A little over a year ago, a major antivirus software company executive made headlines when he declared that “antivirus is dead.” While the statement garnered a lot of attention, and sparked discussions about the real value of antivirus software in an ever-changing threat landscape, the fact remains that antivirus is an important part of any security plan, and the industry is far from dead — and is, despite such attention-getting claims, actually growing.
The global cyber security market is expected to grow from $106.32 billion in 2015 to $170.21 billion in 2020, estimates market research firm MarketResearch. Between 2014 and 2019, Antivirus software market in Latin America is expected to grow at 7.78% CAGR. The scenario in APAC is no different as well; the region will record 11.9% CAGR during the same period. These statistics are the clear indicators of the promising market scenario for antivirus software.
One of the major issues with the declaration of the death of antivirus is the fact that to the average consumer, “antivirus software” is a blanket term for Internet security. This includes antivirus in the traditional sense, in which the software detects malware based on the signatures of known threats, as well as more heuristic forms of malware detection, which identifies potential threats based on the behavior of the application, not just the signature.
However, the best antivirus software programs offer even more, including spam detection and blocking, social media scanning, password managers, phishing detection, and ransomware blocking. In short, they are full security suites, bundled together under the name of antivirus.
This type of security protection is not what was being referred to in antivirus’ death notice. Rather, that statement was referring to the specific software that relies on signature-based detection — in other words, only catches the malware that is already known.
That type of protection is considered bare bones, and offered free or included with many operating systems. It is wholly inadequate for protecting against zero-day exploits or encrypted malware — just two of the biggest threats to both consumer and enterprise networks. However, that doesn’t mean antivirus is dead — it’s just different.
Why Antivirus Is Still Important
According to one recent report, the market for antivirus software not only isn’t dead, but it’s actually growing. MarketResearchReports.biz recently released a report on the state of the antivirus industry indicating that it is expected to grow by more than 11 percent in the next four years. Several factors support this growth prediction, including:
Increased Internet usage. The most recent statistics show that 2.1 billion people use the Internet. The sheer number of users and devices means that protecting against harmful software must be a priority. In fact, research firm Gartner predicts that within the next 18 months, consumers will begin to recognize the need for antivirus protection on mobile devices, growing the market for mobile-centric AV products.
Cloud services. One of the primary criticisms of traditional antivirus software is that virus detection relies on definition databases stored on user devices – and need to be updated regularly in order to be effective. However, cloud-based antivirus solutions have rendered that model almost obsolete. Instead of relying on a single database of known threats, SaaS antivirus pulls information from a vast net of sources, including security labs, user reports, and known threats, to protect in real time.
Basic Protection Needs. While studies indicate that no antivirus product is 100 percent perfect all the time when it comes to detecting harmful software, most vendors are able to block new signatures within a matter of days. And in many cases, new signatures are identified based on similarities to known threats. Given that most malware is opportunistic and not targeted to a specific individual or organization, traditional antivirus still blocks a high percentage of threats.
The Changing Landscape
Despite all of these strong factors in favor of antivirus, some still point to declining sales of some antivirus products as evidence that other technologies are taking hold. However, security experts are quick to point out that antivirus is still an important layer in any security program. Consider antivirus software to be like the seat belts in your car; they are simply one line of defense in a host of features designed to keep you safe.
If you are in a car accident, your seat belt helps protect you, along with the airbags, crumple zones, and other safety features. In short? Antivirus works in conjunction with intrusion prevention and detection, firewalls, endpoint security, and other tools —none of which fully protects the network on its own — to create a more secure environment.
So before you uninstall your antivirus software or settle for a bare-bones program, consider how much protection you are really getting. Since the vast majority of threats are successful due to human behavior (you ignore warnings, fall for a phishing scam, etc.) it’s in your best interest to use every tool possible to protect your data.