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Conquering Malicious Software : Using Antivirus Software

11/12/2012 4:20:47 PM
Windows Defender helps to protect your computer from spyware and other malicious software. But it doesn't protect against all viruses. For virus protection, you need a third-party program (a program that doesn't come free with Windows 7). The Windows Action Center can detect some (but not all) antivirus programs.

If you don't have antivirus software, or Windows can't recognize the product you're using, you see a security warning that is an indication that antivirus software might not be installed, as in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Antivirus software might not be installed.


You might see a warning message briefly even if you do have virus protection, only because the message sometimes appears before your antivirus solution is fully loaded. If your malware protection is On in Security Center, you can ignore the alert.

Your ISP (Internet service provider) might provide virus protection. Or your computer manufacturer might have pre-installed antivirus on your system. If you don't know what your situation is, it might be wise to check with your ISP and computer manufacturer before you go out and purchase another product.

1. Virus protection

There are basically two ways to deal with viruses. The best is to prevent them before they infect your system. The other is to detect and remove them after your computer has already been infected.

Your ISP might provide perimeter protection for viruses, which means viruses are detected and removed by your ISP before they ever get to your computer, as illustrated in Figure 2. There is no extra charge for that. You pay for it when you pay the monthly bill for your Internet connection. Furthermore, you don't really have to do anything to keep your virus protection up-to-date. Your ISP takes care of that, too. The same is true if your business provides perimeter protection — a device on your network actively scans all incoming and outgoing traffic looking for and eliminating viruses. However, perimeter protection cannot protect your computer against viruses on a flash drive or other removable media.

Figure 2. Perimeter protection blocks viruses before they get to your PC.

A second approach to virus protection is to have the antivirus program right on your own computer. Some popular brands include Norton Antivirus, McAfee VirusScan, and Trend PC-cillin. Some ISPs actually pay for such a service on your computer. But you still have to take some steps to install the program and keep it up-to-date.

Viruses Mutate

Computer security is always a moving target. The good guys come up with ways to thwart existing malware (including viruses). The bad guys keep inventing new ways to create viruses and other bad programs. To keep up-to-date with current threats, most antivirus programs need to download current signatures on a regular basis. Each signature basically tells the antivirus program what to block in order to keep your computer free of viruses.

If neither your ISP nor the computer manufacturer has provided an antivirus program, you should purchase and install one yourself. Although you could try to get by without one, sooner or later your computer is going to get infected, regardless of how careful you are about not downloading programs or opening e-mail attachments.

Even if your ISP or business provides perimeter antivirus protection, you should install and use an antivirus solution on your computer itself. Relying on perimeter protection is better than having no protection at all, and can be quite effective at preventing virus outbreaks, but it isn't the entire solution. Perimeter protection can do nothing to prevent infection from removable media (such as USB flash drives) that you connect to your computer. My preferred solution is to deploy perimeter protection from one vendor and desktop protection from another vendor, giving you two different detection engines for a "more is better" approach to antivirus protection.

Finally, you might also consider looking into Windows Live OneCare, which combines virus protection with a host of other useful services.

Whether or not you're a pro, you should scan your computer for viruses at least once a week. Scanning doesn't prevent viruses from infecting your computer. Rather, it analyzes all the files on your hard disk, seeking out viruses hiding there. If it finds any, it alerts you to the problem and lets you remove the virus. In other words, it works just like spyware scanning in Windows Defender.

2. Antivirus and Action Center

If you have antivirus software installed and protecting your computer already, you won't see that message. That message appears only if (1) Windows can't detect your antivirus program, or (2) you really don't have an antivirus program.


Some options in Action Center require that you use an account with administrative rights.

If you know for a fact that you do have an antivirus program in place, you can make that message stop appearing. You just have to change the notification setting for virus protection.

In Action Center, the Security group of items informs you of virus protection. If the Virus protection item shows "On," you know you have virus protection. All is well and you probably don't need to do anything else, unless you see a message saying you should update your virus definitions or signatures. In that case, you should do as the message instructs.

If the Security section shows the Find a Program Online button (Figure 3), you have a decision to make. If you know for a fact that you have an antivirus program installed, click Turn off Messages about Virus Protection. You will still be able to see antivirus status in the Action Center, but the larger box goes away and you see only an indication that virus protection is not monitored.

If you're sure you don't have any virus protection and would like to explore your options, click the Find an Antivirus Program Online link.

Figure 3. Virus protection is not found in this example.
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