A range of security software products help protect your computer. Some come as traditional packaged software. Others are online services. Here’s a list of the types of security software you are most likely to need:

Anti-virus

Designed to keep your PC free of infection, anti-virus programs generally use two different approaches. First, they use large databases – known as signatures. The software matches these signatures against incoming files to find potential threats and block them.

Security software companies update signature files regularly. Some run daily updates, while others update signatures every hour or so. This isn’t always enough. Virus writers are in a constant battle of wits against antivirus specialists. They aim to ‘fly under the radar’ with fresh malware.

The worst code can often spread faster than distribution of signature updates. So most antivirus programs now include tools designed to find suspicious virus-like behaviour in unknown files. The software flags these files as potential threats and treats accordingly.

Anti-virus is a misleading name these days. Almost every anti-virus program provides protection from a range of different mal-wares.

Firewall

Firewalls control the flow of internet traffic to and from your computer. They can be hardware devices. If you use a router it may have a built-in firewall. But in most home set-ups firewalls tend to be software.

Firewalls have two main functions. They act as a gate, stopping unwanted traffic from entering your system. At the same time, they should stop unapproved traffic from leaving your system.

If your computer has spyware monitoring your activities, a properly configured firewall stops the malware sending your information. Equally, if a worm infects your system, a firewall stops it getting out and infecting others.

However, the Windows XP firewall only stops incoming traffic. It only protects you up to a point. You should invest in a commercial firewall product – they are all bi-directional.

Unlike antivirus programs, which can be installed and forgotten, some firewalls are complex. If you set things up incorrectly, you may leave your computer vulnerable. Alternatively, you may hinder legitimate traffic – this can be especially difficult if you operate a home network. The best firewalls automatically configure themselves, but they tend to err on the side of caution blocking any unusual application.

Anti-spyware

Also known as spyware blockers. There’s a thin line between antivirus and antispyware tools. In fact some commercial security products now combine the two functions in a single application. Good antispyware products detect and remove both spyware and adware from your computer. Antispyware should also block this kind of software from being installed. Some spyware will be detected by a firewall when it first attempts to send data back to base.

Spam Filters

A program designed to stop, or at least reduce, the amount of spam turning up in your email in-box. Spam filters save you time and money sorting through rubbish emails. Most home and small business computer users don’t need to worry about filtering spam. That’s because many ISPs and web-mail providers now use anti-spam filters to check mail before it is downloaded to your computer or read in your web browser. Also, modern email programs, like Microsoft Outlook 2007, have built-in spam detection tools.

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