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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Security for Normal People, Part 4: Anti-Virus

The other thing that occurs to me that most normal people know they should do, but often don't, is to have a good anti-virus.

Now, you may think that, because you activated the free trial of Norton or McAfee when you got your computer, you're covered, but . . . not so fast!

Let me tell you why.

Firstly, how old is your computer? If it's older than a few months, your free trial will have expired. Secondly, even if you signed up with one of those companies and paid them for a subscription, that may not be the best thing, which I'll go into in a moment. But even if that were the absolutely best anti-virus software . . . are you updating it? Because if you don't make sure that it's updated, either by manually accessing the updates, or by setting the program to automatically update itself, it's almost like having done nothing.. Have you done that? Or, if you're doing it manually, are you doing it on a regular basis? (Personally, I prefer having the program update itself, since that way you don't just forget.)

Now, back to why Norton or McAfee isn't necessarily the best program to protect yourself with. Which I can tell you in one word: ″bloated.″ Sometimes these programs are bundled and sold as a package called, ″Internet Security,″ which you're charged even more for, and won't keep you any safer. Why? Several reasons. Firstly, because even if you've spent the money, you probably haven't gone through all of the settings and customized them. Secondly, again, ″bloated.″ If the anti-virus or ″Internet Security″ software is taking up so much of your computing resources that it slows down your machine (especially if it pops up while you're working) and you ignore it or – worse – disable it, then it's like you don't have anything at all. But frankly, even the anti-virus-only packages are bloated.

The folks that I listen to regarding security, again, are rather . . . ″in-depth″ is how I'd put it. Meaning they cover their topic thoroughly, to the point where my brain just stops processing information. Now, it's not actually meant for we mere dabblers, as much as for those who are responsible for security in some official capacity. But nevertheless, I listen, figuring that anything I do manage to pick up in the process is icing on the cake. And one of the things I have picked up is that there is one anti-virus software that is both light and efficient, and that would be something you've never heard of called NOD32, which is made by a company called ESET (you can also walk into any Fry's and pick up a copy on disc, which I highly recommend, despite it costing a few bucks more). I've used it, and it runs quietly in the background without taxing my resources, unlike the other two major companies' software, which I've had literally freeze me in my computing tracks from time to time.

If, however, you're looking for something free, which I have done on occasion when NOD32 comes up for renewal and I've had a dry-spell in cash-flow, I have another suggestion if you're using Windows (and yes, I used to use AVG until I heard of this, and my sources tell me that this is better). Go and download Microsoft Security Essentials. It's free, and it's kept me virus-free until I can pay for the next year of NOD32.

Which reminds me . . . don't think that being on an Apple device makes you immune to viruses! Sadly, that is no longer the case. I don't know much about anti-virus software for Apple devices, but I do know that there's a version of the same software I recommended above called ESET Cyber Security for Mac I can't tell you if there's an equivalent to Microsoft Security Essentials, but if anyone wants to chime in on that, feel free to Comment.

Now, if you already have Norton or McAfee, and you don't want to pay for another program while that's still valid, I can understand that. I will only tell you here that, if money's not an issue, I recommend doing that; I would definitely do it myself. But as I've said before, some security is better than no security, so if you can't or won't switch until your year is up, at least you have something. Just remember that you shouldn't have two kinds of anti-virus software at the same time. (I've known people who have done this, thinking it's twice the protection, but all you accomplish is gumming up the works, and neither program will work properly.)

Also, pay attention to any pop-up notices. Don't just click, ″OK″ to whatever it wants just to get rid of the pop-up! Make sure you read those, as they most frequently are warning you of some sort of problem, like a suspect file. You may, indeed, want to follow the recommended course of action, but you should be aware of what it's warning you about. If you have a lot of warnings, you should look more closely and see if there's a pattern. Frequent warnings about the same thing justify further investigation, and perhaps additional action.

Whatever you decide to use, though, make sure that you keep it up-to-date by updating regularly or having it auto-update, and remember that the software can't protect you from your own behavior. But that's the subject of another article. . . .

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