What & why – antivirus & antimalware

Protecting your computer from the nasties that are out there can be a confusing matter, especially when those nasties can come from all sides: links, downloaded files, popups and adverts – they’re happy to infect your machine and get you attached to a botnet or start spamming everyone in your contact list. So lets start with the basics – what’s the difference between antiviruses and antimalware? Surely “malware” refers to software which is malicious which would include viruses…

What’s the difference?

Antivirus software is generally designed to run in the background on your computer at all times, working as a general catch all safety net. Many will run a constant system scan which slowly checks through each and every file on your machine in a constant cycle (as well as running a check on any new files or devices, and sometimes even connections over the internet) to make sure that everything is OK. What distinguishes antivirus from antimalware is what is targeted – malicious software that has been around for a while, particularly anything that has made it into the news in some form, will be on an antivirus provider’s watch list; so this covers your trojans, worms, keyloggers etc.

Antimalware on the other hand is mainly targeted at “day 0” exploits – malicious software that will take advantage of a system vulnerability almost immediately after that vulnerability is found, before there has been enough time to release a patch or fix. So great, antimalware gets there first and stops the nasties; but these services will not keep the fixes around for problems that have existed for months or even years because by that time antivirus providers should have it covered.

What do I do about it?

So what’s the best way to keep you system secure? Most would agree that the best solution is to have a single antivirus software running at all times (multiple antivirus programs running together can conflict with each other and seriously affect the speed of your computer), and run an on-demand malware scan every week or month as routine maintenance, or whenever your computer seems to be acting sluggish or different. As to which software you should be using, it may sound like a cop-out answer but it’s best to do your research at the time you need an antivirus program. There are many paid and free options out there, generally the free software is for personal home use only but it is definitely worth noting that when it comes to software free does not always mean bad – and the paid solutions are certainly not always better.

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