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If you have antivirus software installed on your system, then it might not be doing its job as well as you think. A recent study performed by NSS Labs found that most of today’s antivirus software was virtually useless against exploit-based attacks.
The study concluded that just four out of thirteen tested antivirus programs were able to defend systems against these types of attacks. An exploit-based attack generally involves a script taking advantage of a vulnerability within your system or one of its programs. This might seem like a serious and rare attack, but exploit-based attacks are fairly common.
The researchers make the point that many of the antivirus products currently available “are not blocking exploits,” and that any hacker with the right combination of will and skill could gain entry to a system. This should be a frightening statistic to any user who depends on antivirus software for daily protection.
During an exploit-based attack, hackers attempt to gain access to a system in order to perform all sorts of dangerous tasks. Some exploit-based attacks might try to install a virus, for example, while others will just monitor users as they work on the computer. A more determined hacker might even take direct control of a user’s mouse and keyboard, which can be a frightening experience for users who are unaware their system has been infected.
Antivirus effectiveness studies try to replicate the conditions of virus attacks in the wild, but they don’t always succeed in doing this. Sometimes, virus attacks created in a lab are far less effective than those created by experienced hackers, while in other cases, the reverse is true. While antivirus manufacturers will no doubt criticize the narrow reach of this study, NSS Labs is a world renowned consumer antivirus testing agency and it strives to make its results as accurate as possible.
Regardless, you shouldn’t be depending on your antivirus software to repel every attack in the world. If you’re unsure how effective your antivirus software is, then read software reviews online to determine what some of your other options are. The antivirus world is changing on a daily basis, and if your program can’t keep up, then you could be leaving your system critically under protected.