How Effective do Anti-virus Software Protect Us against Cyber-crime or Do They?

Internet has become an important ingredient to society. Everything revolves around the internet; from reading books to watching movies, from buying food to buying grocery, etc. Everything can now be done online with a click of a button. Wait, what about payment? Good question, banking is now online too! Huh, so you're saying all of my money is online? Correct, all of your money; all of them. Isn't that a little risky? Now we're talking. People have created these kinds of security measurements to protect our information. Antiviruses were created for that same reason. If everything can be accessed online, you can steal a lot of people's bank accounts through the web. What if you can fake a bank and ask people to wire you their money? That would be incredible! Just saying... How can we trust these so-called antiviruses? Uh, give me a moment here. I need to look that up...In fact, nobody is sure if they can trust these antiviruses. People just sort of do it. You see those little advertisements on the web about how effective a new antivirus is and you don't have to spend a dime to get yourself protected, no one is sure if they're telling the truth or if the new antivirus is embedded with some deadly viruses. Most of the time, the end users do not understand how they get their computer infected or how antivirus works. Are these antiviruses helpful? Do they actually protect yourself from information theft or cybercrime in general?

First of all, let me tell you why it's important to understand computer viruses as well as their effects. To be able to understand this, we have to wind ourselves back to the year of 2000. Remember that Y2K bug, also known as the Millennium Bug, which caused people to go nuts? The bug is about a rollover problem because the computer could not distinguish between 1900 and 2000. It means that when the computer's date transits from 1999 to 2000, instead of turning to 2000, it would go to 19100. It's easy to understand. When operating system was introduced in the 1900s, people did not anticipate for the transition between 1999 and 2000. They thought that it would work because there was no point it wouldn't work; assumption fails in this case. However, the computer wasn't that smart to figure out it would have to go from 1999 to 2000. Some software programs back then were just taking care of the last 2 digits of the year and not the whole year. With that being said, 1990 would be stored as 90 and respectively, 1900 would be stored as 00. You see what was going on there? What if the year was 2000, which would also be stored as 00? How could the computer distinguish between 1900 and 2000 or even 19100? This so-called bug would affect mostly document and data storage computer or mainframe (server) since most of the document was stored with dates. And since there was no way to distinguish between 2000 and 1900, it would cause massive destruction. Why? It's because when you do a query (command) to get data from a database off of some servers located half way across the world, the dates would be interpreted all wrong. What happens if you had a meeting on 2010 and the actual year was 19100? Didn't you just miss it? Wow, I actually have never thought about that. I kid you not, most of the time when software developers try to tackle on a problem either designing a new software or system or just maintain these giant working software, they would have to think about all the possibilities that could cause the program to fail. From my experience, when I was a little kid and knew nothing about this bug, I saw a lot of people went crazy and tried to stock up their supplies, food and drink in this case, in case of the end of the world in 2000. I could not care less. You have to pardon me, I was just a kid. When I grew a little older and was smart enough to understand what was going on in the world, I did a little research on this bug and learnt more about it. That was when I realized that if you do not understand clearly about what is going on, you have more tendency to follow what people are doing. According to an article on Science Nordic on Technological Illiteracy:
Dirty telescopes were frequently inserted into the patients’ intestines in a Danish regional hospital. Only after three months did a nurse notice that the cleaning device for the medical equipment wasn’t functioning as it should. The nurse had automatically assumed that the telescopes were clean because the display on the cleaning device said they were. 
Thus, the price that these nurses had to pay was:
At the hospital where the nurses inserted dirty telescopes into patients for three months because they reacted passively to the new technological device, all affected patients were tested for HIV. Fortunately, none had been infected, but it could have ended in a disaster.
As a rule of thumb, always, always, understand something clearly before you even begin. As Einstein used to say, "if you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."
So how does technological literacy help in protecting yourself against cybercrime? What, you didn't get the memo? I get it, but still, it has nothing to do with antiviruses? Oh it does, my friend. Let me ask you this simple question, what is a computer virus? According to webopedia, a computer virus is a piece of software that runs on your computer without your consent and happens to do illegal activities. It can wait for commands from some dude across the Pacific Ocean, record all of the websites that you've been to, all the keystrokes that you type, take your selfie pictures and send them off to some other places. Really? Really really. In the world of software, anything is possible; the question is, how could you not get yourself in those situations? Real simple, buy some antiviruses and rest assured that they will have your back. Sarcasm at its best. The answer to that question is do not install any types of malicious software in the first place. When you browse the web, beware that there are many advertisements that require you to install some third party applications in order to play movies. Don't! If you find yourself in that situation, you need to check whether you can play videos on youtube or msn videos. As far as I know, right now, these two websites are using different protocols to play videos. If you can play videos on these websites, you can be sure that you don't need to install anything else. You see, it's really simple to protect yourself from viruses. You just have to be smart. Knowing is winning half the battle.

