Do You Need an Antivirus Program

Some computer experts—computer security experts, even—proudly point out that they don't use antivirus software. Why not? Some question its efficacy, particularly at blocking zero-day exploits for which virus definitions have not been created. (A zero-day exploit is one that exploits a security vulnerability on the same day that the vulnerability becomes widely known among security researchers .) Others point to the fact that, like every additional running program, an antivirus program adds another level of complexity and another potential attack surface for malicious software. Indeed, at one time or another, virtually every major antivirus program has been found to have some vulnerability to remote exploits. Finally, what puts some folks over the edge is the performance hit imposed by antivirus programs that constantly work in the background to examine each file as it's read from disk; the slowdown is usually small, but measurable.

How is it possible to maintain a virus-free computer without the assistance of an antivirus program? Remember that antivirus protection is just one of many security layers in a well-protected computer network . To have any hope of surviving unscathed without that layer, several other forms of protection must be in place. The network's internet gateway should provide filtering that prevents viruses from entering through a web browser or instant messenger connection; this capability is typically available only in commercial-grade firewall appliances or in a separate gateway computer that's configured for this purpose

The e-mail server should also have virus-blocking capability. (Many ISPs and web-based mail services block all mail that contains a known virus .) In theory, those network-level layers should prevent any malware from reaching your computer, but the computer itself must be properly secured in other ways: all patches up to date, firewall enabled, User Account Control enabled, and a standard account set up for each user. The most important protective layer—and the one that is most easily overlooked—is user education and self control . Everyone who uses the computer must have the discipline to read and evaluate security warnings when they're presented and to allow the installation only of software that is known to be safe. (Although a user with a standard account is incapable of installing or running a program that wipes out the entire computer, he can still inflict enough damage on his own corner of the computer to cause considerable inconvenience.) Countless successful virus attacks worldwide have proven that most users do not have adequate awareness of safe computing methods . Indeed, our standard advice for most users is don't even think of connecting to the internet without antivirus software! Only people who really know what they're doing, and who remain vigilant, should consider joining those anti-antivirus experts.

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