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Does a Lapsed Anti-malware Tool Leave an Open Door for Malware?

Question: If your virus protection subscription (say Norton) has lapsed, does this mean that the door to your computer is open and anyone and everyone can come in to rip it apart?

No. Not really. Certainly not to that degree, and certainly not immediately.

But it is important.

It’s not a good thing to let your anti-malware tool’s subscription lapse unless you plan on replacing it.

The subscription isn’t about using the software; it’s about keeping the software up to date. Making sure your anti-malware software is up to date is critical to keeping you and your computer safe.

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A lapsed subscription

Many security packages operate on a subscription model, meaning that rather than paying for the software once, you pay so much every so often — typically once a year — for some kind of subscription to the service or tool.

If you fail to pay before the subscription period is over, your subscription is said to have “lapsed” or “expired”.

This means your anti-malware tools won’t get updates about newly discovered threats. It will continue to scan the files on your computer, but the tool will only look for threats that were known as of the last day of your subscription. Your expired software won’t get the updates that would allow it to protect your computer from the constant barrage of new threats.

ExpiredYour anti-malware software will continue to work, but it won’t be able to protect your computer from the latest forms of malware.

What if you want to let it lapse because you don’t want to spend the money?


Good news: there are plenty of free solutions — solutions that are quite sufficient for most people.

I generally recommend Windows Defender, which is built in to Windows 10 and 8, or Microsoft Security Essentials (the same software by another name) for Windows 7. It’s completely free and protects your computer from malware without seriously impacting your system’s performance.

There are other free alternatives as well.

What I do not recommend is continuing to run security software with an expired subscription. You will slowly become more and more vulnerable to each new threat discovered after your subscription lapses.

Always vulnerable, always vigilant

Ultimately, it’s important to understand that you’re almost always at risk from malware, for a variety of reasons ranging from unpatched system software to sneaky attempts to fool you. The problem is that the newest, latest-and-greatest viruses or malware can take advantage of these vulnerabilities on your system unless you have up-to-date protection in place.

By letting your subscription lapse, your machine gets more and more out of date as time goes on. Each day, you’re at increased risk of being infected or otherwise compromised by the malware that has been created or discovered after the date your subscription lapsed.

That’s a bad position to be in, but the fix is easy: either renew your subscription to make sure your current anti-malware tools stay up to date, or switch to a different, probably free anti-malware tool that keeps your computer protected.

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12 comments on “Does a Lapsed Anti-malware Tool Leave an Open Door for Malware?”

  1. In the case of Norton Internet Security 2012, when your subscription expires, the software stops working…period. It’s not just a case where you can’t update the virus definitions, the whole software shuts down — and you’re not protected at all. This was not the case in earlier versions of NIS or in other anti-malware software I’ve used. I’m guessing this is Norton’s way of trying to get users to renew their subscriptions sooner rather than later (or automatically). Unfortunately, if you do renew early, the days you have left on your soon-to-be-expired subscription does not carry over to your new subscriptions. So, Norton got you there, too. Norton should at least alert users that the software will shut down completely if the subscription expires. That can be a big security hole if you’re not aware of it.

  2. After fixing computers for a few years, one other thing I noticed is that these expired or non-activated programs can start blocking some Internet access for certain programs.

    For example messenger programs and even Firefox. After scanning and checking for other issues and finding none uninstalling and installing a new anti virus program usually solved the problem.

  3. The last time my Webroot expired I tried to uninstall it with the idea of replacing it with Windows Defender. I used the uninstall app in windows 10, but then Windows 10 would not let me turn on Windows Defender. The error message said that another security app was already installed. How do you proceed from this point? The only thing I could do was renew Webroot. I know that a geek would go to regedit and fix it but that is beyond my knowledge. The year is nearly up again. This time I think I’ll try Revo Uninstaller. I have that on my computer. Do you have a better idea?

  4. If you are switching to a free antivirus package, be sure to deactivate or uninstall your old one. You never want two running at the same time.

  5. Because I don’t like to be held in thrall by software packages demanding annual subscriptions, I only run with Avast continually in back ground. I regularly update and run SUPERAntiSpyware and MalwareBytes, both of which occasionally find some nasties but, to date, I’ve experienced no problems.

    My system backs up twice a day – Microsoft Back-up on one partition of an external hard drive at 12:00 and Macrium Reflect, on another partition, at 16:30. I’ve never had to use either. On a couple of occasions, I’ve returned to a previous restore point but that has been due to defective software that was causing problems.

  6. I’m mystified at your continued recommendation of Windows Defender. Put simply it doesn’t work. Protection is extremely weak and it’s record of catching malware is down there with the worst of them. Many of the free versions of branded products, I won’t name them as I won’t express a preference, are superior to Windows Defender.

  7. Some years ago, I stopped using Kaspersky and went back to Norton. When the Kaspersky was expiring, it appeared that it would quit working completely, not just cease updating. Maybe it wouldn’t really have stopped operating completely, but its warning messages said that it WOULD stop.

    • I don’t know what Kaspersky does when the subscription is expired, but if an antivirus program automatically stopped working instead of just stopping updates, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Running an antivirus programs with a non-updated database can be worse than no antivirus program as it can give you a false sense of security.

  8. Okay, so, I have a question. lets say my subscription expires & I don’t renew it but download & install the AV definitions from there homepage. Would I still be vulnerable to the newly discovered threats? please help…

    • This will vary depending on the specific security software. In any case you’ll only be as up to date as that download. Anything discovered after that was created will not be covered.


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