We know, you’ve had it up to here with talk of viruses. At the risk of agitating you further, we’re going to use the current global climate as a metaphor for computer viruses and an argument for why you should keep your antivirus software updated. Except, it’s not even a metaphor because computer viruses and antivirus software for your computer, behave exactly like viruses and vaccines in the human body.
What is a virus?
A virus on its own, can’t do anything. Whether it’s a physical virus just sitting on a door handle or some lines of computer code typed out on a screen, neither one can replicate, move around, or cause any harm. Viruses are made up of a set of instructions, but to follow those instructions they need to make their way into a host, whether that’s a computer or a human cell.
Once a virus finds itself in a computer (or a cell) and gets activated, it springs to “life” and starts following the instructions written inside it. It begins attaching itself to other computer code (or cells) and modifying that code (or cells) to create the perfect environment in which to replicate itself. That’s when everything hits the fan.
How Do Viruses get in?
We all know by now how the current Coronavirus travels around (wash your hands, people! And don’t cough or sneeze on anyone. Although, frankly, those are just good rules to follow all the time.)
Like a human virus, computer viruses also travel around. They can arrive through email and text attachments (94% of malware is delivered by email), files you download from the Internet (1 in 13 web requests lead to malware), and questionable app downloads (apps in the lifestyle (15%) & entertainment (7%) categories are the most commonly seen source of malicious apps).
Once on your computer, a virus will lie dormant until you run the program the virus infected. This means there may be no signs or symptoms of a virus for days to weeks after your computer becomes infected. Once activated, the virus can infect other devices on your network at home or work.
How much can a computer virus cost me?
On average, a virus on your device will cost you $5600 in terms of lost time (figuring out what’s wrong with your device and taking it to be fixed or shopping to replace it), money (to have viruses removed, replace devices, and actual money taken from your accounts if your passwords have been exposed) and, productivity (from the loss of corrupted files and documents which will need to be recreated).
If you run a business, the cost can be much higher. Businesses spend billions of dollars every year dealing with viruses – whether that’s cleaning up after them or trying to prevent them.
How does antivirus software work?
Programmers who study computer viruses, identify common pieces of code that exist in all families of a particular virus. From that, they’re able to create generic pieces of innocuous code which they load into the antivirus software. The software works by scanning your device and searching for any code that looks like the generic code. When the software finds a match, it shuts down the viral code.
(And in case the analogy wasn’t clear: this is exactly what vaccines do. Vaccines are harmless pieces of a virus, paired with antivirus “technology” which your body uses to match and shut down (or at least minimize the effects of) the actual virus.)
Do I really need antivirus software?
The only digital device I use is a single computer that never leaves the house, doesn’t access the internet, doesn’t run any programs, and isn’t connected to any other devices. Basically I use my computer as a giant calculator.
If this is you, you can probably get away with not having antivirus software.
I have a Mac.
While traditionally this statement has given Mac users a pass on having to invest in antivirus software, even Craig Federighi, Apple’s Senior VP of Software Engineering, recently stated that, “Today, we have a level of malware on the Mac that we don’t find acceptable.” Noted.
I don’t really care if my computer gets a virus. None of my files or photos are valuable to me. I’m happy to ditch it all and get a new device if necessary.
In this (unlikely but theoretically possible) case, we’d just like to say: consider others. You may not care about your music and memories, but chances are, other people in your family, workplace, and contact book do. They won’t be too happy when they discover it was your unprotected device that sent them an email with the subject line, “Hey, check out this really cool video I found that I think you’ll love” which they then opened in a moment of distraction (47% of employees cited distraction as the reason for falling for a phishing scam while working from home).
Ok, I’m convinced. What do I do now?
It wouldn’t be a proper tech challenge if we didn’t put some of the responsibility on you. Now’s the time for you to do a little investigation work and figure out what kind of antivirus software you need. PCMag provides an excellent breakdown of the best antivirus software on the market this year, along with the pros and cons of each one, and how much they cost. For the sake of your devices, your friends’ devices, your coworkers’ devices, your bank account, and your peace of mind, we beg you, take this month’s challenge seriously! And when you’re done, get revved up for next month’s challenge!