Antivirus software is the guard dog of the computer world. It protects against intruders in the form of hackers, viruses, worms, spyware and other threats. An unprotected computer or network leaves you exposed, but a combination of firewalls and anti-virus software will shield you from most Internet threats. With so many different options on the market—and so much at stake—what should you look for to keep your organization protected?
Antivirus filters protect against worms and Trojan horses, malicious viruses often spread as email attachments or by downloading or visiting certain websites. The majority of viruses affect computers running Windows operating systems rather than Macintosh or Linux, though that’s not absolute, and you should install protection no matter what Operating System you choose to run.
Filters rely on manufacturer-provided definitions of known viruses. Because new viruses are constantly being created, a good filter must be regularly updated to stay current. Antivirus applications should offer real-time protection by monitoring machines around the clock, and by scanning in- and outgoing emails and attachments for viruses and quarantining any they find. Make sure the antivirus solution you choose will integrate with your email client if it’s not web-based.
You should also be able to schedule automatic scans, which is especially helpful for an organization with multiple employees who might not all remember to run scans manually. Scheduling also lets the software regularly update virus definitions against all current-known threats.
In addition, you need to protect against spyware and adware designed to compromise privacy. Adware can send personal information to advertisers, and generate annoying popup advertisements that are a bane to users. More maliciously, spyware can monitor your online movements and send your personal information like credit card numbers and passwords to those who would misuse it. Anti-spyware solutions work like antivirus solutions by scanning hard drives and networks and removing or quarantining anything they find. Some offer real-time protection as well. They also depend on updated definitions, and should let you automate regular updates.
A firewall is a virtual barrier between your machine or network and the outside world. It guards against intrusions from hackers and malware, which is a generic term for the many different forms of malicious software. Firewalls work by monitoring both incoming and outgoing traffic, and by letting you restrict what gets in and out. A good firewall includes predefined settings that let common traffic take place unimpeded—otherwise, users need to approve every transaction, which would be both overwhelming and annoying. They should also enable you to white- or black-list specific IP addresses or hosts, approving or denying access on a permanent basis.
Standalone solutions for firewalls, viruses and spyware can be installed on each machine, but if you have more than a few, they can become difficult to manage. Security suites can cost $30-$50 per user per year, but can be configured and maintained from a central control panel, and are available from McAfee, Norton, Trend Micro and Zone Labs. Free solutions are available from Microsoft Security Essentials, ZoneAlarm Free Firewall, MalwareBytes and Spybot Search and Destroy.