You need some sort of antivirus software if your computer is connected to the internet (or even if it’s not, although problems are less likely). This is a big topic but I’ll try to be as brief as possible. Firstly we need to understand the difference between the terms malware, virus, worm, adware, Trojan (horse), and spyware.
· Malware - Short for malicious software - This is the general term covering virus, spyware, worm and all of the others.
· Virus - A small program designed to change the way a computer operates without the permission of the owner/user. Viruses run by themselves and can cause a variety of things to happen and are designed to replicate and spread from one computer system to another. Some viruses are designed to cause as much damage as possible, e.g. deleting the entire contents of the hard drive or changing the contents of your files. Others are less harmful, they may simply replicate themselves and pop up a message saying 'hi', but they can slow your system down quite rapidly.
· Worm - Has one main objective: to spread itself as much as possible. It may cause harm but is usually less harmful than a virus which almost always corrupts or modifies files.
· Adware - Any type of software that downloads and shows advertising on a computer. These may be annoying popups or just small adverts in the corner of the program you’re using. They are themselves harmless, but they may come with a virus or other harmful software attached.
· Trojan - (Trojan Horse) is a harmful program that masquerades as an application. It does not replicate itself but can be as harmful as a virus.
· Spyware - Collects data about the users of the system without their knowledge. Spyware can watch which sites you use, and can gain access to your passwords by recording every key you press.
This should already have made you think, "oh crap, I really need some protection!" If it hasn't, then please don't share your USB memory sticks with other people or send any e-mails from your computer! And don’t go crying to your local technician saying "I don't know what's happened" when it all goes horribly wrong and you've lost all your photos, music, and other documents.
All this doesn’t mean you should panic (ok, well panic a little but don't go mad about it). There are lots of programs out there to help you, some are free, others can be pricey. Personally, I use Microsoft Security Essentials and I recommend this to everyone I know. It's simple, looks after itself, doesn't slow down your system, oh and did I mention that it's FREE!? You can buy yearly subscriptions to various anti-malware products but why would you want to spend between £40 and £60 a year for something that can be done for free? I'm not saying that these are not good products – some of them so lots very snazzy things – but for me they’re unnecessary, and quite frankly the 10+ pop ups you get daily are annoying. Also, they can make it difficult to install other programs, and removing them can be a nightmare.
Antivirus programs can do a great deal of good for your computer but they can use up a lot of your systems' resources slowing your computer down a great deal. If you have a powerful system you'll be fine, but if your system’s more than three years old, be careful which program you choose. Avast (free) is a great program, it does a really good job at detection and has a nice user interface. Also, Panda have got their act together with Panda Cloud, which needs minimal user input and just simply works.
I could go on and on about the different antivirus software out there and also about the origins of viruses and the fact that yes, even you Mr/Ms Mac user, are vulnerable (FYI the first publically released virus called Elk cloner was on Apple DOS 3.3) but I won’t bore you. My point is, simply get some antivirus protection! There's no reason you shouldn't and loads of reasons why you should.
If you’d like me to go into more detail about viruses and the like, or a different aspect of security, send me a tweet @PCA Support, an e-mail James.firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me through the website www.pcadminsupport.com.
Free antivirus software:
*Image by Salvatore Vuono