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Antivirus software detects and responds to various types of malicious software, including viruses, worms and other programs designed to damage or disrupt a computer.
The rise in online identity fraud from 8.3% in 2006 to 16% in early 2007 may indicate that consumers are not sufficiently securing their computers with antivirus and anti-spyware software. (“2007 Identity Fraud Survey Report,” Javelin Strategy & Research, February 2007)
Malware (malicious software) is a general term used to describe any program designed to cause harm. Some common types of malware include viruses, worms and trojans.
- Virus: a malicious program that attaches itself to and “infects” other software applications and files, disrupting computer operations. Viruses often carry a “payload,” which is an executable script designed to damage, delete or steal information from a computer. A virus is a self-replicating program, meaning it copies itself. Typically, a virus infects a computer and begins replicating when you execute the program or open an infected file. Viruses spread from computer to computer when you unknowingly share infected files. For example, viruses can spread when you send emails with infected documents attached.
- Worm: a worm is similar to a virus but with an additional dangerous element. Like a virus, a worm can make copies of itself, but it does not require a person to send it along to other computers. A worm spreads rapidly across a network without having to attach itself to another program. Since worms can quickly pervade a network, they can bring not just one computer down, but thousands, potentially shutting down an entire network.
- Trojan: malicious program disguised or hidden within another program that appears to be safe (much like the myth of the Trojan horse). When a trojan is executed, it allows attackers to gain unauthorized access to the computer in order to steal information and cause harm. Trojans commonly spread through email attachments and Internet downloads.
About antivirus software
Antivirus software typically works in two ways:
- It removes known malware. Antivirus software examines your computer looking for known viruses using a library of definitions and cures to remove threats. Antivirus software automatically updates its library to stay current as new threats and protections emerge.
- It prevents new malware infections. Antivirus software looks for suspicious computer processing behavior to prevent threats that are either new variants of existing threats or brand new threats altogether. Antivirus software prevents suspicious code from executing and blocks access to infected files
How do I know if I have antivirus software?
Check the list of programs on your computer to verify if antivirus software is already installed. (Not sure what the software would be called? See the list below for some major vendors.)
Where do I get antivirus software protection?
Antivirus software can be purchased online from antivirus vendors or from retailers such as Amazon.com, or offline at any electronics store. Some popular antivirus software vendors include:
- McAfee, www.mcafee.com
- Prevx, www.prevx.com
- Symantec, www.symantec.com
- Trend Micro, www.trendmicro.com
How long does antivirus software last?
Most vendors sell a license that requires annual renewal in order to continue receiving updates that protect against the latest threats. The annual renewal fee is often less than the initial purchase of the antivirus software.
How do I update my antivirus software?
Antivirus software automatically updates itself with the latest threat and cure definitions and often repairs damaged content automatically if it encounters malware.
How to protect your computer
- Install antivirus software on your computer.
- Keep your antivirus software license current.
- Open email and attachments only from senders whom you know.
- If you receive an attachment from someone you do not know, or you are not expecting an attachment, delete the file without opening it.