Finding a good antivirus solution is kind of like searching for insurance coverage. We know we need it, but few of us really understand how it works. Here is a simple discussion outlining what antivirus software is, the threats out there and what to look for in selecting a security solution.
What Is Antivirus Software?
Antivirus software are programs that are specifically designed to deal with various forms of malicious software (often referred to as malware) that can infect your computer and cause data corruption, breach of privacy or many other forms of malintent. Typically, antivirus software is used to both prevent and remove the offending malware. Given that there are constantly new kinds of malware being released, a key aspect of antivirus software is the frequency and completeness with which it is updated.
The term antivirus has become synonymous with protection against a variety of threats, and not just viruses as the name suggests. It is worth understanding, at least at a high level, what the various forms of these threats are.
WHAT THREATS SHOULD YOU BE CONCERNED ABOUT?
There are several different threats present in our modern environment. These are normally categorized by the method by which they are transmitted and/or by the malicious activity of the offending code and are collectively called “malware”. A few of the most prominent types of threats are listed below. This is by no means a complete list:
- Viruses – usually an executable file that has the capability of replicating itself, causing several different malicious intents. Executing the infected file activates or triggers the virus to act.
- Worms – similar to viruses in that they can replicate themselves, however, they differ in that they do not require the execution of a file to trigger their activity and are transmitted by taking advantage of gaps in existing security protocols.
- Trojan horses – a type of malicious software or code that – as you can probably guess by the name – masquerades as legitimate software, and fools users into downloading it. Once downloaded and activated, a Trojan horse typically will open pathways for other malicious software to enter your PC.
- Spyware – malicious programs that, once they have found their way onto your computer, collect various pieces of data about you, your transactions and/or any data that resides on your PC. Once this personal data has been collected, the spyware will transmit it back somewhere to be collected by hackers, who could potentially steal your identity.
- Ransomware – probably the scariest of all the threats listed. In this case, the malicious software seeks out your important files – such as photos, documents, and videos – and encrypts them. Once these are all locked up, large sums of money are requested by the hackers to release your own files back to you.
Selecting An Antivrius Software
Here are some important things to consider when evaluating an antivirus solution:
Comprehensive coverage – With the many different threats that are out there, it is vital that you are looking for more than just antivirus coverage, but also for other forms of defence. Things like a firewall, internet browsing protection and even identity protection are key elements to have.
Ease of use – No tool is worth anything if it won’t be used. Complicated pieces of software may provide a little better protection, but if it is not easy to understand, frustration will result. Look for easy-to-use screens, good documentation and options around how the product is configured.
Performance impact – This is probably one of the biggest complaints about robust security solutions. They can use a fair amount of your PC’s resources to run the checks, scans and updates necessary to keep you protected. If you find that you see consistent slowness in your PC, regardless of the product used, it may be time to upgrade.
Reliability – Reliable security software products have a few common elements. First, they are frequently updated, meaning that the provider is constantly adapting to new threats. Second, they have tools to automate the scanning process, and are highly configurable; so you can customize when they are run, and what files are investigated. They will also have a high malware detection rate (look for a number higher than 95%). The high detection rate indicates that few viruses are missed, and conversely that most are caught. Lastly, they should guard against being unintentionally uninstalled, as some malware has been known to uninstall the antivirus software that is present. This is easily prevented by adding required confirmations to the uninstall process.
FREE VERSUS PAID
This is a common debate. There are some good low- or no-cost antivirus products available, however, most research does point to the paid product as having a better long-term rate of malware detection. The paid software is updated more frequently, is more robust in terms of functionality and comes with better support. Free solutions, while less feature-rich, may provide less interruption to your PC – however, remember that, at the end of the day, those interruptions are saving you from harm.
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