Why virus protection alone is not enough

Fact: Virus protection is helpful in staving off cyberattacks.

Myth: It is the only tool you need for safe computing.

Pretty much everyone who uses the Internet is bound to encounter one of those online ads that promises to defend your entire computer. The ad begins with some variation on the idea that “your computer isn’t safe,” before roping you in with the promise of a “free virus scan” that will determine just how many threats are crowding your system before demolishing all of them. If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. And yet this is how the world of free antivirus software works – by taking advantage of wishful thinking with empty promises.

“Virus protection is good – but it should only be one part of your security arsenal.”

We do not want that to happen to you. See, here is the truth: Virus protection is good. But it’s not good enough. That is, it represents only one element of a well-defended computer system. In order to shatter the myth that virus protection is the ultimate cyber defense, we’re going to use this post to paint a picture of what a truly secure computing user looks like. This includes not only the additional software tools this person uses, but also the computing behaviors he or she practices to optimize personal security every day:

1: Online backups. It is not always cybercriminals who threaten to jeopardize your data. Sometimes, things can go horribly wrong without the help of a hacker. For as long as there have been computers, there have been people losing computers. Or accidentally breaking them. Or exposing them to hard drive-frying situations like extreme heat. And then there is the fact that sometimes hardware just breaks down. Back in 2003, a report published in Pepperdine University’s Graziadio Business Review found that nearly 40 percent of data loss stemmed from hardware failure alone. Another 29 percent came from human error. Those percentages were far larger than the percent of data lost due to factors like theft and viruses.

In the years since 2003, cyberattacks have grown, but hardware failure and human error still account for a huge chunk of information loss. But it does not have to be that way. These days, all computing users have the opportunity to back up their data fully via online backup software. What this does is ensure that even if you lose a device that holds your data – say, by misplacing your computer or accidentally frying the hard drive – you don’t lose what is really valuable: its contents. A well-prepared computer user is backing up his or her system on a regular basis.

Data backup is critical for overall security. Data backup is critical for overall security.

2: Avoiding any and all online schemes. As a U.S. Department of Homeland Security release has pointed out, when it comes to online offers, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Here’s the thing though: pretty much every online offer we’ve ever encountered sounds too good to be true. And that is exactly why you should avoid them at all costs. This can be hard to do. After all, when you see a legit-looking ad promising to run a quick and free diagnostic on your computer to determine if there are any viruses, that can be pretty tempting – which is exactly what scammers are counting on. As a rule, you should close all pop-ups immediately (and be sure to enable pop-up blockers on your Internet browser). The same principle holds for email: While many email providers offer high-level spam filtering, there will still always be suspect emails that slip through the cracks and into your inbox. If the sender of an email is not one you recognize, trash it immediately.

3: Mobile protection. We lead highly connected lives, and as a result, the various devices in our lives are interconnected. By 2020, the average person in the U.S. is projected to own 4.3 mobile devices. And these devices do not exist in isolation – instead, most of us are actively sharing data between, say, our iPad and our personal computer. That’s all well and good, until a virus finds its way onto your tablet and manages to infect your computer in the process. Because of device inter-connectedness, a single virus on one mechanism can cause a ripple effect that impacts multiple personal devices. That’s why mobile security is just as important as computer security. With this tool, you can rest assured that things like virus and spyware detection and back-ups/restores are as active on your mobile devices as they are on your computer.

These are just three of the top security habits of the well-guarded individual. There are more where that came from. The point is that simply loading antivirus protection onto your computer is not going to keep you protected. It’s definitely a start – but make sure you keep going from there.