When to Use Anti-Virus Software

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Updated October 9, 2023
Now Available
Security for Everyone

Years ago, everyone manually installed anti-virus software (which is more accurately called anti-malware software) to detect, mitigate, and prevent malware on your computer. Now, operating systems have become advanced and contain most of the protective features we need without having to download other third-party software. This is a good thing, because half the battle of downloading something is trying to understand if it is safe.

confusion For mobile phones, you will see anti-virus software in the app stores, but you don’t need it. You should only be downloading your apps from the pre-built-in app stores like Google Play Store and Apple App Store. There are multiple checks that happen before an app can be hosted in an app store, and while it is not perfect, it covers most of your needs. (If you know what an APK file is, you should only be downloading these from the internet if you actually know what you are getting into, and if it is to a device that is essentially a throw away.)

As far as computers, people who create malware tend to make it mostly for Windows. Windows comes with built-in anti-malware features that are turned on by default using Microsoft Defender. Now is a great time to check that this is still enabled for you, along with all the other security recommendations it provides, such as signature updates and an enabled firewall.

confusion Malware for macOS used to be very rare because there wasn’t a large market share of users using Apple operating systems. This is no longer the case, and while Windows has quite a large lead on malware, macOS is far from being invulnerable. Similar to Windows though, macOS also has anti-malware protection built-in by default in the form of a firewall and their Gatekeeper feature, which checks software and files before they are run to make sure it is made by a known developer and doesn’t contain any nastiness. This is all you need, and you don’t have to go out and buy something extra. Do a quick check of your settings under “Security & Privacy” to make sure these are both still enabled.

If you are running Linux, you are kind of in the camp of macOS circa 2000. Malware writers rarely write malicious software for Linux-based operating systems, and they come pre-built with some strong security features and designs already. None of this means that you can go all willy-nilly, downloading everything off the internet. You still have to do your bit to read what you are downloading. Regardless of the type of device you have, it is good to remember not to download pirated files or software onto the same device you also use for business because of the risk these files can carry.

Large tech companies have started to recognize that they are in the best position to do something about the rising problem of security incidents affecting their customers. By providing security features as part of their standard offerings or subscriptions, they can make it easier for their customers to protect their accounts and devices. In October 2021, Apple updated their iCloud subscription offering to include some neat new security features. Customers who are already paying the few bucks a month for extra storage space are also able to opt in to two new features: a private relay when browsing in Safari (which acts like a lightweight VPN), and Hide My Email (which, as it says on the tin, hides your email when you register for a new account to protect your main account from spam and phishing). Both of these features are not new, groundbreaking techniques; however, they do make these techniques accessible to the everyday user. I think we can expect new security features like these to be the norm in the future, and I am all for it.

Protect Yourself with VPNs While Traveling

If you travel often, and have to rely on free internet in cafes, libraries, or hotels, investing in a VPN service is worth it. A VPN has two purposes. Many of us know it for its benefit of showing our traffic as originating from somewhere else, so you can bypass geo- or region-based filters on the internet. However, the main benefit is the secure tunnel it forms between your laptop and the VPN server.

A free, public wifi network can leak information to others on that network. When you connect to a VPN server, it will send all your traffic through a secure connection that only your device and the VPN server can see.

important Use a paid VPN service. Free VPN services are often murky on the details of how their services operate, and may put you at risk. It is possible to run your own VPN server, but that requires many technical hoops and I don’t recommend it unless you truly know what you’re doing. Instead, just pay for a service that seems trustworthy.

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