Security Software – AntiVirus
When I speak to parents and interested parties about keeping kids safe online, I always recommend anti-virus, firewall, and anti-malware software for home computers. I also recommend parents use monitoring software on the computers to help keep kids out of trouble. As a followup to the DNS-Filtering article a couple weeks ago, I thought that I’d begin a new series – Security Software on the Cheap. Please note: I have no stake in any of these companies, and am not paid to represent any of them. My opinions are just that, my opinions based on my experience, and the experience of others that I trust.
For this first article in the series, I want to focus on anti-virus software – why have it, what to look for, and which ones I might recommend.
Why is an anti-virus program so important? It’s simple really. Like the amazing number of viruses that affect the human body, there are many viruses that are floating around the internet that can attack and harm your computer. Like a biological virus, a computer virus is a small amount of code that worms its way into your computer, usually through a malicious website or email, and can do any number of things. Some simply open a door to let someone access your computer. Others may search your computer for certain bits of information, and then transmit that information to another computer. Still others are designed to attack other computers or networks by using your computer as a host. Regardless of what the virus is intended to do, having a virus on your system is bad.
The good news is that the vast majority of computer viruses for personal-level computers are designed by “script kiddies” who are simply creating this bits of code to “have fun”. Why is this good news? With the right software, most viruses can be eliminated from your system, and even avoided altogether. By choosing good anti-virus software and being smart about how you use your computer, you can usually avoid disaster.
A note of caution here: ALL computers are susceptible to viruses. Whether you are using a Windows-based PC, a Mac, or even a Linux-based machine, there are viruses in the wild that can affect your machine. The reason that most Mac users don’t have anti-virus software is because they have been told that they are not susceptible. That is not true. The ONLY reason that there are more viruses for Windows-based machines than Macs is that there are simply MORE Windows-based machines. When 90% of all personal computers are Windows-based, 90% of all viruses will be designed for Windows machines. But there are some pretty nasty Mac bugs out there, and they tend to be nastier than Windows bugs.
What should you look for in an anti-virus program? I recommend a couple of “qualifications” that you should look for: Size, Impact, Updates, Package, and Cost. What does the size of the actual software itself have to do with how “good” the software will be? While it is not a perfect indicator, a smaller anti-virus program can indicate that the code is well written, and that it is not going to use too many resources on your machine. One the flipside, a very large piece of software may be an early indicator that the program will hog a lot of your computer’s resources while running. I must add that there is a difference between a small program that requires you to later download a large virus database, and a large program that already includes the databases in it.
Closely related to Size is Impact. What impact does the anti-virus software have on your computer while it’s running? One of the downsides of anti-virus software is that it must work at the core level of your operating system (Windows or Mac OS X). For this to happen, the AV software integrates into the system-level processes. This allows it to scan and clean viruses out effectively. Some AV software is very efficient, and does not use up too much of your computer’s system resources. Other AV software immediately impacts your computer’s performance, and slows down even the simplest of tasks.
What about Updates? Any good AV software will update their definitions very often. As new viruses and new virus variants come out daily, AV software companies should be constantly working to add “signature” definitions to their software daily. The good AV software automatically updates at least once per day, the better ones update even more often. Bad AV software requires you to manually update the software when you think about it, or only automatically updates once a week or less.
What about Packages? Does other software come bundled with the AV software? Some of the better AV software does come packaged with other security software, as well as some other, not-so-beneficial software. Some comes packaged with a firewall, anti-malware, or other security-type software. Most of the security software packages that are free have some sort of advertising software with it, and require a little extra vigilance when installing to avoid the less-than-desirable.
And finally Cost. The truth of the matter is that, for home users, there are several free AV software options that are as good, if not better, than any of the paid versions. It used to be that the free AV programs were worth what you paid for them. The paid software was seemingly years ahead of development and performance. The problem with the paid software is that the license is only good for a certain time – usually a year or two. Because of the nature of the software, you will need to renew the licenses periodically,which means paying more money. As it stands now, I generally prefer the current crop of free anti-virus programs over the paid programs. They seem to be more efficient and use far fewer resources.
So which AV software do I recommend? I’m going to recommend four different anti-virus programs. The first two are available for either Windows or Mac, while the last two are platform-specific. Each of these has a “Pro” (paid) version, except for the last one, ClamXav. Unless you need the options listed under the “Pro” version, the free version of each of these works well.
For Either Windows or Mac:
- AVG Anti-Virus Free – http://www.avg.com
- ClamXav – http://www.clamxav.com
As I mentioned earlier, there are two parts of avoiding viruses. The first is to have great anti-virus software. The second is a little tougher to do. It requires that you are vigilant about your online safety, and make the right decisions when it comes to your online activity. You will need to watch your OWN behavior.
First, do not click on every link that comes through your email. This is by far the most common way that viruses get introduced into your computer. Often, it’s a matter of seeing an email that looks like it comes from a friend. This email says, “Click here to check this out!” These links often take you to a compromised website, introducing some virus or malware onto your computer. Second, don’t go to every webpage that catches your eye. By visiting unusual, or “sketchy” websites, you will certainly run the risk of introducing viruses into you computer – just like the email links. Finally, be careful of who you are friends with on social media, and do not accept ANY files that you did not know were already coming to you, and like email, do not click on random links. Facebook is one of the largest sources of viruses that my clients have dealt with. Just don’t take the risk.
I hope that this has answered some of your questions about anti-virus software. My next article will talk about software (and hardware) firewalls. As always if you have questions, or need help with your home network, please contact me. If you would like to have me speak to your parent group, church, or other group about keeping kids safe online, please contact me.