August 19, 2008

Not All Antivirus Programs Are Created Equal


There are many antivirus programs available, either in retail stores or over the internet, and most new computers come with a pre- installed trial version which expires after 30 days or so.

These programs offer differing levels of protection, loosely falling into three categories - free, antivirus and security suites. The differences between each are significant:

Free - these are readily available for download through the internet and normally offer a basic level of protection against viruses but not other nasties such as spyware and adware.

The big drawback with these free products is that they are not normally updated as frequently or with the immediacy of paid-for programs. This means that if a new virus is doing the rounds, your antivirus may not get updated before it is too late.

Paid Antivirus - Paid antivirus products defend you against software virus programs that are intentionally written to alter or damage your computer and automatically distribute themselves to other computers.

Again, however, antivirus-only programs do not normally defend you against spyware and adware unless it is specifically mentioned. Paid Security Suites - Security suites defend you against the full range of nasties that can infect your computer, be they viruses, spyware or adware.

They also normally provide you with a personal firewall.

So what is:

* Spyware - software that you either unwittingly install or which automatically installs itself when you're browsing the web.

Spyware secretly collects and distributes information about you. The information collected can relate to websites you visited or something more sensitive like passwords or credit card details. A spyware program can even track the keys you push on your keyboard.

* Adware - software that installs on your computer (again either by you or automatically) and displays advertisements using popup banners. These may even appear when you're not on the internet.

* Firewall - in construction terms, it is a solidly-built wall that is designed to prevent a fire from spreading. In a computer environment, it's a solidly-built piece of hardware or software that is designed to prevent attacks from unauthorised people (hackers).

So how can you find out what you've got and how well protected you are?

In the bottom right hand corner of your screen (on the toolbar) there are a series of little icons (pictures). You can move your mouse slowly over these icons until you see text saying it is the icon for the antivirus program. Click on the icon and it will open the program which should inform you of what type of antivirus you are running.

Another issue with antivirus programs is the size of the processing footprint they exert. A number of common programs have very large footprints and will significantly slow down your computer - especially on start up. It is worthwhile enquiring about and understanding the effect the antivirus program will have on your particular computer.

Finally, not all antivirus brands are created equal in terms of what they pick up and what they miss. Before you purchase, it is worth doing a search on the internet for the awards and ratings that various products have received - a good example is at www.av-

* Adam Dunkerley is general manager of Need A Nerd, a company that offers mobile technical support. They can be contacted on 0800 63 33 26 or visit the website at

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