What to do when 50 Million viruses are after you?


“Show me an Ethiopian computer without a virus and I’d ask which foreigner it belongs to,”

Editor’s Note (8/4/2015): Securing your computer from viruses, spyware, malware, etc is a topic that is always current.  Which is why this article from the archives has been revived albeit with some changes to bring it up to date.  It is particularly relevant here where the prevalence of insufficiently protected computers, internet cafes and flash drives means that any computer is potentially in danger at any time.   And unlike in years past, getting your PC a robust set of tools to protect it (this is not referring the free versions of Avast for example which can hardly be considered ‘robust’) doesn’t have to cost you much at all.  So take heed to message in this article and arm yourselves with the right tools to protect your computer against the 50 million or more viruses that are after it on a daily basis.  

“Show me an Ethiopian computer without a virus and I’d ask which foreigner it belongs to,”

This quote is from an article published on The Guardian in 2010 on the topic titled “Computer Viruses Slow African Expansion.” Despite the fact that some may find it a bit distasteful, it is at the very least illustrative of the broad case that exists in the country and most of the continent. Apart from the fact that most computers here do not have adequate (if any) protection, the proliferation of Internet cafes where each computer can host hundreds of users per month and the propensity of many of those users to employ flash drives that are a very efficient medium of transmitting malware from one PC to the next, makes the typical computer in Ethiopia, virtually certain to be infected with not one but many different types of malicious software.

computervirusIt’s not just Ethiopia of course. In fact most developing countries have severe problems with computer malware which makes no distinction as to whether it attacks a carelessly unprotected PC sitting in a plush London office or the single, donated laptop in a district health center in Beneshangul Gumuz used to conduct critical record keeping. Guess which one is likely to have a backup plan.

Awareness, Access and Cost

There are three main reasons why most computers here do not have updated protection against the pervasive threats of the cyber world: awareness, access and cost. While a good many computer users do have a general awareness of the threats to their computer and that they can be protected from them through the use of up to date protective software, many of them are not aware of how acute and immediate such threats are. Consequently, they will neglect taking decisive actions against this general threat especially since their efforts to do so are likely going to be hampered in some measure by accessibility to the solutions and the costs they usually imply.

The first step to protecting a PC would be to load a comprehensive protective suite on it. Although there are free ones, such as AVG, out there, they do not provide anywhere near the level of protection that a Norton, McAfee or Kaspersky suite, to name but a few, would render. AVG itself offers a full suite but you can only upgrade to it for an added cost.

Cost is the biggest obstacle between most PCs in Ethiopia and decent threat protection. Prices for a full suite range from 29 USD up to79 USD when it comes to protecting most computers. If it was just a onetime fee and you were sufficiently sensitized to the dangers of computer threats to your PC, you might go ahead and spring for it. But in the back of your mind, you know that you’ll have to pay $50 or more in a year’s time to renew your subscription for the virus signature files that security companies can generate on a very frequent basis and which are critical for your protection suite to be most effective. Even with that knowledge if you decide to go for it, your best option is to shop online, pay for the software in USD (if you are lucky enough to have that capability) and then wait for eons while it downloads to your PC.

Small wonder then that there are estimates which say 80% of the computers in Africa are infected with some kind of malware or otherwise compromised with perhaps critical data lifted off of them or lost at the worst possible moment.

Microsoft to the Rescue

Editor’s note (8/4/2015): Windows Defender (an all inclusive security suite) is now standard on newer versions of Microsoft’s operating systems (Windows 8 and above) so all you have to do is basically keep it updated regularly. If you are running an older operating system though (as many computers in Ethiopia are), keep reading.  

Microsoft’s solution doesn’t get around all of the problems faced in Africa in the pursuit of a decently protected system. But it goes a long way towards it. It recently released Security Essentials Suite is available for XP, Vista and Windows 7 operating systems and can be downloaded from a variety of websites (we recommend CNET’s www.download.com) absolutely free of charge. What makes it different from other free suites such as the aforementioned AVG? It is not a “basic protection” program. In fact, it is quite comprehensive and has received very favorable reviews from CNET, PCWorld, PCMag and a host of other respected reviewers. Best of all, updates are free – indefinitely.

Is there a downside? Some of the suites out there probably offer a few more bells and whistles but when it comes to providing very good protection, Security Essentials delivers so well that the only excuse for any computer to not be protected any longer, is strictly about awareness and access, not cost. We’ve done our part to raise awareness about what you should do. Now it’s up to you remove the last part of the problematic equation – access. At 7MB for the XP version and 11.5 MB for Vista/Windows 7, downloading it won’t necessarily be easy but in these days where some establishments (such as both branches of Jupiter Hotel) generously offer free, high speed WiFi, it is certainly well worth the price of a snack or meal to help protect your PC from the 50 million threats that are after it on a daily basis.

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