see below)! You will be safer if you uninstall it.

We all know we need antivirus software, right?

And it is an expensive business for AV vendors to keep their software up-to-date, so we should expect to pay for it, right?

On the other hand, the vendors have to compete with each other and free offerings. The result can be some underhand tactics to get you to pay up. A situation that made one journalist question whether some AV products weren’t as bad as the stuff they are supposed to guard against. (They are not: you don’t want a real virus, believe me, but there’s a point there.) Last week I came across a customer who had paid £70 for a year’s coverage for 10 computers (she only owned one), plus extra for VPN, which she didn’t need. A quick word with me could have saved her £100.

So what do I recommend for you? Do you need to pay anything? Firstly, Microsoft Defender is built into Windows and has improved to the point where it is not bad. It switches on automatically if there is no other AV installed, so you are never completely unprotected. The trouble is, it is not very comprehensive and can be confusing, so I still recommend third-party AV.

Free AV acts as advertising for the paid-for programs. In many cases the AV engines are the same. What they tend to do is lack the extra protection such as screening websites before you visit them. And the pop-up messages urging you to upgrade can be pretty distracting – though paying up doesn’t necessarily stop them trying to foist other options onto you too. If you don’t want to pay a penny, go for Avast ( and studiously ignore the upgrade messages.

The other thing you can ignore are all the extras the vendors bundle with the paid-for versions to entice you to pay. If you need a file shredder, password manager or browser anti-tracking add-on, there are free standalone programs you would be better off using.

My number one tip is: buy from Amazon. If you respond to an in-program renewal or upgrade message, you pay full price. Just buy licences for the devices (PCs, laptops, tablets, phones) you possess. E.g. for five devices, buy a 5-licence package. My top tips:

F-Secure Safe
£18.90 – 1 PC, 1 yr (
Kaspersky Internet Security
£8.95 – 1 PC, 1yr (Amazon) – Note: Russian firm
Bitdefender Internet Security 2022
£14.99 – 3 PCs, 1yr (Amazon)

Other licence lengths, number of devices, are available. Check whether you are buying an online activation code or code by post if you are in a hurry!
Prices correct as of 30 Apr 2022. E&OE

Do I need a VPN?

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) encrypts the entirety of your Internet traffic and disguises your location. If you use your computer in a public location like a library, cafe or airport, you need one. So it's a good idea to have one installed on a laptop. If not – well, if you live somewhere like China and are an anti-government activist, then yes. Otherwise ignore the messages telling you your IP address can be seen by others. It is your address – you don’t worry that the postman can read your address on the envelopes he delivers, do you? It wouldn’t work if he couldn’t.

Driver Updaters

Some AVs are plugging driver updates as a good thing. Now, if your AV warns you that a program you have installed has an update available, that is good – you must update to stay secure. But drivers are an exception. Sometimes new drivers are intended for specific hardware and can actually cause issues. Rely on Windows Update to install security updates and drivers specific to your computer. Uninstall or turn off those third party updaters!

Bitdefender Free

If you didn’t get the message, this expired in the new year. I have installed it in the past on customers’ machines. Get one of the above, uninstall BD Free and install its replacement.

© Andrew Rowland 2022

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