Panda Software, a leading international developer of computer security software says the first and fundamental step in protecting your computer is to install antivirus software that will protect you from malicious virus attacks.
To evaluate your antivirus program, you'll want to know if your antivirus product is doing the job you need for your computer system. Panda Software has just released some basic and not so basic web-surf tips in identifying virus threats, and offers this advice when selecting a good antivirus product.
Detect and Warn
Antivirus software should include a program capable of detecting potentially dangerous activity on the computer as well as warning when a dangerous file tries to enter the system.
It should be capable of detecting any suspicious file or activity, even if the software has no prior record of this activity. An old enemy is easy to spot, but what about new threats? Reliable software should be able to detect dangerous behavior without needing a previous description of the culprit. When such activity is detected a warning signal should be sent to the user.
Attachments are Not the Only Entry Point for Viruses
Many surfers believe that they are safe as long as they don't open attachments. This is not true. Viruses, Trojans and worms have become a lot more sophisticated.
For example, some e-mail-borne viruses can activate simply when viewed in the Preview Pane, without having to open the message or any attached files. Your antivirus should alert you even before your e-mail program notifies you that a contaminated new message has been received.
This means the software should be able to operate at "low levels", when data enters the system. The antivirus program should be the first to identify it and alert the user when necessary.
Independence is Strength
Another essential feature of a reliable program is that it should be independent from the rest of the software on the computer. This means that the protection will be the same regardless of whether you are surfing the Internet with Microsoft Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator or Opera, or whether mail is processed through Eudora, Outlook Express or Pegasus.
Add a Firewall
Another practical security measure is the installation of a personal firewall. Firewalls constantly monitor activity across all ports on a computer. It is possible to configure the firewall to keep a specific port closed or to warn when someone is scanning open ports.
Preventing even the smallest amount of unsolicited software from entering your computer, will make sure no hackers will be able to take control of your system to carry out malicious acts or access your personal data.
Viruses, Trojans and Worms
An antivirus doesn't just simply deal with viruses. Choose software which is fundamentally designed to root out viruses, but which adds information to the database to detect Trojans, worms, backdoors, etc. When an attacker tries to invade your computer and insert a program, it will be detected by the antivirus software which will sound the alarm.
Patches -- Who needs patches?
Software manufacturers are constantly updating products to protect against possible flaws or vulnerabilities. If in doubt, the manufacturer's website is usually a reliable source for the latest information and all license holders are entitled to download these updates. So there are good reasons for avoiding pirated software after all!
Regular Updates -- How Regular?
All antiviruses should be updated regularly. How often? This really depends on the manufacturer. Each vendor will no doubt recommend updating as soon as a new update is available. This sounds logical, but bear in mind that fifteen or so new viruses appear every day. Waiting two or three days before updating an antivirus can prove to be an increased risk.
The ideal antivirus software will update constantly and automatically throughout the day. This means it not only updates the information from the antivirus software site, but that the software site itself is constantly updated.
To stay on top of security when connected to the Internet, there are several systems for finding out exactly what is happening to your PC at any moment.
If you have a personal firewall and an up-to-date antivirus installed, much of this monitoring is carried out automatically by these applications.
Check the security levels in your browsers. In most cases, security settings in a browser can be configured according to a wide range of security criteria, from accepting almost everything to rejecting all but the most trustworthy information. A balance between security and practicality is normally the most advisable.
The ports used by Trojans and other malware tend to vary greatly. In fact there are so many that it would be virtually impossible to list them all here. Your antivirus vendor should be able to help you determine whether a connection has been made by an e-mail program or Trojan trying to enter your machine.
If you suspect that someone or something is connected to your PC without your consent, you should immediately disconnect. Scan your entire system with your antivirus and then reconnect.
When in doubt, you can scan your computer with Panda ActiveScan, the company's free antivirus at http://www.pandasecurity.com.
By subscribing to our early morning news update, you will receive a daily digest of the latest security news published on Help Net Security.
With over 500 issues so far, reading our newsletter every Monday morning will keep you up-to-date with security risks out there.