What is antivirus software, and how can it help?
Antivirus software is a security program invented to defend devices against malware and viruses. Its advanced scanners can silently examine downloads, installations, email messages, websites, or attachments.
If antivirus tools find suspicious behavior, they can remove all traces of its origin. Most antivirus software relies on malicious signatures and databases containing irregular code examples, attributes, and patterns.
Antivirus programs have been around for decades, with time gradually reshaping their purposes and capabilities. However, their increasing importance spawned endless scams and threats, exploiting users seeking help and digital protections.
Additionally, even well-known players in the antivirus software industry have encountered backlash and alarming scandals. So, where do antivirus applications stand regarding security, reliability, effectiveness, and necessity?
Antivirus software explained
Antivirus software has long been a program named essential for all security-minded users. It is a part of the basic cyber hygiene package, combating infections and alerting of suspicious behavior. In many cases, it directs and supervises users’ actions, limiting the chances of encountering harmful content.
Modern antivirus software is not bound to scanning files and removing malware traces. It can oversee other users’ actions and cover them in a more secure bubble wrap.
- Web browsing monitoring. Antivirus tools could evaluate the safety of websites and prevent visits to potentially dangerous ones.
- Parental controls. Such settings might seem random, but many antivirus tools offer ways to manage children’s internet use.
- Password managers. Antivirus software packages could include tools for storing account credentials and syncing them between devices.
- System optimization. Clearing old or unnecessary processes can also be a part of the antivirus routine.
- Firewalls. Antivirus tools could have features for looking through all incoming and outgoing connections.
- Remote access protection. Some online security programs let clients control IP addresses permitted to connect to devices remotely.
- Phishing email blocking. Antivirus software could include AI-based scanners for stopping spam messages.
Such capabilities transform antivirus software into all-inclusive cybersecurity solutions. For instance, one program can deal with everything instead of having separate tools for each task.
However, solely relying on a single application only increases the stakes of choosing a secure and trusted product.
Remember that antivirus software requires high access privileges to perform everything it promises. For example, it needs to oversee all your activities to monitor online browsing. Considering the dubious digital privacy atmosphere, checking that such access is respectful is crucial.
Wait, is it antimalware or antivirus software?
Modern antivirus tools can also serve as antimalware software, which has fused these terms into one.
- Technically, every virus is some type of malware, but not every piece of malware is a virus.
- The original distinction named antivirus software as the one responsible for finding and removing computer viruses. Antimalware tools were doing the same, but with different targets: spyware, Trojans, worms, and rootkits.
- Viruses also have distinctive attributes, like self-replicating abilities and distribution methods. However, some malware infections can also showcase the same characteristics.
- Despite the confusion, many antivirus software products also function as antimalware tools.
Not all antivirus software plays fair
The golden rule is to research potential antivirus software providers. In fact, the same routine should follow for each application you plan to install. But a program monitoring browsing, downloads, and email requires a high level of discreteness and transparency.
Kaspersky’s roots in Russia
Controversial antivirus software is no stranger to cybersecurity experts. For instance, Kaspersky has been praised for its advanced protection. However, its association with Russia had made it a suspect.
On the 25th of March 20, 2022, the Federal Communications Commission named it a national security risk. While accusations lack evidence, the threat is that Kaspersky could end up coerced to aid Russian intelligence services.
Avast selling browsing data
However, other problems with antivirus software emerge from their capabilities and access privileges. A joint investigation from PCMag and Motherboard investigated Avast leaked documents.
According to them, this antivirus software, aiding millions of clients, sold highly sensitive web browsing data. Some buyers of users’ browsing patterns included Google, Microsoft, Home Depot, and Yelp. After this study went public, Avast claimed to have stopped this browsing data collection.
Norton installing crypto miners
Norton was also involved in a scandal when users noticed that the antivirus software included a crypto miner. The first accusations explained that Norton secretly installed the miner with its antivirus tool.
While true, the miner did not work until users’ permissions. Nevertheless, confusion from the user community was understandable, regardless of past announcements made by Norton about the miner.
Technical support scams are all around
Tech support scammers can claim to work for well-known antivirus software companies. Pop-up warnings are painfully recognizable as nearly all internet users have encountered them.
According to our research, 2021 was when financial losses to tech support scams doubled to $350 million. So, while tech support scams have been around for decades, their success rate remains high. Most of such pop-ups also mimic respectable antivirus software providers, making it easier for victims to believe their authenticity.
Scareware and fake antivirus software
Scareware can manipulate users’ emotions into downloading or purchasing unnecessary software. In some cases, it might relate to fake antivirus software that shows bogus results to security scans.
Despite devices being in good condition, fake scanners depict severe issues. Most importantly, they urge users to purchase expensive premium plans. In other cases, it might recommend calling untrustworthy tech support specialists.
These individuals rely strongly on social engineering to sell bogus products or services. During such calls, so-called specialists could even require remote access to your device.
How to choose the right antivirus software for you
Not every antivirus tool will suit your needs and preferences. Here are some things to remember when picking the right one:
- Trusted antivirus software providers. See whether the chosen program has not been involved in deal-breaking scandals.
- Up to date to the latest threats. Antivirus should be able to detect all infections, old and new.
- High usability as soon as you download. The program should have little to no learning curve.
- Quality protection. Your antivirus tool should work as intended and marketed.
- Modern features matching your online lifestyle. Parents might look for antivirus software with integrated parental controls. Other users can prioritize browsing protection, which some products also offer.
- Not only signature-based scanners. Antivirus tools should also have behavior blockers capable of detecting new infections based on their code.
- Not invasive to your privacy and activities. Privacy practices of an antivirus tool should be a priority. Ensure that it does not extensively collect and sell information about your browsing and device usage.
What else can you do to protect your devices?
Antivirus software can do a lot, but it cannot lead and protect you at every step. Of course, its protection can prevent mistakes you might make in threatening situations. However, it is up to you to extend your security further.
For instance, digital privacy is one area that antivirus software barely touches. Therefore, you should be aware of applications that might require too much or sell your data to third parties.
A Virtual Private Network is one application that should join forces with your antivirus tool. It encrypts internet traffic and guarantees that all data travels through secure connections.
So, it can prevent data interception and leaks due to unsafe websites and networks. Furthermore, Atlas VPN takes a step further, improving browsing with features like Data Breach Monitor and Tracker Blocker.
The former can oversee your multiple email addresses and alert you if linked information gets exposed in data breaches. The latter deals with trackers and pop-ups, which can invade your privacy or spread malicious software.