Anti-virus: the whys and wherefores

May 3, 2010 • Opinion, Security

Simon Campbell-Young, CEO Phoenix Software

In the early days of computer viruses, you could get by with careful surfing – and without anti-virus protection. Now, crooks love nothing more than to discover a nasty zero-day security flaw for which there’s no defence, and then to infiltrate otherwise benign and popular Web sites with hidden, malicious programming made to attack that security flaw.

Simon Campbell-Young, CEO of local security distribution house Phoenix Software, urges individuals and businesses to invest in decent anti-virus protection. Here are the reasons:

As people spend more of their lives on the Internet, the more they are at risk of attack by computer viruses, and anti-virus software has become an important tool for any computer user – as important as having a word processor or web browser.

Many people are reluctant to shell out the cash for decent anti-virus software. I’ll agree that at roughly R399 for a decent anti-virus program, it isn’t exactly small change. But, let’s look at the costs more closely for a moment:

Computer –> R4000 – R20 000
Monitor –> R2000 – R10 000
Software –> R200 – R10 000
Internet connection –> R100+/month or more
Personal/business data –> Priceless

Having a computer that does not have up-to-date anti-virus protection is asking for trouble, and trouble is guaranteed to find you simply because that is what viruses, worms, malware etc. are made to do. Their only job is to find unprotected computers and attack and hijack them without your knowledge. These things are very good at what they are built to do, and they never stop. If your computer isn’t protected, and you share disks or go online, it will get infected.

A good anti-virus will provide complete protection, for any number of PCs. This includes Internet security to protect against ID theft as well as a firewall to keep the PC secure. Internet scams are constantly evolving. It’s not just credit card fraud anymore. Modern identity theft has evolved to much more than a quick five hundred bucks. Modern identity theft is now about long-term and carefully plotted capers that achieve large long-term payoffs, and dump the unpaid bills in your lap.

The Internet makes it easier to accomplish many things – banking, research, travel, and shopping are all at our virtual fingertips. And just as the Internet makes it easier for legitimate pursuits, it also makes it easier for scammers, con artists, and other online miscreants to carry out their virtual crimes – impacting our real life finances, security, and peace of mind.

A good anti-virus program should keep your system virus-free without bogging it down. When choosing anti-virus software, look at the following:

Check the system requirements before you buy. If you are using Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7, any current anti-virus software will work. If you have an older or slower computer, however, a large anti-virus software program can consume a huge percentage of your computing power.

An intuitive interface makes software easy to use. Because anti-virus software can be customised in many ways, it’s important that the interface guides users through the various settings.

The ability to update daily is crucial. Most software provides one year of unlimited free updates. After that, you must renew your virus-update subscription, buy a new version of the same program or switch brands. Virus signatures are specific strings of binary code that can be detected by anti-virus software. Most programs will automatically check for updates, but some free software relies on a manual check.

Think big. If you have more than one PC to protect, buying a multi-user version of the anti-virus software works out more cost-effective.

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