Security and anti-virus software FAQs

A virus warning appears on a computer screen

20 FAQs on security and anti-virus software.

  1. What is security software?
  2. What does security software protect my business from?
  3. What want security software protect us from?
  4. Can we get away without security software?
  5. Do we need security software for our mobile devices?
  6. Our staff use their own equipment for work. How do we protect these devices?
  7. Does security software ever miss viruses or other threats?
  8. Does our server need security software?
  9. Do our Apple Macs need security software?
  10. What types of security software are there?
  11. What is cloud security software?
  12. How can we tell if a security package is any good?
  13. Is free security software any good?
  14. How much does security software cost?
  15. Where should we install security software?
  16. Is it easy to set up security software?
  17. How much maintenance does security software require?
  18. Will security software slow down my computer?
  19. Can we run two anti-virus packages together, for additional protection?
  20. What happens if our security software finds a virus?

1. What is security software?

Security software runs on your company computers and servers to protect you from threats such as viruses, malicious software (eg malware and ransomware), Trojans and other software that runs on your computer without your knowledge.

Security and anti-virus software is a key line of defence against cybercrime. Although not infallible, a security package from a reputable supplier (such as one listed on the ICSA website) will identify and eliminate many threats to your business and its data.

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2. What does security software protect my business from?

Most security packages offer several functions which you can turn on or off individually.

These include core functions, which it's important to have:

  • Virus protection. Your security software should scan your computer and monitor files for viruses, which may delete data or cause damage to your computer if left unchecked.
  • Spyware, malware, ransomware and Trojan protection. Good security software will monitor for malicious software that could be spying on your computer (including monitoring your passwords) and sending the details to cybercriminals.
  • A firewall. A firewall monitors your network connection for unusual activity that might indicate malicious software sending data out over the internet, or hackers trying to break in.

Many packages provide additional protection, which can be useful if you use it:

  • Email protection. This blocks emails containing malware and ransomware, as well as watching for spam that could clog up your inbox. It can be effective, but many email services already provide similar protection.
  • Web browsing protection. This scans the web pages you visit, watching for malicious sites and blocking them before they cause harm. Many web browsers (including Firefox and Google Chrome) include these features.
  • Website filtering. Some packages allow you to manage the sites your employees visit, by filtering internet traffic. You can configure the browser to stop staff visiting certain types of sites and from accessing inappropriate material while at work.

In an attempt to stand out in a crowded market, many security packages have long feature lists. However, it's the strength of the core protection that's most important.

In some cases, additional features may slow your computer without adding to your security.

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3. What won't security software protect us from?

Security software is essential, but it can’t protect you from every existing or emerging threat your business faces.

It can't protect you from natural disasters (like fire or flooding), malicious actions by your staff (like stealing your customer database), human error (like deleting crucial files), equipment failure or theft, for example.

Security software is not infallible. While it can reduce your likelihood of being attacked, it can’t stop it completely so you, and your staff, must remain vigilant and act conscientiously.

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4. Can we get away without security software?

No! You're taking a significant risk operating a business computer system without security software.

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5. Do we need security software for our mobile devices?

It depends. While malware targeting mobile devices (such as smart phones and tablets) certainly exists, the risks are very low. Only a small fraction of mobile devices in use have ever been affected, or need it (for example, Apple’s iOS operating system has security features built-in).

Several companies offer security software for mobile devices. There are three main factors to consider in determining whether you need it:

  1. Do your mobile devices run Android? Android devices tend to be most vulnerable to threats because the Android platform has fewer checks and restrictions on software developers than iOS.
  2. How much control do you have? The more you restrict what staff can do with their devices, the less vulnerable you are. Of course, greater restrictions may make it harder for staff to do their work.
  3. What data is stored or accessible on your devices? If you're working with sensitive information such as customer data and payment details, then security software may provide protection against rogue apps and phishing attacks.

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6. Our staff use their own equipment for work. How do we protect these devices?

If your staff use their own computers, tablets, smartphones or other devices for work, you must take precautions to keep your data safe.

Bring your own device (BYOD) poses unique security issues, because it's hard to apply company security policies to staff-owned devices. They will have employees' software, data and apps on them and are used personally as well as for business.

Before adopting BYOD, it's important to analyse the risk these devices pose and take appropriate precautions.

Depending on your findings, this could include installing security software, using mobile device management software to create a barrier between personal and business data - and almost certainly helping staff to understand the risks they face.

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7. Does security software ever miss viruses or other threats?

Sadly, yes. No security package is fool proof and new threats are emerging every day.

Some viruses and malware take specific steps to make themselves hard to detect. If you are unlucky enough to encounter a new piece of malware you might find your software doesn't recognise it or provide protection.

Here are some things you can do to protect your systems:

  • Select security software that's ranked highly by an independent testing organisation like AV-TESTVirus Bulletin or ICSA Labs.
  • Set your security software to update itself automatically, at least once a day. This means you'll receive information about new viruses regularly.
  • Ensure your security software regularly performs a full scan of every computer you have.
  • Be on your guard. If your computer starts doing strange things, such as running slowly or deleting files, it could be a sign of a problem.

