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Antivirus for Tax Preparers. MDR, EDR, and Legacy Antivirus

Antivirus Software in the New Age - Security Six Part One

Antivirus software is an essential security tool for any computer user in today's digital age. It serves as the first line of defense against malware, viruses, and other cyber threats that can compromise sensitive data. The IRS recognizes the importance of antivirus software as a critical security measure for safeguarding taxpayer information and includes it in publication 4557 as part of the Security Six, which are six of the many cybersecurity measures a tax preparer MUST have in place.


While legacy antivirus is the type most people are familiar with, modern antivirus technology has evolved to include endpoint detection and response (EDR), managed detection and response (MDR), and extended detection and response (XDR) tools. In 2021, Executive Order 14028, Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity, was issued, which changed the standard for combating the spread of malicious programs. This document outlines that legacy antivirus is no longer sufficient and that federal agencies must use modern tools like EDR for threat detection.


For tax preparers, having proper antivirus software in place is critical for remaining compliant with IRS guidelines and protecting client information. This article aims to provide an overview of modern antivirus technology to bring tax preparers up to speed with the latest cybersecurity measures.


A Brief History of Antivirus Software


The origins of antivirus software can be traced back to the early 1970s when the first computer virus, known as Creeper, was discovered. This virus, which was created by Bob Thomas, was able to spread through ARPANET, a precursor to the modern internet. Soon after, a program called Reaper was released to delete Creeper from infected computers. This marked the beginning of a long battle between virus creators and antivirus software developers.


In 1987, Bernd Fix developed the first antivirus program called Vienna Virus which could detect and remove viruses from computers. It was a simple program that searched for specific byte patterns in executable files to identify viruses. Although it was effective against known viruses, it could not detect new or unknown viruses.


As malware attacks continued to evolve, antivirus software also had to evolve. One of the most significant advances in antivirus technology was the development of heuristics, which allowed antivirus programs to detect unknown viruses by analyzing their behavior. This made antivirus software more effective at detecting new and previously unknown threats.


Today, most computers come with pre-installed antivirus programs that can detect and remove malicious software. These programs use a variety of scanning techniques, such as signature-based scanning, behavioral analysis, and machine learning to identify and remove malware. With the rise of cyber threats, antivirus software has become a crucial component of digital security for both individuals and organizations alike.


In recent years, endpoint security has evolved to include more advanced technologies such as EDR (Endpoint Detection and Response), MDR (Managed Detection and Response), and XDR (Extended Detection and Response). EDR, which has been around since 2013, brought about the idea of using machine learning and behavior analysis to detect malicious activity on endpoints. EDR scans the behavior of every endpoint process for suspicious or malicious actions and acts accordingly all in real-time. It can also detect and respond to advanced threats, including fileless malware and zero-day attacks.


MDR takes EDR a step further by adding the human component. MDR solutions are staffed by security experts who can monitor EDR alerts and respond to threats in real-time. XDR extends the concept of EDR and MDR to include detection and response capabilities across all endpoints, networks, and cloud environments.


In conclusion, antivirus software has come a long way since the first virus was discovered in the early 1970s. With the evolution of endpoint security, organizations now have access to a range of advanced technologies that can help them detect and respond to threats in real-time, providing better protection against the ever-evolving threat landscape.


How Do Legacy Antivirus Programs Work?


Legacy antivirus programs use signature-based detection to identify malware. This means that the antivirus software scans a computer's files and compares them against a database of known malware signatures to determine whether to allow, quarantine, or remove the program.


There are two main types of antivirus programs: on-demand and real-time. On-demand antivirus software runs when you activate it, scanning your computer for threats. Real-time antivirus software, on the other hand, runs continuously in the background while you're using the computer, scanning files as they're accessed or created.


One of the limitations of signature-based detection is that it can only detect malware that matches a known signature in its database. This means that it may not be effective against new or unknown threats. In addition, some malware can evade detection by disguising its signature or by using techniques such as encryption or polymorphism to make it difficult for antivirus software to detect.


Despite these limitations, legacy antivirus programs remain an important component of cybersecurity. By regularly updating their databases of known malware signatures and using heuristic-based detection to identify suspicious behavior, antivirus software can provide a basic level of protection against many types of threats. However, to provide more comprehensive protection, newer technologies such as EDR, MDR, and XDR have been developed to detect and respond to threats in real-time using advanced techniques such as machine learning and behavior analysis.

