Antivirus programs

I get questions all the time about what anti-virus programs to use.  After making recommendations and then installing said antivirus program, I am inevitably asked “Now, will this protect me from all virus attacks?”  The quick answer – NO.  This is a common misconception about antivirus programs.  While there are many good programs out there that do catch and prevent a lot of  bad stuff from infecting your computer, they are not perfect.  They are only effective against known problems.  The deviant people who create virus/malware/trojans know this and they constantly create new infections that leave the antivirus companies scrambling to keep up.

It is not possible for a single antivirus software to catch and prevent every possible infection out there.  While in general they can prevent a lot, you might just be one of those lucky people to discover a new infection that the antivirus program does not yet have a fix for.  The moral of this story is: don’t be lured into thinking just because you have an antivirus program installed that it will prevent anything bad from happening to your computer.

Well, you ask, how to I prevent virus attacks on my computer if I can’t trust my antivirus program?  The single easiest thing you can do is to not allow anything to download unless you are 100% certain it is a legitimate program.  If you are on a webpage and something pops up and asks you to download a program, allow a program, allow an add-on, etc., do not do so if you do not know what it is.  If you manually allow a malicious program to download, your antivirus program will not intervene.  If in doubt, say “no”, then write down the name of the program that wanted to run and do a search on it to determine if it is legitimate or not.

Also use caution when surfing on the web.  Certain types of sites are hotbeds for malicious software, particularly anything that advertises as free (i.e. free music, free games, free porn, etc).  Stick to well known and trusted sites when possible.

Email attachments are another good way to get a virus.  If an attachment looks suspicious, do not open it.  Even if it is from your mother.  Again, if in doubt, say no and verify first before opening or downloading anything.  Along the same lines, do not click on links embedded in emails if you are not sure where you will be directed to.  This is especially true for sites requesting financial information.  If your bank sends you and email and wants you to click on a link to verify account information, you are better off ignoring the link in the email and instead going directly to your institution’s website and logging in there.

I am not saying that antivirus programs are a waste of money.  I recommend them for people who do a lot of internet surfing, and especially for people who have teenagers in the house.  If you use an antivirus program, it is very important that you regularly download the updates for the program.  Most programs automatically download the updates, but be proactive and check yourself every so often to be sure you have the most up-to-date software out there.  Antivirus programs must constantly send out updates in order to stay on top of recent known infections.  Keeping an updated antivirus program and using caution when online are the best things you can do to prevent computer infection.