Increasing connectivity has a decidedly darker side: An average of 8,600 new websites with malicious code are created each day, and 42 new strains of malware are produced every minute, according to online security experts.

Know Thy Enemy       

Malware – a combination of the terms “malicious” and “software” – is a catchall word used to describe threats designed to damage a computer system and compromise a user’s privacy. Threats can range from the annoying (adware and the resulting cascade of pop-up ads) to the truly catastrophic (spyware that records every keystroke you make).

Sorting out the Software

It is important to understand that while there is some overlap between them, antiviral utilities and anti-spyware applications are generally considered to be separate types of software.

Antiviral Software – These programs constantly monitor your system for potential threats and will automatically quarantine any suspected virus. Most keep a record of known viruses and periodically receive updates over the Internet. Some antiviral programs also employ a heuristic approach that lets the program recognize virus-like features in unknown files, protecting your system against emerging, undocumented viruses. The editors of PCMag.com picked Norton AntiVirus 2012 as well as Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus as their Editor’s Choice for 2012.

Anti-Spyware Software – Anti-spyware programs (which also remove many forms of adware) generally work by scanning the contents of your computer and comparing files and programs against a database of known spyware and adware. Because each anti-spyware program uses its own set of criteria to determine what application it flags as a “threat,” a single application might not provide adequate protection. A handful of anti-spyware programs – perhaps a mix of for-pay and free applications – may be necessary for full protection.

Create an Arsenal

Even organizations on a tight budget can mount a defense with the huge variety of security software available for downloading at no cost (typically, a bare-bones free version and an enhanced for-pay version). Start by downloading a few free anti-spyware programs such as these:

• Spybot Search and Destroy (often used with Malwarebytes as a one-two punch that will catch most every piece of malware)
• Tenebril Spy Catcher Express
• Microsoft Windows Defender

Or download a trial version of a for-pay anti-spyware program such as these:

• Webroot SpySweeper
• ZoneAlarm Anti-Spyware
• Sunbelt Software CounterSpy

Create a Battle Plan

Preventing the spread of malware goes beyond simply loading some software. Consider these IT security best practices:

Watch your network. Equip each machine on your organization’s network with a firewall and update regularly for the latest security patches.

Follow a routine. Don’t forget routine maintenance such as defragmenting hard drives to keep machines running smoothly.

Train your staff. Smart downloading and safe Web surfing can help minimize encounters with malware.

Learn from your mistakes. Following a malware attack, take time to reflect on what made your system vulnerable in the first place. Was it something you did – or something you didn’t do?

To make your information even safer online, Nevada State Bank offers free security software called Rapport from the financial security experts at Trusteer. Rapport is not designed to replace your antivirus and firewall software, but instead works with them, picking up where conventional security software fails.  Click here for more information about Trusteer.

For more information about fraud protection and identity theft, as well as links to valuable online resources, visit the Fraud Prevention section of nsbank.com.