Thursday, 7 August 2008

Explaining anti-virus suckage to the tech-averse

Being the most IT-savvy member of my extended family, I'm often called upon for random tidbits of IT information. This is regardless of whether or not I'm actually likely to know anything about the subject at hand... because obviously I'm "into IT" so I should know how to network an ancient dot-matrix printer to an ageing pentium... (clue: it's probably not working for you because it's time to replace the hardware).

The one I dread most, however, is "why is my internet so slow"... the obvious candidate being "have you considered the possibility that you might have a virus?" - which is usually met with the same sort of scandalised reaction reserved for asking somebody whether they have a venereal disease.

Surely computer viruses are something that only happens to *other* people? After all, we're good, clean types that don't take part in *that* sort of behaviour... why would we have something so dirty as a virus? besides... which we always use a condom anti-virus software... so there's no possible way we could have anything right?

Depending on the tech-savviness of the audience I'll then launch into an explanation as to why anti-virus software doesn't always work... This generally goes down like a lead balloon. With the usual response being "but I have the latest <insert expensive AV software name here> and keep the signatures fresh up-to-the-minute!"

The problem being that I know this subject only enough to know that even with the latest virus signatures, it's not perfect. I don't know it well enough to really describe in laymans' terms *why*.

Today I came across an article on Coding Horror about how blacklists don't work. but it also neatly segue's into the reason why anti-virus software is always going to be one step behind the competition. I think it summarises the issue nicely - far better than I have ever been able to describe.

I know I could never give this to my grandma, but I think it's a step in the right direction - and I can probably point my partially-tech-savvy aunts and uncles in that direction from now on.


Gregory said...

Soooo been there. Especially the "but I keep it up to date" denial reaction.

Taryn East said...

Ya - that one's the worst. Especially because you know they've at least put the effort in to learn what they need... it's not their fault they don't read the same stuff we do.

All the PC magazines seem to spout "get the latest software and keep it up to date" as what needs to be done to protect yourself. Very few ever hint that this might still not be enough.