Common Legacy Antivirus Products:
  • Norton
  • McAffee
  • Microsoft Defender
  • Avast!
  • Bitdefender
  • Symantec
  • Sophos
  • AVG
  • Kaspersky


The Differences Between Legacy Antivirus and EDR


While legacy antivirus software has been the go-to security solution for years, the ever-evolving threat landscape has prompted the development of more advanced security solutions, such as Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR).


One of the key differences between legacy antivirus and EDR is their approach to threat detection. Legacy antivirus software uses signature-based detection, which means it relies on a database of known malware to identify threats. This approach can be effective against known threats, but it is limited in its ability to detect unknown threats or zero-day attacks.


On the other hand, EDR uses a behavior-based approach to threat detection. It monitors the behavior of every process and application on a device to identify any suspicious or malicious activity. This allows EDR to detect and respond to previously unknown or zero-day attacks, as well as malware that has been modified to evade signature-based detection.


Another key difference is the level of protection provided. Legacy antivirus software primarily provides protection against malware, while EDR offers more comprehensive protection. EDR not only detects and responds to malware, but it also detects and responds to other types of threats, such as insider threats, fileless attacks, and unauthorized device usage.


Additionally, EDR is often coupled with a team of security experts who can review alerts and respond to threats in real-time. This human component ensures that the program's detection and response capabilities are accurate and effective.


Here are some common use cases for EDR:
  1. Identifying and quarantining malicious executables.
  2. Monitoring and controlling who can execute scripts.
  3. Preventing unauthorized USB device usage.
  4. Protecting against malicious email attachments.
  5. Predicting and preventing zero-day attacks.


While legacy antivirus software provides some level of protection against known threats, it is limited in its ability to detect and respond to unknown threats. EDR offers a more comprehensive and effective approach to threat detection and response, making it a crucial component of modern cybersecurity.


Antivirus Measures Required by the IRS for Tax Preparers


The IRS has implemented stringent antivirus requirements for tax preparers to protect their clients' sensitive information from cyber threats. Tax preparers are responsible for adhering to these guidelines to ensure the confidentiality and integrity of client data.


To comply with the IRS antivirus requirements, tax preparers should consult Publication 4557 and Publication 1075 for guidelines and best practices. These publications provide detailed information on how to safeguard systems and protect client data. In addition, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) offers comprehensive documentation on antivirus measures for tax preparers to follow.


Tax preparers must use up-to-date antivirus software to protect their systems from malicious software, such as viruses and malware. The software must be updated regularly and monitored to ensure that it is functioning correctly. To secure client data from unauthorized access or disclosure, tax preparers should take appropriate steps.


To meet the IRS antivirus requirements and NIST guidelines, tax preparers should implement EDR/MDR protection and hire a Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP) to monitor and maintain their systems. Legacy antivirus solutions are not sufficient for devices containing client tax data and Personally Identifiable Information (PII). Therefore, tax preparers must implement adequate protection measures, including EDR/MDR, to protect against advanced cyber threats.


By following the IRS antivirus requirements and guidelines, tax preparers can safeguard their clients' sensitive information from cybercriminals. As a result, tax preparers can maintain their clients' trust and reputation while avoiding legal repercussions.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Antivirus:


What is a Computer Virus?


A computer virus is a type of malware that is designed to replicate itself and spread from one computer to another, often with the intention of causing damage or stealing data. A virus can attach itself to a program or file and execute its code when that program or file is opened or run, allowing it to spread to other files and potentially infect other computers.


Computer viruses can be transmitted in various ways, including through email attachments, downloads from the internet, and infected removable storage devices such as USB drives. It is important to always exercise caution when downloading or opening files, especially if they are from unknown sources. It is recommended to scan all downloaded files and email attachments with antivirus software to help prevent infection.


Once a virus has infected a computer, it can cause a variety of problems. Some viruses may simply slow down the system, while others can corrupt or delete files, steal personal information, or allow unauthorized access to the infected computer. In order to protect against viruses, it is important to use reputable antivirus software and keep it updated with the latest virus definitions.


What is Malware?


