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Network Security Basic Training Series: Anti-Virus Protection

In this article we will discuss the topic of anti-virus protection. There are many questions that come up when we talk about this topic. So here are a few answers to your questions.

First, let’s look at a definition from Wikipedia of what a computer virus is: “A computer virus is a malware that, when executed, replicates by reproducing itself or infecting other programs by modifying them. Infecting computer programs that can include as well are data files, or the boot sector of the hard drive. When this replication succeeds, the affected areas are then said to be “infected”.

The term computer virus was a misnomer until it was coined by Fred Cohen in 1985. Viruses often perform some type of harmful activity on infected hosts, such as acquisition of hard disk space or CPU time, accessing private information, corrupting data, displaying political or humorous messages on the user’s screen, spamming their contacts, logging their keystrokes, or even rendering the computer useless.

However, not all viruses carry a destructive payload or attempt to hide themselves—the defining characteristic of viruses is that they are self-replicating computer programs which install themselves without user consent.”

According to research done by Symantec, more than 317 million pieces of malware (computer viruses or other malicious software) were created in 2014 alone.

That’s more than 1 million new threats released each day on average!

  • 1. But viruses only target Windows based computers, right?

    While many people think that only Windows computers can get viruses, that is not the truth. While Windows based systems may be a much easier target for many virus writers, over the past few years there have been more news in the press and on security blogs about viruses being designed specifically for MAC devices running the IOS operation system.

  • 2. Why do viruses get written and distributed?

    There are probably many answers to this question. The simple truth is that they are designed by those looking to do bad things to others by taking their systems offline or by stealing the data that does not belong to them.

    Viruses can be designed by nation states looking to attack their enemies, or they can be designed by those that want revenge on their employers or those that have done them wrong in school or within their circle in social media.

  • 3. How do you protect yourself against computer viruses?

    The best defense against computer viruses is a solid anti-virus product. While it may be tempting to download a free product simply because it is free, be careful. You know what they say – you “get what you pay for”.

    When it comes to good solid anti-virus protection will most likely cost you money and be well worth the investment.

  • 4. But what about the anti-virus product I got when I bought the computer?

    If you bought your computer from a local retailer, it most likely came with a trial edition of some commercial anti-virus solution. These trial are usually time limited, such as a 90, 120, or 1-year subscription.

    During that trial, these are fine, but if you do not renew the subscription, you are leaving your computer potentially unprotected and open to be compromised.

  • 5. So what is a good anti-virus product?

    This is a very loaded question, as many people are as passionate about anti-virus companies as they are about relation or politics.

    I personally like products that are easy to use and ones that don’t slow my system down too much when they are on. Recently, I have turned to products that can be managed from the cloud, such as Sophos Cloud Protection, but I also like products from TrendMicro, and Webroot too.

    Another thing to mention about anti-virus software is this” it’s only good if it exists and it is enabled and up to date.

    What I mean by this is if you have 5 computers at home or in your office, all 5 need to have anti-virus installed, and they all need to be up to date.

    When I say they need to be enabled, I have performed several audits in the past where a client had anti-virus software, but certain key features were not enabled or disabled due to the fear that by enabling them it may slow down the computer.

  • 6. But I have a built-in anti-virus product as part of Windows – isn’t that enough?

    The short answer is: probably not.

    While the product that is built into Windows is better than nothing, various tests done by industry experts have proven that other products provide a more comprehensive protection, which is very important in today’s world where threats are ever changing.

  • 7. What else can I do?

    The best advice that I gave people to protect themselves against the dangers or viruses and emerging threats such as Ransomware is this: “Please backup your data”.

    Backup your data to some cloud based or external storage place and keep it disconnected from your computer unless you need to connect it. For example, using an online storage provider such as Carbonite is great – you can back up your data and it is stored with them in the cloud.

    If your computer is infected with a virus, you can have your computer reformatted, and then when it is clean and ready to be used again, you can get your files from the cloud storage location and continue your use.

    Obviously, backing up infected files will not help you recover them clean when needed, so it’s best to keep several versions of backup jobs from your computer so you can go “back in time” as needed to get files restored that are clean and virus-free.

In summary, it is best practice to use a good anti-virus product and to keep I up to date at all times. Using anti-virus software doesn’t mean that a virus cannot get into your computer, but without good virus protection, you are simply asking for trouble.

In future articles of this series, we will discuss more topics that can help you keep your system and your data safer.