Why Paying for Security Software Can Make Sense

Not securing your computer at all isn't an option: there are too many potential security threats, from losing personal data to bringing down your entire office infrastructure. Many of our readers favour free solutions, but in security there's also a good case to be made for paying.

Picture by Teresa

We've argued before that paying for software can make sense, and that's a view we'll stick to even while continuing to hunt down the best free options. Yes, it's great when free software can do everything you need. But it's also important to recognise when paying will get you better results. And we'll start with the most obvious one of all: so you can get your life back from your incompetent relatives and friends.

1. Broader range of support options

The most common argument against paying for security software is "I'm a clued-up individual; I don't click on dodgy sites and I know what to look for. A basic free scanner will work fine for me." That in itself is a questionable presumption, but even if it's true, it's clearly not the case with all the other people who will come running to you for tech support every time they have a problem. If they get paid software, you can direct them towards the support resources for those companies when things go wrong. That's part of what they paid for. Merely saving yourself some of this hassle is, in itself, a powerful argument for ensuring those in your circle who are less-tech-savvy get a paid package instead. You'll spend less time dealing with their issues. That might well prove cheaper than the drinks you need after fixing a particularly nasty infection.

2. Options beyond simple malware detection

Tech security is not just a matter of having a basic firewall and signature-based detection on your desktop machine. You also need protection for browsing activities, email scanning, and the ability to detect viruses and malware based on behaviour rather than just signature modelling. Those options are increasingly covered in commercial security software, but are rarely an option in the cheapest packages.

3. Need to cover multiple devices

As we move towards using our phones more than our computers, we also shift the area of risk. Android has been the main focus of activity — both malicious and preventative — to date, but with Android now more popular than iPhone, the risk is very real. Android security packages offer other bonuses such as backup and "find my phone" options, but keeping malicious apps away remains a useful strategy.

4. Security is a serious matter

Security requires more than just the right software; it also requires the right attitude. The right attitude isn't "Something cheap and simple will be good enough". To use a car analogy: there will always be some people who can safely maintain and manage their own cars. But there will always be many more who rely on the services of an expert. You can choose which category you belong in, but taking on the same role for others is risky and time-consuming.

Lifehacker 101 is a weekly feature covering fundamental techniques that Lifehacker constantly refers to, explaining them step-by-step. Hey, we were all newbies once, right?


    Although, if a company's business model is to make money selling security software, doesn't that add a few complications that don't exist with free software? For example, the need to develop a sales model that encourages upgrades somehow (planned redundancy). Also, presenting an attractive target to e-hooligans (the recent source code leak, for example).

      I don't think that "planned redundancy" comes into it. With the majority of Security Suites, you're paying for your subscription. If a new version of the Suite comes out and you're still under license, you can upgrade to that for free. The only thing they need to encourage is renewal.

      James, here's what the analogy comes down to: If a mechanic you don't know was offering to fix your car for free - wouldn't you wonder why they're doing it for free? Would you be quick to trust their ability? While there ARE free solutions out there that can do a decent job, the better paid-for applications are better, more complete.

      One thing people often don't see (less so on Lifehacker, more the general public) is that the free solutions are almost entirely AVs only. They're missing the rest of the components that any good Security Suite has. Sure, you don't need all of the backup and parental control rubbish, but firewalls, better malware protection, etc are what you're paying for.

      Most people dump a tank of fuel into their car every 1-2 weeks to maintain their car. In many cases, they'll go for the premium fuel, as it's better for the engine and more efficient. Now, is it unreasonable to spend less than the cost of a tank of fuel to maintain your computer for an entire year? Considering you probably spend the same if not more time on the PC?

      Before anyone pipes up and accuses me of being a sales rep, I personally don't like Trend's products and don't work for any security company - it just frustrates me when people are so vocal about their reluctance to pay a little more for a better product.

    I would have to agree with Alex on this one.

    A business can sometimes not have the customers best interests at heart.

    Plus, why buy when you can just go download truecrypt, malwaye bytes, tdsskiller, snort, wireshark etc etc. :)

    ...and of course this article is brought to you by Trend Micro!!!! Spruiking much????

      ... ah yes, thanks for pointing that out. I was taking this as a seriously unbiased article for a minute.

      jesus christ, lifehacker.

    MSE for me, its free and has I going support from Microsoft as long as your copy of Windows is genuine.

    Another Allure Media advertisement trying to pass off as a genuine article. There may be overt advertising around it, but packaging it under Lifehacker 101 - "fundamental techniques that Lifehacker constantly refers to" is very dodgy.

      Hey Kato, as regular readers know, if we run advertorials, they're very clearly marked as such (and don't have an author name on it).. Also, we do constantly refer to why it's sometimes a good idea to pay for stuff. Not a new concept in the Lifehacker universe, that one (and a point we'd make no matter who was sponsoring a particular section).

    I don't really like that car analogy. If there were free expert mechanics, I'd use them. There are free expert security software packages and I use them.

    personally the free tools work much better and often the paid tools are either bloated with stuff i'll never use (im certain someone does though) slow and inneficient or incredibly controlling on your system. its entertaining how this is brought to us by trend micro.

    Or you could just not use windows and be immune to common viruses out of the box...

    Norton 360 v. 6.0 is only $51 after $60 cashback, plus postage from estore.com.au, and seems to review well. Claim the upfront price of $111 plus about $10 postage as a tax deduction if you do work related work on your PC, and claim the cash back.
    It is almost free then, depending on your tax bracket, and can install on 3 machines. Watch out for expensive renewal costs though. Can be cheaper to buy another box next year.

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