Friday, July 25, 2008

The Perils of Auto Protect Softwares

Antivirus software is a double-edged sword. Sure, viruses can be a genuine threat, and for many of us, antivirus software is an essential safeguard. But antivirus software can also be a real pain in the neck.

The most basic, innocuous function of an antivirus program is to scan files on demand. When you start a virus scanner and tell it to scan a file or a disk full of files, you’re performing a useful task. The problem is that most of us don’t remember or want to take the time to routinely perform scans, so we rely on the so-called “auto-protect” feature, where the virus scanner runs all the time.

This can cause several problems:

Auto Protect Software affects your PC's Performance

Loading the auto-protect software at Windows startup can increase boot time; also, because each and every application (and document) you open must first be scanned, load times can increase. Plus, a virus scanner that’s always running consumes memory and processor cycles, even though you’re not likely to spend most of your time downloading new, and potentially hazardous, files for it to scan.

Browser and email monitoring

Some antivirus auto-protect features include web browser and email plug-ins, which scan all files downloaded and received as attachments, respectively. In addition to the performance hit, these plug-ins sometimes don’t work properly, inadvertently causing all sorts of problems with the applications you use to open these files.

Annoying and obtrusive messages

The constant barrage of virus warning messages can be annoying, to say the least. For instance, if your antivirus software automatically scans your incoming email, you may be forced to click through a dozen or so messages warning you of virus-laden attachments, even though your spam filter will likely delete them before you ever see them. And nearly every antivirus program makes a big show each time it receives definition updates; while it’s nice to know the software is doing its job, it would also be nice to have it do it quietly.

False sense of security on your PC

Most importantly, having the auto-protect feature installed can give you a false sense of security (“Sure, I’ll open it—I have antivirus software!”), reducing the chances that you’ll take the precautions listed elsewhere in this section and increasing the likelihood that your computer will become infected. Even if you are diligent about scanning files manually, no antivirus program is foolproof, and is certainly no substitute for common sense.

Precautions to Minimize exposure to virus

Now, if you take the proper precautions, your exposure to viruses will be minimal, if not nil, and you will have very little need for the auto-protect feature of your antivirus software. Naturally, whether you disable your antivirus software’s auto-protect feature is up to you, but if you keep the following practices in mind, you should be able to effectively eliminate your computer’s susceptibility to viruses.

If you don’t download any documents or applications from the Internet, if you’re not connected to a local network, if you have a firewalled connection to the Internet, and the only type of software you install is off-the-shelf commercial products, your odds of getting a virus are pretty much zero.

Viruses can only reside in certain types of files, including application (.exe and .scr) files, document files made in applications that use macros (such as Microsoft Word), Windows script files (.vbs), and some types of application support files (.dll, .vbx, .vxd, etc.). And because ZIP files (described in Chapter 2) can contain any of the aforementioned files, they’re also susceptible.