Antivirus Software

Introduction

Firstly sorry for the long delay’s in posting it has been nearly a year since my last blog post and I am assuming this is going to be written for the pure benefit of myself and google analytics. Its been so long because I have been kept busy by Serco and the Lincolnshire CC account. I have for the last 9 months been a Capacity, Availability and Demand manager, so very busy keeping things ticking over and within agreed limits. Some of what I have done with Serco will form the basis of the next few posts, but for now I think I will focus on something that has gotten under my skin and the next couple of posts will be based on Antivirus, Firewalls and Security (this reminds me to update my SSL Certs).

I promise to be as gentle as possible on this subject, I know this can get pretty deep but I am hoping my sense of humour and deep knowledge of the subject will make it easier to read and understand.

I am not selling a product nor do I rate any above another (I have my personal preference sure but we will discuss that later).

 

History of the Computer

Ok before we begin let’s have a bit of a history lesson (A SHORT ONE). and nothing like you have been taught in school, to understand the origins of the computer virus we have to understand where computers began and how people have come to exploit them (this is boring me to tears never mind you guys if you want skip this section (please don’t but if you want, you can))

Still awake and with me?……Good ok lets beginAntivirus software

  • First computer was actually invented in 1822 by Charles Babbage, this was a mechanical computer and nothing like what we know and love today think of it as a hand cranked abacus (I am hoping we know what an abacus is, not necessarily how to use one just know what they look like). No real memory or programmable functions.
  • The first programmable computer was invented by Kondrad Zusse in 1936-38, so now we are getting to an electronic binary computing that we know and love today (barely), it functioned and produced a on or off state ( 0 & 1’s or binary) .
  • in addition to the above the one that we all know and love Colossus of WW2 fame being the first(ish) code breaking machine of Alan Touring Fame, although slightly discredited as the inventor being Tommy Flowers (Developer credit where it is due and all, Touring is the father of computers but even the greats have developers).
  • First stored program was on a machine called EDSAC (nicknamed “Baby”) performed its first calculations in 1949 and was the first computer to have a computer game played on it.
  • 1942 was the first commercial computer called the Z4 (honourable mention due to the car I drive and the fact that the Z means the same for both the computer and the car).
  • First PC as we know them today 1953 IBM created the 701 a long way from the 1981 Personal Computer but still worth mentioning.
  • Reference apple appeared around 1976 (mentioned due to my fanboy status more than anything and the fact first widespread virus appeared on a Mac).

 

History of the Virus

So from 1953 we have computers that are able to be mass produced, programmed and have Digital information stored on them. A brief 131 years of computing history of which if you wish you can go read about (Its rather interesting and I do recommend it and no thats not sarcasm).

So we know that computers started to have rudimentary programming and storage around the mid 1940’s so when did we see the rise of the computer virus, lets have yet another history lesson (I would put a smiley face here but even I cannot see the humour).

  • 1949 “Theory of self-reproducing automata” is published. The article is based on lectures given by von Neumann at the University of Illinois about the “Theory and Organization of Complicated Automata” in 1949. More a theory than actual practical application
  • The Creeper System was considered the first computer virus as it was the first self replicating program written by Bob Thomas, the project was to infect DEC PDP-10’s. Creeper gained access via the ARPANET and copied itself to the remote system where the message “I’m the creeper, catch me if you can!” was displayed. The Reaper program was later created to delete Creeper. First Virus and successful Anti Virus, as this was on the ARPANET I would consider this as the first internet based virus as well due to ARPANET being the genesis of the internet as we know it today.
  • In 1981 (Just a year before I was born) Elk Cloner, written for Apple II systems, was created by Richard Skrenta. The Apple II was seen as antivirus softwareparticularly vulnerable due to the storage of its operating system on floppy disk. Elk Cloner’s design combined with public ignorance about what malware was and how to protect against it led to Elk Cloner being responsible for the first large-scale computer virus outbreak in history (I’m a fan of Apple products but its history is shaky).
  • in 1983, The term ‘virus’ is coined by Frederick Cohen in describing self-replicating computer programs. In 1984 Cohen uses the phrase “computer virus”  to describe the operation of such programs in terms of “infection”. He defines a ‘virus’ as “a program that can ‘infect’ other programs by modifying them to include a possibly evolved copy of itself.” Cohen demonstrates a virus-like program on a VAX11/750 system. The program could install itself in, or infect, other system objects.

As it stood in 1999-2000 approximately 50,000 computer viruses existed across multiple platforms, we now have (approximately) over 1,000,000 computer virus and multiple strains of viruses, to top it off we have different types of attacks, ransomware, trojan’s, worms and a whole slew of other terms that are out of the scope of this basic blog post. So what does this all mean and how can we protect ourselves whilst we are online.

 

Types of Antivirus

Ok now we can get to the important stuff, if you are still with me. As with most things in life the type and brand of Antivirus depends on your own personal preferences, types of devices that you have and the size of your network.

