“I think I have a Virus.” All IT consultants know this line; we hear it almost every time a system comes in the door. Everyone has heard of viruses and lives in constant fear of an infected computer. It is time we set a few facts straight and hopefully save you some money on that annual AV subscription.
Spyware or Virus?
Both are similar, but do have a few distinctions. A virus is usually an unwanted program that can spread throughout a computer or across a network of computers. Spyware can be considered a type of virus, although it usually gets its own category. Spyware is a program that attempts to present or collect data from a user. This is usually seen as advertisements, toolbars, and collection of computer use data (including personal information).
Spyware is much more common and is usually unintentionally installed by the user. This can happen by clicking a button on a website, installing a “free” game, or clicking a prompt without fully reading it.
This is why we have antivirus programs right?
Antivirus programs try quite hard to prevent unwanted software from taking root on your PC, but they do have their shortcomings. For instance if you decide to download “Free Poker” the game may come with advertisements to support it, making it both wanted and unwanted software bundled. AV programs will usually assume that you decided to install it so you are ok with the ads.
Additionally having multiple AV programs installed can cause conflicts. This could mean they miss viruses or even cause system stability issues. Before installing any AV program, make sure that all others are removed to prevent these issues (watch out for trial versions that came with your PC).
Is there an easy rule of thumb?
No, but there are some good guidelines to help keep your computer safe.
Above all: common sense. Always read before you click, particularly on unfamiliar websites. Also if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Most free games, cursors, screensavers, etc… come with a price; they often install unwanted spyware or try and trick you into a paid service. Just paying attention will usually avoid 95% of spyware/viruses.
For the other 5% a good antivirus program is an excellent safety net. For most people an AV program that requires little attention and takes care of itself is best. Make sure your program has virus and spyware detection (most all do these days) to avoid separate Av and spyware apps.
Lastly if your computer is acting odd, run a scan manually. Catching a virus early can prevent it from inviting its unwanted friends.
So what program is best, and what about free?
We don’t have an answer for “best” as different situations call for different software, but we do have a recommendation for free.
Microsoft recently released “Microsoft Security Essentials” completely free. We have tested it and found it does an excellent job while staying mostly transparent to the user. The only catch is it is limited for desktop use; it does not work for servers. The free download is available at: http://www.microsoft.com/Security_Essentials/
Just remember to uninstall all of those old AV programs first.