When users ask for our advice about choosing an antivirus program, one of the first questions is always the same: “Do I need a paid antivirus? Most free versions offer complete protection as well so maybe it will be enough?”.
In most cases we actually tend to agree with this statement. A free antivirus offers good protection and is usually enough to save you from trouble. This is why we always suggest users a good free option whenever it is available. There are some risks involved in using a free versus a paid version, however, there are situations where such antivirus is more than enough.
Let’s look at some aspects which should help you decide if you really need a paid version.
Amount of important and dynamic data on your computer
If the computer is not your main workstation or you simply do not have many important files saved on it, then a free antivirus might be enough. Most people only store personal photos and music on their home computers. These types of files usually do not require constant updates: you can simply create a copy of your personal photos once a week or once a month. In most cases you also have a copy of these files on your phone, camera, memory card or stored on a cloud server. Therefore, you can easily recover them even if a ransomware virus strikes. Remembering to always have the files stored on at least two separate medias can help you avoid buying an expensive antivirus suite as you will not lose them in case of a virus attack.
On the other hand, if you have various documents and other files (e.g. movie projects, graphics, etc.) which are constantly changing and you edit them often, a paid antivirus might be a good choice.
If you are an experienced user, you already understand which files, email attachments, links and websites are potentially dangerous. If you can tell when you are targeted by a phishing campaign, check links before opening them and avoid suspicious downloads, you should be capable of doing the biggest job yourself: preventing infections. As we say, the first layer of security is always the user himself and only then follows the antivirus software.
Meanwhile, if you do not know all peripheries of Windows operating system and how viruses work it might be better to choose a paid version. This will guarantee that the antivirus will do most of the job in the background without requiring too much input from your side as it will have more layers of security and will look after everything starting from email attachments and website links and ending with suspicious files and network attacks.
Online banking and shopping
If you constantly check your bank account balance, manage your finances and order goods online then it is highly recommended to opt for a paid antivirus version. Credit cards and eshop login credentials are the top targets for cyber criminals and you need to make sure they cannot access them as it can cost much more than just losing some files.
However, if you only make a couple of purchases a year then a free version might do just fine. Just remember to avoid suspicious eshops and logging in through insecure connections without SSL.
Using antivirus for your personal business or a company
Most user licenses require to purchase a full version (usually a business license) if you are using antivirus software as a business entity. Securing a computer used for business is much more important than securing a home machine so do not hesitate here and choose the a paid antivirus. However, if the only option you can afford is free then you should carefully study user agreement in order to avoid possible legal problems.
P2P networks usage
If you constantly download from Torrent or other P2P networks then it is highly recommended to have paid antivirus version. Torrents and other software, movies and music download sites are the main sources for the newest threats and a free antivirus might be not powerful enough to stop them. Paid antiviruses usually have additional security layers (e.g. behavioral analysis) and can prevent even the most recent viruses that are still not in the databases.
The same applies if you constantly plug in other media to transfer files to or from your computer. USB sticks, memory cards or phones could be infected and transfer the virus to your system.
One of the main antivirus selling points is that you get (usually) unlimited tech support. This means that you can simply make a call and receive free help in case the antivirus software is incapable of eliminating a threat. If you pay money, it is in the best interest of the antivirus creators to solve any problems that may arise and keep you as a satisfied customer. Therefore, they will be always willing to help and remove the threats for you in case the antivirus fails.
To sum up, a free antivirus protects you from 90% of the risks. However, those 10% is what causes the most problems. If you do not have much to lose then you can stick to using free antivirus and have a peace of mind. However, if a lot is at stake (important files, business records, online banking information) then purchasing a complete antivirus suite might be a good idea.
Below we compare three antivirus suites which have both free and paid versions so you could see what what you get by choosing the latter.