Antivirus Software — An Investigation of Why You Want It and What to Consider
From the not-so-distant, ago, bedroom coders with a passion for mischief created what some would term ‘works of art’ — computer viruses which declared themselves into the world, often with flashy (for now) graphics and a penchant for performing some pretty freaky things with the screen on your VDU (an old-style cathode ray tube monitor which pre-dated modern flat screens).
Occasionally amusing, frequently annoying, they were tricky to eliminate back in the late 1980s, mainly because there were not many firms that offer removal services and there wasn’t an internet, at least not in a form that would be recognizable now.
But things soon changed as companies saw a chance to provide a helpful service whilst making a stack of money on a yearly subscription basis.
Security vendors appeared, offering “computer insurance” in the shape of antivirus programs.
Back in the day, those antivirus programs were sent out to subscribers on a floppy disc, with upgrades arriving on additional disks every few months or so.
Then, later, as the internet started to take off, updates could be sent per week, maybe even daily, as the amount of viruses started to increase.
It was not every computer user that had to be worried about malware these days — the Apple Mac’s market status at that time let it fly under the radar and was really a vital selling point in the burgeoning battle with Microsoft and its Windows operating system.
But that was then and this is now: we no longer see viruses that play games with us, or trigger text to scroll down the screen — so there is no longer any need for antivirus software, right?
Why you still need antivirus software?
Quite simply, the problem with viruses or, more especially other kinds of malware, hasn’t gone away.
Far from it in fact.
The days when security researchers discovered a few new viruses each day have long since disappeared — they are now discovering thousands of new dangers on a daily basis and many of them aren’t viruses at all but instead Trojans, designed to steal your information or recruit your PC to a botnet. We listed the top 10 free antivirus software here.
Motivated by money as opposed to art or the development of specialized skills, modern malware is the antithesis of the viruses of yesteryear — it doesn’t wish to draw attention to itself at all.
Now, we are not going to attempt to scare you by saying that means that the computer is infected right now — it may or may not be, based on the security applications you might have installed and the manner in which you use your device — but we’d say it is a possibility.
Machines on the internet are vulnerable.
Over time, developers have enhanced the security of operating systems, routers and browsers, but vulnerabilities continue to be there all the same.
In addition to that, the ‘bad guys’ are no more only wolves — they are organized criminals seeking to profit on your identity, access your bank accounts, borrow your computer’s resources to throw DDoS attacks at hapless victims or send thousands of junk emails out on your name.
Such men and women are talented, organized and well-funded and it is no secret that a lot are just one step ahead of the ‘good men’ constantly.
So in the event, you don’t protect your computer, what opportunity do you have against these bad actors?
What issues can you expect if you do not take security seriously?
The possible problems posed by malware are vast, only due to the sheer quantity of it being generated each and every day.
Having said that, most can be classified into a tiny band of wider threats.
From the early days of computing, the early viruses were often just an aggravation, playing displays and showing off the “Skillz” of whoever was responsible for the coding.
The more malevolent viruses moved another step further, however, messing with the master boot record (MBR) in your computer’s hard disk, thereby making it unusable and possibly corrupting the data saved on it.
While this attack vector is certainly not so prevalent now, it’s begat something a lot more insidious — ransomware — that will lock a hard drive with almost unbreakable encryption, demanding payment for the return of the information stored upon it.
Then, as we’ve already mentioned, there are Trojans — named after the Trojan horse of legend, used by the Greeks to surreptitiously obtain entry to Troy — that covertly hide in your device, doing as bidden from the background.
Spyware and adware can also be an issue.
Embedding themselves in your browser, these parts of code watch where you go, watch what you do, slow down your PC and report back to whoever controls them and lead to an invasion of your privacy as well as the dangers associated with having your personal information in the hands of a crook, or a gain in the quantity of advertisements you see when browsing the internet, targeted or otherwise.
The manner in which such malware is delivered has evolved also.
Criminals no longer need to rely upon propagation through floppy diskettes — they are also able to spread their wares via USB sticks, CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays, over local networks, through bogus sites, tainted sites, over WiFi, and a lot of other ways besides.
If you do not have antivirus software installed, and then engage in risky behavior (ignoring browser security warnings, clicking anonymous hyperlinks in emails, linking to anonymous networks, visiting sites of a particular character, etc.) then the possibility of your machine becoming infected is that much greater.
