Today is computer security day, a great day to talk about the first line of defense against cyberattacks – Anti-virus programs. Anti-virus programs and their companion anti-malware and anti-spyware programs are essential for any computer that connects to the internet. That means if you use email, visit Facebook, or read this blog, you should have antivirus virus software installed.
What is a virus?
A virus is a software program that spreads by attaching to other software and making copies of itself. Computer viruses have been around almost as long as computers. The first really accessible home computer was released by IBM in 1981. The first virus to spread outside its home network was written in 1982. Elk Cloner, as it was known, was written by a 15-year-old high school student named Rob Skrenta.
It was more annoying than harmful. Every 50th time the computer was turned on it would display a poem. Over time, viruses became more powerful and more harmful. Now they can replicate until there’s no room on your computer to run any other program or they can shut down whole networks.
What is Malware?
Most modern cybersecurity threats aren’t viruses at all. They’re malware and spyware. Malware is any malicious software that can disrupt operations, gather information, or display unwanted advertising. Technically viruses are a form of malware.
Scareware, spyware, and ransomware are also forms of malware. Scareware usually includes a pop-up message that tries to scare you into calling a trusted organization (most recently “Microsoft”) using the 800 number on the screen. Once you do, the person on the other end of the line will try to talk you into giving them remote access to your computer. Needless to say, the pop-up isn’t from the trusted organization but from a third party, and giving them access to your computer is a very bad idea.
Spyware in its most basic form tracks your movements online. At best, it might send information about your movements to a third party so that they can target advertising at you. At worst, it can take over parts of your computer to change settings and steal passwords.
Ransomware actually locks down your computer and demands payment in return for unlocking it. There’s no guarantee that paying the ransom will actually result in the return of your files.
How do I protect my computer from viruses and malware?
The best line of defense is reliable antivirus and anti-malware software. If you’ve upgraded to Windows 10, the built in antivirus program – Windows Defender – is a great option. It’s what we call a lightweight solution, meaning that it doesn’t take up too many resources on your computer, but it still does a great job of protecting you. It’s an all-in one solution that includes protection and removal of viruses, malware, and spyware.
If you’d prefer a third party option. Look into Avast! which offers a free version or paid upgrades to more substantial protection. If you install Avast! Or another third party option, Windows Defender will automatically disable itself, which is a good thing, because antivirus programs can conflict with each other. That eats up resources and may actually make you more vulnerable.
Do I need separate malware protection?
While running two antivirus programs is a bad idea, running an antivirus program and an antimalware program together is the best way to protect your computer. We recommend MalwareBytes Anti-Malware. This program blocks popups, removes malware and spyware, and generally keeps your computer clean and happy.
How can I keep my antivirus software running efficiently?
Your antivirus software is only as good as your last update. Hackers are finding new ways to attack computers all the time, and software developers are constantly putting out new solutions for stopping those attacks. If you don’t update regularly, you may miss important updates and leave your computer vulnerable.
Reliable antivirus and anti-malware protection is just the first step in protecting your information. For more cybersecurity tips read our post on the Top 3 Cybersecurity Tricks.
If you’re local to central Maine, you can sign up for our in-person Cybersecurity classes. Each class is $25 and gives you the tools you need to understand the threat and stay safe online. For info on class dates, follow our Facebook Page or sign up by calling 207-368-2880.