A recent poll commissioned by ESET Ireland shows 45% of Irish computer users use free antivirus on at least one of their computers, 36% use licensed software, while the rest use a combination of products, pirated software, none at all or don’t know.
A multiple answer poll conducted among 1000 Irish adults in January has revealed a few interesting things. A very positive one is that the vast majority of computers in Ireland are protected by some form of security software and only 5% use nothing at all, while a 3% minority is mad enough to use pirated antivirus – as that makes about as much sense as having robbers guard jewellers and bank vaults.
A slightly more worrying one is that nearly half believe that a free antivirus is equally effective in keeping their computers safe as a full security suite. While some free security products that can be found online are, honestly, worth less than they cost, it is true that usually free and payable versions of AV from the same vendor use the same core engine, but they don’t have the same functionality and features. In most cases, they’re intended as an evaluation tool. Because of the work that needs to be put into any product, if it’s to be in any way effective, the developer needs to get some return on his investment. In “free” software, this is often done by installing “complementary” toolbars, utilities containing adware-like functionality, etc, where the client is monitored and served with advertisements. These add-on programs subsidise the cost of the “free” anti-virus potentially at the expense of users’ privacy.
Therefore relying on full protection of one’s computer by using a semi-functional security product is somewhat naïve, to put it mildly. Online security these days goes far beyond just sets of virus definitions as was the case with antivirus a decade ago. The multiple-vector attack nature of modern malware and cybercrime in general forces effective security suites to integrate antivirus, firewall, anti-spam, social media scanners and scam-site detectors, using traditional definition-based malware recognition, combined with proactive, behavioural heuristic detection. That is then also backed up by large teams of security experts and analysts, who monitor the web 24/7 for new outbreaks and new forms of attack as well as offer tech support to their users.
Further demographic analysis of the poll show that, as in most similar polls we did, women tend to be more cautious, while men more reckless in computer use. Just as more men than women admitted to using pirated software, visiting dodgy sites, ignoring their security software’s warnings in previous polls, so in this one more men than women use free software (48%), while women prefer to be safe with payable full versions (41%). Only 1% of females use pirated antivirus software, while 5% of men do. Same attitude towards safety as in most previous polls is also revealed age-wise. The young group of 15-24 is the most reckless in using free (46%) and pirated antivirus (6%), while in the 55+ age group is safest, as no one admitted to be using pirated software while the use of free antivirus is 43%. Geographically it is a bit more unusual. While the Dublin area had the lowest use of free software (40%) it also had the highest level of piracy (6%), Connaught/Ulster was the opposite. There 51% rely on free programs, and only 2% use pirated ones.
The conclusion could therefore be, that while awareness of the dangers online is increasing and steps are being taken by users to ensure some level of security for their computers, the naïve perception of the threats and solutions for them is a bit reminiscent of WW2 garden aluminium air-raid shelters. While they may not really offer any serious protection against bombings, they at least reassure that something is being done.
IT Security & Cybercrime Analyst