How to Protect Yourself From Computer Viruses

With all the recent data hacks happening to major retailers, I would assume everyone reading this knows what a computer virus is and how damaging it can be. There is more to protecting yourself and your company from computer viruses than you think. How many times have you shut off your anti-virus protection because it was annoying and slowing your computer down? Or clicked “no” when the software asked if it could download those annoying updates? If you have done either of those things, you’re asking for trouble.

Viruses come in many forms with many names – Viruses, Trojans, Adware, Exploits, Worms, Password stealers, Backdoors, Spyware. The list goes on, and they are all bad news. Good anti-virus solutions should stop them all – but a solution is more than just good anti-virus software. A solid anti-virus solution is a multi-layered approach.

Layer 1: The Truth About Anti-Virus Protection

Computer viruses come in many forms, and protecting the public from them is a never-ending cat-and-mouse game between the protectors and the infectors. There are over 74,000 new viruses released every year (stop and think about that), and the anti-virus companies must continuously update their software to keep up, or better yet, stay ahead.

There are many anti-virus solutions available, and their effectiveness can ebb and flow with the virus waves. Some of the best known solutions come from McAfee, Panda, Kaspersky, Norton, Trend Micro, Bitdefender and ESET.

When we are evaluating anti-virus solutions, we look at two main objectives –

  1. Will it catch and stop the virus
  2. Will it run “thinly,” not slowing the computer to a crawl

The first priority is obvious, but the second priority is important because if the software is slowing your machine down you are more likely to turn the anti-virus software off. For this reason, we don’t just settle on a solution for eternity. We continually evaluate the solutions and are not afraid to make a change if it meets our objectives. This is not something we want to change every month, but it is something worth evaluating each year. For the record, we currently recommend and use ESET.

With the increasing amount of larger-scale breaches and hacks (see Home Depot, Target, Apple iCloud) it becomes even more important that you are diligent in protecting yourself. Not just with good anti-virus solutions, but adopting the good habits of making your passwords complex and changing them every 90 days. I know it is a royal pain, but getting infected or having your financial information stolen makes it a blister in comparison.

Layer 2: Be Careful What You Click For

It’s not good enough to rely solely on your anti-virus software to protect you, YOU must also make smart choices about the websites you visit, the links you click on and the emails you open. Often you bring the virus on yourself via one of these seemingly harmless actions. If it looks odd, it’s probably best to leave it alone.

The really nasty viruses can conceal themselves by popping up a very professional and legitimate-looking graphic on your screen telling you they have found a virus and if you click and pay $29.99 the software will remove the virus. When you do, they download a virus and you just paid for it to happen! So stay with the solutions that your IT professional has recommended.

A majority of viruses are delivered via email, which is often called spam. This means in addition to having anti-virus software on your computer, you should also have spam protection on any email service you use. Or even more effective, comprehensive email defense software such as EdgeWave will not only filter for spam, it will scan emails for viruses before they reach your computer.

Layer 3: The Moat Around Your Office, AKA Your Firewall

In an office environment, there is yet another layer of protection that should be in place – the firewall. A good firewall (getting regular updates), is the first line of defense in an office environment because it scans all traffic for viruses before it lets that traffic through into your office network and environment.

Like a Good Cake, a Layered Approach Is Best

Ideally, you should have layers of protection to keep your computer out of harm’s way. Just like a home that may have a security alarm, a lock on the front door, and locks on each inside door, you too should have the same multi-layered approach to your computer virus protection.

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Viruses are so dangerous because they not only can ruin your computer by making it inoperable, but they can lay hidden behind the scenes, grabbing your private financial data or using your computer as a host to spread the virus to everyone in your contact list.

Fun Fact

A computer “worm” is a standalone malware computer program that replicates itself in order to spread to other computers. Often, it uses a computer network to spread itself. The worm uses holes in a computer’s security to gain entry. Unlike a computer virus, it does not need to attach itself to an existing program. Worms almost always cause at least some harm to the network, even if only by consuming bandwidth, whereas viruses almost always corrupt or modify files on a targeted computer.

Want to learn more about how prolific viruses have become? Check out this stunning infographic.

As we always recommend, when in doubt, reach out to your IT services professional to make sure your computer and your office are safe from viruses.