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Tech Take-Apart
Antivirus, Antispyware & Firewalls: What's the Difference?
by kp
ESET NOD32 AntiVirus

Norton AntiVirus
Norton AntiVirus

Norton Internet Security 2008
Norton Internet Security 2008

PC Tools Internet Security 2008
PC Tools Internet Security 2008

Choosing security software for your system can be confusing with all of the options available. Besides the many brands of software on the market, each one offers different levels of protection against malware. What does antispyware do that antivirus cannot? What about a using an all-in-one product? The key to knowing what you need is understanding how the software works.

The most common solution is antivirus software. It essentially protects your system from viruses that may attach to your OS through a network or external device. A virus is unique in that it can self-replicate and spreads quickly. For a virus to work, it usually takes some user interaction to be installed like downloading an infected file. Once in your system, the virus propagates by copying files and spreading to other parts of the system and even over a network. A worm is a type of virus that doesn't require user interaction to function, but multiplies and spreads like a virus. Antivirus software can prevent this by scanning files against a list of known viruses and worms, then quarantining the files from the rest of the system.

Spyware operates similarly to a virus in that it targets a system's resources and slows or locks up processes. It can enter a system through downloading an nefarious program that appears to be innocuous (trojan horse) or through browser plug-ins (adware). Spyware can monitor a user's activities by utilizing a keylogger program that tracks keystrokes. Personal information and passwords can be extracted from the data collected from these programs for use in identity theft. Like antivirus software, antispyware programs checks system files and isolates any that are known threats.

There are several options available for antivirus and antispyware. Many antivirus products include protection against spyware too. ESET NOD32 AntiVirus covers all types of malware (viruses, worms, spyware, adware and trojan horses), and is a popular choice for its comprehensive abilities and lightweight interface. Another preferred choice is Norton AntiVirus. This program defends against viruses, spyware, and rootkits (programs that control core system functions).

There are also "all-in-one" products for additional support in safeguarding your system. Norton Internet Security 2008 offers antivirus, antispyware and firewall capabilities. Another option for a combined solution is PC Tools Internet Security 2008. A firewall adds another layer of security by monitoring network traffic. This is done by filtering packets (or data) as they are coming to your system. Firewalls look for the packet's source and destination address, ports and protocol type. The packet is either blocked or allowed depending on firewall's settings.

Ultimately, the best computer protection and worst security risk is the user. It is pertinent to follow good practices when online or attaching external devices to your computer. Some recommendations to follow are:

  • Password protect your user accounts. Limit the default administrator account privileges and create another user account with administrator privileges
  • Keep security software and operating system updated
  • Scan hard drives or any external devices before attaching or installing to system
  • Clean the cache and cookies out of your browser regularly
  • Use caution when browsing or downloading from unknown sites

ESET NOD32 AntiVirus
Norton AntiVirus 2008
Norton Internet Security 2008
PC Tools Internet Security 2008
ALL Security/Virus Protection

ESET Threat Center
Symantec Norton Product Comparison

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