Why You Should Consider Using More Than One Antivirus App

Running Antivirus Program Scans for a Second Opinion

Second-opinion checkups are just as applicable to cybersecurity as they are in healthcare.

One antivirus program’s judgment can never be foolproof. So, you might be tempted to learn if another software says something different about the security of your system.

Advanced users might choose to have a primary antivirus program and deactivate it when they want to activate a secondary program for follow-up scans.

Using each antivirus program will require that all the others are completely inactive. When a single software is active, it will not experience any disruptions from the other programs.

However, there is a risk of not doing this practice properly. Be honest with yourself about your technical skills and be sure to reconsider if you feel even a little unconfident.

When You Might Consider a Second-Opinion Threat Scan

Antivirus protection is built around each company’s database of known threats across the web.

Threat databases are compiled from dedicated efforts to seek out hazardous code on the Internet. Once the viruses, ransomware, and other data are analyzed, it is added to the index.

Cybersecurity firms use their own choice of methods to build their databases. The company behind your main antivirus may take a different route than other programs.

The quality of each antivirus’ detection is based on how often the company:

  • Crawls the web for new and unknown threats.
  • Labels these threats and decides the recommended protective action.
  • Updates your antivirus program with recent changes to the database.

Also, other detection methods like program behavior can be used differently across programs.

As a result, you may find that some databases handle certain threats differently than others.

However, most reputable antivirus suites update frequently and comprehensively. This means your main choice of software is prepared to handle threats that most people will experience.

If you fall into the bucket of users that do advanced work with cybersecurity, you might consider this dual protection method. Alternatively, you might use this approach if you truly understand the software and have identified a clear need for a second scan.

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Do I need antivirus at all?

Whether you need an antivirus at all depends on your level of IT skills and online browsing habits. It’s relatively hard for us to give a straightforward yes or no answer.

However, there are a few simple questions you can ask yourself to help you decide if you need an antivirus.

  • Do you often end up on suspicious websites? Unreliable websites are the primary source of various cyber threats that can infect your devices. Premium antivirus tools can block malicious sites and intrusive ads to help you avoid malware.
  • Do you shop online regularly? If you’re entering your credit card details nearly every day, it would be wise to use an antivirus that puts your transactions in an encrypted secure browser screen.
  • Do your kids use your device? If you have family and kids, making sure they stay safe is even more important. With parental controls, such as webcam blocking, you can protect your children even while not at home. Chances are there are more than a few devices connected to your home wifi. An antivirus can protect all of them at once, saving the hassle of catering to each separately.
  • Do you have multiple other security solutions as individual tools? If you use a password manager, a VPN service, or a secure email as separate products, you might benefit from a quality antivirus suite. Nowadays, they incorporate most of these cybersecurity tools, so it’s significantly easier to use them and ensure all-round security of your device.

If the majority of the answers are positive, we advise you to get a trustworthy antivirus product for your device. It doesn’t have to be a premium option, but at least a trustworthy one.

As the years go by, it’s less about viruses and malware but about cybersecurity in general. Keep in mind that great antivirus solutions are feature-rich and come cheaper than getting a file encryptor or a VPN separately.

Antivirus is not a cure-all remedy

Just like any other software, antiviruses are prone to vulnerabilities. They can also slow your device down or even collect data about you, especially when we’re talking about free versions. Besides, if you’re a Windows user, you already have a robust anti-malware tool in Defender. If you’re a Mac owner, there’s simply less malware and vulnerability points to lose your sleep on.

Finally, it’s all about your online habits – if you throw your credit card details all around the dark web and let your children play with your phone, you’re in the risk group. And compared to the possible damage of a ransomware attack or identity theft, those few bucks a month for the best antivirus software should be a no-brainer.

Reason #1 for a big NO: you give away too much and get back too little!

System scans are one side of the many processes involved with antivirus programs. In practice, there are quite a lot of operations that such software conducts, all of which require system memory.

