A guide to antivirus and malware

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28 Aug 2023

A guide to antivirus and malware

While we're beavering away at work, there's a minute-by-minute battle for data supremacy behind the scenes. Over 500,000 new pieces of malware are detected every day, while four companies fall victim to ransomware every minute. But if malware is the villain of the piece, antivirus software could be our digital hero.

What is malware?

Malware, short for malicious software, is greedily eyeing your business. From viruses that replicate and spread, to sneaky spyware that secretly monitors your activities, and even ransomware that holds your data hostage, malware comes in various disguises.

If it finds its way into your systems, it can wreak havoc. Imagine data breaches, financial loss, system crashes, and damage to your reputation. So it's crucial to understand malware's devious nature and take proactive steps to protect yourself.

What types of malware are there?

While the ever-changing nature of malware makes it impossible to stay entirely up-to-date, some common types include:

  • Viruses which replicate themselves and spread from one device to another. They can corrupt or delete files, disrupt operations, and bring your entire system crashing down.

  • Worms are like viruses, but can spread without interaction. They quickly infect multiple devices, causing network congestion, data loss, and system instability.

  • Trojans disguise themselves as legitimate software or files, fooling you into granting them access. Once inside, they open the door for cybercriminals to wreak havoc.

  • Ransomware locks your files away until you pay a ransom, often in cryptocurrency. It can paralyse your business, cost you money, disrupt operations, and expose your valuable data.

  • Spyware secretly monitors your keystrokes, tracks your browsing habits, and steals sensitive data, leaving you vulnerable to identity theft, privacy breaches, and unauthorised access to confidential business information.

  • Adware may be less devastating, but it's still a nuisance. It bombards you with unwanted and intrusive ads, often bundled with legitimate software. Adware can slow down your systems, compromise privacy, and redirect web traffic.

What is antivirus software?

Coming to save the day, though, is antivirus software – also known as anti-malware software. Armed with smart algorithms and virus signature databases, its real-time protection sniffs out the first signs of malware, actively preventing infections to create a safer digital space.

Antivirus software continually performs several important jobs. It scans systems, files, websites, programmes - and incoming files like downloads and emails – to spot known malware signatures or patterns, and compares them against its extensive database of known threats.

When it detects a threat, it quarantines or removes the malicious files. It may even repair or remove any infected files to prevent more damage. You can also schedule system scans whenever you want or set up regular intervals for automatic scans. And to make sure you're always on top of the latest threats, most software regularly checks its manufacturer for updates.

Which antivirus is best for malware?

Finding the right antivirus software may sound like trying to stop a flood with a single sandbag, but most are very effective in preventing multiple attacks. In the digital arms race, antivirus experts are matching their malware counterparts toe-to-toe, regularly providing patches and updates to keep gatecrashers locked out.

What to be mindful of when it comes to antivirus software

It's important to not rely solely on antivirus software, but to be mindful of other cybersecurity principles for digital safety.

We've seen news stories of state-sponsored or activist groups using custom-built malware to bypass security. And even though most businesses, especially SMEs, are an unlikely target for such a sophisticated hack, malware evolves fast.

'Zero-day' threats are new malware that strike before antivirus protection has caught up, while some malware is polymorphic – constantly changing its code or behaviour to evade detection.

Antivirus also isn't foolproof. Now and again, it can wrongly identify a legitimate file as a threat, causing disruption and delays. And while some antivirus is free, stronger protection often comes with a price tag.

But despite the odd downside, compared to the potential costs and reputational damage of an unprotected business, it’s money well spent.

How else can I protect my business against malware attacks?

There’s a lot you can do manually to support your antivirus software:

  • Check for regular updates. While some software automatically checks for updates, a regular, manual search will make doubly sure you're up to speed with protection.

  • Always use a firewall, intrusion detection systems or security information and event management (SIEM) software as an extra line of defence to monitor and control network traffic.

  • Carry out regular cybersecurity training, so your people recognise suspicious email attachments, malicious links, and untrusted websites, and know what to do if they spot or accidentally click on them.

  • Back up your data. Make it a habit to back up your data regularly. Even if your business doesn't have automatic backups in place, manual backups, stored in a secure location, can restore your data following an attack.

  • Apply strong access controls. Think about unique user accounts, password policies, and restricted access to sensitive files.

  • Do the basics – use a secure, virtual private network (VPN), put two-step authentication in place, encrypt sensitive info and always carry out regular security audits.

For more cybersecurity content, visit our knowledge centre. For more support on malware or antivirus software, speak to one of our V-Hub Digital Advisers and discover the best options for your business.

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