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Analysis: does your PC need security software?

Two experts argue for, and against antimalware

The hype surrounding Conficker and the Twitter worm has only served for security experts to issue warnings about installing antivirus software. But is it really necessary? Can you survive without a security suite? Two experts give us their views.

Of course, a router can't stop viruses, phishing, and other threats that arrive via email. My secret weapon: Gmail. I route mail from my personal domain to my Gmail account. (From there, I can access messages on the web or pull them down via Outlook.) Gmail does a phenomenal job filtering spam - much of which is malware. The service also performs a virus scan on all attachments.

By using Gmail as an intermediary between my POP3 server and my PC, I've kept not only spam at bay, but malware as well. I don't know whether Windows Live Mail and Yahoo Mail offer similar amenities, but for me Gmail is the solution. Even phishing messages are few and far between. Of course, as an educated user, I know better than to click a link in a message filled with scary subject lines such as 'your account has been compromised!'.

Speaking of phishing, the latest versions of Firefox and Internet Explorer offer robust antiphishing tools. Both will sound the alarm if I attempt to visit sites known to be fraudulent, meaning that even if I click something that looks like, say, a totally legit PayPal or eBay link, I'll get fair warning. And that's just the tip of the safe-browser iceberg: Firefox and IE are way more secure than in the old days. They block pop-ups, provide website ID checks, protect against malware installation, and so on.

As for other threats, I'm comfortable leaving my PC in the capable hands of Windows Defender. Microsoft's antispyware tool runs quietly and efficiently in the background. I 'check in' once in a while to make sure it's active and up-to-date, but otherwise I never hear a peep from it.

Of course, that could mean bad stuff is slipping past Defender, right? Sure, it's possible. That's why I occasionally run a system scan using Ad-Aware. So far, so good: the scans always come up empty.

Last but not least, I exercise common sense. I don't open email attachments from people I don't know. I don't download files from disreputable or unknown sources. I don't visit websites that peddle gambling, porn, torrents, or 'warez'. (Yeah, I know, I'm boring.) In other words, I keep my internet nose clean, which in turn keeps my PC clean.

At the same time, I make sure that automatic updates are turned on for Windows, my web browsers, and any other software that gets patched regularly. And, perhaps most important of all, I rely on multiple backup methods just in case my system really is compromised somehow. For example, my Firefox bookmarks are all synched to the web via Xmarks (formerly Foxmarks).

I use the online-backup service Mozy to archive my critical documents and Outlook PST file. And drive-cloning utility Casper makes a weekly copy of my entire hard drive to a second drive.

After several years with XP and about six months with Vista, I'm still cruising along without a security care in the world.

PC security news and reviews

NEXT PAGE: Our other expert gives his opinion

  1. We get two expert views
  2. More reasons why you don't need security software
  3. Our other expert gives his opinion
  4. More views from Robert


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