The other week I was at my brother-in-law’s house, looking at a problem with his computer. A fascinating thing about being an IT guy; it seems that I have a neon sign over my head that says “free support available to friends and family”. I suppose it’s the same for plumbers and doctors. Actually, my friend the neuro-surgeon probably doesn’t have to provide that much free service.
Anyway, back to the brother-in-law. The issue was with his CD drive, but as a matter of course I ran a quick check on the “health” of his computer.
Unsurprisingly, the antivirus software had expired about six weeks before and he hadn’t got around to updating it. “It’s not a problem, though — only six weeks?” he said.
Interesting question: how out-of-date is a problem?
Antivirus software stores patterns of all the viruses it recognises. Every day new viruses are “found in the wild” and their pattern and method of treatment is added to the file. Depending on your settings, you get the new pattern file every hour, day, week or whatever your preference setting says.
So what happens if you haven’t updated your virus pattern file for six weeks? I would say that you are massively more likely to catch a virus.
The logic works like this. Most people have antivirus software, some completely up-to-date, some not. Therefore old viruses are unlikely to travel very far because almost everyone’s antivirus software will stop them.
However, newer viruses have a better chance of avoiding detection and traveling further. Therefore a virus that appeared yesterday is much more likely to hit you than a virus that appeared a year ago.
So in many ways, your antivirus software benefits everyone on the internet, not just yourself. A kind of techo version of “think global, act local”.
But there is no excuse for not having up-to-date virus control software at home. I use the AntiVir PersonalEdition Classic software, which is available free to home users at www.free-av.com.
It works beautifully for Windows and Linux users (not Mac). The reason its writers give it away free is it gives them a foot in the door.
If you like it you may consider buying their upgraded version with a smart firewall, anti-spyware and other bits and pieces. They also have a corporate version that allows you to manage the “up-to-dateness” of everyone from a central location. I have been using Antivir for three years, never had to pay a cent and get an updated pattern file everyday. A virus has never caught me.
The brother-in-law downloaded AntiVir. Oh, the CD drive was buggered but a new one was only $50, and my installation service was like my antivirus software: free.