Eric Lawrence just wrote a great post on his blog that shows the flaws in anti-virus software:
Every year for Microsoft’s annual AV summit, the IE Team puts together a chart of the impact of AV on browser performance, showing the variation across the top 20 AV products (the variation is huge). They don’t want to publish this data, but the impact ranges from “bad” to “absurdly unbelievably bad.” The best products impact performance by ~15%, the worst slow the browser by 400% or more. Several of the products crash the browser entirely and can’t be benchmarked properly. Conducting these benchmarks properly is difficult—you need to account for every piece of software running on the machine and ensure that the test conditions are entirely fair (hardware, software, updates, etc); as a consequence, many of the “public” benchmarks are rather inaccurate.
Personal anecdote: I have Symantec Endpoint Protection running on a machine with a high-end i7-4771 CPU; even after unticking all of the “optional” protection features I can find in the Symantec control panel, the Octane score in Chrome 43 is 11659. On the same hardware in the same browser version without Symantec installed, the Octane score is 32555, 279% of the original score.
The devastating impact of antivirus on browsing performance is one reason why your portable devices feel magically fast—on a AV-unhindered i7, IE11 runs SunSpider in 70ms. Add AV and it runs in 350ms. The IPad Air, running with Safari’s slower script engine, runs it in 380ms. Mobile devices offer “Desktop Class” performance only because your desktop has been wrecked.
But security software provides surprisingly little protection, as this delightful photo of a colleague’s laptop shows. In the foreground, the AV software promising that the user is protected. In the background, the ransom UI demanding payment to decrypt the documents.
Even worse, “security” software itself often introduces vulnerabilities into otherwise secure systems.
His recommendation is the same one I give people: use the built-in anti-virus software provided by Microsoft (or download it from Microsoft’s site if you’re using Windows 7 or Vista). It’s just as crappy as the others, but since it’s built-in, it’s faster & uses fewer resources.
And of course, if you use a Mac or Linux, don’t bother with anti-virus.