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Until recently, most of us placed a surreal amount of faith into our antivirus programs. But a months-long hacking attack on the office and work computers of the New York Times revealed a stunning result: the company employed an antivirus software… but that software utterly missed all but one component of the malware the Chinese hackers installed. For anyone who thought they were well protected, it’s a difficult taste of reality.
Unfortunately, hackers can change tactics faster than most antivirus software can catch up. And gone are the days of large, widely blasted viruses and attacks. These days, hackers work more on targeting high value clients. But just because they’re seeking better targets doesn’t mean that you might not be affected.
According to releases made by the New York Times, they had the antivirus program Symantec installed on their computers. And Symantec is a big brand which ranks up there with McAfee in terms of consumer recognition. And while officials within Symantec were quick to confirm that they offer more robust and advanced security programs than the one that the New York Times happened to use, it should make anyone question the value of going with the most established brands for their security.
Startlingly, the officials at Symantec themselves released the very statement which confirmed that antivirus software is dead. According to their written press release, “We encourage customers to be very aggressive in deploying solutions that offer a combined approach to security. Anti-virus software alone is not enough.”
So, no one solution can take care of all potential threats to your computer. The sophistication of hackers and malware writers is above even the most seemingly-solid cybersecurity program. But what combined solutions can offer real security?
According to PCMag’s detailed and tested ranking, the top 20 options are rounded out by aggressive smaller companies like ZoneAlarm, Malwarebytes, and Avast. Having either more than one program, or programs which specialize in specific areas all operating simultaneously, can offer immense benefits. But just installing the program isn’t enough: it needs to be run regularly, and updated often.
Another big tip? Employ security solutions which update often automatically, but that also keep a close enough eye on your system to raise the alarm when anything suspicious happens. That way, if you absolutely cannot prevent malicious activity, at least you’ve set up enough tripwires to minimize the damage.
Even the New York Times story has a good ending: while their antivirus software wasn’t enough on its own, they had made arrangements with their internet service provider to secure another layer of protection. Luckily, their provider (AT&T) picked up on the hacking attempts, and managed to secure enough data on the hackers so that the New York Times could track the hackers and the damage they did.
So, antivirus software might be dead… on its own. But coupled with additional alternatives, it’s still important to enable. Often, the first step to being truly secure is to know when you aren’t.
And it’s important to remember that the casual computer user isn’t going to be under the same threat as a company. Some might liken Antivirus to the seatbelt in a car: a necessary component of driving safety, but not the end-all be-all. There’s still antilock brakes, side-impact bars, and airbags to think about!
And of course, some solutions are better than others, and when you’re shopping for security programs to install, it’s important to disregard name brand and just look at the facts, at testing, at how frequently the program is updated, and the strength of the team behind it. And don’t just stop at securing your computer; but take steps to secure your network and cloud as well!
And of course, just in the event of the worst-case scenario, never forget to secure your own data by making regular backups. Consider it a little like home insurance for all the things you keep on your computer: the tedium will all feel worth it if you have to wipe your computer and start back at square one.