Malware is a type of software designed to harm or exploit any computer system, device or network without the owner's consent. It includes various malicious programs such as viruses, Trojans, spyware, adware, ransomware, and more. Unlike viruses, malware doesn't necessarily replicate itself, but it can be used to collect sensitive data, control a system remotely, or harm its performance. Malware can be distributed through malicious websites, email attachments, software downloads, or social engineering tactics. It is essential to have up-to-date antivirus and anti-malware software installed on your device to prevent malware infections.


What is a Trojan?


While a Trojan may be used to perform these activities, it is typically a type of malware that disguises itself as a legitimate program or file in order to trick users into downloading and installing it. Once installed, the Trojan can perform a variety of malicious actions, such as installing additional malware, stealing sensitive information, and giving remote access to an attacker. Trojans can be spread through email attachments, downloads from the internet, and even through social engineering tactics. It is important to have up-to-date antivirus software to detect and remove Trojans from your system.


What is Spyware?


Spyware is a malicious software that covertly gathers data about a user's online activities without their knowledge or consent and transmits this information to a third party. Unlike adware, which displays advertisements, spyware is designed to monitor and track the user's behavior, including sensitive data like credit card information and browsing history. Spyware can be installed on a device through malicious downloads, email attachments, or software vulnerabilities. It can be difficult to detect and remove, and can pose a serious threat to privacy and security.


What is Ransomware?


Ransomware is a malicious software that encrypts your files, or sometimes even your entire hard drive, making them inaccessible until a ransom is paid. In some cases, ransomware can also delete or modify files on your computer. It typically infiltrates a person's computer through various means, including email attachments, instant messages, downloads from unauthorized sources, and more. Once the ransomware infects your device, it will display a message demanding payment, often in the form of cryptocurrency, in exchange for the decryption key. It is important to note that paying the ransom does not guarantee the safe return of your files, and it can even encourage further attacks.


How can Phishing Attacks lead to Ransomware?


Phishing attacks are a common method used by cybercriminals to distribute ransomware. Phishing involves sending deceptive emails or messages that trick individuals into providing sensitive information, such as login credentials or financial information. These phishing emails often appear to be legitimate and may include links to fake websites that look identical to legitimate ones.


If a user clicks on the link provided in the phishing email, it can lead to the download of malware onto their computer, which can then infect their system with ransomware. Once the ransomware infects a system, it can encrypt files and demand a ransom payment to restore access to the data.


Therefore, it is important to be vigilant when receiving emails or messages that ask for personal information or contain suspicious links. It is recommended to verify the sender's identity and the legitimacy of the email or message before clicking on any links or downloading any attachments. Additionally, having up-to-date antivirus and anti-malware software can help prevent ransomware infections caused by phishing attacks.


What is Adware?


Adware is a type of software that displays advertisements on a user's device, typically in a more obtrusive and intrusive manner than standard web ads. Unlike viruses or malware, adware is not intended to harm a user's computer system. However, it can slow down the computer and use up resources while running in the background.


Adware is often bundled with other software downloads or can be installed without the user's knowledge. It displays ads in the user's default browser, often in the form of pop-ups, banner ads, or other types of ad formats. In some cases, adware can replace some website content with advertisements. While not necessarily harmful, adware can be annoying and intrusive, and some types may collect personal information or browsing data to display targeted ads.


What is a Worm?


A worm is a self-replicating and standalone malicious program that can spread from one computer to another without the need for human interaction. It can exploit vulnerabilities in computer systems and networks to propagate itself and may cause harm to the infected devices by consuming their resources or disrupting their operations.


Unlike viruses, which rely on infecting other programs to spread, worms can function independently and spread through various channels, such as email attachments, network connections, or removable storage devices.


While worms and viruses share some similarities, such as their ability to replicate and cause harm to computer systems, worms are considered more dangerous due to their ability to spread rapidly and autonomously, making them harder to contain and control.


Get More Information on Antivirus and Cybersecurity


In conclusion, understanding the importance of antivirus and cybersecurity measures is essential in today's digital world. With the increasing number of cyber threats, it's critical to stay informed and take necessary precautions to protect your personal and sensitive data. We hope this article provided you with a good understanding of antivirus software and how it can help safeguard your devices. For further information on antivirus software, cybersecurity, and other related topics, you can refer to the Security Six series or schedule a consultation with a security specialist. Don't wait until it's too late; take action today to protect yourself and your valuable data from cybercriminals.


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