The traditional anti-virus scan seems to be close to extinction, with barely one in ten PC users bothering to run them regularly, or at all, according to the latest analysis from security firm OPSWAT.

Using figures taken from the firm’s Gears monitoring tool (which is heavily weighted towards US consumer and SME users), 91.7 percent of Windows PCs had not completed a system scan within the previous week.


Of these, 15.1 percent hadn’t even had their anti-virus definitions updated with the previous three days which might explain why 3.3 percent were found to be infected with some form of ‘potentially unwanted application’. Just under one percent were affected by the most serious ‘persistent’ threats.

“Installing an antivirus product is the first, not last, step to having a safe and secure computer,” commented OPSWAT’s Gears product manager, Adam Winn.

“These stats, combined with the low usage of real-time protection means there’s an alarming number of unprotected computers. Over three percent of devices show some sign of infection, so it’s reasonable to assume in an organization with 400 PCs, a full dozen are compromised.”

The low usage OPSWAT found for some anti-virus products is slightly contentious. Symantec was top with a 97.5 percent usage rate for realtime protection, right down to bottom-placed Kaspersky Internet Security, which scored only 66.7 percent.

This disparity is hard to explain – why would users download and buy an antivirus product only to disable realtime protection?  It is possible that some of the products might be expired or left on a system when they have been supplanted by another program.

The survey does suggest that as the effectiveness of antivirus has waned some users have become less invested in the ideas of using it as anything more than a basic barrier. Running systems scans is simply now seen as a time-consuming chore whose effectiveness people no longer have much faith in when it’s done after the fact.

One or two anti-virus companies seem to agree with this view with a Symantec  executive even conceding a year ago that this kind of protection might be heading for market death. OPSWAT’s analysis suggests quite the opposite – anti-virus is very much alive but just isn’t as central to security as it once was among home users and SMEs.

Avast’s anti-virus software is still the most popular, as it has been since the firm started doing these assessments several years ago. Microsoft remains in second place (not including Windows 8’s Defender which is built in to the OS), with AVG in third. Nothing has really changed in that time, which might reflect the sort of user base of the applications as much as anything.