It takes a formidable software arsenal to effectively fight malware. Anti-virus programs, spyware blockers, IDSes (intrusion detection systems) and numerous other products are now routinely used to find and block various types of intrusive code, which in almost all cases arrives via the Internet.

With such a varied number of now available, finding the right products — and knowing how to use them — requires a substantial amount of time and research. Learning the answers to just a few simple questions, however, will help you get your anti-malware initiative into motion and on target.

What types of do I need? Viruses, Trojan horses, worms, spam and spyware are the major malware categories, and you’ll need to find products that can detect and block all of these threats. Some products manage to combine several threat-fighting tools into a single package, which helps organizations sidestep management and software-conflict headaches.

How do I know if a product is compatible with other types of anti-malware programs? Since you’ll probably be juggling multiple anti-malware tools, you’ll want products that play well with others. Ask each vendor for a list of known program conflicts, but be prepared to encounter undocumented incompatibilities.

Do Windows’ built-in anti-malware tools provide enough protection? Windows XP and earlier versions certainly don’t offer sufficient safeguards. Windows Vista’s Defender anti-spyware technology and various other built-in enhance the OS’s (operating system) safety but not to the level most businesses require.

Does it make sense to use a ‘whitelisting’ tool? Instead of detecting and blocking known ‘bad’ programs, whitelisting anti-malware technology works by stopping everything except preapproved applications. Many businesses feel that whitelisting provides a worry-free, ironclad approach to malware, while others believe that the approach is too restrictive. The choice is up to you.

Are ‘behavior-blocking’ tools effective? Anti-malware tools that incorporate behavior blocking monitor incoming programs for certain executions that are characteristic of malware code. When suspicious executions are detected, the program is blocked from running. Behavior blocking is a more sophisticated approach to malware detection than merely matching programs against the binary signatures of known rogue applications. The technique is most effective for combating brand-new zero-day malware programs.

Can ‘herd intelligence’ be a useful malware-fighting tool? This is an approach used by several malware vendors, notably Prevx, that leverages the collective data-gathering capabilities of multiple computers to form enhanced malware fighting capabilities. Each computer sends back information about programs (good, bad or unknown) to a central server for automated analysis.

Do I need to attack malware at the network or user level? Both. As long as the technology doesn’t adversely impact network throughput, device performance or user productivity, it’s impossible to have too much protection.

Do I need an access-control program? An access-control application can alert users to the run attempts of unknown programs, which can be an early indicator of a malware infection. This capability makes access control programs highly useful malware fighting tools.

Do I need anti-virus software? With all the new malware-fighting tools and techniques now appearing on the market, some observers have declared traditional anti-virus applications all but dead. Hyperbole aside, though, the technology is still relatively useful. Anti-virus programs are usually reasonably priced and effective, even if they’re only used as a second line of defense.

What are the most effective things I can do to keep malware from killing my organization’s IT infrastructure? Use a mixture of anti-malware tools to provide blanket security coverage. Install and maintain firewalls. Keep your current software patched and current. Educate your employees and other system users about safe computing practices.