Therefore, do you need virus protection?
That’s great to hear!
Hopefully, you now realize that antivirus protection is indispensable.
It is not a silver bullet — anything does not exist in the area of computer security — but it surely is an ally worth having.
But which program would you go to?
That’s a really good question, and one we will be covering in wonderful detail with our growing list of product reviews covering the best antivirus programs and complete internet security suites.
It is really worth putting some research time into choosing the correct program for you since not all antivirus software is made equally.
There are free versions, paid for apps and even online scanners.
A number of them are good when excellent will be better, some are bad, and some are completely fake.
Others have been known to deceive the tests conducted by independent labs.
So how on earth can you pick that antivirus program is the best match for your needs?
Much will depend on your degree of confidence and competence when it comes to computing.
With all the features being crammed into entry-level antivirus programs nowadays there’s much to confuse the less computer literate among you while the very same features could prove to be a vital selling point to those that have a reasonable amount of comprehension in the IT field.
So, that said, these points will be more or less relevant for you, depending on your own personal conditions:
Ease of use, documentation, and support
For a lot of individuals, the ability to pick up an antivirus program and begin using it straight away with the minimum of fuss will be an integral element in their decision-making procedure.
It doesn’t matter how successful a piece of antivirus software is in case you can not use it and installing such a program without setting this up properly could actually be worse than not having any security whatsoever, given that you’d then have a false sense of security.
And even if you do have any notion about exactly what your PC antivirus program can do, a bad interface may still be intimidating to the average individual.
For many individuals, the best antivirus program is the one which is easy to comprehend, easy setup and quite pleased to be left running in the background, performing to an acceptable degree.
When it’s designed to be any more complex than that it runs the danger of confusing the person it is designed to protect.
That is why clear instructions are crucial.
Alas, the days of apps coming in physical boxes with printed documentation seem to be a thing of the past and downloaded security applications does not always come with directions either, so concise and clear directions on the corporation’s website or service forums could be essential, as may quality email or phone support.
Effective protection, a low impact on system resources
It goes without saying that simplicity of installation and use is only going to get you so far with an antivirus program — once in place it needs to really get on with the task of protecting you and your system.
If your newly installed security can’t really protect you then it is not worth having at all.
Therefore, it’s crucial that you opt for an AV program that will find the work done, preferably with the minimum of fuss.
That means a terrific detection engine, real-time scanning, a regular update of virus definitions to ensure you don’t fall prey to the most recent zero-day assault, the ability to isolate suspicious files and other as-yet-unidentified potentially malicious code on the fly, and a codebase which enables it to go about its business without affecting your computer’s resources to the point that it affects any work or gambling you could be engaged in at exactly the exact same time as a scan is happening.
A good communicator
The trick to any relationship is good communication and that holds true for your antivirus program also.
As you normally want it to behave like a Victorian child — seen but not heard — a complete silence should also be a concern.
Instead, the perfect antivirus program will keep you updated on what it’s doing but without going overboard and peppering you with a steady flow of messages.
To put it differently, you want it to operate in the background, just reporting when a scan was completed, something of interest was found, or even a virus neutralized.
A selection of additional features
Antivirus programs have developed considerably in recent years and now offer more features than ever before.
For those looking out for more than just vanilla antivirus protection, these extra attributes could be key and might be the difference between plumping for an AV program and a complete internet security package.
Some of the more common such features that you may find bolted to your virus scanner of choice include:
- unique, dedicated browser for online banking
- rootkit detection
- script blocking
- browser warnings
- parental controls
- social network protection
- email screening
- anti-phishing protection
- anti-keylogging features
- low resource-usage gaming modes
- PC tune-up facilities
Which, if any, of the mentioned above features are important to you may greatly influence the sort of antivirus software you decide to go with — while some free apps are capable of basic scanning responsibilities, they frequently lack the extra benefits conferred by handing over a little bit of money for your protection.
Of course, it is your choice to select which is relevant to your requirements but we would caution against believing you can get away with no protection whatsoever — employing some level of prudence will not just protect your apparatus, it will also make certain that you’re not a terrible net neighbor, kindly amassing malware and passing it onto your loved ones, friends and other contacts.