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Antivirus Software: Practice Safe Computing

Today, most small businesses and individuals use the Internet every day. Viruses are ever more sophisticated, and some are designed to spread via email, others may come from malicious web sites. If you receive a lot of email or surf web sites, sooner or later, you will probably get exposed to a virus.

Many viruses are so cleverly written that you can’t even tell which email in your Inbox carried the virus to you or which web site downloaded it onto your computer. Even email you receive from a trusted friend might be infected, depending on how well-protected their computer is.

In general, my advice to my clients boils down to this:

  • Get good antivirus software
  • Keep it up to date
  • Run full virus scans
  • Don’t live in fear

Here are some details:

1. Get good antivirus software

I recommend that you install antivirus software from a reputable source.

2. Keep it up to date

Think of antivirus software like a bouncer at a nightclub, holding a clipboard containing a list of names. The real-life bouncer has a list of the people who should be let in, but the antivirus software has a list of things to be kept out. The good news is that this list (the “virus definitions”) tells the software how to recognize thousands of viruses that have been discovered as of a given date, so it can provide very good protection. The bad news is that new viruses are being discovered all the time, so a few hours after you install the software (or buy a computer with it already installed) the list in your software is already out of date, making your computer vulnerable to the viruses discovered after that date.

The solution is to update your antivirus software regularly. Years ago software companies would send out monthly updates on floppy disks. These days with a click or two you can have the software go get the updates for you using the Internet in just a few minutes.

In order to get these antivirus updates you must have a current “subscription.” Antivirus software from a retail merchant will typically include a 12-month subscription starting on the installation date, which means you can check for updates as often as you want during that year. When the antivirus software comes pre-installed on your computer, you typically get a 3-month subscription.

At the end of the subscription period, you can either renew the subscription for a low fee, or buy a newer version of the software from a retail merchant.

3. Run full virus scans

There are a few limitations with having a bouncer work at your club. Did an unauthorized person get into the nightclub early, before the bouncer went on duty? Could such a person sneak in if the bouncer went on a break? You should also hire a night watchman!

In a similar way, it is possible that your computer already had a virus on it before you installed your antivirus software, or that a virus might sneak onto your computer if the antivirus software gets temporarily disabled or just before you got the update that would have protected against it.

The simplest way to deal with these potential problems is to periodically run “full virus scans.” All good antivirus software has two main functions: a “guard at the door” function that watches everything that occurs on your computer, looking for viruses trying to get in, and a “sweep the entire club” function that checks every file on your computer for viruses that may have already gotten in.

For many clients I recommend doing full virus scans right after getting their antivirus updates. Depending on how much data is on your computer, a full virus scan can take between 15 and 30 minutes, sometimes longer.

4. Don’t live in fear

If you follow the advice above, you will be doing just about everything you can to protect yourself from viruses (unless you stop using the Internet altogether).

If you have additional questions, or if you need some help to buy, install, or update your virus protection software, contact me at (617) 484-6657, martin@kadansky.com.

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