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September 20, 2017

How Antivirus Companies are Keeping You Safe in Today’s World

Image courtesy of (Stuart Miles) / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A computer and IT network of any sort must have protection from ransomware, viruses, malware, and more. In the technological world in which we live, your data can be an ongoing challenge to protect. Your identity, whether it is a company or a person, can be stolen and used for profit or it may be used for the hacker’s benefit, such as applying for credit. Confidential data can be stolen to release sensitive information to the public, bank account information can be compromised and worst of all—your computer can be hijacked with a threat for money demands or some other sort of demand. To make matters worse, a company can unintentionally release private customer information to a hacker.

Having simple anti-virus protection on a PC or IT network is just not enough anymore. Anti-virus programs must find ways to stop malware, viruses, and ransomware in their tracks before they infiltrate your network or computers. Regular software and definition updates were routine to keep the anti-virus programs current and make them detect more harmful code, but that again has outlived its status. Those updates are still very much an important component in today’s world, but that alone does not protect your network or PC.

Listen to the Warnings

If you give a program or specifically requested action permission to run, it gives that code authority in your network and your PC to do malicious things. Your anti-virus and your system will allow it to take action since you previously authorized it to do so. But first, your security software may try to warn you more than once or will take a protective action that you can undo. This is just an added layer of security to remind you of the possible dangers of authorizing that app, program, executable, or e-mail attachment.

With that in mind, hackers tend to hide their actions in the background or set up actions to execute at a future date so that you don’t realize what is happening later on. Some trick you with misleading information so that you click a link or provide personal information. In the past, your anti-virus would detect certain behaviors, but it was usually pretty limited and possibly not even noticed if you did previously accept those misleading permissions.

Utilizing the Clouds

To move into the future with advanced anti-virus protection, software companies are starting to utilize the cloud as part of their anti-virus/malware packages. This comes in two very different forms. The first one is real-time cloud scanning that monitors your cloud storage on various servers like DropBox and OneDrive, and the second one is advanced software integration using the cloud, which ties into your installed anti-virus software and the world at the same time. Both types are very essential in today’s technological era.

Cloud Storage Protection

Clouds have become a very common, habitually used feature on many PCs by many users all over the world. The fact that you can easily share a file or attach it to an e-mail message just makes it that much more of a danger if a shared file is infected. To keep with that technological advancement, anti-virus programs must do the same thing.

Not only can you sync your files, images, videos, etc. on a remote service and save precious storage space, you can also access that data from anywhere on any device that is app-specific capable. This is a wonderful opportunity for malware, ransomware, etc. because this scenario can transmit harmful code to all PCs set to sync with the application when a file contains malicious code. Many antivirus software packages offer real-time cloud scanning to check your data for anything dangerous. Some also handle the task in the background and let you know if something harmful is discovered, such as with Trend Micro’s cloud scanning service.

Cloud Use for Advanced Software Integration and Protection

Rather than old school methods in which the anti-virus company discovers new threats and updates your PC’s software to detect those files, the cloud monitors activities worldwide and recognizes potential threats based on data and calculations on their test PCs, their test networks, various customer PCs (if you authorized it), or any other methods kept in secrecy. In other words, it can share its researched and/or tested experiences with all owners of the anti-virus software and prevent hacks from the ground up for everyone.

Every anti-virus company has their own technological ways and methods of using cloud engines/systems, but they all have very similar intentions and purposes.

Anti-virus, cloud-based protection usually includes:

  • Reduced resource consumption on individual PCs or Macs to improve system performance;
  • Researched/tested data, websites, cyber-criminal actions, etc. to determine potential threats;
  • Storage and collection of security and threat information from across the globe to prevent malicious actions before they have a chance to infiltrate your PC or network;
  • Storage of the signature database in the cloud instead of on your PC to save space.

Avast has a system it calls “Next-Gen Cybersecurity” that utilizes security expertise from professionals, includes artificial intelligence that studies, learns and implements and offers a capacity to handle big data algorithms. Its cloud system gains insight from more than 400 million data sensors across the globe.

Trend Micro uses what it calls “Smart Protection Network” that discovers and collects threat data of all kinds and stores it in its cloud servers to protect networks and systems. It has millions of data sensors worldwide and includes “Smart Scan” that updates and stores anti-malware signatures in that cloud instead of on each computer to save hard drive space.

Features of cloud engines can be very detailed, but companies keep most information a secret so that others don’t copy or use part of their technology and methodology. The two mentioned above are brief examples of cloud software integration and do not reflect all of their capabilities. Most cloud engines have the functions of learning, testing, rating, collecting, and implementing interactions to your PC anti-virus software on what they’ve gathered.

Other Tidbits

Aside from cloud protection and services, anti-virus companies may offer advanced protection against ransomware by securing select folders on your PC from those so-called hostage attacks that threaten you for money or other gains.

IoT devices continue to improve with better security, but hackers have found ways in the past to infiltrate IoT products and gain access to them, as well as to other devices on the network. Anti-virus services may integrate IoT protection to keep those computers and networks secure. For instance, Avast is working on creating cloud-based IoT security that includes AI-driven behavior analysis for all data entering and leaving the home network.

Final Notes

In closing, cloud engines are used for more than just anti-virus programs. Anti-malware software also utilizes them to provide similar benefits. The cloud infrastructures help reduces computer and network overloads and system slow-downs by handling a lot of the grunt work in their own arena. It’s an opportunity for the anti-virus company to say “Hey, this doesn’t look right” and it usually does something it shouldn’t.  They then tell your PC (oftentimes you) what they discovered before anything can potentially happen.

Basically, their smart algorithms, predictions, and experiences work for you and your PC. Anti-virus programs are no longer restricted to individual PCs. Computers are tapped into a bigger system that works together against those nasty viruses, ransomware, spyware, and other intruders. The software system monitors your actions on the network and/or PC (non-threatening intrusion) to warn you of something they found as suspicious or officially dangerous. By ignoring the warnings, you can cause your PC or your network of PCs to crash or become unrecoverable. To put in another comparable way, deer crossing signs on the side of the road should never be ignored. You might get lucky and you might not.

Lastly, watch out for the messages and websites that make you feel that you can trust them or ones that make you really WANT to trust them by their use of Phishing techniques. These include displaying incorrect URLs and misspelled words, asking for banking information, display of low resolution images, and failure to use “https://’ to indicate the website is secure. That’s the old hook and bait. That’s why the anti-virus program warned you in the first place. It knows. It’s already experimented with it in the cloud.


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David Molnar is CEO of Dave’s Computers, a leader in computer repair and data recovery in New Jersey. LIKE Dave’s Computers’ Facebook page to stay current on computer issues and trends - you might even find some “computer humor” there! Subscribe to Dave’s blog for additional computer tips and tricks.

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