Don Trauger – Kennett
Antivirus software is essential on any computer that is connected to the internet. While most antivirus software is not
really all that complicated, it certainly can’t hurt to have a clearer understanding of how it works, and what it does for
you behind the scenes to keep your PC clean and safe.
Antivirus software works by checking files, programs, emails and disks for viruses, worms and Trojans, and more recently,
spyware. What it is actually doing is comparing what it finds with a list of known viruses – this list is a virus file or
virus definitions file. The software will unpack files to look at and check them, and it then repacks them if they are safe.
If the files contain viruses they will be destroyed or placed in a quarantine zone. Most antivirus software will also attempt
to repair any files that have been damaged by a virus.
If you have antivirus software, you will (hopefully) keep it updated, or set the program to auto-update. When the update
takes place what it’s actually doing is updating the virus file so it knows what to look for when scanning. This is why the
update is essential – without it the antivirus software won’t be sure what it’s looking at! Some of the best anti-virus
programs also look for the suspicious behavior that’s associated with viruses, so there is some additional protection against
Most antivirus software works in the background (i.e. you barely notice it when you’re using your computer). What it’s doing
however is scanning all the activity on your computer. Some anti-virus programs also automatically check downloaded files for
viruses, and virus-check your incoming and outgoing E-mail. When a virus is found, it is often removed automatically, without
interrupting your work.
There are a number of companies that provide software solutions to virus, Trojan, and internet worm attacks. It can be really
confusing when you compare different software packages trying to find the one that is right for you. With that in mind, there
are several very important things that you need to consider when choosing antivirus software:
1) How often and how fast are the virus definitions updated. You want the answer to be “As soon as a new threat is found”.
2) Are the virus definitions updated automatically? You want the answer to be “YES”.
3) Can you configure the software to check for updates every time you go online? You want the answer to be “YES”.
4) Is the software “smart” so that it can find viruses it doesn’t even know about yet? You want the answer to be “YES”.
5) Can it scan incoming and outgoing email automatically? You want the answer to be “YES”
6) Can you configure it once to perform automatic scans of your entire computer on a regular schedule? You want the answer to
be “YES” providing the computer is turned on so the automated scan can perform its task.
7) Does it provide a way to ‘clean out’ any viruses etc. that are found? You want the answer to be “YES”.
8) Are upgrades to the anti-virus program performed automatically, regularly, and at no cost? You want the answer to be “YES”.
Understanding the basics of antivirus software should help you understand why you need it, why you need it kept up to date
and give you some clues about how to check if you are considering updating or changing your anti-virus program. You probably
want something that makes the whole task as easy as possible – that usually means automating almost everything. It’s usually a
good idea to add a bit of personal knowledge to the mix. Knowing what your software does helps you know what you should do!
Please come to our PC club meeting to learn about computer security and also get answers to any of your computer questions.
It starts at 7:00 PM in the Ardmore room upstairs in the Community Center on the second Tuesday of each month.
To get answers to your questions about computers, please come to the PC Club meeting. The computer club
meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7:00 PM in the Community Center.