Anti-virus software has been around for a long time, so many users are familiar with it by
now. Its goal is to spot digital viruses that can infect your computer, and block them. A close
sibling to anti-virus software is anti-malware software.
Think of both of these types of software as like antibodies living in your device, vigilantly
monitoring and combating foreign invaders to keep their environment healthy and running
efficiently.
Techie Term:
Anti-malware is a type of software that lives on your computer or mobile device, and guards
it against unwanted invaders that seek to compromise or exploit it.
Anti-Virus versus Anti-Malware
You might be asking: what’s the difference between a computer virus and malware?
Computer viruses can be considered a subset of malware.
• A virus is a piece of unwanted software that is designed to replicate and spread
to many computers, with the end goal being to corrupt or destroy as much data
on the infected computers as possible. Variations of computer viruses include
trojan horses (which appear to be legitimate programs but are not), and worms
(which spread rapidly across local networks, such as home networks, infecting
multiple devices).
• Malware is a piece of unwanted software that surreptitiously infects a computer
and then does any number of different nefarious tasks, including: corrupting or
destroying data (also known as ‘viruses’), gather data and send it over the
Internet to hackers, force unwanted adverts onto the user (also known as
‘adware’), or hold programs or data hostage until a ransom has been paid to the
malware’s authors (also known as ‘ransomware’).
Modern anti-virus software is actually anti-malware software. But because ‘anti-virus’ is
a more commonly-known and understood term, it is often used interchangeably with, or
preferred to, ‘anti-malware’. For accuracy however, we will refer to such software as
‘anti-malware’ from here on.
Choosing Anti-Malware Software
There are many decent anti-malware suites out there. And it’s a big business, so many of
these suites have nice ‘bells and whistles’ (such as web browser activity monitoring, email
activity monitoring, or claims to periodically search a centralized service that looks for your
information on the Dark Net). But understandably, they come at a price – both monetarily
and on the performance of your computer.
If you’re using the Microsoft Windows operating system (version 7 or above), believe it or
not, you have anti-malware software already! Windows Defender is a free default application
that handles a variety of tasks.
To check if you have Windows Defender installed, or to customize it or check on its settings,
click on your Start button in the bottom left corner, and then type in Windows Defender.
Some search results will appear, and if it’s installed the top option should be a clickable
option called Windows Defender Settings.
If you are using Windows 10 and want to see more details regarding Windows Defender,
click on the Open Windows Defender Security Center button. A new window should appear,
and clicking on the Virus & threat protection and the Firewall & network protection headings
on the side will show you a summary of your anti-malware and firewall health.
If you want to feel even more comfortable, you can install one of several free anti-malware
programs. These can work in conjunction with Windows Defender.
• One good option is Malware Bytes – https://www.malwarebytes.com/
• Another good alternative is Spybot Search & Destroy – https://www.safernetworking.org/
Anti-malware isn’t just important for desktop computers – it’s also vital for your mobile
devices like smartphones and tablets. So make sure you have it installed on those devices
too! For mobile users, both Android and iOS have some excellent inexpensive or free antimalware software.
• For Android, Lookout and Avast Mobile Security are good choices;
• For iOS, MobiShield and Lookout are both good choices.
Firewalls
A firewall is a security barrier that runs in the background on your computer, and monitors
the traffic coming from and going out to the Internet. Firewalls can run on personal
computers or on actual hardware that connects your computer to the Internet. And many
modern routers come with some form of built-in firewall.
Techie Term:
Firewalls are types of software that act as a barrier, protecting your computers and home
network against unwanted invaders.
Again, Windows Defender handles this by default. If you are running a lot of esoteric and
processor intensive programs, you might have to customize the Windows Defender ‘firewall’
settings. But most consumers never need to worry about this. And usually Windows
Defender alerts you if there’s something being blocked by its firewall.
Remember: if in doubt, lock it out! If your firewall software alerts you that another
program is asking for access to something on your computer, or trying to run on your
computer; and you don’t recognize it; play it safe and don’t grant that program access.
Section Review
Action Items:
• If using Windows, make sure Windows Defender is enabled on your computer;
• Optionally use a highly-rated free anti-malware program;
• Install anti-malware software on your mobile devices;
• Pay attention to alerts from your anti-malware or firewall software.
Personal Computer Maintenance
An aspect of online safety that is often ignored – especially when it comes to online security
– is regular maintenance of your personal computer. Like a garden, personal computers
require tending and upkeep. Otherwise they become messy, unsafe, and a haven for
unwanted elements.
Below is some useful information about computers, and some tips on how to keep your
personal computer in good repair. Incidentally, these same tips also apply to other ‘smart’
electronic devices like mobile phones, tablets, and laptop computers.
How a Computer Works
The term computer often refers to the physical machine and additional devices (mouse,
keyboard, monitor, etc.) that you interact with. These devices are also known collectively as
‘hardware’. However, there are also many layers of critical computer software that are
needed for the computer to work.
The cornerstone software for any computer is the ‘operating system’ (sometimes referred to
just as the ‘OS’). Every personal computer uses an operating system to allow users to
interact with it. Without an operating system the computer would just be a useless box that
purrs away on your desk. Microsoft Windows is an example of an operating system. Android
and iOS are also examples of operating systems.
Techie Term:
An operating system is the software that allows you to interact with the computer or device,
and acts as a kind of gate keeper for other software that performs specific tasks on the
computer.
In addition to providing an easy way to access the computer, the operating system hosts
other programs (web browsers, word processors, spreadsheet applications, games, etc.). So
the operating system does a lot, and plays a critical role in making your computer useful and
accessible.
Operating System Patches
Companies that make and distribute operating systems are constantly sending out ‘patches’
to their products. A patch is a free software update that fixes vulnerabilities and bugs that are
found after the operating system is first distributed to users. They also sometimes add new
features to the operating system.
Techie Term:
Patches are small updates to software that fix problems or address security concerns that
weren’t known when the software was released to the public.
You’ve probably noticed pop-up messages on your personal computer notifying you that an
update is available. It can be tempting to postpone applying that patch, because it can
interfere with your daily use of your computer. But it’s very important that you do apply these
updates in a timely fashion. Especially if you are using an older operating system.
Evergreen Software
The latest version of Windows (Windows 10) and many other rival operating systems are
considered ‘evergreen’ software. In other words, it actively checks for and install new
versions by itself, so you don’t have to worry about that. And in theory it should never grow
too old to become obsolete (as, for example, earlier versions of Windows would do). Many
modern operating systems, including Windows 10, are quite aggressive in applying patches
to itself. So for example, if Microsoft consider the patch to be critical, or if you drag your
heels on applying it for too long, Windows will take matters into its own hands and apply the
patch for you.
The same practice applies to a lot of newer application software too. For example, most
newer web browsers like Firefox and Chrome are considered evergreen software, and will
apply new updates by default. This is a good thing, because it removes the onus on you to
manually update your software.
Updating Older Operating Systems
If you are using an older version of Windows (Windows 8, Vista, or earlier), it’s even more
important that you stay on top of operating system updates. Ideally (if money permits it),
upgrade to a brand new computer that comes with an evergreen operating system.
Or if you’re feeling confident or want to learn something new, another path is to switch over
to an open source operating system, like Linux. For a more detailed definition of what ‘open
source’ means, see the Other Terminology section at the end of this book.
Section Review
Action Items:
• Install operating system updates and patches promptly;
• Seriously consider upgrading to an ‘evergreen’ operating system