Should You Pay for Antivirus Software?

Quick Answer

Free antivirus software tools can provide you with a baseline level of protection against known threats. But for real-time monitoring to detect new and more complicated threats, you might consider paying for a premium solution.

A person holds a phone that has a malware warning email on the screen.

Antivirus software can help protect you from malicious programs that seek to pilfer your account information, steal personally identifiable information, assume control of a device and more. Reputable antivirus software is available for free from many providers, but paid options are also available.

Let's examine the effectiveness of antivirus software, along with the benefits and downsides of both free and paid antivirus protection. It's wise to weigh the pros and cons of both types of antivirus software to help you determine which is the best option for you.

What Does Antivirus Software Do?

Viruses, also called malware, are programs or files that aim to disrupt, harm or gain unauthorized access to a computer system. Antivirus software that runs on your device can constantly monitor local files as well as downloads and other potential intrusions. Antiviruses may even protect you from unsafe websites and phishing attempts.

If a threat is found, it can be blocked, quarantined or deleted. An antivirus can even work to repair any damage the intrusion causes, such as by removing malware that tracks your keystrokes.

Free vs. Paid Antivirus Software

There are many antivirus tools on the market, and they may be available at no cost or charge a one-time or annual fee. Deciding which antivirus tool to use, and whether to opt for a free or paid version, may come down to the level of security you're seeking. You may feel comfortable using free cybersecurity protection for your phone or computer with a baseline of security that typically includes:

  • Threat detection and removal: Don't consider any free app that doesn't at least find and remove viruses and malware. You should receive a baseline level of protection from hackers with ill intent.
  • New threat blocking: Some free security solutions can prevent virus and malware infections through continuous monitoring.

As you might expect, you'll get added security features through a paid antivirus software solution, including some or all of the following features:

  • Stop remote access attacks. A reputable antivirus app should be able to block hackers from creating a "backdoor" to control your computer.
  • Keep your webcam off limits. Your computer's webcam is vulnerable to hackers who want a glimpse into your personal life. Many premium antivirus software can help you shield against such attacks.
  • Prevent ransomware installation. Ransomware is a form of malicious software that encrypts and prevents access to essential files on your system until you pay a ransom to unlock them.
  • Provide phishing shields. Paid antivirus software should help you identify schemes that use fake emails and websites to trick you into giving up sensitive data, including your banking and credit card information.
  • Get rid of files for good. As you may know, deleting a file doesn't necessarily get rid of it forever. But many paid antivirus tools can permanently destroy these files so they can't be recovered. If you ever sell your computer or throw it away, you shouldn't have to worry about personal data being discovered on its internal storage.

If these benefits are appealing to you, a paid antivirus solution may be your best bet to protect your computer or smartphone from hackers.

Example of Free vs. Paid Antivirus Software

To help illustrate the options you might find with free and paid antivirus cyber protection, let's examine the free and paid versions of a specific software solution, in this case, Malwarebytes.

Let's compare the free version of Malwarebytes with Malwarebytes Premium, the firm's entry-level paid offering.

Malwarebytes Free vs. Paid Protection
Free Paid
Scanning User-initiated scanning and removal of viruses and malware from PC, Mac or devices Ongoing real-time scanning and removal of viruses and malware from PC, Mac or devices
Mobile Android: Detects and removes adware and malware; privacy audit for your apps Android: Detects and removes adware and malware; privacy audit for your apps
Apple iOS: Ad blocking and text message filtering Apple iOS: Ad blocking and text message filtering
Browsing and phishing N/A Malicious website and phishing protection
Additional protection N/A Ransomware, zero-day, brute force and uninstall protection
Browser plugin N/A Includes Browser Guard, which blocks third-party ad trackers, malicious websites, in-browser cryptojackers, etc.

As the above comparison illustrates, free protection can improve the level of security on your computer and devices, but higher security measures are typically reserved for the paid version.

Pros and Cons of Free vs. Paid Antivirus Software

While the internet is a valuable tool for information, it can also be a dangerous place where hackers seek to gain uninvited access to your personal data. As such, it makes sense to consider getting antivirus software. If you're not sure whether to invest in premium security software or get the free version, it may help to weigh the pros and cons of each form of security.

Benefits of Free Antiviruses

  • Price: The most obvious benefit of free security software is its cost: You can't beat free. If you simply want standard virus protection, free antivirus software is an option.
  • Protection: At a minimum, you should be able to safeguard against recognized threats that can corrupt your computer or steal your passwords and data.
  • Choice: Even if you prefer a premium option, free software offers a great way to "try it before you buy it." You can test different products for free before committing to one solution.

Downsides of Free Antiviruses

  • Customer support may be lacking: Customer support for free products could leave much to be desired, which can become a problem if you need help resolving a software issue.
  • Baseline protection only: Typically, free antivirus software only scans for files with signatures of known threats. Free protection is not always as comprehensive, persistent, or up-to-date as paid solutions.
  • Annoying prompts and ads: Most free antivirus tools will hit you with ads and prompts to upgrade your protection. These disruptions can downgrade your experience with the software.

Benefits of Premium Antiviruses

  • Most comprehensive protection: Premium antivirus security provides real-time scanning and protection against newer and more complex threats. They generally include a suite of security options, including protection against phishing, ransomware and brute force attacks.
  • Customer support: Generally, paid security software offers support to assist you when security problems arise.
  • Excellent for businesses: Paid antivirus software can help your business protect sensitive client and employee data across a network of computers.

Downsides of Premium Antiviruses

  • Cost: The main disadvantage of premium antivirus software is its cost. Premium antivirus can run about $40 per year, or more for very robust protection. Many software companies don't offer packages shorter than one year, but some do. The premium Malwarebytes package detailed above costs $3.33 per month or $39.99 annually, but other software offers may be cheaper.
  • Unnecessary extras: Some cybersecurity software includes extras you don't need, which means you could pay for features you'll never use. For example, if you don't have children, you may have little need for parental controls with screen time limits, a feature which comes with some security software solutions.

Antivirus Software Helps You Protect Your Identity

Antivirus protection can provide a line of defense against identity theft. It's also wise to regularly review your credit card and financial account statements for suspicious activity. Additionally, you might consider Experian's IdentityWorks℠ to monitor your credit and alert you of any changes. IdentityWorks provides a number of features to help keep your identity safe, from dark web surveillance to easy locking and unlocking of your credit file.

The purpose of this question submission tool is to provide general education on credit reporting. The Ask Experian team cannot respond to each question individually. However, if your question is of interest to a wide audience of consumers, the Experian team may include it in a future post and may also share responses in its social media outreach. If you have a question, others likely have the same question, too. By sharing your questions and our answers, we can help others as well.

Personal credit report disputes cannot be submitted through Ask Experian. To dispute information in your personal credit report, simply follow the instructions provided with it. Your personal credit report includes appropriate contact information including a website address, toll-free telephone number and mailing address.

To submit a dispute online visit Experian's Dispute Center. If you have a current copy of your personal credit report, simply enter the report number where indicated, and follow the instructions provided. If you do not have a current personal report, Experian will provide a free copy when you submit the information requested. Additionally, you may obtain a free copy of your report once a week through April 2022 at AnnualCreditReport.