More than 62 percent of consumers have purchased or tried more than one security software application in the same year in the quest to find the right mix of protection and performance for their PCs and laptops, according to a survey conducted by security software firm Avira.

The survey, which queried more than 9,000 antivirus (AV) software customers, also discovered that 25 percent of consumers turned off their AV applications at some point because they feared the security software was bogging down the performance of their computers.

Another 12 percent of respondents said they thought about not using the Internet at all due to security concerns.

"[The survey results] are a clear sign for the vendors that even more care has to be taken in order not to overload the security software with features which may have a great impact on system performance," Sorin Mustaca, an Avira data security researcher, said in the report. "In the end, when it comes to security, it is better to have minimal protection which goes unnoticed than protection with all whistles and bells which the user deactivates in order to be able to use his computer."

With malware and spam soaring to unprecedented levels in 2010, most consumers understand the risks associated with either not installing security software or disabling the application from time to time to bolster processing and browsing speed.

Scareware, the bogus malware scams that attempt to trick people into buying AV software they don't need, is also cited by security experts as another reason why many users eschew security apps altogether. Last year, scareware purveyors pocketed more than $300 million from these faux AV campaigns.

Another factor compelling consumers to either try multiple security apps or gamble without one at all is the seemingly endless stream of new malware variants that go undetected by top-tier security apps that are updated on a daily and sometimes hourly basis.

In May, security research firm Matousec reviewed 35 of the world's leading antivirus vendors' offerings and found that almost all of them could be compromised by an argument-switch attack that would allow a virtually limitless amount of malicious code to infiltrate Windows-based PCs and devices.

Despite their shortcomings, researchers argue that security applications should still be installed and updated by anyone accessing the Internet and never turned off regardless of their impact -- real or perceived -- on PC performance.

"The scary take-away from this survey is that 25 percent of the respondents admitted to turning off their security products because they feel that it hurt the performance of the machine," Mustaca said. "That’s not a good idea because such a practice leaves the computer totally exposed to the even simplest of viruses, allowing the bad guys to include it in a botnet used to distribute malware and phishing."

Larry Barrett is a senior editor at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

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