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8. Does our server need security software?

Yes. Your server is a key part of your business IT system and is likely to hold valuable business data. Make sure your server is protected with security software and a strong firewall.

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9. Do our Apple Macs need security software?

Macs are safer than Windows computers and while security software is not essential, it’s worth considering adding extra protection to any computer that holds valuable data or are vital to your business.

Even if your Mac is safe, it could carry viruses which could be shared with other staff and customers. Thankfully,  Mac security software can protect against this threat.

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10. What types of security software are there?

There are two main types of software to choose from:

  • Standalone software - Standalone software must be installed and managed on each computer separately. It's simple to set up, but easy to disable if your staff feel it's getting in the way or slowing down their systems. This could leave you vulnerable. Standalone software is suitable for small companies with five or fewer staff who want a simple solution that they can use without needing technical support.
  • Centralised software & cloud services - Centralised software, often delivered through the cloud, provides you with a control panel to monitor and manage security protection across your business. The simple dashboard provides peace of mind that everything is protected. You can remotely schedule updates, and ensure that all users are running the latest version of anti-virus software.

Before selecting a security package, speak to an independent IT supplier or support company. They can discuss your options and help you to choose a security software platform that’s built for your business.

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11. What is cloud security software?

Cloud security software provides the same level of protection as standalone security software installed on your computer. However, instead of using your computer's processing power to scan your system, cloud security software runs its scans on remote servers, accessed over the internet.

Cloud security software places less of a burden on the processing power of your computers, which means they can run faster.

If you find security software makes your systems run slowly, cloud security software may be a good option.

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12. How can we tell if a security package is any good?

Ensure that any package you are considering has been independently tested by a trustworthy organisation. AV-TESTVirus Bulletin and ICSA Labs all publish lists of software they have tested, including information about important factors such as virus detection rates.

It's sensible to select security software from a recognised software company. This should give you confidence that the software will continue to be updated as new threats emerge.

Companies with a good track record of providing anti-virus and security software include Symantec, Webroot, F-Secure, Trend Micro, McAfee, Panda, Kaspersky, Norton, Avast!, AVG and Bitdefender.

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13. Is free security software any good?

There are a few free security packages on the market that provide effective but basic protection. The most popular are AVG Free, Avast! and Avira.

These packages aren't designed for businesses. They may take longer to set up and manage than standalone, centralised or cloud software. You may also find the features are limited compared to paid-for software.

Ultimately, you need to evaluate free security software in the same way as any other package. If it doesn't fit your requirements, free software may be a false economy.

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14. How much does security software cost?

Prices vary, but expect to pay around £20 - £50 per computer, including updates for two years of protection.

Always check how much it costs to maintain your subscription and continue to receive updates once you have bought the software. It’s essential, often the updates end up costing many times the original purchase price of the software.

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15. Where should we install security software?

You should install security software on every computer and server in your business that runs Microsoft Windows.

You should also consider installing it on computers with other operating systems (like Macs) and perhaps on mobile devices, too.

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16. Is it easy to set up security software?

The amount of work involved in installing security software usually depends whether you have chosen a standalone or centralised package.

When installing your security package, keep in mind that it takes longer than installing most software, because it will perform a full scan of your system during the installation process.

Standalone packages need to be installed on each of your computers individually. Doing this is similar to installing any other software: you simply open a file and wait while the software configures itself.

Centralised packages take more work, because you need to roll the software out to each computer in your business and set your protection preferences centrally. This can be tricky without some IT knowledge, so speak to your IT supplier if you need help.

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17. How much maintenance does security software require?

As long as it's set up correctly, your security software shouldn't require too much attention to keep functioning smoothly.

However, you should perform regular checks to ensure:

  • The package is regularly performing a full scan of your computers. Do this at least once a week.
  • The software is installed and fully enabled. Sometimes staff members can be tempted to disable scanning if it slows down the performance of their computer.
  • The software is regularly checking for updates. It should be set to do so at least once a day

If you have to pay for updates, make sure you know if and when your subscription expires and ensure you have a plan in place to maintain your protection.

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18. Will security software slow down my computer?

Yes, but perhaps not by much! Most packages perform background scanning as you use your computer. This requires some processing power, so may slow down other software.

Whether this is noticeable will depend on several factors, including the specification of your computer and how many files and programs you have open and are using.

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19. Can we run two anti-virus packages together, for additional protection?

This is not usually a good idea, as the packages may interfere with each other.

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20. What happens if our security software finds a virus?

Your security software should identify and alert you if it finds something nasty. It should clean or remove infected files or data. How it handles an infection will depend on which software you have, the nature of the infection and how widespread the damage is.

Most security packages have a safe quarantine area into which they will move infected files or data. You can then check the affected files before cleaning the infection or deleting the data.

Severe infections can be harder to deal with, especially if they have compromised key system files. Most packages will help you understand your options, but sometimes you may have to speak to an IT professional to determine the best course of action.

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