choosing the best antivirus
Chuck's Cyber Wall
Let’s get this out of the way before I get started – YES, an Antivirus Program is Still Necessary.
All devices have some level of protection built in, but none are robust enough to protect you from all the threats out there. With so much focus on Phishing scams and social engineering, it’s essential that we not lose focus on basic cybersecurity practices. Among the things that get lost in all the doom and gloom news surrounding the sheer number of attacks coming at us every day is that Antivirus programs are unsung heroes in the battle to stay secure.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of wrong information floating around about Antivirus programs, so I’ll start by setting the record straight.
DEBUNKING ANTIVIRUS MYTHS
Let’s get a few things out of the way.
- Windows Defender is NOT enough to protect your system by itself
- Apple products ARE vulnerable to malware and viruses
- Safe websites CAN be hacked
- Emails from friends and family are NOT always safe
- Antivirus will NOT slow your system down
- YOU ARE A TARGET
There are more but let’s just wipe these myths away now.
Why is this so important?
A primary reason that viruses and malware are so prolific is that many people don’t really understand what threats they face on the internet. Cybercriminals use automated bots to locate personal information. Yes…YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION! No matter how important or unimportant you think you are, every piece of personal information has a dollar value to someone. At the extreme ends are Marketers who want to find better ways to sell to you and Cybercriminals who want to find better ways to steal from you. In between are a whole lot of people who can make money by collecting your personal information and selling it.
Most people don’t believe they’re important enough to be targeted, and those trying to collect your information want you to keep believing that. The less aware you are, the easier it is for them to make money off the information they steal from you.
Awareness is good, but it’s not enough.
ANTIVIRUS IS STILL NECESSARY
I often get asked: Do I really need Antivirus?
The answer is an unequivocal YES! Personally or for your small business, having an antivirus program is vital to internet security. When it comes to antivirus programs, there are many options, which is good because different people have different needs.
In the following sections, I will discuss what Antivirus programs do for you, the features to look for, and how to choose the best option for your needs. With all this information, you’ll be able to look at the landscape of available programs and select the one that best fits your needs.
WHAT ANTIVIRUS DOES FOR YOU
As I mentioned earlier, your information is at risk on the internet. Finances, purchases, where you browse, friends and family, and so much more – your information belongs to you, and it should be protected. Do you leave your front door unlocked or your keys in the car? Of course not! That’s like inviting thieves to steal from you. Not having an Antivirus program is doing just that. They help to protect you from cyber threats, including malware, phishing scams, ransomware, spyware, Trojans, and more. In addition to stealing data, these attacks can cause your computer to slow down, files to go missing, or completely lock you out, making your computer unusable.
Computers are gateways to news, entertainment, communication, and millions of cat videos. Antivirus programs help us protect our computers from viruses, hackers, and scams. But how?
Like the locks on your front door and car, antivirus programs prevent intrusions into your computer. Also, like those locks, they can’t stop every intrusion, but you are much safer with antivirus. All computer intrusions, whether or not they cause damage or steal information, are accomplished by exploiting a vulnerability. These vulnerabilities serve as the access point to an attack, often sending a signal to others that the computer has been infiltrated and opening the door to more extensive attacks.
Antivirus programs identify these vulnerabilities and close that door. The programs are updated constantly to identify and counter new threats, which brings us to:
SO MANY FEATURES
All Antivirus programs advertise a list of features. While all features are important, some are more important to specific people than others. In the section below, I’ve broken down the most common features to look for when deciding which program to choose.
An Antivirus guards your computer against infection by checking activity on your computer against a database of known suspicious activity. For example, if your computer attempts to modify critical files, the antivirus might recognize that as malicious activity and block it. Antivirus software will also attempt to locate and eliminate the source of the malicious activity.
This component of Antivirus software protects your computer from infection by malicious software with real-time scanning. Malicious software includes Trojans, viruses, spyware, and other software designed to cause your computer to malfunction or destroy your data.
Phishing software typically integrates with a web browser and email client software. It attempts to identify and notify the user of any phishing content encountered on the web or by email.
Email is the most common and effective medium for transmitting and receiving malicious code. This type of protection includes the ability to scan inbound and outbound emails for infected attachments and URLs that lead to malicious websites. Some Antivirus software also includes quarantine and blocking features as well.
Protection Against Browser Exploits
Website code written to take advantage of a vulnerability in a web browser is called a browser exploit. For example, hackers may embed code on a web page that virtually steals your click and applies it toward an action you never intended. Like taking your Cancel click and making it a Confirm click.
Anti-Trojan software performs an integrity check on programs you install on your computer. It identifies and isolates software that may be performing a clandestine activity. For example, that new contact organizer might also send snapshots of you from your webcam to an undisclosed location.
Spyware is a type of malware that can steal files and record the activity of an infected computer. Spyware can be used to gather information used to access password-protected accounts or view a listing of visited websites.
A worm is a malware infection that spreads by duplicating itself across networks and onto infected hard drives. Worms are malicious code designed to make computers run more slowly and eventually crash by filling all of the available disk space.
A rootkit attack is a software infection that can integrate into an operating system and replace critical files with corrupt and malicious versions. Monitoring this functionality can help detect, prevent installation, and remove certain rootkit infections. Once infected, the most reliable way to remove a rootkit infection is to reformat the infected hard drive and reinstall the operating system.
This type of scanning uses what is known about existing malware and what it has learned from past experiences to identify new threats even before the antivirus vendor creates an update to detect them.
Automated bot programs run on computers worldwide whose sole purpose is to find vulnerable computers connected to the internet. Antivirus software with features designed to secure your network will typically close unnecessarily open ports to your computer and monitor activity between the programs on your computer and the internet.
One of the biggest problems users have with antivirus software is simply keeping the virus lists and scan engines up to date to scan for newer threats and add functionality. Most antivirus software can be configured to connect automatically with the vendor site and download new updates as they are released.
Far from the only features included with antivirus programs, these are the most important.
While the above features are essential to having a quality anti-virus program, there are others that may be important to one person and not another. An included firewall, easily navigable interface, multi-device protection, or VPN are just a few options that may be included in the software. Some of them, like the firewall, might be a good option for personal use but would not be robust enough to handle a small business. Other factors such as multi-license costs, identity protection, and the availability of tech support might appeal to some people but not others, or businesses and not personal.
When choosing an anti-virus program, you will be protected if it contains the features discussed above. Always check the features to be sure it includes all of them. When looking at features, be aware that add-ons are just that—an anti-virus company can’t do firewalls, VPNs, or backups of the same quality as a company specializing in those products, but what they offer may be enough to meet your particular needs.
Bonus Tip: The best way to compare features of specific programs is open a web browser like Google and type: [product 1 name] vs. [product 2 name]. Incidentally, this is a great way to compare the features of almost any product. You can even type [product name] vs. and get a list of similar products.
At Clark Computer Services, we have the cybersecurity expertise you need, whether its help with compliance, securing your network, getting antivirus and other security software onto your computers, and more. Contact us at 301-456-6931 or [email protected] to see how we can help you and your business get Cyber Secure!
Director of Cybersecurity and Marketing
I’ve always had a love of working with technology, being fortunate enough to have grown up with a grandfather who taught me how to fix things for myself and not be afraid to jump in and get my hands dirty. Over the last three decades, I’ve worked as a technician, trainer, technical writer, and manager in small businesses, enterprise organizations, and government. In addition, I’m an author, having published multiple works available online and in print. You can find my creative work at https://WritingDistracted.com