For instance a home user with 1 device will have different needs to a multi device home, as would a small business differ in its requirements to a medium to large business. I am going to cover in general terms what type of Antivirus works in several scenarios later however in this section we will cover the basics

Free Antivirus Home Users

Best things in life are normally free and this can be the same with antivirus, if all you need/want is a set it and forget it solution, free Antivirus is produced by the following companies

  • Microsoft – Yep they have done it again and moved into new fields to plug into the OS business, if you haven’t installed a virus program since getting a new computer then the chances of you having Windows Defender Security Essentials installed are pretty high (so long as you are keeping your computer up to date with OS updates). Fairly basic although getting better, this is good if you are unsure of what you want or have very basic needs, this ties in with the Windows firewall and is user friendly and can be happily set up on grandmas PC along with auto updates for the OS and AV software. Although not available for the Apple product line obvious but had to be said. (Defender was its original name I am sure it will be called an unpronounceable symbol soon enough).
  • AVG – A tried and trusted free to use with Basic AV and web surfing protection trusted by many as a good 3rd party AV solution for home users with a good and un-complicated user interface. Mac offering is similar to the PC option and a small upgrade fee for the PC version only gives more features.
  • AVAST – a personal favourite of mine. I install this for all my customers if they do not have an Antivirus program installed, the free suite is very nice and works rather well on both PC and Mac, again the Mac could do with a few of the features that the PC users get but it is not the end of the world, the upgrade to the premium versions are rather cheap and offers are always on the go.

Again too many to mention but the main 3 are here and in my personal experience these are the ones that I find on home users computers (or are installed Free of Charge by me when the computer comes in for repair (99.9% of the time I install Avast)).

Free Antivirus Small Business

Nothing free exists for your purposes, my honest advice is to seek some guidance from a trusted third party, if you have only 1 or 2 devices that need protecting then you can probably get away with the home user free options, but once you start with cash transactions and credit cards you really ought to consider a paid for solution, not only for your own sake but your customers as well. If you need help with this give me a shout on my email and I will point you in the right direction.

Paid for Antivirus Home Users

In addition to the free ones above with the exception of Microsoft (unless they have found a new way to fleece its customer base) have a paid for service, my advice is to try out the free version and if you get on with the user interface and want a little more peace of mind then upgrade to its paid for version, with this in mind we have a couple of other options in the paid for service for serious consideration.

  • Norton (Symantec) – do some really good AV software as well as built in software firewalls at a reasonable yearly subscription price for both Windows and Mac.
  • Mcafee – another of the long time players in Antivirus (along with Norton) over some very good AV and Software firewall solutions for both Windows and Mac.

Paid for Antivirus Small Business

If you are a business with 5 or more devices and/or take financial transactions then you should be looking at the small business packages from any of the above, personal favourite and industry standard is Norton Small business, followed by Mcafee. Again if you need help with this give me or a trusted company a shout and I/we will give you directions on what you want and tailor a solution to your needs.

As a side mention I use Avast for business here, mainly because I don’t always have to hand the computer I need to configure and it has a cloud based server solution, so I can enter the configuration I want to push out in a web page and on next check in the device gets the config no matter where it is in the world. Norton and others have an on premise server and so you either need a VPN or other solution to deploy the package and updates.

 

Best Practices for Antivirus programs

So you have chosen an Antivirus program and now you want to know the basics, what you have to keep in mind are a few simple rules

  • Chose one AV program and stick with it – only ever install one AV program at a time, if you want to change then uninstall it with either the the AV programs uninstaller (preferred) or Windows uninstaller routine, never use more than one, they will eventually just sit and duke it out and compete for resources on your computer slowing it down.
  • Keep Windows and your Antivirus up to date – Windows updates are usually monthly (although this is changing to 6 monthly) and depending on your Antivirus product this could be as many as 4 times a day. Its always best to set an auto update schedule (default for many Antivirus products).
  • Scan your PC at least once a month – best again to set a schedule up overnight when you are not using the device (remember to leave it turned on) I would like to say do this weekly, but this can be disruptive. If you are a business with a server an overnight scan each night after backup is recommended.
  • Email Scans – Many Antivirus programs have an email scanner (free ones as well). Take note of what they are doing and if they do spot something make sure you delete the mail (if not done for you). If you were expecting the email from the sender let them know to scan and send again, if you weren’t expecting but know the sender then let them know and to scan. If you don’t know the sender then delete and ignore never reply to this type of email.

Thats all folks nothing to strenuous to remember, occasionally you may get popups from your Antivirus program, just follow the instructions if gives you and you should be good to go and be reasonably safe online. We will cover surfing basics and what to watch out for in future blogs.

 

Conclusion and Thoughts

Well I’m back and with the blogging bug again, hopefully in the next few weeks I should have some more topics and some fun blogs, in the last year the infrastructure here has changed somewhat and so I’m keen to get some of that blogged. Sarah is still here (edit: by Sarah – Chief Grammar nazi, it’s my house!) and loves me just as much as she did a year ago, and has herself become a bit of a geek 😉 (edit: I wear *molecules* glasses now – Big Bang joke).

On a side note I now have a Microsoft Surface as a side toy and to be honest I am really impressed with it, would I go back to a windows full time? nope but the surface in my opinion is a very good contender to the iPad Pro. I even considered the new HP all in one with the 34″ CURVED Screen and built in soundbar instead of the iMac but then I just bought a 40″ curved 4k display as a second monitor to the MacBook Pro.

Now that Sarah is a bit of a geek I am trying really hard get her to guest a blog post, but as of yet not been able to convince her :(. (what do I write about? How I can never login to stuff, how my emails never work etc etc? – Sarah)

In the next posts I will try and jazz them up with more humour and some pictures (everyone loves a picture) as well as get into some other topics that you may find interesting (or not. I do try to be all things to all men but sadly no man can).. but for now for those that are still awake and with me I bid you safe and productive computing :)..

(zzzzzzz – edited by Sarah Boo, still awake…oh btw my forte is the seo side of things or at least a wannabe. I shall now go n get excited about the sharing of this post and its reach). 

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