Symantec, for one, has been utilizing new methods for identifying malware (including poisoned Web sites) including the use of crowdsourcing, or what the company calls reputation-based screening. Millions of Symantec customers allow their machines to send data on infected files and Web sites to the company's servers. Once the data is scrubbed of identifying information, it's used to build a database of known malware.
There's more to the method than tracking bad actors. Symantec also examines harmless code found on many computers, and in effect, white-lists it. "We look at the attributes of a file. If, for example, we see that it's on 1 million machines and has been around for a year and there are no reports that it is malicious, it's likely safe," explains Ramzan. If a file is known to be harmless, it won't be scanned, and the user's computer won't work as hard.
4. Free security software is wimpy
Spending money on a good security suite is generally a good investment, but if you're on a budget, or simply don't like the idea of forking over yet more money on another piece of software, there are free security programs that do a good job detecting and isolating computer viruses.
Free software from companies such as Avast, McAfee, and Microsoft can offer very good protection against viruses, spyware, Trojan horses and the other kinds of malicious programs lurking out there in cyberspace.
No, I haven't tried all of them out, but an Austrian company called AV-Comparatives does, rating products by the percentage of malware a program fails to detect, the number of applications a program falsely identifies as malware and the speed at which the program scans your computer. At the end of each year, the independent testing outfit publishes a summary of tests it has conducted over the previous 12 months comparing anti-virus products. All three of the free products I mentioned did well.
But the overall winners for 2009 were, in order, Symantec, Kaspersky and ESET. And remember, while the free programs are good at bashing viruses, they don't do everything the larger suites do, such as offering spam filters and parental controls.
5. Firefox is Much Safer than Internet Explorer
Microsoft's Internet Explorer gets a lot of bad press, and you might think it's got more security holes than a chunk of Swiss cheese. Not exactly.
According to a recent report by Symantec, Mozilla Firefox had the most new vulnerabilities in 2009, with 169, while Internet Explorer had just 45. However, Internet Explorer was still the most attacked browser for the reason we mentioned earlier: Hackers, like advertisers, go for market share, and despite big gains by Firefox, IE is still number one.