By Guy Clapperton

It’s October and that can only mean one thing — the security software companies, as well as children’s annual book producers, are starting to put ‘2008’ onto everything they release. This is because if it had 2007 on it, retailers would take it off the shelves in December (and yes, that is why monthly magazines are always dated the month after they come out — to extend shelf life).

Many people think that security suites are basically antivirus products, and indeed AV is an important part of what they do. A good system, however, will take an overview of your entire network and where its vulnerabilities lie, protecting you from the lot. Windows XP and Windows Vista will in fact badger you if it doesn’t think your protection is good enough — you get a pop-up telling you you’re vulnerable and what you need to fix.

So the first thing to look for is antivirus, even if you’re using an Apple Macintosh — there may be no viruses out there for the Mac today but that can change tomorrow. The leading brands — McAfee, Symantec/Norton, Sophos — all do an excellent job and exchange details of viruses when there is found to be a new one in the wild. It is essential to keep your antivirus software up to date, which will require an annual subscription; not to do this is to risk infection from any virus that is developed after you bought your AV program.

Most good AV companies aiming at the smaller enterprise will offer a security suite. This will include some sort of firewall. The one that comes installed in Windows will not be as strong as a third party product; by far the safest sort of firewall to keep intruders out is the hardware variety, residing on a separate machine from the ones on which your employees will be working directly. Failing this, a software firewall will work as long as it is kept up to date — once again, a company like Symantec with its Norton products will automate this for a small fee.

Essentially the less dedicated IT support you have, the better off you are automating the whole security system with a suite such as that provided by Norton or McAfee. These have antiphishing functions (see above) built in, they check e-mails for viruses as they come in and block so-called ‘Spyware’ — programs that infest your computer and track where you’re going on the Net — without your knowing about it. They’ll tell you when a program appears suspicious and Norton 360 even offers a couple of gigabytes of off-site storage so you can keep important documents on the manufacturer’s computer rather than your own; backing up in this way means you can still get at your files if your office burns down.

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