Is paid antivirus really worth it?

Keep your PC secure with paid antivirus
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Paid, premium antivirus apps are those security products that cost money to purchase – as opposed to the wealth of free antivirus apps out there, which won’t extract a single coin from your wallet.

But is it really worth paying for antivirus software? That’s what we’re going to discuss here, examining the hidden costs of freebie antivirus software, and the other points in favor of a paid antivirus app.

Free but basic

As mentioned, there are lots of free antivirus programs out there, but we’d certainly steer well clear of any of the more obscure efforts – which could be a risk to your privacy or even security in themselves.

If you grab a good free antivirus from a reputable company, though, you’ll be fine, and these apps will provide robust enough protection for your device(s) on a basic level, at no cost (or no financial cost, anyway – more on that later).

The key word here, of course, is ‘basic’ – because paid apps offer a lot above and beyond the remit of a freebie. Those additional features vary considerably depending on which product range you’re looking at, but there are often a lot of valuable extras provided with premium antivirus apps.

Far greater functionality

Those extras might include bonuses like protection for your backups (Bitdefender’s paid Mac antivirus app includes Time Machine protection, for example), and often measures to keep you safe on the web, such as a secure browser which you can use to do your online banking or other sensitive tasks.

Paid apps often provide the likes of anti-spam filters to keep your email inbox free of nonsense or malicious messages, and anti-phishing protection to keep you safe on the web, and these can be key elements when it comes to staying secure online.

Indeed, these kind of layers of defense can be even more vital for less tech-savvy users, who may not be able to guard themselves against some of the well-constructed phishing threats around, or other scams built around social engineering. These vulnerable users will especially benefit from the extra security offered by a paid app.

Those with families will also find that premium antivirus offerings usually integrate some manner of parental controls, and these will be very useful for helping to keep the kids safe online.

Panda Antivirus with bundled VPN

(Image credit: Panda)

Premium antivirus software sometimes offers even tighter levels of security still by incorporating a VPN. The top-end security suites from some vendors who also run a VPN service bundle the latter, and if you need the extra encrypted privacy and security that a VPN can give you online, these can be a great choice in terms of value for money.

If you really want to feel super-secure online, only a paid antivirus can deliver on this front.

Better support

Another factor to bear in mind when it comes to paid antivirus is that you will get better tech support, with the likes of helplines you can call, or live chat to solve any problems you might encounter. Generally speaking, none of those options are provided by a free antivirus – indeed, with the latter, you’ll likely get little to no support, save for some FAQs or a web knowledgebase perhaps.

What you will get with many free antivirus products is adverts which continually urge you to upgrade to the paid version, or indeed just ads in general – these products have to eke out a living in some way, of course. Naturally, any software you pay for won’t have adverts popping up and annoying you (or shouldn’t, anyway, if you buy from a reputable vendor).

Finally, it’s worth considering that some paid antivirus apps really aren’t all that expensive, particularly if you’re willing to subscribe for a longer term. When you actually break down the cost of some of those multi-year contracts to work out what you’re paying monthly, it’s not very much for a high level of protection.

Is paid antivirus really worth it?

On balance, paying for an antivirus makes sense on a number of levels. As we’ve underlined here, those who aren’t very tech-savvy or confident can stay much safer online with premium antivirus software (and kids can as well, thanks to additional features like parental controls). And remember that it doesn’t have to be that expensive to get paid antivirus protection, with even the best proponents out there starting with prices of less than $2 per month. That said, a good free app is still a perfectly viable route to take for those who can live with just the basics.

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).