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How Antivirus and Antispyware Work

Article (PSA-0004)
Submitted by: Billy Joe Long, Member/Manager
Company: Problem Solving Applications, LLC
Titled: How Antivirus and Antispyware Work
Original release date: July 18, 2017

Both antivirus and antispyware software monitor your computer for potential threats.
If your computer is connected to the internet, you should have a functioning, properly licensed and updated antivirus and antispyware program. At a minimum the software you choose should offer “real-time” scanning, as well as “scheduled” scanning functionality.

“Real Time” scanning allows the software to continually scan files as they are downloaded to your computer, and will notify you if the file(s) you receive contain malware.

“Scheduled” scanning allows the software to scan all the existing files (or selected files) on your computer hard disk in a systematic effort to locate existing files that “look like” a virus.

  • For those of you using Microsoft Windows 7, Microsoft offers a free anti-virus product called Microsoft Security Essentials in 32-bit and 64-bit versions. It can be used by home users and small businesses with up to 10 computers. See Microsoft Software License Terms for more information.
  • For those of you using Microsoft Windows 8 or higher, Windows Defender comes integrated with the operating system and provides antivirus and antispyware protection.
  • Both Microsoft Security Essentials and Windows Defender come at no additional cost – there’s nothing to buy, no subscriptions and no nagware – yeah I know, awesome!

Most antivirus and antispyware tools can identify suspicious software based on a list of known threats called “definitions.” Definitions should be updated automatically by the software and new updates should be provided when new threats are discovered.

Preventing Infection with Antivirus and Antispyware Software

Antivirus and antispyware software are basic tools that no home or business should be without.

In short, a single antivirus program, a single antispyware program and a single configured firewall is adequate. Installing more than one of any of these programs can generate a few notable issues. Let’s take a few moments to look at the biggest issues.

  1. Each program running on your computer is using some of your system memory (RAM). The more programs running, the more RAM is used. When there is no more RAM available, your computer will begin to use your hard disk as a “type” of RAM. Hard disk access is not as fast as RAM access, and when your system has to start using the hard disk as RAM it greatly degrades the performance of your entire system.
  2. Having more than one of these programs running on your system can result in a software conflict. If both programs are scanning your computer for “malicious activity” there is a high probability they will see each other as “malicious activity” causing a software conflict. This particular problem can be extremely frustrating and can lead to the next very challenging side effect.
  3. Files necessary to the other scanning program can often be identified as “malicious”, and will be quarantined (made inaccessible) or removed, leaving the program corrupted. Trying to repair a program in this condition can be problematic to say the least.
  4. Finally, maintaining the licensing and updates for your programs can be time consuming and expensive. I am a firm believer that “less is better”.

What to Do if You Suspect Infection

There is no guaranteed way to keep malware out. Installing and using antivirus and antispyware software, along with a healthy dose of “common sense” is a good start. But what does it look like when these tools fail? And what can you do about it?

The following may indicate your computer is infected with malware:

  • Lots of pop-up windows or unexpected messages on your screen
  • Unexpected toolbars appear in your web browser
  • New icons or programs appear on your computer
  • Your web browser home page changes or you are redirected unexpectedly to unknown websites
  • Your computer suddenly seems slow, freezes, or crashes during regular use

If you suspect infection, you should:

  • Download the most recent definitions for your antivirus and antispyware software
  • Run a full scan using both tools (this will usually be much more in-depth and will take longer than the regular monitoring scans)
  • Follow the software’s instructions to remove suspected malware

If removing malware this way doesn’t work, or if the malware returns when you reboot your computer, you should seek professional help from a qualified computer service provider. There are a few qualified local service providers, but PSA, LLC offers a “no-fix, no-pay” work guarantee – most shops do not. Call us at (707) 506-6228 for service.

Conclusion

No home or business should be without malware protection. Antivirus software, along with a firewall, coupled with a healthy dose of common sense are the key components to protecting your computers and networks from malware.

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