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This blog was originally published on TechSoup Canada and was written by Corbin Hartwick of Techboomers.com. We wanted to share it with our audience as a part of our larger online security series.
As you may recall from our first post in the Internet security series, we reviewed safe online practices for your nonprofit. In this second installment of the series, we are going to delve deeper and showcase key antivirus software to protect your nonprofit and show how to avoid harmful malware.
Malicious programs on the Internet are generally referred to as "malware," and can come in two general classes.
Many of the more serious types of malicious programs are relatively rare, and can be avoided altogether by taking common-sense precautions (such as the safety tips listed here). However, malware programs have become so numerous on the Internet that it's virtually impossible to avoid them all. Therefore, an important precaution to take is to have good antivirus software* installed on all devices that your nonprofit uses.
Antivirus software is a class of computer program (or suite of computer programs) that works to counteract malware programs. It does so by scanning files and programs on a computer, looking for patterns of code or behavior that indicate malicious activity. The antivirus software then isolates any malware that it finds (to keep it from infecting any other files), and attempts to delete the malware from the files that it has infected. If this isn’t possible, both the malware and the infected files must be deleted.
Here's a more thorough explanation of antivirus software. If you're looking for an antivirus program, eligible organizations can request donations of Norton by Symantec, Bitdefender, Red Earth, and more.
There are four basic actions that you and your nonprofit team should take with antivirus software, in order to keep your computer and Internet networks protected.
Real-time scanning (also called dynamic scanning, real-time protection, etc.) is a function that allows your antivirus software to automatically scan your computer's files and programs — or any new ones being installed over the Internet — for any traces of viruses. This helps to keep your computer from having to deal with a malware program when it's already on your computer and causing trouble.
Make sure that you know how to turn this feature on, and keep it on whenever possible. Only disable it when it's interfering with the download or installation of a trustworthy program or file, and make sure to turn it back on immediately afterwards.
Running a manual scan of your computer with your antivirus software may be able to find malware threats that real-time scanning misses. You can usually start a quick manual scan with default settings with just a few mouse clicks. You can also often create custom scans that target certain files, folders or drives, or that search in hidden files and folders that malware doesn't usually get into.
Another useful function that many antivirus software brands have is the ability to schedule manual scans at certain dates and times. This is especially useful for groups like nonprofits, as you can keep your network secure without each individual team member having to remember to run a manual scan.
Files infected with viruses can generally be "healed" or "repaired" — that is, the virus can be removed and the original code can be restored back to normal. However, stand-alone threats, such as spyware, must be deleted. You may also have to delete some files that have been too heavily infected by strong viruses; this is the only way to make sure that the virus is removed from your computer.
Some unknown or particularly strong malware programs may not be able to be healed or deleted. In this case, your antivirus software can usually quarantine the infected files to keep any other files or programs from being damaged. From there, you can contact your antivirus provider or look on the Internet for advanced malware removal options.
Your antivirus software can't protect you against malware if it doesn't know what it's supposed to be looking for. That's why it's important to make sure that your antivirus software has the latest list of viruses and spyware that are known about.
You can often schedule updates to happen on certain days and times, or (even better) when your antivirus provider finds a new batch of previously undiscovered malware. Both of these options keep you more secure than simply updating your antivirus software manually (which you should still occasionally do), so be sure that you know how to use them.
(NOTE: If you're using paid antivirus software, make sure to keep your subscription active, or you won't receive updates!)
There are a number of free options for antivirus software, but we'd recommend using software that you pay for, if you have the budget for it. Antivirus software that you pay for can do things such as scan emails for malware or scan other computers on your network, while free versions cannot.
Strong free antivirus software includes Avast and Avira, while the best paid options include Kaspersky Lab, Bitdefender, and Trend Micro.
You can read a more thorough breakdown of these services in this article about the best antivirus software solutions.
We hope that this guide is key to helping you understand how you can use antivirus software to deal with malicious programs and keep your nonprofit's operations safe. If you liked this post, please check TechSoup Canada for more installments of the Internet security series, with posts on password threats, online storage, and email management.
Image: EFF Photos / CC: BY-2.0
Ginny Mies is a Content Curator at TechSoup Global.
In addition to the TechSoup donated security products noted above, we also have access to academic discounts on Trend Micro security products through our partnership with JourneyEd. More information can be found here: