Cyber criminals are the highwaymen of the digital age. Here’s why it pays to keep your data as safe as possible with antivirus software.


If you buy a PC or laptop the chances are it will come with a piece of antivirus software already loaded. It’s natural to ask yourself a simple question: in this day and age, why do I need an antivirus?



Back in the bad old days many people viewed their computers as filthy virus-ridden boxes. And, while things have got a little better since then that still doesn’t mean there aren’t people looking to load malicious software onto your computer.


So, should you buy that piece of antivirus software the shop is attempting to force onto you? Not necessarily. Just because they want you to buy it, doesn’t mean it’s the best option for you. Even so, you will need some form of antivirus software to protect your computer.


Why is an antivirus needed?


We are becoming increasingly connected in the digital world, but that has a downside. There are more and more people out there looking to do us harm. Viruses, malware and spyware worm their way onto our computers to do us all sorts of harm, often without us knowing.


One of the fastest growing threats is something called ransomware. This is a piece of software which locks you out of your computer until you pay a ransom. You might see a message such as this.


“Your PC has contracted a virus. All files will be deleted. To address this issue, call our resolution centre now.”


Ransomware has increased by 250% in 2017, making it one of the go-to attacks for cyber criminals. We all saw just how devastating it can be when the NHS came under a ransomware attack earlier in the year. The spread of the virus was eventually halted, but it proved just how dangerous this can be.


Businesses and organisations such as the NHS are the most common targets. They hold vast quantities of sensitive data and often have gaps in their defences. However, people can be targets too.


We carry a huge amount of valuable data on our computers – everything from bank details to passwords, important files, music, and films. With the rise of cloud-computing the amount of information our computers contain is going to grow even more.


Worse still, many people might have information which they don’t wish to become public. When the adult dating site Friend Finder was hacked it exposed more than 400million profiles. Even though many of those would have been duplicates or dormant that’s a huge number of people who are leading shadowy online lives they might not like people to find out about.


Other files come as Trojan horses. As the name suggests, these are programs which appear to be useful, but once they’ve got onto your computer they unload their malicious payload. You won’t think they are harmful because it’s a program offering you a service. All the while it is digging into your systems. If it gets a hold of any financial details it could start draining your funds.


These files get onto your computer in a number of ways. They can come through a phishing email in which fraudsters will try to get you to click on an infected link. Some are also using online web advertisements as their route in. Once you click on the link, it triggers the downloading process.


Many pieces of malware are so subtle you’ll hardly know they are there. They just sit in the background, doing their wicked work.


Building defences


The good news is that computer companies have become more adept at building their defences. Firewalls are built in and they are much more effective than they used to be. You might think you can avoid such problems by staying on reputable sites and not clicking any questionable links. However, cyber-criminals are becoming much more sophisticated and their attacks are increasingly convincing. Phishing emails are more convincing than ever. They have developed the ability to mimic more reputable sites. That you are likely to recognise and trust. Even some adverts on quite well-known websites can be infected.


You might think that you’re careful and don’t store any sensitive information on your computer, but you never know what they could get access to. In a connected world in which devices are linked, you might be more vulnerable than you imagine.


The short answer is that it never pays to be too careful. For example, you wouldn’t go on a motorbike without a helmet even if you intend to ride as safely as possible. Any defence against viruses should be multi-layered. It should begin with your personal behaviour – be as careful as you possibly can be. It continues with the firewalls installed by the developers of computer programs, and it ends with you installing the best antivirus software possible. You should also have contingency plans in place should something happen. Files should be backed up and you should make sure all passwords are changed as soon as you become aware of an attack.


So, does this mean that you should do what the shop is telling you and activate that piece of pre-installed software? Of course not. There’s not guarantee it’s the best. What you should do is shop around, see what’s available and work out which antivirus is best for your needs.