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Can I Have Multiple Antivirus Programs On My Computer?

Can I run Multiple Antiviruses on My PC?

The Windows Defender antivirus (as we know it today) has been around since 2005. Microsoft officially started packaging it with Windows 8.1. Initially, you could run your anti-virus in parallel with Windows Defender or disable it completely. But that soon changed.

Now when you install a third-party antivirus, it disables Windows Defender by default. However, you can re-enable it and run both antiviruses in tandem. This is one way of running multiple antiviruses on your PC. However, you can go further and install another third-party antivirus and run all three antiviruses together.

Therefore, the answer is an unequivocal yes, you can run multiple antiviruses programs on your computer. But how do you run a third-party antivirus along with Windows Defender? Read on to the next section where we show you how. 

How To Run Your Antivirus Along with Windows Defender

For those of you running the latest version of Windows 10, you can re-enable Windows Defender with the following steps:

  • Open the start menu (Winkey)
  • Type Windows Security into the search field and hit the Enter key
  • On the left panel, click on Virus & threat protection
  • Scroll down the main panel and click on Windows Defender Antivirus options
  • Set Periodic scanning to On

Once you turn this option on, Windows Defender will only perform periodic scans so it does not interfere with your main antivirus. 


Tips on How to Run Multiple Antiviruses Effectively

If you insist on running multiple antiviruses, the best way to reserve your system resources is to streamline how they run or work with each other. You could put one antivirus in-game/silent mode while the other scans. Some antiviruses allow you to configure which components work and how. 

For instance, despite its shaky privacy record, Avast is a good example of this. It has a set of virus scans, shields, sandboxes, firewalls, etc. You can select which features you would like to enable or disable. 

If you plan to run multiple anti-viruses, you’ll need to configure each one in such a way that they don’t interfere with each other. Once again, each anti-virus must have the same exceptions and scan rules too.  

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4. More isnt always more: Little advantage for high resource cost

This is actually the strongest reason against running two full protection systems simultaneously. Virus/malware protection products today are rather complex and the exponentially growing number of threats (it doubles every year) requires a lot of code to keep the computer safe. This naturally results in a relatively high usage of computer resources, especially its memory (RAM). By running two full antivirus programs all the time, you’re basically wasting resources, because 90 percent or more of their functionality will be the same. All available protection products of reputable vendors today operate on very high quality standards and detection rates often only differ by about 1-2 percent according to test labs.

So, you might end up spending 0.5 to 1 GB or more of your available RAM to bring your detection rate up from, say, 98 percent to 99 percent. But is this minuscule improvement really worth it? Every new file on the computer would need to be scanned by both products, triggering two complex sets of code that use a lot of your CPU time, which could undoubtedly be better used for other tasks – you know, stuff you actually want to do on the computer.

The better option is to go for one product that comes with multiple scanning engines that are tuned to work together seamlessly, or a product that uses a layered protection approach with different technologies, or, better still, a product that implements both.

Fighting Over Files

Even worse, you’ll find that they’ll often clash with one another when protecting your system. The goal of an antivirus is to work as quick as possible to isolate a virus when it infects your PC. This means that you’re going to have two or more highly vigilant antiviruses that will be monitoring everything you do at exactly the same time. While it initially sounds good, the results will be anything but!

Let’s say you download a file from the Internet. A good antivirus will pick up on this action and immediately perform a scan on said folder to make sure it’s not infected. Unfortunately, if you’ve downloaded several good antiviruses, it means they’ll all clamour over one another to scan the file all at once. You may find the file is deadlocked where every antivirus is trying to claim ownership of it, and you’ll probably notice a system performance decrease while this happens.

When a file does turn out to be a virus, multiple antiviruses can end up making things more trouble than need be. Both of them will want to remove and delete the virus under their own terms, which will cause both of them to ask you if you want to quarantine them. Unfortunately, they’ll only really accept a quarantine if they’re the ones doing the quarantining. If you allow one to quarantine the virus and deny the other one, that second antivirus may pick up on the file in the first antivirus’ quarantine and constantly alert you of a virus threat, despite the fact that it’s safely stored away!

What About Scanners?

Throughout this article we’ve been focusing entirely on antivirus programs – the ones that work in the background on a deep level in an operating system. You may have downloaded anti-malware and anti-spyware scanners to help protect your PC. These are different, as they aren’t always scanning for threats but can be used to do a single sweeping scan on a PC when you ask it to. Will these scanners cause trouble with an active antivirus?

To answer this, it depends on what you’re using the scanner for. Some scanners have their own real-time scanning option which will probably conflict with an antivirus’ own. If you disable these real-time features and perform a simple scan with it, it probably won’t conflict. Ideally, you can tell your antivirus to exclude the scanner from its own scans, so it’ll leave your scanner alone. Even then, however, you may notice a performance drop as both of the software scan at the same time.

If you’re interested in using an antivirus and a scanner at the same time and want to learn the ramifications, look on the website of your favourite scanner software for help. For example, Malwarebytes has a list of compatible antiviruses (PDF) while Spybot discusses how to make it work hand-in-hand with an antivirus.

Exceptions to the Rule

That said, let me introduce just a bit of tech talk, and explain the exceptions to my single anti-virus rule. There are three types of anti-virus protection: real-time, on-demand and offline. Here's a quick description of each:

The real-time variety we've been discussing so far protects against viruses and other threats as they arise. Your real-time anti-virus software is constantly scanning everything that enters your computer, as well as every program that runs. Examples are Norton, McAfee, Avast, BitDefender, Kaspersky and many others.

On-demand virus scanners are only active when you specifically launch them, to perform a one-time scan of your hard drive for malware. One of the most popular is MalwareBytes Free. On demand scanners are designed to co-exist with your real-time anti-virus software, and can sometimes catch things that have slipped through your first line of defense.

Offline anti-virus tools run from a bootable CD or flash drive, and will do a deep scan of your computer. While the offline scanner is running, both Windows and your primary anti-virus program are inactive. See Extra Security: Offline Malware Scanners for more info on offline security tools.

So to be clear, YES, I recommend just one REAL-TIME security tool. Supplementing that with an on-demand scanner is fine. And for those situations where you can't start up your computer due to a virus infection, an offline scanner is what you need.

Computer crash

If there are two antivirus programs running on a single computer, they will each try to install interceptors into the same part of the system kernel. This is likely to result in conflicts between the antivirus monitors – probably with one of the following consequences:

  • One of the two antivirus programs will fail to intercept system events.
  • Each antivirus program’s attempts to install parallel interceptors will cause the entire computer system to crash.

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The scanner works by taking a snapshot of all the ‘active’ files on a user’s PC. We generally define an active file as one that is currently executing on the system or has the ability to automatically execute by means of an auto-start procedure (such as an extension, task, etc.). This snapshot is stripped of any personally identifiable details to make sure that the report is 100% anonymous and securely sent to the herdProtect servers to be analyzed. Upon arriving, the system quickly sorts the files as known or unknown entities. Known entities are then categorized based on the detections that were discovered when scanned by all 68 anti-malware engines. Engines that Power herdProtect

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  • Panda Platinum (Panda Security)
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  • Rising Antivirus
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  • Twister Antivirus (Filseclab)
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  • VIPRE Antivirus (ThreatTrack Securit/Sunbelt/GFI)
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