It’s a no brainer that running two such software at the same time will take a toll on your device’s effectiveness. Whether the performances of the PC will be significantly reduced or completely messed up… That’s just a matter of system configuration and the resources requirements each software comes with.

Either way, the benefits of having multiple antivirus programs don’t multiply as expected.

That’s because they are all running operations that are mostly redundant. They don’t work differently to protect you in different ways, thus ensure you and extended protection.

The detection rates vary within 1-2%, according to most of the reputable test labs out there. So, if you ask us, this is the number one reason why we advise people not to run two real-time antivirus software at the same time.

Let us put it this way. Regardless of what two AV software you choose, at least 90% of their functionality is the same. What is not the same, however, is the RAM consumption required to enhance your detection rate from 98% to 99%. Using 1GB of your system RAM instead of just 0.5 for that 1% enhanced detection rate doesn’t really pay off as expected, does it?

In a nutshell, it’s a waste of system resources! And we don’t just say this with regards to your RAM resources. The CPU processing time is yet another valuable resource that you’re about to waste.

Honorable Mention

Essential side piece

Reasons to buy

+ Complements antivirus software + Removes adware, other unwanted software + Absolutely no downside to having it

Malwarebytes Free, formerly called Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, is not antivirus software. Instead, it’s a very useful malware-removal tool. 

What’s the difference? Unlike antivirus software, Malwarebytes Free can’t prevent a PC from being infected. But it does an excellent job of cleaning out malware that’s already on your system, as well as removing (legal) adware and potentially unwanted programs that antivirus software often ignores. 

Malwarebytes Free doesn’t interfere with any antivirus software that’s already installed, so it’s perfectly safe to install it alongside one of our recommended brands. (Just don’t upgrade to the paid Malwarebytes Premium, true antivirus software that does poorly in lab tests and which will conflict with other AV programs.)

We recommend Malwarebytes Free as a complement to any of the best antivirus programs, free or paid.

Read our full Malwarebytes Free review.

How does antivirus work?

There’s no unified description of what a virus is and what malware is. The word malware is an all-encompassing term for harmful software, such as viruses, Trojans, worms, and others.

In most cases, antivirus software scans your computer for possible malware and compares your files and programs to known viruses. It also checks possible variants of known malware types. Finally, the so-called heuristic scan tries to detect unknown malware by looking at the way your programs behave.

There are two types of scans that are usually available. The background scan provides real-time protection by actively checking the programs that are currently opened. In contrast, a full system scan checks every file on your hard drive. It’s recommended to run one after installing the antivirus and after the real-time scan finds an infection.

There’s always the chance of a false positive. It’s when your antivirus program thinks that it has found a virus while in fact, it’s a new but safe app that you’ve downloaded. Whitelisting can prevent future false positives.

Free Antivirus vs. Paid Antivirus

If free antivirus tools are so great, why should anybody pay? For one thing, quite a few of these products are free only for noncommercial use; if you want to protect your business, you must pony up for the paid edition. At that point, you should probably consider upgrading to a full security suite. After all, it’s your business’s security on the line.

Even for personal use, most for-pay antivirus tools offer more than their free counterparts—sometimes a lot more. For example, the paid editions of Adaware and ZoneAlarm add protection against malicious and fraudulent websites the free versions lack. And Panda reserves quite a few features for paying customers, among them firewall protection, application control, cross-platform support, and detection of insecure Wi-Fi connections.

In addition, many companies don’t offer full-scale tech support for users of the free edition. The first time you need extra help digging a particularly stubborn piece of malware out of your system, you might regret the lack of support.

The secret to avoiding these traps while still enjoying reliable protection

Your problem is that you want to benefit from a wider range of scanning and detection mechanisms. You hope that by installing more software you get more of those. But you’re only getting more problems and software conflicts.

Consequently, the solution that spares you from all the problems is to find one antivirus software that gives you the highest protection. The type of software that includes multiple scanning engines and detection mechanisms.

