Updating Antivirus Software(Getting Updates)

Signature updates are your antivirus program’s ammunition. Without regular signature updates, your antivirus program quickly becomes dependent on unreliable ammo — which is to say, practically useless. Fortunately, getting the good new stuff is pretty straightforward, whether you do it manually or automatically.

Manual updates

Antivirus programs permit you to do signature file updates “on demand” — in other words, anytime you want. If, unlike me, you have a terrific memory, then you can just remember to do signature file updates as often as needed.

Every antivirus program is designed a little differently: Each has a manual signature-updating capability, but each has a different way of “navigating” to it. In some programs, you can click the antivirus icon in the system tray and see a Download Signature Now command right next to the system tray. Other programs require you to open the antivirus program first, click the appropriate tab, and then download virus signatures.

Automatic updates

Most antivirus programs also let you schedule automatic updates that your computer can do as often as you like. Personally, I like this option: I may forget to update virus signatures, but my computer will never forget to.

Telling your antivirus program how often to update your signature files is easier than programming your VCR. Finding the screen to set this up is another matter, but generally antivirus programs are not all that complicated, so hopefully you can find it quickly. You can read the manual, look at help, or visit the Web site to see how it’s done.

One note about automatic updates: Your computer must be running, and it must be either connected to the Internet or able to automatically connect to the Internet when the update takes place. If you have any doubt at all whether an automatic update will work, schedule one to take place five minutes from now and watch what happens.

Even when you think your virus-signature updates will be successful most of the time, I still think it’s a good idea to look at the version numbers of your virus-signature files to make sure those updates are really happening. If your automatic updates are constantly failing, you’ll quickly be in a position of vulnerability to new viruses. Going more than a week without virus signature updates is a bad state to be in.

If your updates aren’t happening, check your automatic- update configuration to see if it’s really enabled (did you set the schedule but fail to activate it?). You can also try a manual update — if that works, then you have a scheduling problem. If it doesn’t work, then the update process itself is failing. Visit your antivirus program’s Web site and look for the Help, Support, or FAQ section so that you can figure out why updates aren’t working.