A lot of antivirus companies claim that they have everything you ever need to protect your identity online. Can we prove it? We cannot. In fact, the way that software company runs is that they have a piece of source code that is the core of their software which you have no way to access. If you don't dissect the code, there's no way you can say that the antivirus actually protects you from malwares. So how does antivirus work? Bear with me, I'm getting there. According to Microsoft, "antivirus software is a computer program that detects, prevents, and takes action to disarm or remove malicious software programs, such as viruses and worms." Viruses have behaviors. There are certain behaviors that they do. If somehow we can identify these patterns, we can recognize these viruses and stop them before they get executed. That's the basic of how antivirus works (howtogeek.) Remember those virus definitions that you have to update and download every month? It's a record of all the "known" viruses that people can identify. What about the "unknown?" Hah, good question. Are there any of them? Absolutely. Say, the government has released some sort of not-so-malicious software that can identify and intercept how users use the internet. It's possible and really common. Back in 2013, when Snowden's leak suggested that Microsoft has been shaking hands with NSA in tapping and monitoring network traffic. According to the Washington Post, "Microsoft is moving toward a major new effort to encrypt its Internet traffic amid fears that the NSA, National Security Agency, may have broken into its global communications links, said people familiar with the emerging plans." Does this look like a cover up or an allegation to you? Firstly, in order for the NSA to be able to "break in" Microsoft's big baby, the Windows, there has to be a backdoor. In computer security, a backdoor is a "portal" that only accepts a certain applications or protocols that has been pre-defined by software developers. Without a backdoor, there's no way the NSA can access and monitor traffics in Windows. The way that backdoor programs allow or deny some specific protocols is called cryptography. In cryptography, there are private key and public key. Private keys are defined inside the software itself and is secured by any means. On the other hands, public keys are the ones that are given to companies or agencies or users who want access. This key is available to view inside your benevolent Windows. I will not show you how to find it, but you can look for it because you're smart. Cryptography says, if you have certain data that you want to protect, you will encrypt it with your provided public key. Now when another application receives the encrypted data, it will decrypt the data with the corresponding private key. Wow, that's amazing! What that means is there are only a pair of public and private key to encrypt and decrypt the data. So now only the people with access to the pair of public key and private key can decrypt the data. I'll let you think for a second here. I guess no one can be trusted these days.

Global cybercrime has been a new playground for every countries in politics, economics, and warfare. Think about this for a second, you do not have to lose anything to make a software virus. No soldier, no guns, no war. In fact, no one knows about this, except for Snowden. There are probably thousands of "unknown" viruses all around the world, I can tell you this much. According to a website called statisticbrain, the "number of households that have had spyware problems in the past 6 months are 8 million." As far as countermeasure goes, it is important not to expose any of your information online. To illustrate, when you take a picture, there is a field in the image file that stores your geo location. When a hacker accesses this picture, he will be able to extract your location from the picture itself. So, turn this feature off in your phone or your camera. With that being said, sometimes, you unintentionally share your information to people. Nowadays, a lot of people have or have been using social networks. Don’t tell me you don’t have one. No, I’m not going to, I do have one. What I want to say is that there are good side and bad side on social networks just like anything else. The good side is now you can connect to family members all over the world. You can see what they are doing and how their lives are going. On the other hand, what people seem to ignore is that a lot of these information can be accessed online and from anyone. Stop now, try and google your name and location online and see what comes up. Happy? I don’t think so. I don’t want people to know what the heck I’m doing at 3 AM in Europe or if I have got into a car accident and now been hospitalized. Lucky for us, social networks do provide a setting that you can specify who can access your privacy. Just set this to friends or private even. Again, it makes no point to not share anything with people. If you’re into some kind of getting popular, you’re risking yourself. There’s a video on youtube that actually addresses this problem. The video shows an old man that has the ability to read his customer’s past and tell them every pieces of their lives. Go on, search for this “Amazing mind reader reveals his 'gift',” I’ll wait.

Okay, that’s creepy. Well, for some people, especially the ones who want to exploit you, it is not. It’s a honey pot for them. What if your daughter doesn’t know about this and posts all of her selfies on Facebook? It would be a happy day for pedophiles don’t you think? Alright, I’m confused, how does this have to do with antivirus? My point is you can control these things. You can control how you want your information to be shared and viewed. You don’t need any antivirus for this. It’s all you. Honestly, I have been using the free, good old Microsoft Security Essentials for a really long time now and still have not got my computer infected. Why pay $30 for an antivirus when you can protect your identity all by yourself? Antivirus cannot protect you from that. Unless you want some random strangers to read your mind and tell you about your past. It’s up to you.

At the end of the day, the question remains. Are these antiviruses necessary to protect people’s identities or are they just a tool that software companies make money from people who are technological illiterate. What about effectiveness? They work well I suppose. Additionally, antiviruses along cannot help you from exposing your information to the world; you would have to protect yourself and be able to understand what is at risk when sharing something online.

  1. Hoffman, Chris. "HTG Explains: How Antivirus Software Works." Howtogeek. Howtogeek, 1 Oct. 2012. Web. 13 Aug. 2014.
  2. Ringgaard, Anne. "Technological Illiteracy Can Hurt Patients and Schoolchildren." ScienceNordic. ScienceNordic, 19 Dec. 2012. Web. 13 Aug. 2014. <1 data-blogger-escaped-.="" data-blogger-escaped-http:="""" data-blogger-escaped-technological-illiteracy-can-hurt-patients-and-schoolchildren="">. 
  3. Shull, Aaron. "Global Cybercrime: The Interplay of Politics and Law." Cigi. Internet Governance Papers No. 8, 20 Jan. 2014. Web. 13 Aug. 2014.
  4. Thompson, Iain. "Microsoft, HURTING after NSA Backdooring, Vows to Now Harden Its Pipe." The Register. The Register, 27 Nov. 2013. Web. 13 Aug. 2014.
  5. Timberg, Craig, Barton Gellman, and Ashkan Soltani. "Microsoft, Suspecting NSA Spying, to Ramp up Efforts to Encrypt Its Internet Traffic." The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 26 Nov. 2013. Web. 13 Aug. 2014.
  6. Microsoft Security Intelligence Report, Panda Security, Consumer Reports. 7 Nov 2012. Computer Virus Statistics. Web. 13 Aug 2014.


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