While the flu season might be almost over, your computers and mobile devices are vulnerable to infection year-round.
Viruses and other malicious software (a.k.a. malware) can wreak havoc on your devices and compromise sensitive client data. Antivirus software can help protect you, but which package works best?
Antivirus software exists for all major platforms: Microsoft Corp.’s Windows, Apple Inc.’s Mac computers and Alphabet Inc.’s mobile Android platform. There are, however, nuances.
Macs don’t come with built-in antivirus protection. For years, they relied on what security experts call “security through obscurity.” There were – and still are – far fewer Macs than PCs in the world, and virus writers didn’t bother targeting Macs. That has changed in recent years, though, as Apple devices have gained in popularity. Viruses increasingly are appearing on Macs and, while the risk of infection may be lower, Mac users should consider protection.
Windows users from Version 8.1 onward have built-in protection whether they like it or not, in the form of Windows Defender. This product has evolved to the point at which reviews deem it adequate despite it being a step behind some third-party competitors. Defender protects against most malware in real-world tests by AV-Comparatives, an independent testing lab.
But Defender has a downside. The tests also show Defender blocks far more legitimate pieces of software by mistake – what’s known as “false positives” – than its competitors. Erring on the side of caution may keep you safe, but also can be annoying when you just want to get on with your work.
Defender also has been through some troubles. In April 2018, Microsoft patched a flaw in the software that would have enabled an attack to take over the entire computer simply by sending a specially crafted file for Defender to scan for viruses.
Windows does not allow you to remove Windows Defender, but you can install and use third-party software. Some of the best performers in AV-Comparatives’ tests include Avast, from Avast Software SRO (avast.com); AVG, from AVG Technologies NV (avg.com); Bitdefender, from Bitdefender LLC (bitdefender.com); and VIPRE from VIPRE Security (vipre.com). These antivirus systems blocked all 197 samples of malware AV-Comparatives used in the tests, while showing no false positives.
On the Mac side, rival independent testing lab AV-TEST put several antivirus systems through their paces and found Bitdefender, McAfee (from McAfee LLC [mcafee.com]) and SentinelOne (from Sentinel Labs Inc. [sentinelone.com]) all excelled. So, what features set these antivirus products apart?
Protection isn’t the only thing to consider when choosing an antivirus product. Another is performance. Software that protects your system but grinds it to a halt during scans won’t be useful. In AV-Comparatives’ June 2018 performance scores, the software with the lowest impact on system performance were ESET (from ESET LLC [eset.com]), Avast, Bitdefender and the eponymous Kaspersky Lab (kaspersky.ca), in that order.
The other factor is usability. As a busy financial advisor, you just want antivirus software that will get on with the job. Every once in a while, though, you may need to configure or trigger a feature, such as a systemwide scan, or investigate a suspicious file flagged by your antivirus software. A software tool that enables you to do that without requiring a computer science degree is important. Bitdefender is one option that walks you through basic security checks.
Most antivirus software, including Avast, AVG and Bitdefender, have both free and premium versions. Many paid versions involve both a one-off payment and a yearly subscription. Why would you pay, especially when the free versions often include the product’s core functions?
More features. In Avast’s case, the money gets you a “sandbox” that shields parts of the operating system from suspicious apps for extra protection. You also get an anti-spam feature and a firewall, the latter of which monitors the Internet traffic passing into and from your computer. (However, Windows Defender already provides its own firewall.) Avast’s premium version also automatically “shreds” your sensitive files by erasing them securely when you delete them. This ensures no one can use forensic software to recover those files if your device is stolen.
When looking for extra features, anti-ransomware should be near the top of your list. Ransomware, which locks important files until the victim pays a fee in cryptocurrency, has swept North America. Some software options monitor your files for efforts by an external entity to change them. Windows Defender’s antivirus program offers ransomware protection as well, illustrating how quickly Microsoft is closing the window on alternative products with its free, built-in alternative.
Another feature offered in third-party antivirus applications may include a password manager, which stores your passwords in a safe list and automatically fills them in when visiting certain websites. Other antivirus software can update your version automatically for you, which helps you avoid security risks, and can monitor your webcam to stop unauthorized software from turning it on.
A particularly useful feature offered by several programs is a virtual private network (VPN). This creates an encrypted tunnel from your device to one operated by the antivirus vendor. The vendor’s computer acts as an intermediary, passing on your communications with destination websites. This stops anyone from snooping on traffic travelling to and from your device in insecure public spaces, such as on a coffee shop’s Wi-Fi network, for example.
Protection, performance, usability and features are important considerations when choosing antivirus software, but don’t forget the other critical component: coverage. Most vendors today support multiple machines for an office environment. For example, Bitdefender sells an office pack for up to five devices in a small office, covering Windows, Android and Mac, and lets you manage antivirus protection for those devices from a central dashboard.
Battery of tests
Bitdefender also offers protection to devices using the iOS platform in its product suite. But Apple’s protection against malware is second to none, thanks to its App Store’s extensive vetting process.
Apple forces apps through an extensive battery of tests before allowing any apps into its mobile App Store, automatically vetting their code for dangerous activity that could harm your device. This process means getting malware into the store and onto your phone is difficult for cybercriminals because Mac and iOS device users can only officially install apps from the App Store. Apple also imposes far stricter controls on what apps can do when running on its iOS platform, preventing them from interacting with each other without Apple’s permission.
This makes antivirus software far less useful on mobile Apple devices. Instead, security software for iPhones and iPads concentrate on privacy, helping you browse the web anonymously so that websites, social media sites and online advertisers can’t spy on where you’re going.
Armed with these pointers, you should be able to make informed decisions about which product to choose based on your platform and browsing habits. If you still haven’t installed antivirus software, there’s no time like the present.