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Issue: 71 - Nov 14, 2014
AntiVirus Software is Dead: Now What?
By: Joe Dysart
Joe Dysart

Earlier this year, AntiVirus King Symantec sent shockwaves through the business community with the statement that antivirus software was 'dead' - leaving vets and other businesses wondering - now what?

Symantec dropped the bombshell to make a point: These days, a PC armed with a good firewall and some topflight antivirus software is simply no match against a sophisticated, determined hacker.

The reason: the number of new viruses unleashed on the public every day can be as many as 200,000, according to Kapersky Lab, a computer security firm - a daunting number to defend against for even the most disciplined antivirus software maker.

Moreover, many hackers have gotten very good at disguising the code in already identified viruses. Essentially, these hackers have the same copy of Norton, McAfee and other top antivirus applications that millions of others do. And apparently, these hackers have nothing better to do all day than to encrypt code on known viruses to the point that those viruses become unrecognizable to Norton AntiVirus software and others.

Plus, hackers have expanded their playground to mobile devices. According to a 2014 report released by Trend Micro, more than 2 million malware apps targeting mobile devices have been unleashed on businesses and consumers. 

And a September report released by F-Secure Labs, another computer security firm, found that during the past year, the disturbing spike in ransom-ware - or malware that locks up a PC ands demands a monetary ransom to return the PC to normal - has spread to mobile devices.

“Everything is of interest,” to hackers, says Sean Sullivan, a security advisor at F-Secure Labs.

The take-way, according to Symantec and many other computer security firms, is that vets and other businesses need to concede that on defending the digital perimeter, the hackers have won and business has lost. 

Put another way: a determined hacker can pretty much penetrate any digital perimeter these days, no matter what kind of defenses you erect.

Not surprisingly, that white flag doesn't fly well with everyone, including Dan Goodwill, president, Dan Goodwill & Associates, a business consulting firm. “This statement is acknowledgement of failure,” Goodwill says. “That is not the right attitude. It is time for Symantec and other anti-virus companies to step up their game and take security to a whole new level.”

Even so, many computer security firms have already turned tail on guaranteeing defense of the digital border, and are instead focusing on ways to catch hackers red-handed once they've broken into your network or PC.

Symantec, for example, has released a new product - Norton Security - that watches for unusual behaviors that pop-up on a PC or smartphone. Then, the software attempts to isolate and root-out the cause of those behaviors.

Norton Security also monitors for PC’s that have been transformed into digital zombies, and are unknowingly being robbed of processing power via the Internet. The stolen power is mostly used to perform nefarious and sometimes outright illegal applications.

Meanwhile, other computer security firms are taking even more novel approaches, such as installing fake databases inside PCs and networks, which send up alarms when an intruder tries to interact with them.

“This is a good idea,” Goodwill says. “But this should be part of an effort that links businesses, government agencies, law enforcement and academia. Most companies are too busy to undertake these initiatives on their own.”

Of course, all the traditional security tools - including antivirus, anti-malware and anti-spyware -are also a part of Norton Security and other, traditional computer security products that are getting an overhaul. The difference with the next generation products is that Symantec, along with makers of similar programs, are publically acknowledging the limitations of traditional security applications.

“The trend is moving toward preventative solutions rather than trying to identify specific signatures of PC viruses,” says Michael Riemer, vice president, products and channel marketing at Decisiv, a business consulting firm. “For instance, if you know the normal state of something and it changes, then you need to quarantine and remove or change it.”

Undoubtedly, you'll want to re-assess your own veterinary business' digital security, given that hackers are poised to give security applications additional bruisings. For starters, here's what computer security experts recommend:

*Reformat Your PC Regularly: One of the easiest ways to rid your machine of virtually all viruses, malware and spyware is to simply reformat your PC, reinstall your operating system and applications, and start fresh. While that sounds like an onerous task, it's actually relatively painless if you keep your data on a separate hard drive and create a complete image of your operating system and applications on your PC's hard drive. Once you've got the image, it’s simply a matter of clicking through a wizard to do the refresh, and then leaving your PC alone for an hour so as it rejuvenates. Norton sells software - Ghost - that makes a mirror image of your PC, as does Paragon, Acronis and many others.

*Consider Moving all Your Apps to the Cloud: Sure, betting your veterinary practice's security on your cloud provider is a leap of faith. But if you hook-up with the right cloud provider, all the headaches associated with digital security will belong to your provider. Choose a cloud provider with known, state-of-the-art security, and your worries could be history.

*Keep Up-to-Date With Updates: Granted, updating your PCs software is a mundane task. But there's a reason there are dedicated staffs at Microsoft, Google and scores of other computer app firms that focus on nothing but plugging security holes in software as they're revealed. These people work hard to keep your PC safe. Reap the rewards.

*Don't Eschew Traditional Security Just Yet: Sure, standard security software has its limitations. But it still does block many of the knuckleheads who are trying to infiltrate your computerized device. Currently, the top, basic security software on the market right now is Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015, Kapersky Anti-Virus 2015, Norton Antivirus 2014 and Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus 2014, according to PC Magazine's latest ratings, released in September. The worst PC security software, according to PC Magazine, is Microsoft Essentials.

*Use Two-Step Verification for Critical Cloud Apps: Two-step verification requires a user to sign-in with a password, which triggers an email to the users email account that features yet another password or code the user must enter to use the application. It's a little tedious for mundane apps. But if you're using something in the cloud that stores highly critical data, you may want to look for two-step verification on that app.

*Go for Help: If you do get stung, you may be able to get some help from some of the computer security expert forums on the Web, including DSL Reports' Security Forum (http://www.dslreports.com/forum/security) and Bleepingcomputer.com (http://www.bleepingcomputer.com).

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Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan. 

Voice: (646) 233-4089

Email: joe@joedysart.com

Web: www.joedysart.com

CAPTIONS:

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1.  Michael Brown, Symantec CEO, is looking to nab hackers once they've breached the digital perimeter.