"How Safe is Your
Success" is a series of eight articles by Bill Hely which address
different aspects of a universal problem of particular importance to
all of us who use the Internet our online security. Mr.
Hely covers the area between the bare basics and more technical
details so clearly, that I have placed his article about how to
software here, word for word, for all of us to experience.
3 of a series of Articles titled "How
Safe is Your Success?"
By Bill Hely
The Anti-Virus Conundrum
One of the most common defenses I hear from clients when I
tell them I have discovered that a virus is the cause of their
"problem" goes like this: "But I'm using an anti-virus. I've
always had one! The man in the computer shop put it on for
The Man In The Computer Shop, by dint of the fact he is "in
computers" and speaks all that jargon stuff, is perceived as
an Expert Who Can Be Trusted. I mean, do you argue with your
plumber about pipe diameters and flow rates? Do you quiz your
electrician about safe electrical loads? No. He is the expert
and you expect him to know.
Warning: Do not carry any of the trust you may place in a
qualified specialist tradesperson over to the computer
industry. Look at the computer game as being more akin to the
motor trades. You don't expect the car salesman to be an
expert in tune-ups, or the mechanic to repair a tear in your
upholstery. Each to his own.
Many computer retail sales people are quite competent when it
comes to configuring a PC, but keep in mind that there is no
necessity for them to be other than good salespeople. Unless
you work in a company that has ready access to a professional
IT support person, there is much you will have to do yourself
to get your computer safe. There is also much you will have to
become aware of for it to stay that way.
My favorite saying with respect to anti-virus protection is
this: "An anti-virus program is only as good as the day it was
made". Expected response: "Huh?", which is OK because then I
get to explain.
A virus is just a computer program and, reduced to basics, a
computer program is just a special type of document containing
alpha-numeric characters called code. The publishers of
anti-virus software carefully analyze the code of a known
virus program and determine a fingerprint or signature
that can be said to be characteristic of that particular
virus. That information is added to a database of signatures
of other viruses that have also been analyzed.
The anti-virus program compares data on the computers hard
drive (or in memory) with the information stored in its
database of virus signatures. If a match is found, the
likelihood of a virus is high and an alert is issued, or some
other pre-programmed action takes place.
There is also a more complex detection method called
heuristics which, rather than looking for specifically defined
characteristics, looks for virus-like behavior". If your
anti-virus program offers a heuristics option, do make sure it
is enabled. Sometimes anti-virus programs that offer
heuristics don't have that option enabled by default.
Now if I tell you that new viruses are being released onto the
Internet every day of the week, can you see how your
anti-virus program will soon become useless against an
ever-growing number of viruses for which it will have no
characteristics? So my favorite saying becomes: An anti-virus
program is only as good as the last time it was updated.
If you are to have any chance at all against the flood of
virus-type attacks permeating the Internet, you absolutely
MUST ensure that your anti-virus installation is always using
an up-to-date database.
Don't let the mention of "database" deter you that's the
province of the programmer. All you need do is configure your
anti-virus program to regularly contact it's developer's
website and download the latest updates. Any anti-virus
program worthy of your consideration will have a built-in
scheduler to take care of regularly connecting to the Internet
and retrieving updates. Frankly, it is just too important a
task to be left to the frailties of human memory, so always
use automation when it is available.
As for detection capabilities, most of the major anti-virus
packages are pretty much on a par these days. For me it's the
little extras that count, like ease of configuration, prompt
and helpful support, etc. and of course cost. The specific
brand of anti-virus software you use is up to you. My personal
preference is a company I have been watching, using and
recommending for a few years now: Grisoft, makers of the AVG
If you are a home computer user you can use this excellent
anti-virus program completely free of charge. The site layout
and links change from time to time, but from the link above
look for a reference to "AVG Free". Note that there is also an
AVG Trial, but that's a time-limited trial of the commercial
software. As a home user on a single stand-alone PC you'll be
very happy with AVG Free.
Finally, a word about
"security suites". I
know I'm inviting criticism for this stance, but I must say
I'm not a fan of security suites for most home or small
business installations. A suite is a software package that offers not only anti-virus
but includes software components that purport to tackle other
nasties such as SpyWare, adware, etc.
In my experience you do not find the best of each type of
protection bundled together. Because a company may be
extremely good at producing an anti-virus product does not
mean they can do as good a job with an anti-adware solution.
While the corporate buyers tend to turn their noses up at free
software, the fact is that some of the very best-of-breed
security solutions are just that - free. If the corporates
with their big budgets and in-house IT support prefer to
invest in complex and often costly integrated suites, that's
fine. They have the resources to handle anything that happens.
But for my money there's a lot to be said for implementing a
series of much smaller, less complex, often free utilities
that matched task for task can usually out-perform the
equivalent component parts of an integrated suite.
We'll be looking more specifically at adware and SpyWare
threats in the next part of this series, so if you are not yet
a subscriber to this newsletter join now, or risk missing some
very important information.
In the interim, get yourself a good modern anti-virus scanner
and, once installed, be sure to get into the configuration
options and set a daily update schedule. In AVG version 7 you
just launch the Test Center, click the Scheduler button,
double-click the "Update plan" entry and select your preferred
options. While you have the Test Center open you might as well
double-click on the "Test plan" entry and set your preferred
full-scan time. Mine happens in the early hours of the morning
when it can't slow my work.
If this newsletter has been passed on to you by a friend,
please subscribe to it yourself so you can be sure of
receiving the next part in this series, when I'll show you how
to keep your sensitive electronic correspondence completely
confidential, even if someone does manage to intercept your
.... Bill Hely
Bill Hely is a technologist,
consultant and author living in Brisbane, Australia. For
most of the last two decades his professional focus has been
on advising and supporting small business operators in
Information Technology and Office Productivity issues and
rescuing them when they didn't heed his advice the first
time around. He is the author of several books on technology
for the business operator, including the Bible of Internet
and computer security "The Hacker's Nightmare".
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