Usually, many people dare to say that anti-virus was the pinnacle of computer security. But based on recent events and the cyber landscape of today, we are living in a generation susceptible to many cyber crimes and campaigns. What role does anti-virus and anti-malware software play in keeping your machine safe? Across the board, experts still recommends using software that protects your personal computer from attack. But modern anti-virus software is not the last word in defending your computer; rather, it’s part of a multi-faceted approach involving some common-sense steps to keep your machine and personal information safe.

No connected machine is totally immune.

People work best when they talk to each other. So do information systems and modern infrastructures. Today, companies, organizations and governments are hyper connected: They rely on, and thrive on, a web of information that has been made mobile and flexible by the power of the Internet. We depend on the mobility of the data almost as much as on the information itself, together with the ability to share it across geographies and time zones. 

Computer networks have evolved with those needs, becoming more complex and porous. There are multiple ways in and out of networks, enabling users to connect remotely from anywhere in the world and share information quickly with thousands of people at a time. All of this is critical to an efficient business environment. The security that defends those networks, however, has not evolved at the same speed. A new approach is required; one that has adapted to the interconnected world — where security cannot be guaranteed. The landscape is constantly shifting, and threats must be dealt with as they occur. 

Run a modern system, and keep it updated

Easy advice: individuals should use anti-malware software. While that may not be the most riveting advice, it should also be emphasized to keep other software, especially operating systems, up-to-date to help fight against malicious code.

Take the WannaCry malware attack, also known as WannaCrypt, which struck machines running Windows in May. Microsoft had already provided a software update about two months before, in March, that protected customers running operating systems like Windows 7 or Windows Vista from WannaCry. Machines that hadn’t been updated or that were running older versions like Windows XP were left vulnerable. And Microsoft says that users who were running Windows 10, the most current version of the operating system, weren’t affected by that attack.

Make yourself a smaller target

Tomer Weingarten, CEO and cofounder of security company SentinelOne, is lukewarm on the benefits of consumer anti-virus or anti-malware protection software. He recommends it as a better-than-nothing approach.

“Right now, attackers have evolved much beyond the current protections that all of us can install,” he says. “Even if we keep up-to-date with all the signatures, and whatever mechanisms that they offer us, it still becomes very problematic for them to deal with unknown attacks.”

As for the idea that the Macs and macOS is inherently more resistant to attacks, Weingarten is skeptical. “It’s really more about the fact that attackers are targeting the biggest bang for buck, and right now it’s the Windows system,” he says. In short, Windows offers “more targets,” according to Weingarten.

And while he emphasizes how crucial it is to keep your operating system updated, he also has another simple solution for people who may not be the most security proficient, and just want to do tasks like send emails: Use an iPad and a keyboard.

That’s because iOS, which powers iPhone and iPads, is “the one operating system that we can say is inherently more secure,” Weingarten says. The closed-down environment of iOS makes it impossible for someone to run foreign code on that device, unless, of course, it is through the highly-regulated official App Store. The only other way to run foreign software on the device would be if an attacker has a pricey and rare “zero day” exploit that could do so, meaning that a malevolent party has had found a way to exploit a vulnerability that has not yet been patched.

However, relying on an iPad or iPhone still doesn’t protect someone from clicking on a malicious link that then takes them to a dummy site, prompting them to enter personal information. In other words, vigilance and common sense are still key.

Think about your email provider

good security has layers, a point that Shalabh Mohan, vice president for products and marketing at Area 1 security, emphasises. Area 1 sells protection to companies against phishing attacks; phishing attempts happen when you get an email with a malicious link in it, or are asked to enter your username and password on a website that impersonates your bank’s, for example.

Mohan says that software that protects your personal computer (or endpoint, in the industry jargon) is just part of a “layered approach.” The first step, Mohan argues, is recognizing that phishing attacks are the most common way that attackers get into your system.

The next step is easy: being smart about what email service you use. Mohan points to both Google and Microsoft as good choices, because they help prevent phishing in their email services.

Biztek Solutions provides full on integration to Office 365. Not only utilizing the safety measures of Outlook but maximizing streamline processes to help business flow.

In short, perhaps the smartest approach to protecting your machine in the current climate is to install anti-malware software, but also to take other steps, too, like using a solid email provider like Outlook, keeping your operating system up-to-date, and being vigilant and using common sense against phishing attacks.

Finally, back up your data, so in a worse-case scenario in which a computer is infected by something like ransomware, a savvy user could wipe their computer, install the operating system from scratch, and then restore it from the backed-up version. That’s no fun, but it’s better than losing everything.

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