Follow PC Advisor's simple advice to beat even the most cunning cybercriminals.

For years, getting a virus was seen as the ultimate disaster that could befall an innocent PC user. Fall victim to the dastardly doings of an evil hacker and Armageddon was sure to follow.

These days, we take a more measured view of viruses. Security software has become more sophisticated and the average PC user is now a little more savvy about practising safe computing.

The mass adoption of two-way firewalls has helped a great deal, as did the launch of Service Pack 2 for Windows XP – the most prevalent operating system (OS) out there. Vista purports to be more secure still. Limiting potential damage by placing restrictions on what individual users can install and the way they can use their PC has also helped.


Antivirus software: the basics

Even so, a quality antivirus program – be it a paid-for application such as Kaspersky Antivirus or a freebie such as AVG – is an absolute must.

Malware continues to evolve at a rapid rate and it's all security program developers can do to keep up.

Thankfully, antivirus definitions are being constantly updated with an outbreak-to-patch time of less than a day in many cases. Time to exploit can be even quicker.

Few viruses are actually new, however; they're merely variations of others. That's why it's so important to get an up-to-date virus scanner with good heuristics.

Heuristics is the ability of the detection engine to spot patterns of behaviour and file structures characteristic of malware. It's the front line in preventing infection by undiagnosed viruses and offers an early warning to your PC's defences.

Many security firms issue weekly or monthly reports outlining the biggest security threats they've come across. As well as warning home and business users about dodgy files and email messages, these provide a snapshot of the speed at which online threats evolve, and allow security commentators to get an idea of the sorts of exploits that are currently at large.

But these bulletins only tell us about the threats that have already been identified. Security software vendor PC Tools issued a statement recently claiming that such warnings of the biggest current threat based on volume were oversimplified and served little purpose for the average user. And there's some truth in this, since the volume of a particular threat does nothing to describe how malevolent a rogue file is and how much damage it could do to your computer.

Even so, it pays to be aware of current threats, since it won't necessarily be the newest malware that turns out to be your undoing.
The likes of McAfee and Symantec issue such lists to raise public awareness of current threats, but also maintain a database of them on their websites for consumers to check suspect files against – a useful resource if you're unsure whether to trust a download or email.

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  1. Antivirus software: the basics
  2. Scan your emails
  3. Simple steps to keep safe

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