|Antivirus Software: Practice Safe Computing
Today, most small businesses and individuals use the Internet every day. Viruses are ever more sophisticated, and most are designed to spread via email. If you receive a lot of email, sooner or later, you will receive something that carries a virus.
Many viruses are so cleverly written that you cant even tell which email in your Inbox carried the virus to you. 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
- Dont live in fear
Here are some details:
1. Get good antivirus software
I recommend that you install current, commercial products. I like commercial antivirus software (as opposed to shareware or freeware) because of the support and updates that come with something you pay for.
If you dont have antivirus software yet, I recommend Norton AntiVirus from Symantec (or Norton SystemWorks, a larger package which includes AntiVirus). A number of my clients use McAfee VirusScan, which is also very good.
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 week after you install the software (or buy a computer with it already installed) the list in your software is already out of date, making your computer vulnerable to the viruses discovered after that date.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 (typically $10-15 for another 12 months), or buy a newer version of the software from a retail merchant.
In my experience, the updates for protection from Microsoft Windows viruses are posted about every week or two, and the updates for Macintosh are posted on or about the first of every month. So you should update your virus definitions every two weeks for Windows, and once a month for Macintosh. If theres talk in the news about a new virus, you may want to do an extra update.
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. Dont 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, firstname.lastname@example.org.