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Front Page » August 3, 2010 » Tech Tips » Picking the right anti-virus software is easier said than...
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Picking the right anti-virus software is easier said than done


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By JASON BAILEY
Sun Advocate/Emery County Progress

No one wants to see their computer succumb to a computer virus or find it hacked open by an unsuspecting person, but protecting it with the right defenses is often easier said than done. It's a process that is not only complicated, but also very confusing and even intimidating.

Not only is it difficult to sift through all of the tech terminology and vernacular and make at least some sense of it all, it is also a challenge to determine which anti-virus and security products are best suited for the job at hand.

Consumers at large simply want something that does the job with the least amount of effort or cost, and who can blame them? Just because computers are more common today than they ever have been doesn't mean everybody wants to be an expert on them.

The truth is, however, that making anti-virus software is not an easy thing to do. In fact, managing an anti-virus solution can be one of the most difficult businesses to manage in the tech world. Protecting computers from both known and unknown vulnerabilities, as anti-virus programs try to do, is much like an intelligence agent trying to keep the bad guys at bay.

Because of these difficulties, many existing anti-virus products have received some bad press for either being overly aggressive or for not being aggressive enough, which changed the way many people look at anti-virus in general.

This opened the door for a new breed of anti-virus companies to enter the arena. Many claim all it takes is a quick visit to their Website, and the person's computer will be running like a top. But caution should be taken when selecting some of these anti-virus solutions.

Indeed, many online ads and TV commercials make some pretty outrageous claims about what their software can do, lulling some customers into a false sense of security.

Consider one television commercial that claims that by visiting their Website and installing the software on that page, a person's computer system becomes "completely secure." As any credible computer security expert will tell, there is no such thing as "completely secure". Even the most well protected computer systems in the world still have the potential for infection - or perhaps a breach of security through unauthorized access - even if the potential may be low.

Another television commercial retorts that just because a person may already have anti-virus software on their computer doesn't mean the computer without infection and encourages consumers to buy their product.

While it is technically true that having anti-virus software doesn't really mean a computer is secure, the statement also applies to every other anti-virus product on the market, including the very product being advertised in the commercial. No anti-virus program catches every infection every time. None of them are perfect.

As a matter of fact, there are situations in which having more than one anti-virus or computer security program installed on a single computer system can cause it to seriously malfunction. It entirely depends on the circumstances.

A particular advertisement actually tries to scare viewers into impulsively buying their software by strongly implying that viruses can cause permanent damage to a computer. This is misleading. While viruses can delete personal files, cause a computer to misbehave, and will permanently reside on a system until it is removed, viruses really can't destroy the keyboard, burn up the screen or cause the circuit boards inside the computer to short circuit like many people might envision.

In the extreme, repairs may include reinstalling the computer's operating system (Mac OS X or Microsoft Windows) and all other software (like browsers, email, word processors, games, etc).

In short, many software companies really try hard to produce a good anti-virus product, but it is important for the consumer to understand that their product may not live up to the claims.

There are, however, some that could be downright dishonest and may try to take advantage of a person's trust.

In fact, many con-artists will trick people into installing bad software (unknowingly) onto their computers - stuff that makes entire computer malfunction (stuff that masquerades as an infection). The con-artist then offers a seemingly unrelated product - for a fee, of course - that will remove the so-called infection. It's like a mechanic maliciously fiddling with a person's car engine and then later offering to repair the "malfunction" for a fee.

In other cases, con-artists will actually build Websites that look like anti-virus programs that claim to have already detected a virus infection on the computer. These Websites prompts the person to allow it to remove the infection. What the person doesn't often know is that by granting the Website permission to continue, they're actually allowing a virus or other malicious piece of software (often dubbed "mal-ware") to infect their computer system. It's like a robber dressed up as a police officer knocking on the door, insisting on inspecting the house for a robber who is at large, and robbing the house while they're at it.

Indeed, choosing the right computer protection software is as much about credibility and trust as it is about capability.

Sophos, AVG, McAfee, Symantec, Microsoft, F-Secure, Kapersky and BitDefender are just a few of many legitimate, mainstream makers of anti-virus and/or computer fortification software (the Sun Advocate and Emery County Progress do not specifically endorse any particular antivirus solution). There are other anti-virus makers who may not be as well-known, but it doesn't mean they aren't worth pursuing.

There are many companies that provide a free, non-commercial version of their software. The word "free" doesn't mean it's not an effective solution. In fact there are several popular anti-virus programs that give their users reasonably adequate protection at no cost to them.

In summary, research is key when it comes to choosing the right one. Reading reviews from reputable, trustworthy publications can be a good place to start. Gathering the opinions of family, friends and co-workers isn't a sure-fire way to find the right product, but it can help narrow the selections. The important thing is that the anti-virus selection should be a well thought-out decision.

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