Intro To Protecting Your Computer From Viruses

Ever wonder what’s really going on under all of that operating system? Under all the glossy veneer of Windows and the internet, a true battle is being waged: a battle for your computer. Every day you pass through a cloud of worms, viruses, and spyware as you surf the internet and do your daily tasks. Much of the time, you avoid contracting something terrible, but occasionally, you let something in.

In several parts, we will explain the steps necessary to protect your computer. We will use layman’s terms, and spell out for you both the best methods to take, and the ones to avoid….

(Photo: Maulleigh)


This installment deals with antivirus protection. Antivirus protection is sort of the first line of defense. Decades old, and known by almost every computer user, shockingly antivirus protection is lacking in as many as 80% of home PCs. Imagine that. 80%! That’s a huge number of unprotected PCs, even at the most basic level.

Here are some steps you can take to make sure that your antivirus protection is installed, working properly, and protecting you from harm.

1. Many new computers come with antivirus protection already installed. Relying on this is a huge, and potentially costly, mistake.

The protection ranges from 30 days to a year, on average. But most people don’t realize that antivirus protection is not as simple as buying a package and installing it; you are paying for a SUBSCRIPTION, not the SOFTWARE.

It is essential that you renew the subscription when it expires, or purchase alternative software more to your liking. Failing to do so leaves you more unprotected than if you had no protection at all, since you will think you are safe, when you’re really not.

2. If one is good, two are better, right? Wrong.

Antivirus programs often act in similar ways as viruses, writing to system files, moving about the computer, etc. Norton Antivirus could potentially pick up AVG Free Edition as a virus, for example, or parts of it. As a general rule, installing two antivirus programs negates the benefits of either one. So buy one and stick to it.

3. Which antivirus is best? There is much debate on this subject. For our personal opinion, we like NOD32 because it involves what is known as heuristics. Essentially, it looks at computer code, not just with the standard definitions, but for similarities to known
viruses.

A better way of explaining this is our own human process of identifying new words. When we are reading a book, and come across a new word, we don’t already have a definition for it. This is similar to an antivirus coming across a new virus. In both cases, we (or the antivirus) don’t understand what it is that we just found. Norton Antivirus will simply ignore the new code since it doesn’t know what it is. This is bad.

Heuristics, on the other hand, is similar to us as humans applying our knowledge of the language, as well as the context of the sentence, to identifying the new word (without using a dictionary). NOD32 looks at its existing definitions as well as similarities in the code to known viruses, and tries to identify variants that it does not know yet for sure. This leads to better identification and helps to stop viruses that were previously unknown before they spread and infect our systems.

Note that NOD32 is not perfect. But it is tons better than Norton, AVG, or McAfee.

4. But what about AVG Free Edition? Isn’t that just as good?

Nope. We wouldn’t put AVG Free Edition on a Windows Millennium PC. It’s not that it is bad (though it is). It’s that it gives you a false sense of security and doesn’t catch everything (or close to everything). AVG Free Edition is designed to show you that AVG is able to protect you, thereby encouraging you to buy the full version, which offers more protection. Remember that you get what you pay for.

5. The antivirus scanner should be run once, if not twice, a week.

We know, this is a pain since we have to stop whatever we’re doing while it runs. Schedule it for 3 AM, then, and leave the computer on those nights. Even though the antivirus is always scanning, it’s better to make it scan everything at once. For one, it will scan more than its routine every-day scanning. Also, it will scan every file, while the “routine” scanner doesn’t do that every day.

6. Avoid “security suites.”

We know it’s tempting to buy Norton Security XYZ Hyperactive Edition. But first, your local tech guy will hate you (Norton tends to take over your system). And second, remember that niche products tend to perform better. That is, an antivirus company is probably best at antivirus, and not so great at firewall. Combining a variety of products is just as effective (if not more so) than the previously mentioned security package. Plus, many of the things in the security package you won’t need (like the firewall, but we’ll get to that in another edition).

Following these tips will help protect your system from harm caused by viruses.

Next up we will delve into the world of malware, a.k.a. spyware, adware, etc. — BRANDON SAVAGE

Brandon Savage has worked as a technician for University of the Pacific fixing student machines and now runs his own tech service, Savage Support.