By far the biggest advantage of a bundled AV is that all of those features are tuned to work together flawlessly. That will spare you from all the conflicts. A program with multi-layer protection is just as good. But if you can find one that relies on both multiple scanning engines and layered protection, it’s a winner.

To recap, the answer to your initial question – Should I use more than one antivirus software? – is a big NO.

If you don’t like your current antivirus software, change it for a better one. Don’t just add another one. And don’t let yourself fooled by a free offer. That free offer will do the same when bumping into another antivirus that runs on your PC.

The ideal antivirus software offerings and combinations of protection mechanisms

Best case scenario, your antivirus should include real time scanning, web navigation protection, behavior blocking file monitoring, and even a dedicated anti-ransomware module. The Norton 360 with LifeLock package is one of those bundles that prepare you for pretty much anything. But it’s also one of the most expensive offers on the market.

While not necessarily going for that one, try to have one software that bundles as many protection mechanisms as possible. And then and only then, consider using an on-demand scanner, for a second opinion scan. For this purpose, pick a cloud-based scanner, to put as little extra pressure on your system as possible.

Alternatively, you could consider using a combination of a good antivirus and a dedicated firewall. This one, too, can support the occasional scanning on demand, from a third-party. In this particular case, you keep an eye on everything that enters your device (with the AV) and your network (with the firewall). Then, from time to time, you get to double check the efficiency of these two, scanning with a second scanner.

Otherwise, don’t bother with simultaneously using such software. You’re not saving time and you’re certainly not making your life easier.

Useful Features

Just about every antivirus product scans files on access to make sure malware can’t launch, and also scans the entire system on demand, or on a schedule you set. Once that cleaning and scheduling is done, blocking all access to malware-hosting URLs is another good way to avoid trouble. Many products extend that protection to also steer users away from fraudulent websites, phishing sites that try to steal login credentials for financial sites and other sensitive sites. A few rate links in search results, flagging any dangerous or iffy ones.

Behavior-based detection, a feature of some antivirus products, is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it can detect malware that’s never been seen before. On the other hand, if it’s not done right, it can baffle the user with messages about perfectly legitimate programs.

Any antivirus should eliminate spyware along with other types of malware, but some products include features designed specifically for spyware protection. Features like encryption to protect your sensitive data and webcam control to prevent remote peeping typically show up in commercial products, not free ones. But some free products include features like a simple on-screen keyboard to foil keyloggers.

One easy way to keep your PC protected is to install all security updates, both for Windows and for browsers and other popular applications. Windows 10 makes it easier than ever to stay up to date, but there are plenty of security holes in older Windows versions, in popular apps, and in add-ons. Scanning for vulnerabilities in the form of missing updates is a feature most often found in commercial antivirus products, but it does turn up in some free ones. In the list below you can see which products include these useful features.

Editors’ note: Why we have recommended Kaspersky

Kaspersky antivirus products have been banned from U.S. government agencies and U.S. defense contractors, and we can understand why. Because the company is Russian and antivirus software can peer deep into a PC, using Kaspersky software would create an unacceptable risk for persons and organizations involved in national security and critical infrastructure.

Furthermore, the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has led most Western companies, including our own, to stop doing business with Russian companies. We have suspended our affiliate-sales relationship with Kaspersky.

We still think Kaspersky software is generally safe for home users. We’ve seen no evidence to convince us otherwise. Kaspersky researchers are well respected throughout the antivirus industry, and the company has publicly exposed Russian cyberespionage campaigns as well as those from the United States and other countries around the world.

We don’t know whether the economic sanctions on Russian companies will result in Kaspersky software becoming unavailable or unreliable for users in Western countries. The Kaspersky company has moved many of its operations outside Russia, so it’s possible there will be no effect on the software’s operations.

Whether you choose to use Kaspersky software is up to you. We can only make recommendations on how well antivirus programs work and how easy they are to use. There is certainly antivirus software available that comes with fewer geopolitical issues attached.

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