Small business owners face a fabulous pickle when shopping for anti-virus software. While every piece of software claims to be the perfect cybersecurity solution, how is it possible that one solution could fit every small business from manufacturing to florists? Short answer: it’s not possible. Every small business has its own unique cyber security needs. The most important fact, however, is that you do need sufficient cyber security measures. Verizon found in their 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report that 43% of data breaches that year fell on small and medium companies. That number is at risk to increase until businesses adopt up-to-date cybersecurity best practices like modern antivirus software. The market for antivirus, however, has become flooded with more competitors than a business owner likely has time to investigate. Before a business owner can weigh the pros and cons of certain antivirus software, they must know what it is they plan to protect. Depending on your technological infrastructure, operating system of choice, and a multitude of other factors, one anti-virus software choice can be miles better than another.
What Devices do You Want Protected? (And How Many?)
While the right answer is technically all of your devices, this question is asking both what kind of devices you use at work and how many. Every device that connects to your business’s Wi-Fi network introduces the potential for a threat; this includes tablets and mobile devices. Take an inventory of your business’s total number of computer terminals, laptops, tablets, and phones that handle your sensitive information like banking, email, or inventory software. Once you have that total, that is the number of annual or monthly software licenses you will likely need to fully protect your sensitive information. While it may sound like overkill to use antivirus on phones and tablets, it is not. Those devices use the Internet and communicate with networks in identical ways to traditional computers. Plus, cybercriminals are keenly aware that mobile devices are often overlooked when choosing cyber-protection.
A good jumping-off point for multi-device small businesses is likely one variation of McAfee® Total Protection which, even in its most basic package, still allows protections for up to five devices; and, at the high end, allows it for unlimited devices.
What Operating System Do You Use?
While a good majority of small businesses use the most updated version of Windows because of its versatile compatibility with industry software for inventory management and other specialist tasks, there are still a fair few businesses who prefer macOS or even use a specific version of Linux.
Windows, being the baseline, is compatible with near-every kind of antivirus tool, macOS users have a more personal question to ask themselves: are you fully trusting of Apple’s built-in antivirus tool? While Apple is adamant that their suite of proprietary tools like the M1 chip and System Integrity Protection “make it difficult for malware to do harm,” tech experts still advise Mac users to seek out extra protection. Specifically, the Integro Mac Premium Bundle X9 has been hailed by MacWorld and Time Magazine as one of the best options for Mac users looking for extra security.
If your business terminals run a version of Linux, however, that is a whole other beast. Businesses using Linux usually run the operating system in service of another proprietary software that doesn’t run cleanly with Windows. If your Linux-based terminal isn’t connected to the Internet, it likely doesn’t need antivirus software since it is a truly closed-circuit system (but you need to make sure it is truly closed and not vulnerable!). If that device is connected to your local network, however, having an antivirus tool is likely a good investment. Popular Linux distributions like CentOS and Manjaro are on the road to becoming major consumer operating systems and with that rise has come the interest of cyber criminals. A good first consideration for business Linux-based protection is the Bitdefender GravityZone Business Security Package which is frequently rated as one of the best antivirus solutions for Windows as well as Linux.
What Additional Features Could You Benefit From?
It is exceedingly common for antivirus software to come with a suite of other helpful cybersecurity services. Beyond the most basic virus prevention methods, here are the most common additional cybersecurity features that may come with your software:
VPN Services: Virtual Private Network (VPN) services are a great tie-in benefit to modern antivirus. If you don’t already have a VPN service on your business devices, you absolutely should consider using one. Modern VPNs are just as essential for privacy protection as they are for protection against hacking and cyber breaches. Cybercriminals have taken increased interest in local Wi-Fi networks and keeping your connection secure is now just as important as keeping your device secure.
Web-Based Security & Network Protection: Antivirus software sometimes includes web-based protection which means that in addition to the antivirus software performing local scans on your hardware, the device is also in communication with a cloud-based threat-prevention network. This is another big win for small businesses, as cloud-based and general network protection often was only afforded to companies willing to shell out for expensive cloud services like hulking servers. Being that cloud-based protection used to cost companies massive sums, scoring web-based protection as a tie-in with basic local antivirus is another win for small business owners.
Password Manager Software: Antivirus software bundles often tote “password manager software” as one of the several benefits you get for subscribing. While password manager software was once a worthy investment on its own, in 2022 password management software is no longer a good enough reason outright to choose an antivirus solution. This is because browsers like Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Mozilla’s Firefox all include this kind of software natively for free. Since you will be generally entering your passwords on browser windows anyways, those native solutions are likely sufficient.
Endpoint Security: Endpoint security is by all means the future of antivirus. Endpoint security, like cloud-based protections, was largely relegated to mainframe machines and companies with dedicated IT administrators that manage all of a local network’s threat potentials in a live sense. If the antivirus software you are considering includes endpoint protection without a major price increase, the increased protection is likely worth it. While antivirus is local and contained to the device it is downloaded onto, endpoint protection views and monitors the synchronicity of all the devices on your network and may be the key to insulating your business from more sophisticated cyberattacks like Internet of Things breaches.
What are Your Privacy Considerations?
Like anything else you download on your computer, especially a business device, you should be intimately familiar with how your data and information will be processed by the company which owns your antivirus software. Be aware that multiple antivirus software companies have been found to sell user trend data like search and browser history to third-parties.
Another privacy concern growing among antivirus software users is government intervention. Well-known Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab was tied up in a scandal when Israeli government hackers found that the company had tools with digital signatures originating from America’s National Security Agency. This led to the Department of Homeland Security to make a statement that Kaspersky may be in cooperation with Russian information systems. While antivirus agrees to protect us from malware, there is little to protect you from antivirus.
What is Your Budget?
Antivirus software bundles and multi-license deals can cost hundreds annually making them sometimes unappetizing to small business owners on a budget. The good news is, finding the right antivirus solution doesn’t need to alter your existing budget. Free solutions like Malwarebytes Free offer basic virus protection without the real-time bells and whistles like endpoint and network protections. Almost every software solution, as well, offers timed free trials, so feel free to shop around and find the best choice for your business. Free trials are a great time to see if your chosen software has any noticeable effect on your device’s performance or speed. If you are looking for a paid antivirus for multiple devices and real-time features like endpoint protections, average costs range anywhere from $70 (McAfee Total Protections Ultra for unlimited devices) to $120 (Bitdefender GravityZone Security for 5 devices) annually.
Take Your Time but Don’t Waste It
Antivirus software will likely become a financial obligation for your company, so it pays to choose wisely. Businesses with a good hold over their needs, however, should find it in them to choose a software solution sooner rather than later. Cyber disaster strikes unkindly and can be debilitating for businesses with no protection. If you are using Internet-connected devices in your workspace, make it your immediate prerogative to consider the above criteria and find the cybersecurity solution best fit for your business. Those businesses who fester in indecision become all the juicier targets for cybercriminals.