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A Note about Antivirus Software

One of the most frequent questions I hear is, “What Antivirus software should I use?”.

Before I answer that, let’s consider a few different questions!

What is an antivirus program?  It is software that detects and protects you from viruses and malware.

How does it do that? The primary method used compares data to “signatures” to find matches.  When a new virus is found, someone updates the signatures to detect that virus.  The problem with this process is that someone has to determine there is a new virus, analyze it, change their signatures and send it out to everyone who needs it.  This takes some time – and during this time - you can be “infected”.   And someone has to “find” the virus first before a signature is created.  There could be hundreds of undetected viruses out there!  And the virus writers know how the AV systems work.  In fact, they can test their virus creations at online websites like virustotal.com, to see if they are detected by current popular Antivirus programs!    And they can change existing viruses so that they no longer match the signatures!   Therefore, additional methods are used to detect virus’s “suspicious behaviour” such as excessive internet traffic, or accessing protected areas of the Operating System.

So if an antivirus program is not 100% effective at protecting me, why should I use it?  Do I need one at all?    The answer is “Yes - something is better than nothing”! You still lock the doors to your car, even though you know someone can break in.  You may also install a burglar alarm. And as tech savvy as you think you are, you will eventually get fooled, or let your guard down for a moment.   Some viruses can also install themselves remotely – that laptop next to you, using the free internet at the coffee shop, -may be infected!

What can I do to protect myself better?

  • Periodically check that your antivirus program is working.  The first thing a new virus does is to disable any Antivirus program it runs!  
  • Make sure that the antivirus program is updating itself frequently and getting current signatures.
  • Periodically scan your computer with a second malware program. Some examples are Malwarebytes and Lavasoft’s Ad Aware.   

As a side note, do not install a second antivirus program on the same computer!  Most Antivirus programs do not play nicely together.   But, you can use more than one program by having them running at different points.    For example, your email provider may offer virus scanning.  Additionally, some firewalls that connect  you to the internet may offer antivirus scanning – this is more typical in a business environment.

Be Smart and Be Careful!!  The number one method of delivering a virus is by email.  Do not open any attachments sent to you from someone who does not normally email you. UPS, FEDEX, Banks and Airlines are not going to email you out of the blue – if it’s important, they will call you!    If it’s a friend, you can verify that they did send you something by emailing them back.     And do not click on just any link in an email.  It may say http://www.youwonthelottery.com  but the website that opens is http://here.is.my.virus.com  (there are lots of ways to misdirect you with a link)

So What Antivirus software should I use?  Check if your Internet provider has software as part of its service – usually available as a fee download.

  • Microsoft ships Windows 8 already installed with Windows Defender, and for windows 7 and XP, you can download the free Microsoft Security Essentials software.   This software will provide good basic protection.
  • Other free options are AVG, Avira and Avast.

If you do online banking or buy stuff online, it is probably worth buying an Internet Security Suite. It’s like buying insurance for the car!

 

 

 

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