Most of us play some degree of Russian roulette with our data. Whether it’s surfing the Web without adequate virus protection or storing data on our hard drive without making a backup copy of our data, at one point or another we’ve placed ourselves at risk.
There’s no excuse for that, because today’s security software is easier to use and download from online than ever before. Software developers also have improved their methods of keeping bad things out of our computers, such as malware (malicious software), spyware (software that installs covertly on your system) and viruses.
Backup solutions also have evolved. There are more choices of backup software (unlike most other software categories, which have been hit hard by the economic downturn in the past 3 years), and most of today’s external hard drives now come with backup software.
LOCKING IT DOWN. If you believe that you’re adequately protected because the virus-definition database that’s on your older security software is up to date, think again. How viruses, malware and spyware attempt to infiltrate (and contaminate) your computer has changed drastically in the past 3 years.
USB 3.0 Arrives, But Do You Need It?
The latest security suites are equipped with new methods of attacking threats. Reputation detection looks at a file’s attributes, such as size, the date that it was written and who published it, and determines whether the file is a potential friend or foe by comparing it against a database of files from that software manufacturer’s user base. If a known threat is recognized, the software will flag or destroy the malware. Behavioral detection determines whether a file is a threat based on a comprehensive, continually updated database of known files and how they work. The security software then assesses whether a file is malicious based on what action that the file is trying to take on your computer—whether it’s installing an application that you might want or making changes to your operating system’s registry file without your knowledge.
The good news is that security software that uses these methods is priced about the same as security software that didn’t have them was 3 years ago. What’s even better, now you typically get coverage for three computers (instead of one) per purchase.
The bad news is that one of the new threats that is on the rise is search-engine poisoning, in which attackers latch on to hot search terms (such as Michael Jackson, when the singer died in mid-2009) to ensure that as many people as possible download the malware onto their computer. Information-technology (IT) experts also are finding more viruses that generate fake antivirus and malware pop-up ads that appear to be legitimate. The pop-ups ask you to run a scan, tell you that you have a virus and then offer to remove it if you buy their software. Today’s latest software does a better job of protecting your computer against these threats too.
Although the majority of malware still is aimed at Microsoft Windows computers, Apple’s operating system—long established as being free from virus threats—is no longer exempt. The current Mac OS X operating system has features that are built in to prevent hackers from getting into your system, but the hackers increasingly are creating bugs to sneak through the defenses.
Macs have grown in market share, which makes them more of a target, says Charles Kolodgy, who is research vice president at International Data, which specializes in IT. Therefore, we believe that it’s wise to supplement Apple’s integrated security features with additional software to prevent attacks. (Mac users who run their computer in a combined Mac-Windows configuration have had to use Windows-based security software for years.)
But regardless of whether you have a Mac or a Windows computer, you need to do more than install software to keep your data safe. You also need to keep the software current. Those who use Microsoft’s Windows Vista or Windows 7 operating systems receive free security updates on the second Tuesday of every month. Depending on how your computer was configured, you can have these updates installed automatically while you’re working on something else. One recent update corrected 49 different vulnerabilities—a record.